Thursday, December 07, 2017

Effectual Grace vs. Irresistible Grace (modified)

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities. (Is. 53:11)

The prophecy of (Is. 53:11) will not be proved false. Christ will be satisfied with His redemptive work. If Arminianism is true, Is. 53:11 is not a prophecy but merely a divine hope. If the effort of man, in the exercising of his natural free will, is required to obtain salvation, then even God can not be sure that Christ will be satisfied with His labor. God must wait upon the decisions of men. (In fact, we can be sure He would be most certainly unsatisfied, for nobody would come to faith.)

Clearly the why question is interesting. Why are some brought to faith and not others? But that is not the question for today.

The question for today is the what question. What brings some to faith and not others?

The answer, of course, is grace. But grace that is applied in a beautiful, personal, and humane manner. Humane because you are transformed so as to come willingly, in a way that does not violate your humanity.

To begin the transformation, we need to be born again (John 3:3). Elsewhere, the word regeneration is used for the same process of rebirth. (Titus 3:5). We are also said to be called from darkness into life (1 Pet. 2:9), to be spiritually resurrected (Eph. 2:5), and to be given a heart of flesh to replace or natural heart of stone (Ez. 11:19).

Lydia did not "choose" in her natural state to respond to the gospel, God had to change her radically:
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
She had to be regenerated by an act of divine sovereignty. She was not regenerated because she responded, she responded because she was regenerated.

What we want to examine today is: what happens after this purely monergistic act of rebirth? How does man actively participate in his own salvation? How does he, through grace, acquire the faith by which he believes and desires to please God?

After regeneration, we are instructed to work out our salvation. Not because there is a risk that we will not be saved, for that is a promise from God, but because it pleases God that our salvation, though a forgone conclusion, is effected as a process (Phil 2:12). So while it is true that we are saved from the moment we are reborn, which is predestined before time (Rom. 8:28-29), it is also true that we must, or rather will work out our salvation.

It is not unlike the tenure system is supposed to work at universities. Once granted tenure, a professor cannot be fired, yet he is expected to continue delivering the fruits of hard work.
We are not saved by works, but we are saved through them. For scripture is very clear that faith without works is dead (Jam. 2:24-26). 
If this were the end of the story, there would be a logical flaw. We are regenerated by God, and we must bear fruit, we are commanded to do the good works prepared for us (Eph 2:10)—how are we assisted in obeying this command even as we continue to battle with our own flesh (Rom 7:15)?

The answer is effectual grace.

In a sense, there is irresistible grace, by which are regenerated and in which we are passive, and there is effectual grace, through which we are sanctified and with which we cooperate. These are often blended together, as are regeneration and sanctification. They should not be. We are passive in our regeneration and we cannot resist. We are assisted in our sanctification, and while it too would seem to be inevitable (Phil 1:6), it is clear that we are called upon to participate.

The Westminster Confession provides this exegesis:
X:I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, 1 by His Word and Spirit, 2 out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; 3enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, 4taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; 5 renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, 6 and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: 7 yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. 8

X:II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, 9 who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, 10 he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. 11

So the Confession affirms both an instantaneous change (a quickening and a renewal) and a process (man is enabled to answer the call—not instantly transformed to the state of having answered it.)

Effectual grace includes, then, the means by which God, through the Holy Spirit, enables a regenerated man to work out his salvation. The next question then, is how is the grace conveyed to us? Does God keep sprinkling it on our heads like salt from a shaker? Or does the bible teach of grace multiplying as a result of obedience? In other words, is there a mysterious feedback loop at play—we obey because of grace, and are rewarded with more grace because we obey, which enables us to obey more—while at the same time there is a "wrench" in the works, the wrench being our old sinful nature and its regrettable partner our vaunted free will?

And if grace is, even in part, and especially following regeneration, a gift of God for our obedience, then two questions (unanswered for now) for my Baptist colleagues are:
  1. Are not the ordinances (sacraments) commanded by God—and if so, why would we not expect God to convey grace through them? Why do many of our brethren teach that God is nothing more than a witness to baptism and communion?
  2. What would preclude God from conveying grace to an infant through the ordinances? 

I struggle with this--I'm not sure it is important at all, but I struggle with understanding.

1 ROM 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 11:7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. EPH 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

2 2TH 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2CO 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

3 ROM 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. EPH 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 2TI 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

4 ACT 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 1CO 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. EPH 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

5 EZE 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

6 EZE 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh. PHI 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. DEU 30:6 And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. EZE 36:27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

7 EPH 1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power. JOH 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

8 SON 1:4 Draw me, we will run after thee. PSA 110:3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. JOH 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. ROM 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. 

9 2TI 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. TIT 3:4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. EPH 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. ROM 9:11 For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.

10 1CO 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. ROM 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. EPH 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 

11 JOH 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. EZE 36:37 Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock. JOH 5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.


  1. "But grace that is applied in a beautiful, personal, and humane manner. Humane because you are transformed so as to come willingly, in a way that does not violate your humanity."

    I really like how you phrased ^.

    Re: the feedback loop of grace, could the flow of grace and our (still) imperfect obedience be the result of our union with Christ? Because all who He is and all that He has done and provides to His people can't be subdivided? Sinclair Ferguson has got me thinking more in this line.

  2. Thanks! That's an interesting thought-- am I reading you correctly that perhaps grace is quantized?

  3. Not sure about what you mean about quantized. I guess what I am trying to say is like the vine and branches in John 15. The flow of life comes by virtue of that union. So because we are united to Christ, His grace does flow freely. Sometimes we are very aware of it and other times not so aware. But in every situation, our Heavenly Father knows what we need.