A Need for a New Identity:
Conversionism, Transformed Theology, and a New Tulip
Part 4: An Argument for an Irrefutable Gospel
By Bob Hadley, Pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Chancellor of Atlantic Coast Bible College and Seminary
This article is the fourth in a series that offers an alternative to the classical Reformed T.U.L.I.P. The entire series by Hadley is available at
The previous articles are:
The fourth point of Conversionism is an Irrefutable Gospel as opposed to Calvinism’s Irresistible Grace. The latter basically states that there is nothing an individual can do to keep from being saved if it is indeed God’s will for that individual be saved. God’s elect will be saved. God gives His grace to those that He foreknew before the foundation of the world; this gift of God’s grace is both unmerited and unexpected on man’s part. Unregenerate man has nothing to do with the gift of God’s grace and is powerless to resist this grace. There’s absolutely no question that salvation is the work of God’s amazing grace (Eph. 2:8). God’s grace is His unmerited and undeserved favor offered to sinful men who deserve death and eternal separation from God. God’s grace has been defined or characterized as His giving to sinful men what they do not deserve. God’s mercy has been defined as His not giving men what they do deserve. Mercy and grace often go hand in hand.
Instead of looking at God’s grace being irresistible, consider the plausibility of God’s gospel being irrefutable. For Paul says,
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith (Rom. 1:16-17).
Understand, God’s grace is absolutely essential to any movement on man’s part toward God. Jesus made that abundantly clear when he said, “No man comes unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6b), Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit as He draws men unto Christ. Jesus identifies this drawing as one of the purposes for His coming to the Earth in the first place. He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). In Hebrews 7 Paul explains that the old law was unable to make anyone perfect. The best that man had to offer could never satisfy the penalty that God had set for sin. God told Adam when he was in the garden before he ever committed the first sin, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But Paul contends, that in Christ “there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:19b). This drawing that Paul speaks of is God reconciling the world to Himself in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19).This drawing takes hold of man’s heart as the gospel is shared and it is this gospel that is absolutely irrefutable. Salvation or conversion is not possible apart from it. This drawing is from God alone, by grace alone and in Christ alone. God’s grace is seen in His gospel message that is irrefutable. This drawing however is not irresistible.
In Hebrews chapter 10 Paul explains that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross should be reason enough for men to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, because their hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience and their bodies washed with pure water. Paul goes on to say,
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:23-25).
This exhortation is critical to anyone’s relationship to Christ. This exhortation is irrefutable; it is not irresistible.
Consider Paul’s statement in Heb. 10: 26-30:
26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.”
God’s Holy Spirit draws men to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the knowledge of truth, which is seen in the proclamation (reconciliation) and presentation (revelation) of the gospel, to sinful men but that’s where the work of the Holy Spirit stops. The Holy Spirit does not force His way into a lost person’s heart. In Luke 12, Jesus emphasizes the importance of man’s response to the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Here Jesus says,
8 “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. 9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:8-10).
The power of the gospel is essential and irrefutable in the salvific process; the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; it simply is not irresistible. If it were irresistible, there would be no reason for Jesus to warn people about blaspheming against the drawing of the Holy Spirit. The gospel message is irrefutable; it is not irresistible.
James makes the following statement,
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (Jam. 4:2-5).
There are a couple of statements in this passage that are very revealing as one considers this concept of irresistible grace. In this passage in James is discussing the role that the lust of the world plays in the problems mankind faces. If someone wants to be a friend to the world that person is automatically an enemy of God. This is a choice that man makes; it is not a choice that God makes for him; for James says, “You have not because you ask not; you ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jam. 4:3, emphasis added). The pleasures that James is talking about are the pleasures that come by being a friend to the world. James’ question in verse 5 is an interesting question: “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?” (Jam. 4:5). This spirit that dwells in us that James is speaking is the Holy Spirit. If the work of the Holy Spirit were irresistible, there would be no jealous yearning. Again, the gospel message is irrefutable; it is not irresistible.
James does not stop there; he continues, “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (Jam. 4:6). Why does God resist the proud? That is very simple; God resists the proud because the proud resist God! Likewise God gives grace to the humble because humility is a choice that men make. In both of these statements it is crystal clear that God’s choice to resist or give grace is predicated by man’s choice to be proud or to be humble. When James says God gives grace to those who are humble, it is important to understand exactly what it is that James is saying. James makes it clear that God does not give grace to make one humble; God gives grace to those who are humble. This is a very important distinction. Once again the drawing of the Holy Spirit as seen through the gospel message helps an individual choose humility over pride and that choice that an individual makes has everything to do with God’s response to him.
With this in mind James continues, “Therefore, submit yourself to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jam. 4:7). Once again, submission is a choice that an individual makes. How does one submit himself to God so that he can resist the devil? James answers that question: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jam. 4:8a). This is an amazing statement. It is not even remotely possible in the Calvinistic mindset for an individual to draw near to God causing God to draw near to him. James is not finished describing this process of submitting oneself to God. As the Holy Spirit works on the cold, calloused heart of a lost person, He cleanses this lost man’s hands and purifies his heart and humbles him in the sight of the Lord and God will lift him up (Jam. 4:2-10). Once again God draws; this is no doubt that this drawing is both premeditated and predetermined. God knew exactly what He was going to do. Once God has cast the lifeline, it is up to the sinful man to grab hold of Christ and live. God’s grace as demonstrated in the gospel message is absolutely irrefutable; it simply is not irresistible.
In Malachi the first chapter, God is chiding His people. He says,
A son honors his father,
And a servant his master.
If then I am the Father,
Where is My honor?
And if I am a Master,
Where is My reverence? (Mal. 1:6a)
God goes on to accuse them of offering lame animals as sacrifices and bringing pitiful offerings to Him. God tells them, “offer it to your governor!” (Mal. 1:8b). See how much he likes it and how well he accepts you. The underlying truth here is that no one would ever consider giving these pitiful offerings to the governor or anyone in authority for that matter. It’s very clear that God is not pleased with what has been going on either. Listen to God’s word of instruction to the children of Israel to correct this displeasing situation: “But now entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably? Says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 1:9). Once again, God’s favor will be determined by their response to repent and turn back to Him.
In the third chapter of Malachi, God tells the children of Israel
“Yet from the days of your fathers
You have gone away from My ordinances
And have not kept them.
Return to Me, and I will return to you,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
“But you said,
‘In what way shall we return?’” (Mal. 3:7).
Apparently God’s grace is not irresistible in the Old Testament for the children of Israel were guilty of going away from God’s ordinances and not keeping them. Even though his grace is not irresistible, His gospel message is irrefutable because there is always hope for the children of Israel. God tells them to return to Him and He would return to them. How are the children of Israel supposed to return to God? God provides that answer in verse 10:
“And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it (Mal. 3:10b).
Imagine that: God telling the children of Israel to try Him first and then watch to see what He does in response to what they do first.
In 1 John 4 God’s love for man is set as the standard for a man’s love for God and for one another. For
8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:8-10).
This is a very important statement. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was the propitiation or appeasement paid to God for man’s sin. Now with that in mind, John says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). In this passage of Scripture one thing is clear; God’s love for man was clearly demonstrated on the cross and that love ought to be enough for man to love God and his fellow man in return. It is the cross that is central in the gospel message and the love that was demonstrated at Calvary was what ought to cause men to love God and one other. God’s irreplaceable grace is evident in every scene that surrounds the cross. This grace is everything but irresistible; because it is clear that while men ought to love one another, many refused to do so.
In 1 John 5, John highlights the importance of believing in the Son of God for salvation, which is obviously the crux of the gospel. John says in verse 10, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10). If indeed it is God’s grace that allows an individual to believe in God in the first place, that grace cannot be irresistible if men are not able to believe the testimony that God has given them in His Son. But that’s exactly what John has just said happens. The qualifying distinction between those who have the Son and have life and those who do not have the Son of God and do not have life, is predicated upon what they believe and in whom they believe. John writes in verse 13, “These things have I have written to you (the gospel) who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). This believing involves two things: there is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit through revelation and then there is the convincing work of the Holy Spirit (reconciliation) at work in the heart of an individual to move them to believe. Once again God’s grace as presented in the gospel message is irrefutable in the salvific process but His grace is not irresistible for there are many who refuse or fail to believe in Christ.
In looking at this issue of an irrefutable gospel versus irresistible grace, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is a very interesting story. He asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. This sample request leads to a rather deep and detailed dialogue between Jesus and this woman. Using the analogy of drawing water, Jesus simply tells her,
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (John 4:10-15).
Jesus tells the woman to go and get her husband and of course she replies, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus acknowledges the woman’s reply and reveals to her that He knows that she has had five husbands and the man that she is now living with is not her husband. At this point the Holy Spirit has cut her heart to the core. Jesus has this woman’s attention. The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:17-26).
It is at this point that this Samaritan woman was compelled to answer life’s crucial question: “what am I going to do with this man who is called Christ?” This woman’s decision is not immediately known. The disciples come up and they basically run this woman off wondering why Jesus would speak to this kind of woman in public in the first place. While the disciples are grilling Jesus about his actions, this woman whose lifestyle has made her a social outcast and a public nuisance went into town and began telling people, “I have met the Messiah! He is told me everything about my life; He is not like any other man that I’ve ever met. He has forgiven me of my sin and he has made me a new person. Come and see Him for yourselves!” (John 4: 29-30a, my paraphrase).
Once again the irrefutable gospel of God is seen at work in this Samaritan community. God’s grace changed this Samaritan woman’s heart as well as her life. The testimony of her lips and the evidence of her life caused many of the Samaritans of that city to believe in Jesus. The Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them and he stayed for two days and many more believed in Christ, not because of what the woman said, but because of what they heard Jesus do and say; for they knew in their hearts that he was the Christ, the Savior of the world. Salvation came to those individuals who like the Samaritan woman heard the gospel claims of Christ and believed in their hearts that this man called Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Savior of the world. John was careful to say many believed in Christ. No doubt there were many others who heard the same testimony and saw the same results that everyone else witnessed, but they refused to believe that this man could be their Savior. God’s amazing grace was poured out on this community and many responded (John 4:1-42).
Consider once again Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (Matt. 23:37-39).
God’s grace can be seen in Jesus’ desire to draw the people of Jerusalem unto Himself. The tenet of Irresistible Grace is actually debunked by Jesus’ statement that “they were not willing” to do what Jesus so much wanted them to do. If God’s will was indeed irresistible as Calvinist’s claim, Jesus would have had no reason to weep over Israel because “all that the Father had given to Him would come to Him.” God’s Grace as presented in the gospel message is irrefutable; it is not irresistible.
Consider the following passage in Ephesians 1.
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:13-14).
In speaking of the irrefutable gospel, this passage says it all. Paul acknowledged their having trusted Christ AFTER hearing the word of truth, “THE GOSPEL of your salvation,” Paul said, and then notice something very interesting. Paul says, “having believed, you WERE sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13).
It appears that several things are evident. First of all, hearing the gospel prompted a response. It is the natural progression of revelation to solicit a response. Now, he says, “having believed” indicating their response to this gospel, they were THEN sealed by the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is not possible without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the new believer’s heart. That is what gives the old man this new nature. Here it is clear that belief in this word of truth, which is the gospel of salvation, must be believed in order to live. God does not “make us alive so that we can believe.” It appears that this passage of Scripture settles that argument.
Finally consider the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28 and its importance in the salvific process.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matt. 28:18-20).
The admonition for every born again child of God is to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Of course the first responsibility is to share the gospel message that Jesus Christ has come to seek and to save those that are lost. God does not arbitrarily choose lost men and women and simply “birth them” into His family. He has commanded His children, the elect who have been gloriously saved by His marvelous mercy and His amazing grace to go out and tell people what He has done for them and so them from the pages of the Bible the promises that He will do the same for them if they will hear His promises and repent and turn to God for forgiveness and adoption into His forever family. This is what the Irrefutable Gospel does; “16b it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16b-17).