Thursday is for Theological Terminology:
The Study of Specialized Words relating to Theology

May 12, 2011

Ron F. Hale, Associate Pastor, West Jackson Baptist Church, Jackson, TN

Resistible Grace

One Definition:

Arminians taught that since God wanted all of mankind to be saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to draw all men to Christ. The human will, however, is free to reject the drawing power of the Holy Spirit. An example of scriptural defense of this would be found in Matthew 13 where Jesus teaches the parable of the sower and the soils. Obviously some reject the good seed before it even takes hold. Others allow it to be stolen through other personal decisions (Frank S. Page, Trouble with the TULIP, 2d ed. [Canton, GA: Riverstone, 2006], 27).

In a synopsis (pp 26-28) of the five points of Arminianism, Dr. Page shares the above definition. He points out that in 1618, several persons disagreeing with the orthodox faith of the Calvinist state church presented their beliefs to the Dutch parliament. These beliefs became known as the five points of Arminianism of which Obstructable or Resistible Grace is the fourth point.

The Case For Resistible Grace

Dr. Steve W. Lemke does an excellent job critiquing the reformed doctrine of Irresistible Grace (chapter five) in the book Whosoever Will: A Biblical Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. Writing as a Biblicist, not an Arminian, Dr. Lemke lays out key Old Testament and New Testament texts showing Resistible Grace at work in the hearts and lives of individuals.


I, personally, enjoyed how Lemke traced the ministry of Jesus and showed over and over how irresistible grace was inconsistent with our Lord’s encounters and experiences. He writes on (pp. 119-120),

Jesus appears to advocate the idea that God’s grace is resistible. For example, hear again Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city 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, yet you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37 HCSB, cf. Luke 13:34). What was Jesus lamenting? He was lamenting that despite God’s gracious love for Jerusalem and desire to gather them to eternal security under His protection, and the many prophets and messengers He sent them with His message, they rejected the message that was sent them and they “were not willing” to respond to God. In fact, the Greek sets the contrast off even more sharply than the English does because forms of the same Greek verb thel? (to will) are used twice in this verse: I willed … but you were not willing.

After referencing and explaining a bevy of Biblical passages, Dr. Lemke summarizes on (p. 129) by saying,

The Bible specifically teaches that the Holy Spirit can be resisted. It repeatedly calls upon all people to respond to God’s gracious invitation. The descriptions of how to be saved seem to focus on human response to God’s initiative. The texts do not seem to support irresistible grace, but they call upon persons to respond to the grace of God in specific ways. This is not to say, of course, that Calvinists cannot reach different interpretations of these texts, based upon their theological presuppositions. It means that the plain sense reading of these texts tends to support the belief that God’s grace, by His own intent and design, is resistible.

The Case Against Resistible Grace

On the Founders Ministries website, Matthew Barrett published a response to Dr. Lemke’s chapter; it is entitled: “Is Irresistible Grace Unbiblical?” Barrett shares,

As opposed to the gospel call to all people which can be resisted, the effectual call is intended only for those whom God has unconditionally elected. The Calvinists position, sometimes called monergism, concludes that effectual calling and regeneration logically and causally precede man’s faith in conversion. Monergism stands in direct tension with synergism, the view held by Arminians that God’s saving grace can be resisted. While God provides a prevenient grace to all, such grace is not successful unless man exercises his free will to cooperate with it. Therefore, for the Arminian, God’s act of regeneration is contingent upon man’s free will to believe. Consequently, faith precedes regeneration in the ordo salutis. Lemke argues that Calvinists have no biblical warrant in affirming the doctrine of irresistible grace. To the contrary, Lemke seeks to argue for the Arminian position, namely, that God’s grace is dependent upon the will of man for its success and efficacy.

Closing thought: One view seems to indicate that God’s grace can be resisted by any or all sinners resulting in eternal death, while the other view indicates the elect cannot not believe due to being irresistibly drawn to Christ and regenerated in order to believe.

One view “believes” in order to be saved, while the other view “believes” because they were first regenerated.

My personal testimony undergirds my biblical convictions of living a rebellious life and resisting God’s wooing voice until the age of twenty-three.

How does your theology and testimony interconnect with the doctrine of … Resistible Grace?

Ron F. Hale

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Andrew Wencl

Another term for “Irresistible Grace” is “Effectual Calling”. Many non-Calvinists mistakenly assume that if the I in TULIP is true, then a person’s first response to the gospel would be his only response. This is obviously illogical, so they reject it.

However, I believe the answer lies in the two different uses of “called” in the New Testament. The one that Arminians affirm is found in Matthew 22:2-3, 14, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come… For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Here we see people resisting the call. For Calvinists, we view two types of calling, one that can be resisted (invitation), and one that cannot (call). The Arminian only accepts the first and uses passages like this to argue there is no irresistible grace.

However, Paul uses called differently than Matthew. Here’s what he says in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

God obviously doesn’t justify everyone who receives an invitation to follow Christ. So here called is effectual–it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Hence the term effectual calling. This calling, is the enacting of God’s sovereing election. Those who God calls, He justifies. No ifs, ands, or buts. The called, here, cannot resist His grace.

darryl brunson

Good job Brother Ron! Andrew, please reread your own statements, then see if they raise any questions concerning the character of God. Whether you call it Irresistable Grace or Effectual Calling or anything else, the accusations on the Person of God are substantial.

    Andrew Wencl

    Darryl,

    I don’t follow your reasoning. Where have I accused God? I have merely said that God chooses some people to be His and that He makes it happen. If anything, I think I’m accusing Him of good here.

Ron Hale

Andrew,
I remember our recent discussions on “Impact blog” and I appreciate your comment.

Right now I only have time to mention a couple of things concerning Matt. 22.

Several versions including the one below do not picture an irresistable calling but simply an “invitation” that was extended.

14For many are called (invited and summoned), but few are chosen (Amplified Bible).

The Holman Version uses the word “invited” instead of called. It simply means those responding properly were the “called” ones.

Respectfully,

    Andrew Wencl

    Ron,

    I know we stand on different steps when it comes to some things concerning Calvinism, but I’m not sure if you’re for or against Irresistible Grace. Your comment here restates what I was saying. The point is “call” is used differently in the New Testament and the argument against Effectual Calling doesn’t recognize the difference.

Steve Lemke

I understand the attempted distinction you are attempting to draw here, Andrew, but there is a fairly serious theological problem — it makes God the author of some kind of divine bait and switch, in which He compels us to make an “invitation” to all, knowing full well that they are totally incapable of responding and yet He refuses to give them the “enabling” means to do so. That approach does very negative things for the doctrine of God, and is almost impossible to reconcile with the character of God as presented in the pages of the New Testament.

    Andrew Wencl

    Steve,

    How people choose to process a truth does not change the truth or change its goodness. If you think that Irresistible Grace means something bad, but Calvinists think it means something good, isn’t it possible that you’re misunderstanding the implications of the doctrine?

    Consider another truth: God sent Jesus to die on the cross. Some people look at that and see love. Others look on that and see child abuse. You know who’s right. So maybe Irresistible Grace is an act of love.

Ron Hale

Andrew,
Romans 8:30 is a wonderful verse, as are the two preceding verses.

Paul is simply telling us what is destined to be true for those who He (God) foreknows. This is referring to Believers (those he foreknows). “And those He predestined” (past tense); He also called (past tense); and those He called, He also justified (past tense); He also glorifed (past tense).

This calling is for a purpose. What is His purpose (for those He foreknew and loved)?

So that they will be glorified (this represents the predestined work of God in eternity).

If there is any irrestible calling (for Believers) … it is to glorification, not justification. Think about it!

Blessings!

    Andrew Wencl

    Ron,

    Exactly. In this case, the calling was effectual. The one called are justified and are glorified.

    I really can’t tell if you’re trying to argue against me or not.

      Ron Hale

      Andrew,
      Your last article over at the Impact blog was defending double predestination – I don’t think we agree on too much even though we use some of the same theological terms and the same Bible.

      Your Calvinistic belief in irresistible grace is connected to man’s total inability; that is a sinner cannot even respond to God’s grace (turn, believe, repent, come) but must be effectually called then regenerated even before he believes (born again before belief). While at the same time your system of theology pictures God purposefully choosing to “pass over” others (non-elect) thus foreordaining them to hell.

      Your system has … two wills, two calls, different kinds of love (God’s love); I’m sort of simple, give me a copy of God’s Word, the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection and I’ll preach that an all loving God desires to save all and all can come to faith in Jesus Christ through repentance and faith.

      Andrew … so how does your theology and testimony mesh “resistible” grace?

        Andrew Wencl

        Ron,

        I think we agree on more than you might suppose ;-).

        You are now suggesting that because my argument is complicated, the gospel is simple, so my argument must be unbiblical. You didn’t say it in so many words, but you are suggesting it here.

        The problem is that I agree with and preach a simple gospel message. When I get into looking at God’s will, His plans, and His purposes, I find simple too reductionistic. I can wonder at God’s creation by looking at the stars, but I can understand it much better with a telescope.

Jeff Smoak

This is a great post and serious (as well as a slightly humorous discussion to read). As Dr. Lemke mentioned in an article about the divisions in the SBC, defining our terms is crucial. But we have to define the terms within the definitions as well. In the SBC blogosphere, some use “Calvinist” and “non-Calvinist” in the context of theological understandings of grace and salvation, while others use them to refer to certain views of church polity and evangelism. Theology certainly should inform polity and evangelism, but a Calvinist or Arminian can adhere to congregational polity and both can be avid evangelist. I hear the term “non-Calvinist” thrown around and wonder what that really means. It tells me only what a person is against, not what they are for. Even then, what is their understanding of a Calvinist? I need to know that in order to know what they are against.

I see that Scripture declares God is sovereign and truly in charge. It equally declares humans make choices for which we are responsible. It tells us our choices are also tainted by our sinful nature. Scripture affirms that we are drawn by His Spirit and that He first loved us, yet it also affirms we must choose and respond to be saved. Our choices cannot thwart or determine His plan, but He makes it clear that our choices matter and He weaves them into His plan in a fashion that is mysterious to us. There seems to be a tension here in Scripture. Who am I to relieve that tension? In the meantime, there is a Great Commission to carry out for a great God! He knows the mechanics of salvation better than I do, and as much as I love to study the engine, I’m not qualified to write a manual for it.

Mark

Ron,

Can you tell me what you meant when you wrote:

My personal testimony undergirds my biblical convictions of living a rebellious life and resisting God’s wooing voice until the age of twenty-three.

Debbie Kaufman

Ron: You may have thought you were resisting the Holy Spirit until the age of 23(and remember we should not go just by our own experience to properly interpret scripture) but God was engineering your salvation the whole time. Romans 8:30

Ron Hale

Debbie,

In Acts 18 … Paul is preaching Jesus to the Jews and they resisted and blasphemed. He went to another group (Gentiles) and they heard, believed, and were baptised. One group resisted and one group responded to the truth of the Gospel.

5 When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching the message [d] and solemnly testified to the Jews that the Messiah is Jesus. (E) 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, (F) he shook out his clothes (G) [e] and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! (H) I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (I) 7 So he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed the Lord, along with his whole household; (J) and many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.

I was in the \”resisting\” group for several years after first hearing the gospel as a child (coming from an unchurched family). I willfully, intentionally, and sinfully resisted the Holy Spirit … who never gave up on me even during my deepest and darkest days in sin and rebellion. God is good!

Mark,

I believe the Bible teaches that sinners can and do “resist” God. Looking back on my life, that was my experience.

Even as a Christian for over 35 years, there have been times that I have “quenched\” \”resisted\” and \”grieved\” the Spirit of God. If a Christian can resist the Holy Spirit, then surely an unbeliever can.

In fact, Jesus said, “Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven\” (Matt. 12:31).

If “blasphemy against the Spirit ” is not “resisting” then I don\’t know what is?

Blessings and have a wonderful Lord’s Day!

Jeff Smoak

Ron, I completely understand your perspective and position on the issue.
However, the text in Acts 18 is descriptive of two groups responding or resisting the Gospel, but the text does not prescribe for us a fully developed view of the mechanics involved in salvation. I believe Scripture as a whole answers these questions from two perspectives at once: God’s and the believer’s. Texts such as John 3:16-21, John 15:16 (You did not choose me, but I chose you), Romans 8-9, Eph. 1, James 4:8, 1 Pet 1:20-21 and John 6:44 are just a few giving us seemingly opposite descriptions of salvation and election, but they are not opposite.

Our perspective of the process of salvation is limited by time and space and obviously God’s is not. I believe God gave us enough of an explanation about salvation to understand our responsibility and His love (as well as His justice). But I don’t believe He revealed everything there is to know about how redemption works, especially how human will and God’s will interface. You and I have “resisted” the Spirit’s leading in our lives and later surrendered; a process we repeat often as believers as we “quench” the Spirit at times. Yes, we are responsible for our rebellious choices. Yes, God’s overarching plan includes that some will go to Hell while others will not. People who end up in hell are not operating outside of God’s reach or sovereignty AND they are responsible for their rebellion. God never saw fit to explain exactly and fully how this works. I wish He had, but for now there is a mystery to embrace…

Debbie Kaufman

Ron: The Holy Spirit is God, you truly think that you have that much power and control over God? When the Spirit of God is sent to change a heart, no one can resist that change, that is irresistible grace. The change opens the heart, our eyes to the work of Christ, who Christ is and who we are in the eyes of a Holy God. The Spirit of God isn’t frustrated because He can’t change us.

John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me;”

John 5:21, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.”

John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

Romans 8:29-30, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 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.”

John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (See tract on Regeneration.)

Acts 13:48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”

Ephesians 1:19-20, “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,”

1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who maketh thee to differ from another?”.

    Jeff Smoak

    Debbie, I don’t think Ron is claiming control over God. On the other hand, we must be careful to not express things in a way that gives that impression.
    Likewise, we must not express God’s sovereignty in ways that rob humanity of its responsibility in sin and salvation. Scripture is clear that God is in control and only by His grace and work on the cross was salvation possible. Scripture is equally clear that human choice is part of and even utilized by God in that process. It may be easier to know how NOT to express this mystery than it is to know how to express it.

Debbie Kaufman

I just don’t know how much plainer scripture can be. The Old Testament says in Proverbs 16:33, 33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

When someone says they can resist the Holy Spirit that does say that they have control over God. God doesn’t sit passively by hoping we choose Christ. Hoping we choose Him. He is God. That is the bottom line, that is what reformed theology says going according to what the Bible teaches. The passages are there.

    Jeff Smoak

    If we cannot resist the Holy Spirit, then why was it necessary for the Holy Spirit to inspire Ephesians 4:30 to be written? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” This, as well as all the other commands in Scripture, exist because we can in fact choose to go against God’s desires for righteousness! There would be no need for Scripture if we did not actually have choice. There would be no need for the Great Commission if salvation was a matter of fate. Scripture gives us a glimpse of the eternal perspective that God predestined and knew from before the foundation of the world those who are His. It also speaks of salvation from our perspective that we can reject Christ (Acts 4 – “The stone which was rejected…”) Scripture gives us both perspectives so we can avoid fatalism on one end and avoid denying God’s sovereignty on the other.

Ron Hale

Debbie,

Earlier you gave me a list of scriptures, with this one the beginning verse: John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me……”

Paul Harvey … use to have “the rest of the story”…..

The rest of that verse is as follows ….. “…….and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

The twin truths of the Sovereignty of God and the responsiblity of man are clearly seen in this verse alone.

Can a person “reist” coming to Christ? The answer is “yes”; people live it out everyday of the week.

    Andrew Wencl

    Ron,

    You mistakenly assume that we deny human responsibility. We hold both truths together, but we interpret human responsibility in light of God’s sovereignty, not the other way around.

    Therefore, the people who come do so because God has ordained it. God has not ordained it because the people come to Him. It all goes back to first cause.

Ron Hale

Jeff,

You are correct …. since the Holy Spirit is a Person and not an “it”, He can be grieved, as well as vexed, resisted, blasphemed, and quenched. Thanks. <

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