Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Simply Irresistible

The Gospel call goes out to many, yet few respond. From a Reformed perspective we would say:

  • Everyone who assents to the Gospel call was supposed to do so.

  • Everyone who is supposed to assent to the Gospel call, does so.

The first of these bullets says that only the elect will respond positively to the Gospel call. In mathematical terms, the set of believers is identical, ultimately, to the set of the elect. This means the verses that talk about believing (as if to suggest a person can will himself to believe) as the condition for salvation, are not at odds with the idea of predestination.

The only caveat (and it is relevant to this discussion) is that there is a time lag before the two sets equilibrate: the elect are always elect, but they must be brought into a state of believing. And they will, inevitably. That is the second bullet. If you are of the elect then God wills that you believe and, believe me, you will believe. That is Irresistible Grace. A person who is of the elect may, for a while, resist the Gospel call, but ultimately his will is broken.

Although many hear the Gospel call, only for the elect is the call efficacious (effectual). Why is that? Are the elect genetically hardwired to respond positively? No, the difference is the Holy Spirit gets involved; He gives the elect a special inward call. Without he help of the Spirit, no person can come to saving faith on his own. A person might toy with the idea; he might even come forward during an alter call. He might attend church for years. He might even become a pastor. And most frightfully, he might actually be surprised in the next life when he hears our Lord pronounce the terrible words “I never knew you”.

We cannot look into the hearts of men, but we all have seen people in our churches that we suspect of being in this horrible state. They never seem to grow in their walk. They are minimalists or maybe legalists. And perhaps most tellingly, they do not seem to enjoy God.

Anyway, that’s off the subject. The issue here is whether a person can indefinitely resist an effectual call. (Put that way, it’s a silly question, isn’t it?) The answer is no: to do so you would have to be stronger than God for it is the Holy Spirit dragging you, perhaps kicking and screaming, to the place where you’re supposed to be.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (Eph 2:1-2, NASB)

The Westminster Confession says this about Irresistible Grace:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,by His Word and Spirit,out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

This work of grace with the elect is, among other things, enabling. Your eyes and ears are open. You see things differently; you hear and understand and believe things that used to seem foolish to you. You have been regenerated. In the words of the confession you are enlightened. The inexorable process of salvation has begun. You already possess eternal life and it will never, under any circumstances, be revoked.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor.2:12-14, NASB)

Yet in a real sense you do choose to come to Christ of your own free will. That sounds paradoxical, but it is not. As I blogged about before, you are not a robot, but your vaunted free will is really a slave to your own desires: you choose what you want, in fact you must choose exactly what you most want. Before regeneration, no man truly wants God, so no man chooses God. After your rebirth, your desires change. You now want God. And you choose Him. But you are able to do so only because He first chose you.

This rebirth and reforming of our desires so that we want to be imitators of Christ, so that we then freely choose to believe, is the greatest gift imaginable and one that should bring us to our unworthy knees in gratitude.

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Th. 2:13, NASB)

This internal change is the result of the effectual call of the Holy Spirit which (thankfully) does not require our cooperation. It happens in spite of us, not because of anything we do. If God has chosen you, can you even seriously entertain the possibility that you can thwart His will? It will never happen. Be very, very grateful that it will never happen.

And all the people said: Amen.

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