Irresistible Grace

by Al Maxey


According to the Canons of Dordt (Third & Fourth Heads of Doctrine -- Article 11), "But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the inmost recesses of man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised; infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions."

Article 12 states: "And this is that regeneration so highly extolled in Scripture ... which God works in us without our aid. It is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable. All in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe."

Article 22 of The Belgic Confession states: "We believe that, to attain a true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him."

John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes that God "has given the true knowledge of Himself in an internal manner, by the illumination of His Spirit, without the intervention of any preaching."

Calvinism teaches that those who are not of the elect "cannot believe, even though he hears the external preaching of the Word and perhaps reads it for himself many times!" In the elect, however, "the Holy Spirit works IRRESISTIBLY, regenerating him so that he understands fully that he is a sinner and needs God, and, therefore, wants to be saved and to believe" (Dr. Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 48).

"Thus, the once dead sinner is drawn to Christ by the inward supernatural call of the Spirit who through regeneration makes him alive and creates within him faith and repentance. The special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made. This special call is not made to all sinners, but it is issued to the elect only! The Spirit is in no way dependent upon their help or cooperation for success in His work of bringing them to Christ. It is for this reason that Calvinists speak of the Spirit's call and of God's grace in saving sinners as being 'efficacious,' 'invincible,' or 'irresistible.' For the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ!" (Steele & Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 49).


Is Calvinism's doctrine of Irresistible Grace a valid teaching in light of God's Word? Let us again ask some important questions and seek their answer from the inspired Scriptures.

This doctrine teaches that the Holy Spirit gives faith to the elect even before they have heard the gospel. Indeed, it maintains one cannot either understand or accept the gospel unless he has first been given faith to do so. Is faith something imposed irresistibly upon the elect, or does it come from hearing and accepting the Word of God?

  1. Romans 10:17 ..... "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." "But many of those who had heard the word believed" (Acts 4:4).

  2. John 20:30-31 ..... "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

  3. John 17:20 ..... "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." "Send to Joppa, and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household" (Acts 11:13-14).

  4. Acts 18:4, 8 ..... "And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized."

  5. James 1:18, 21 ..... "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth .... Therefore, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you" (I Corinthians 15:1-2).

  6. Romans 1:16 ..... "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

  7. Luke 8:11, 15 ..... (The Parable of the Sower) --- "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance."

  8. I Corinthians 1:21 ..... "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."

Calvinism's doctrine of Irresistible Grace teaches that you cannot resist the grace of God, nor can you resist His Spirit. What does the Bible say?

  1. Revelation 3:20 ..... "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me." The Holy Spirit is a gentleman! He knocks at the door of your heart, he doesn't kick it down! Man has the choice to hear and open, or to refuse Him entrance.

  2. Matthew 23:37 ..... "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling."

  3. II Timothy 3:8 ..... "And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose (resist) the truth." "Thou didst bear with them for many years, and admonished them by Thy Spirit through Thy prophets, yet they would not give ear" (Nehemiah 9:30). "The angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, and fought against them" (Isaiah 63:9-10).

  4. Acts 7:51 ..... "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did." "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30). "Do not quench the Spirit" (I Thessalonians 5:19).

Does God give His Holy Spirit to the elect before they have heard, believed and accepted the gospel (as Calvinism teaches), or does He bestow His Spirit only upon those who have accepted Christ?

  1. John 14:17 ..... Jesus promises to send to His disciples "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him."

  2. John 7:38-39 ..... "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.' This He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive."

  3. Acts 2:38 ..... "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." "God has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). Peter says that the Gentiles received the same gift (the Holy Spirit) as the Jews did, "after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 11:17).

  4. Galatians 4:6 ..... "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

  5. Ephesians 1:13-14 ..... "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation -- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance."

  6. Galatians 3:2 ..... "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?"

  7. Galatians 3:13-14 ..... "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree' -- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Calvinists would say that we receive faith through the Spirit; God's Word says we receive the Spirit through faith!

Nowhere in the Word of God does it teach that the Holy Spirit directly, miraculously, and irresistibly opens and enters the hearts of unbelieving and unrepentant sinners and regenerates them against their will.

"The doctrine of the Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of man, sometimes referred to as 'special' or 'saving' or 'irresistible' grace; teaching that man is inherently depraved and cannot respond to the gospel without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit; is man's doctrine, not Bible doctrine. If the Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit is true, then the logical implication is that the Word of God is insufficient in the conversion of the sinner. If the doctrine of Irresistible Grace is true, then it places the responsibility of salvation entirely upon God and destroys the responsibility of man to act. If Irresistible Grace is truly 'irresistible,' it destroys the 'free moral agency' of man" (David Gibson, Calvin's TULIP Theology).

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