Attention to detail is far more important in our theology than in our penmanship. For instance, we need to be sure to dot the I in TULIP, the well-known acrostic whose letters represent the classic five points of Calvinism. In the age-old debate between Augustinian and Semi-Pelagian theologies, the crucial point at issue is irresistible grace. Before we consider the qualifier "irresistible," we must define the use of "grace" in this term.The grace in this formula has to do with an action or operation. This operation is wrought on us by God the Holy Spirit. It is a divine work or operation that cannot be earned or merited. We can never earn or deserve grace. If grace were earned, it no longer would be grace. Rather, it would be justice.
The specific operation of God that is in view in the doctrine of irresistible grace is the divine work of regeneration. Regeneration literally means "to regenerate again." It is the concept that rests upon Scripture's teaching concerning rebirth or being born anew. This is the idea expressed in Paul's concept of "quickening," by which the sinful person is raised from spiritual death to spiritual life.
Most Christians agree that regeneration is necessary for salvation. The debate rages over the question of how this necessary condition is met. Historic Semi-Pelagianism teaches that in order to be regenerated one first must have faith. In this schema, it is clear that faith precedes regeneration and that regeneration rests upon a prior response to faith. Thus, God is seen as offering salvation to whosoever will cooperate with His grace.
In contrast to all forms of Semi-Pelagianism, Augustianian and Reformed theology teaches that the grace of regeneration is a monergistic work that is done by God alone because it is a work only God can do. It is a work accomplished on us and in us by which our very natures are changed. It is at once a divine act of re-creation and of liberation. By re-creation we are quickened to spiritual life, or raised from the state of spiritual death.
Regeneration is not a joint venture. We do not cooperate in it because we will not cooperate in spiritual matters while we are still dead in our sins. Our hearts are totally disinclined and indisposed to the things of God. We love darkness and will not have God in our thinking. The desires of our hearts are enslaved to sin. We will never choose Christ until or unless we are liberated from that slavery. In short, we are morally unable to exercise faith until and unless we are first regenerated.
This is why the axiom of Reformed theology is that regeneration precedes faith. Rebirth is a necessary pre-condition for faith. Faith is not possible for spiritually dead creatures. Therefore, we contend that apart from spiritual rebirth there can be no faith.
Of course, once the divine initiative of regeneration has been wrought by the sovereign monergistic work of God, the rest of the Christian life is synergistic. But the transformation of the person from death to life, darkness to light, bondage to liberation is done by God alone, effectually and irresistibly. This is the Biblical basis for the church's confession Soli Deo Gloria.