What is irresistible grace? What does it mean that God's grace is irresistible? -Podcast Episode 192

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Is the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace biblical? What does it mean that God's grace can't be resisted? Don't people resist God's invitation to salvation all the time? Links: Irresistible Grace - is it biblical? - https://www.gotquestions.org/irresistible-grace.html What is the effectual calling/call? - https://www.gotquestions.org/effectual-calling-call.html What does it mean that God draws us to salvation? - https://www.gotquestions.org/drawn-salvation.html Transcript: https://podcast.gotquestions.org/transcripts/episode-192.pdf --- https://podcast.gotquestions.org GotQuestions.org Podcast subscription options: Apple - https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/gotquestions-org-podcast/id1562343568 Google - https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9wb2RjYXN0LmdvdHF1ZXN0aW9ucy5vcmcvZ290cXVlc3Rpb25zLXBvZGNhc3QueG1s Spotify - https://open.spotify.com/show/3lVjgxU3wIPeLbJJgadsEG Amazon - https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/ab8b4b40-c6d1-44e9-942e-01c1363b0178/gotquestions-org-podcast IHeartRadio - https://iheart.com/podcast/81148901/ Disclaimer: The views expressed by guests on our podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of Got Questions Ministries. Us having a guest on our podcast should not be interpreted as an endorsement of everything the individual says on the show or has ever said elsewhere. Please use biblically-informed discernment in evaluating what is said on our podcast.

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Really, when you look at Calvinism, the whole tulip thing comes down to how you put the you and the
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I together—unconditional election and irresistible grace. What exactly do you mean by those, and how do they work?
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Welcome to the Got Questions podcast. Today we're going to be in Part 5 of our
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What is Calvinism discussion. Interestingly, this is Point 4. Today we're going to be discussing what is the doctrine of irresistible grace.
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The first episode is more like an introduction to Calvinism in general. Then we're going to discuss the five points of Calvinism, and then we're going to have a concluding episode, kind of like what are the practical implications of Calvinism.
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So it's letting you know where we're at in the series, so if you haven't listened to the previous episodes, I'd encourage you to do so, because all the points kind of build on each other.
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Even our discussion about our levels of agreement and disagreement and all that would be very helpful if you watched the previous episode.
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Joining me, as usual, is Kevin, the Managing Editor of GotQuestions .org,
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and Jeff, the Managing Editor of BibleRef .com. So Kevin, Jeff, thanks for joining us today.
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I think we start off with two very common misconceptions about irresistible grace before we jump into what it actually is.
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The first, when most people hear the doctrine of irresistible grace, they picture it that Calvinists view salvation as God always dragging someone, like kicking and screaming, to salvation.
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That it's a matter of God forcing Himself over our wills to accept something that we actually didn't want.
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And for most people, that's not their experience of salvation at all. So when they get that in their minds, well, of course irresistible grace isn't biblical, because that's not how
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I came to faith in Christ. Well, that's not what Calvinism actually teaches. If you want a biblical example, you could point to maybe the
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Apostle Paul in the book of Acts, where he was fighting God with every fiber of his being until God opened his eyes, ironically, by blinding him.
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So God is perfectly capable of dragging someone against their will, but that's not actually what the doctrine of irresistible grace teaches.
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The second misconception is that God's grace can't be resisted, as if the very first time
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God calls us or draws us or opens our eyes or softens our heart, we're going to believe at that very instant.
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No. Plenty of people have resisted God's call to salvation for years, for decades, before finally submitting themselves to Christ and trusting in Him by faith.
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So irresistible grace does not mean that God's grace can't be resisted.
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So Jeff, with that quick intro, what actually is the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace?
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Well, you know me, and I know I like definitions. I like making sure that things are accurate and that they're on point.
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And I think it's good that we start there, because I'm one of those people who thinks that a lot of the controversy over this particular point—and
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I would say in my experience, irresistible grace is by far the most contentious of the points of Calvinism—it's usually contentious because it is taken very literally, according to the words, irresistible grace.
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And we can go off on tangents on that. But the way that it's typically presented, the way it's understood, is the suggestion that the
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Holy Spirit is always going to work in the lives of those who are unconditionally elected, so that they infallibly will come to faith in Christ.
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That also means that this is God overcoming whatever resistance, whatever objection, whatever personality, environmental factors, and so on and so forth.
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It simply means that a sovereign God is going to get through to the people whom he chooses to get through to, and that when he decides to do that, there is nothing a person can do or could do in order to stop that from happening.
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That's sort of the theoretical version of it. And I know as we go through today, we'll probably bring up some of the different ways that we can take that.
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You've already alluded to a couple of them, you know, misunderstandings of what we mean by irresistible and what we mean by grace.
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In that sense, that that which God wants to see accomplished in terms of salvation is absolutely going to happen is very biblical.
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And when we actually get into Scripture, we'll see a lot of stuff in the Bible that supports those things. Yeah, and some of the scriptural support that we see in the
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Bible for this whole matter of irresistible grace or the effectual calling, as it's sometimes called, would include passages like James 1 .18
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that says that God chose to give us birth through the word of truth. And so we kind of see unconditional election in this passage as well.
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But here it's specifically referring to the birthing process. The new birth happens because of God's choice that He causes us to be born again through the word of truth.
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John 6 is a passage that is often used in support of irresistible grace or the effectual calling.
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And Jesus here says that all those the Father gives me will come to me.
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And whoever comes to me, I will never drive away. He says in the next verse, I've come to do the
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Father's will. And in verse 39, He says, And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of those of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
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For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.
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So here, the key phrase is here that the Father gives certain people to the
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Son, the Good Shepherd, and that He will lose none of them. Everyone that the Father gives is going to come to me,
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Jesus says there in verse 37. Also I'll share a couple more here, 2
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Corinthians chapter 4, the first part of this chapter in verse 3, Paul says that if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing because the
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God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ who is the image of God.
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Verse 6, Paul uses this illustration for God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made
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His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ.
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So in this passage, Paul says that some are blinded to the gospel, but then
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God has given the light of salvation to others, those that He chooses to give light to.
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So back in Genesis, God says, Let there be light, and there was light.
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And so in the darkened, blinded heart of the natural man,
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God can say, Let there be light in the heart, and the result's going to be just as sure.
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There will be light. God is going to open those eyes. God is going to unblind those that right now cannot see the gospel.
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And this is all according to God's will and based on God's overcoming power to overcome all resistance.
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And then I'll just mention Romans 8 and verse 30 as well. There are other passages, but Romans 8, 30,
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Those He predestined, He also called. Those He called, He also justified. Those He justified,
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He also glorified. So we have this step -by -step process going from predestination to glorification.
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And so we ask the question, Is there anybody on the first step where God predestines them, step one, who does not make it all the way to glorification, which is the final step?
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The answer seems to be no. I mean, the whole process is done according to the will of God.
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And those He predestines are also glorified. And so this, and the calling, that word calling is actually mentioned right here as part of the process.
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It's interesting in that passage, the golden chain of salvation.
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I think we just recently published an article on that and how they're all linked together. And if some people who reject
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Calvinism, either fully or partially, will say, well, there are multiple callings of God.
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It's like, well, that's debatable, whether there's a general call and a specific call.
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But in the call in Romans 8, that particular call results in glorification 100 % of the time.
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So at some point, there is an effectual calling that when God issues that call, people come, they are saved, they are justified, and they will ultimately be glorified.
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And that's a powerful reminder that, yeah, you can talk about God doing various levels of grace, different callings to different people at different times, but ultimately there is a call that is 100 % effectual, according to Romans 8.
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Yes, Calvinists would split the calling into two different types. The external call or the general call that all mankind receives.
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So a man walks outside and he sees all of God's creation, and he can say, well,
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I know that there's a God. I can respond to this creation that God has made.
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The heavens declare the glory of God. But then there's also the general call of the gospel when it's preached.
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Every time somebody hears the gospel, that is a general call to salvation. But then the
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Calvinist would say there's another call, an internal call that doesn't fall just on people's ears, but it's the
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Holy Spirit speaking to the heart. And that internal call is the effectual one. So somebody can resist the external calls to salvation.
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They can say no to the gospel when they hear it physically. But when the Holy Spirit is working with God's power inside the heart, that is the effectual call that the
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Calvinist would say is irresistible. So, Jeff, you mentioned earlier that you find this point to be the most controversial of the five points of Calvinism.
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And I think you said that last week as well. And that surprises me in that most people would put limited atonement as the most controversial, or some people even say the fifth one, the eternal security or perseverance of the saints is most controversial.
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Why for you, in your experience, is irresistible grace the most controversial of the five points?
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I think the reason that it's the most controversial is because it is the one point that is the most directly tied to the sense of God's sovereignty.
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And I think that's where, for me, it gets complicated when we start talking about whether or not it's valid or invalid, whether it makes sense or whether it doesn't make sense.
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Really, when you look at Calvinism, the whole tulip thing comes down to how you put the you and the
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I together. Unconditional election and irresistible grace. What exactly do you mean by those and how do they work?
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The others are almost, they're not irrelevant, but they're relatively easy to pass off and say they sort of stand alone, they kind of mix in.
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But irresistible grace gets into this idea of how much free will human beings actually have and how responsible we are for the things that we say and that we do.
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And there is definitely pushback, philosophically, even spiritually, biblically, on some of the approaches to irresistible grace.
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So, for example, as Kevin was talking about something like a general call and an effectual call, sometimes when you look at that, you start asking questions like, but then is the general call a sincere offer?
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In other words, if it's something that's being offered by a God who knows full well that you're not even capable of responding to it in the first place, then does that represent some kind of insincerity?
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Now, if somebody says, no, it doesn't represent insincerity because a person is willfully resisting
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God, then you get to the whole issue of, but then irresistible grace.
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If God is capable of making an offer that we cannot refuse, we are incapable of refusing, then why wouldn't he?
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Why would he tell us things like you have to repent, you need to believe? Why would he say those types of things?
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So, it brings up questions that are difficult for us to answer. And we've said before with a lot of these points that we are trying to look behind the curtain, you know, we're looking under the hood of the machine here.
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We're trying to understand God's will, and there's always going to be some sense where we're going to come to a point and say,
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I can't fully understand this. For me, I find that irresistible grace is the point where we most often see people who want to pull problems with that, but they want to ground those in the real world.
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In other words, there's a difference between legitimately saying, I don't know how God does this or what it means, that's a mystery, versus saying this thing seems like a logical contradiction.
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And those are two different things. And you're going to run into more of those with irresistible grace than you will with others, just because the way that it interacts with free will, sin, a lot of different things.
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There's so many different ways that that interacts that you're going to have problems eventually. Yeah, Jeff, well said.
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I mean, just really nailing down the implications of this and that the points of Calvinism build on each other.
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But by the time you get to irresistible grace, you're really at a point where it's like, wow, yes, I see, in a sense, the consistency between the points, but this is where I guess it gets real, so to speak, in that, okay, if all this is true, this has some pretty major implications for how the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humanity work together.
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But with that in mind, Kevin, I know you have some scriptures that you think tend to present a different perspective than what the
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Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace teaches. So what are some of those? Yeah, sure.
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We know that people change, right? And that God has the ability to change people.
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We think of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter four. I mean, what a proud and powerful king.
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He's the king that put up his own image and made people bow down to that. That guy's like, he's far gone.
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He's never going to honor God, is he? But then he does in Daniel four. God had a way of bringing him to his knees, and he actually praises
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God, the God of Daniel there in Daniel chapter four. It's an amazing change in King Nebuchadnezzar's heart.
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And Shea, you mentioned the apostle Paul and how he was turned around in his life.
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And so we know that God transforms people, but we also know that people have, scripture seems to say very clearly that people have a genuine choice to make.
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The offer of salvation, as Jeff was mentioning, is a sincere one. That general call is sincere.
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People who respond in faith to Christ will be saved, and it seems that they do have an actual choice.
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Here are just a few that I pulled out from the New Testament. In Stephen's sermon, there right before he's martyred in Acts chapter seven, he's confronting the
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Sanhedrin, and this is a group of people that had rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
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And Stephen says to them in Acts seven, verse 51, you men who are stiff -necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the
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Holy Spirit. You are doing just what your fathers did. So here's a clear case of people who are resisting the
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Spirit and not allowing the to do a work of change and transformation in their lives.
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In Luke seven, we have the Pharisees being described as rejecting God's will.
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We read this, Luke seven, verse 30, the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected
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God's purpose for themselves because they had not been baptized by John. John's baptism was one of repentance, so this is saying that the
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Pharisees had rejected their need to repent. We don't need that, and in so doing, they were rejecting
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God's purpose for themselves. They were resistant to God's will. Jesus in Matthew 23, he weeps over Jerusalem and he says,
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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.
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So Jesus doesn't say, I wanted to bring you in, but you couldn't because you were not part of the elect.
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He doesn't say that. He says, I wanted to bring you in, but you didn't want to come. You had seemed to have a choice in the matter.
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You have rejected your Messiah. And then in Luke 18, as Jesus is speaking with the rich young ruler, well, this is after the rich young ruler turns his back on Jesus and walks away, says,
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I'm going to go count my money. I love my money more than I love Jesus. And so after he's gone, Jesus turns to his disciples here in Luke 18 and verses 24 and 25.
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He says, how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
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So that's really a strange statement, and I wonder how it squares exactly with irresistible grace.
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How is it harder or easier for some people to enter the kingdom of God? Wouldn't it be harder for God to draw a person to himself?
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God can save anyone, right? How is it hard? How is it easy? I think this whole thing of being harder or easier has to do with a person's willingness or unwillingness to repent of the idolatry in this context, specifically of the love of money and to trust
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Christ. And so a few passages here and there are others that seem to say that, yeah, we have a real choice and God's grace can indeed be resisted.
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But where I see this becoming an issue is that there's a broad agreement between believers and just about all of these points about things like the fact that God is sovereign and we are frail and we are weak and it's all
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His grace, it's not by works and things like that. I think what happens with irresistible grace is we take this idea of God's sovereignty and we want to elevate the concept of God's sovereignty such that we almost turn it into like a self -caricature.
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I think that sometimes happens with irresistible grace. Some of the points that you were just bringing up, Kevin, I think speak to that idea.
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It's why I'm not comfortable with the typical formulation of irresistible grace as a means of implying that if the traditional
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Calvinist view of irresistible grace is not true, that means God is not sovereign.
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Because we do see that God allows people to resist. He allows believers who are saved to choose not to do what
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He wants us to do. So if I'm a saved believer and God is allowing me the free will to sin, then either
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He is sovereignly ordaining that I commit those sins or He is sovereignly allowing me to commit those sins because it's part of His greater plan.
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Now, when it comes to salvation, though, the typical formulation for irresistible grace and unconditional election does not allow for somebody to say
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God is sovereignly allowing someone to come to salvation.
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It's saying that God is deliberately making a choice to override, to engage, to interact in a way that that person is not capable of making any choice about.
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That's where we start to get into the difference between mystery and contradiction. So if it's impossible for somebody to make any decision according to free will without that somehow violating
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God's sovereignty, then what does that make of sin? If God only applies the idea of irresistibleness and sovereignty only to salvation but not to sanctification, then what does that mean?
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So I think the terminology here, again, I think is where we get hung up. It's the irresistible grace.
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There are other approaches to these ideas that have a very similar view. I've brought up my view in the past.
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People from my perspective would prefer a term like overcoming grace. In other words, this is something where we would still say, yes,
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God has to be the one to break through. God has to be the one to overcome something.
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But he's doing that in such a way that he gets me to the point where my will finally turns to him in response.
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And it's a little more complicated than that. It's not quite as easy. There's other analogies that we can use for that.
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The point is that there are ways for us to retain the positive, the good, in what we see in irresistible grace without getting hung up in a legalistic version of the words.
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I have to go with just what those words mean literally and not what the Bible really implies. Guys, when
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I'm preaching in a church setting, I'll give the gospel and then
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I have an invitation at the end of the service. So during that invitation, I pray that people will respond.
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What I have never done is gone down the aisle, grabbed somebody by the collar, and dragged them up down the aisle to the altar to force them to get saved.
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That's not my job. My job is to give the external call to present the gospel.
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And then I pray that God will break through whatever resistance is in a person's heart and draw that person to himself.
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So I pray as if God's grace is irresistible.
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I want it to be irresistible. I want that person to be saved. But I know my job is simply to extend that external call to give that gospel in an understandable way.
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So I preach as if it's all up to that person. Hey, you need to repent. You need to believe in Jesus. And I pray as if it's all up to God.
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Lord, break through and save this person. Overcome whatever resistance they have.
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Yeah, Kevin, you're kind of spoiling the last episode in the series where we talk about the practical implications.
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Okay, if these doctrines are true, how does that impact how we live? How does it impact how we share the gospel?
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But no, what you said there is very appropriate in that we want the gospel to be irresistible.
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We want people to come to faith in Christ. But ultimately, that's God's work. As we've gone through the different points, it's all a matter of we know
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God has a role in salvation beyond Him just providing the means through Christ.
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And kind of the debate between Calvinism and some of the other points is how much works. So for example, in each episode,
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I've kind of tried to show how the points of Calvinism logically flow, not because we necessarily agree with all the points fully as they're presented, but just to account as here's how it makes sense.
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Well, you start with total depravity. If humanity is so hopelessly and completely dead in sin that could not believe in the gospel, could not come to Christ without God actually first creating spiritual life in us, basically regenerating us to life to enable us to even believe,
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God clearly is doing some sort of work. So some would debate that God doesn't have to do that much work.
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But it's pretty clear from like John 6, 44 and other passages, God does something. But if God has to regenerate a person to enable them to believe, well, then clearly everyone who
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He regenerates are going to believe. So then we get to unconditional election. Well, if everyone
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God regenerates is going to believe, clearly He's only electing the ones whom He's going to regenerate.
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So that flows to their limited atonement. Well, if everyone He died for are the ones He's going to regenerate to believe and elect, well, then clearly
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He only died for the ones He's going to elect. And then you get to irresistible grace. Well, if God is regenerating us, basically instilling faith in us, then clearly everyone whom
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He calls is inevitably going to come to salvation. So there's kind of how the four points up to now all flow together.
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But I think if you watch every episode, you hear us saying, look, yes, this is one way of looking at the scriptural passages.
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But there are other solid, biblically plausible ways of understanding these things differently from Calvinism.
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I'd say each of us to varying degrees leans more towards Calvinism than we do Arminianism.
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But in saying that, we do not think Calvinism is a perfect explanation, because ultimately, as Jeff is talking about, there's a difference between mystery and contradiction.
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We don't believe there's a contradiction, but we believe every Christian is going to have to come to accepting that there's some mystery in this, that how exactly the sovereignty of God and human responsibility work together in salvation makes perfect sense in the mind of God.
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But for us, this side of eternity, I don't know that we'll ever fully and perfectly understand how that works.
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JG We also have to remember that there's a passage that for me sort of starts and ends all of my thoughts about how do
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I understand this? How do I understand God's will? And that's a passage in Romans 9 that gets brought up a lot when we talk about things like predestination.
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Basically, this section of Romans 9 is the comparison to a potter and clay. And it's a question, it's a rhetorical question that's asked.
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It's basically what right does the clay have to criticize the potter for the way the potter shapes the clay?
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Could not God do with mankind what he wants is the gist of the question.
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And I think regardless of what view you take, I think that's one of those unquestionable non -negotiables that we cannot approach any of these from a standpoint of saying, yeah, but if I don't like it, it can't be right.
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Or if I don't understand it, it can't be right. The most extreme versions of some of these ideas that we think of,
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God could choose to do those things. God could basically choose to say, no, I don't allow free will almost in any sense whatsoever.
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That's the potter and the clay. And then when somebody objects and says, yeah, but why would God allow people to make this decision and not that?
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The potter and the clay. At some point in time, we have to recognize that a lot of these things are possible.
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God can do this as he chooses, the way he wants to. And what we don't want to do is put ourselves in a position where we say things like God can't or God shouldn't.
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Maybe even sometimes God wouldn't. So when we get into this, I think it's important that we remember that a lot of these ideas do have to start and end with the idea that my comfort level, my opinion, my sense of preference on these things is not something that's supposed to come into play.
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And I say that in the sense that that's often a concept that can be used in support of some of the
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Calvinist doctrines of grace. Sometimes people just object to them on gut emotional grounds.
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And that's why a lot of Calvinists will reference to Romans 9 to say, if God wants to create people a certain way he can, I just remind people that that works in both directions.
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That just because God has the sovereign power to do something, that would also mean he has the sovereign power to not do it.
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If he so chooses. So how he wants to do it is how he's going to do it. My job is just to try to sort of understand as best
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I can and not force something into his word or his world based on what I want.
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Well said, Jeff. And you hit the nail on the head with the resistance a lot of people have towards Calvinism when it comes to,
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I don't like it. I don't like any doctrine that tells me
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I'm not fully in control of my own destiny, my own choices. I don't like anything telling me I don't truly have a free will and so forth.
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And this is coming from three individuals who would describe themselves as varying degrees moderately
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Calvinistic or even non -Calvinistic. But it's the potter and the clay illustration.
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Like you said, God has the right to do with us as his creator, as he sees fit. Like you said,
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Nebuchadnezzar, as Kevin mentioned earlier, who can hold back
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God's hand or who can resist God's plan? The answer is no one.
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So that's a powerful reminder that no matter what view we take in all of this, we need to come to the realization that God is in control,
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God is sovereign, and he is free to do with his creation as he sees fit. Calvinism is one way people seek to explain how
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God operates in the realm of salvation and human responsibility. And there are other explanations.
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So hopefully this conversation between the three of us on irresistible grace has been helpful to you in understanding what irresistible grace is, what it isn't, what may be biblical and or unbiblical about it.
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So that's our goal in the series on Calvinism is not to promote Calvinism. Really not what we're about at all, but to help you understand so you can make a fully informed decision and also go back to the scriptures and study these issues for yourself.
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So please hear that as our primary encouragement throughout this series. So this has been the Got Questions podcast on what is irresistible grace.