The Lynch Pin of the Five Points of Calvinism

Irresistible grace is the fourth point in the five points of Calvinism. It is sometimes thought of as the one that holds them all together. This is because, without God’s irresistible grace, the work of salvation can never begin. A century after Calvin, people were in an uproar about it. Debates broke out about how people came to believe in Jesus. Did people just will themselves into belief? Or did God give them the gift of believing? In other words, who initiates the process of coming to faith?

The Five Points of Calvinism - Irresistible Grace

Many thought that individual people were the initiators, not God. But Calvin and the Reformers after him stood squarely against this. In his famous work, The Institutes, Calvin teaches that God must change our will before we can even begin to believe in Him. This is because, left to ourselves, our wills are against God. Our actions and desires are so inclined toward evil, we need God to change us. This has nothing to do with us and all to do with God. As Calvin says, the Bible “does not teach that the grace of a good will is bestowed upon us if we accept it, but that He wills to work in us. This means nothing else than that the Lord by his Spirit directs, bends, and governs, our heart and reigns in it as in his own possession” (Institutes, 2.3).

What Is Irresistible Grace?

Irresistible grace is the teaching in Reformed theology that refers to God’s grace being freely given to those who cannot on their own choose God and is so powerful that it cannot be resisted. Simply put, if God wants you to be one of His people, He will have you.

According to the Bible, people are spiritually dead before encountering God’s grace, as it says in Ephesians 2:1, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” This means that people are unable to save themselves or come to God on their own.

However, through God’s grace, people are made alive in Christ and can accept His salvation. The teaching of irresistible grace emphasizes the idea that God’s grace is freely given and cannot be refused. This means that once God has chosen to extend His grace to someone, that person will be saved, and nothing can stand in the way of their salvation.

What About People Who Seem to Resist?

There seem to be many people who hear the gospel and don’t believe. Does that mean they have resisted God?

This is an interesting question and one many theologians have discussed. The answer, in the most straightforward terms, is that God doesn’t give saving grace to all people who hear the gospel. Theologians sometimes refer to this as the difference between God’s external call (the mere hearing of the gospel) and His internal call (the work of the Holy Spirit to make sinners alive in Christ). This internal call is exactly the grace that cannot be resisted.

The Westminster Confession helpfully puts it this way, “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it” (WCF 10.2). It is all God’s gift and none of man’s doing.

How Does This Fit in With the Rest of the Five Points of Calvinism?

In our article on limited atonement, we were reminded that the five points of Calvinism help us see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are completely unified in accomplishing God’s purpose of saving His people. There, we focused on the work of the Son through the atonement.

In this article, we see that irresistible grace highlights the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation and helps to connect the dots of the other points by demonstrating God’s complete control in man’s salvation, even at the moment of initiating belief. This is evident in John 6:44a, where Jesus states that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

This verse expresses the truth that man cannot initiate the process of salvation because he is dead in sin and incapable of doing anything for himself. Instead, the Father draws people to the Son through the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit must work in the heart of the individual to draw them to Christ and enable them to accept His gift of salvation. The power of the Spirit ensures that the person will be saved.

What Does This Mean for You?

Irresistible grace means that salvation is not something we could ever earn or deserve on our own. It’s a gift of grace, completely undeserved and unearned.

When we consider the idea that God’s grace is irresistible, it should humble us and remind us of our complete dependence on Him. It should also give us comfort and assurance, knowing that if God has chosen to save us, nothing can ever separate us from His love.

All the glory belongs to God, not to us. It’s His mercy and truth that saves us, not anything we’ve done or could ever do. As Psalm 115:1 reminds us, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”