64. What does the term “irresistible grace” mean, and does the bible teach it?

The term “irresistible grace” is a common theological phrase referring to the Calvinistic teaching that God has sovereignly determined to have grace upon certain persons, and he will unstoppably have his way in being gracious to them, and in finally saving them. In other words, God's grace, in the case of the elect, does not stop with a mere offer of mercy; it is greater yet, and irresistibly draws his people to himself. It commands repentance and then grants that very repentance commanded. It calls sinners to himself and then gives them the spiritual life and heart of faith necessary to respond to that call. In other words, God's grace freely and necessarily supplies everything, including the will to believe, that is necessary for the salvation of all the elect.

What the doctrine of irresistible grace does not teach is that God's grace or the work of the Holy Spirit can never be resisted. The non-elect not only might, but always do resist the Holy Spirit and the grace of God freely offered in the Gospel (e.g. Acts 7:51; John 12:37-40); and even the elect may resist it for a time. However, God will continue to work and draw his elect; and in his own time, he will eventually overcome all resistance, and bring them to himself certainly and unstoppably.

There are many scriptural passages that teach the doctrine of irresistible grace, in its correctly understood sense that God will certainly overcome the natural opposition of the elect and draw them to himself. In Deuteronomy 30:6, for instance, God promises not just to give his people an opportunity for salvation, but to give them circumcised hearts that will obey his laws; and then in Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:40 he confirms and expands upon this promise, assuring his people that he will give them new hearts of faith, causing them to trust and believe in him and preventing them from turning away from himself. Not only does his grace present them with a free offer of salvation, it also provides them with the new heart that delights in the gospel and freely embraces that offer.

In John 3:8, Jesus teaches the doctrine of irresistible grace by saying that, just as the wind blows wherever it wishes, so the Holy Spirit gives life to whomever he desires. In John 5:21, he teaches that the Son has the authority to give life to whomever he will. And in John 6:37-45, he teaches that all (without exception!) whom the Father gives to the Son and draws to him will infallibly come to Christ and be raised up on the last day. So in the gospel of John, all three persons of the Trinity are portrayed as providing irresistible and certain grace to the elect, which will unstoppably give life and salvation to those whom the Father has chosen and given to the Son. Many more scriptures could be provided, but perhaps the clearest teaching of the doctrine of irresistible grace comes from Romans 9:15-24, where God declares unilaterally, “I will (not might!) have mercy on whomever I will have mercy”.

Related Resources
Finally Alive by John Piper
Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election

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