The Doctrines of Grace: Irresistible Grace, Part 1
Now, at long last, we return to the Doctrines of Grace! In this installment, we will look at the fourth point of the TULIP, irresistible grace.
Okay, let’s get started, as usual, with a definition. Dictionary.com defines irresistible as impossible to resist; having an overpowering appeal. This is an excellent definition; in fact, it conveys exactly what is meant by this doctrine. The grace of God is so appealing to the elect that it overpowers their natural inclination towards sin and turns them towards God. Their inclination towards God’s grace naturally causes them to accept God.
However, opponents of the doctrine insist that this appeal to the sinner is compulsory if indeed is is that strong. As such, many adherents to Calvinism feel the term “irresistible” does not quite convey what is meant. The term effectual or efficacious is preferred instead. Both are defined as producing, sufficient to produce, or capable of producing an intended result or desired effect.
I’m not too sure why some prefer this designation; in my mind there is no real difference. The root idea of both adjectives is of something so attractive that those to whom it is offered desire only to accept what is offered. You might say that it is the flame to which a moth is attracted.
What is offered? The thing offered is grace. This is defined as mercy; a favor rendered by one who need not do so; the prerogative of mercy exercised (as by a chief executive) or granted in the form of equitable relief; a special favor. We know these are the definitions we see because the verb is defined as to honor or favor. So then we see that grace is God’s special favor, unnecessarily given by His own prerogative. We see further that grace is merciful, equitable relief. Taken together, grace is God’s special favor of merciful, equitable relief, unnecessarily given to individuals by His own prerogative. Sound familiar? Yep, we’re talking, to some degree, about election (see sidebar for Unconditional Election). And what is that relief from? The punishment of sin–eternal death.
What we have, then, is this definition of irresistible grace: the special favor of God, unnecessarily given by His own prerogative, that gives merciful, equitable relief so appealing to those towards whom it is exercised that they in turn want that favor.
I will close this installment with a confession of confusion. I am somewhat confused as to what, exactly, is objectionable about this definition. When one properly understands even the simplest part of the doctrine–the definition–it is difficult to imagine opposition. But as we shall see in the following posts in this series, there are objections; all based on, in my opinion, a faulty understanding of irresistible.
I will pause here and allow us to digest. Join us later this week for part 2, as we undertake a historical look and biblical support!