Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I is for Irresistable Grace

Salvation is all of God from start to finish. The crux of the debate between the Arminian and the Calvinist camps fell here, on the doctrine of irresistable grace. Some might think that limited atonement was the focal point of the debate. But it is not so. Jacob Arminius found his greatest objection to Calvin's theology here. The Remonstrants built their other points of doctrine from an examination of Arminius' teaching about irresistable grace.

Irresistable grace is the Holy Spirit's work in our salvation. Some Puritan authors, when speaking of the Holy Spirit's work in finding Christ's lost sheep in the world, referred to him (the Holy Spirit) as the "Hound of Heaven.' Like a bloodhound He sniffs out and tracks down His quarry. And since He is God, none escape Him.

Opponents of irresistable grace argue that it means that God grabs us, as if by the nose, and forces us to become followers of Jesus Christ. This view is wrong and does great violence to the beauty of this blessed doctrine.

We have seen in previous posts that man is dead in sin, blind, deaf, hard hearted, carnally minded, enslaved to his sin nature and other terms that the Bible uses to describe us in our lost condition. If we are to be saved then these traits must be turned around. That is the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit. By His power He opens our blind eyes, unstops our deaf ears, takes out our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He frees us from the shackles of our slavery to our sin nature. He gives us a spiritual mind and makes our carnal minds alive to the things of God. All this must happen if the sinner is to even see that he needs a savior. Remember, to the lost person Jesus Christ and his salvation is a stumbling block or foolishness. One modern preacher put it like this "We need to get lost before we can be found." He is saying that a sinner has to realize their need for a savior before they will be willing to turn to a savior.

Some folks compare salvation to a man who has fallen overboard from a ship in the middle of the ocean. Without reaching out and grabbing the life preservers (the gospel message) that is being thrown to him, he will die. But total depravity teaches us that in our lost condition, we not only think we don't need a life preserver, we don't even think we are wet! Without this realization, no one will choose to come to Christ as Lord and Savior.

When the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive, it is called being born again (John 3:3). The theological term for the new birth is regeneration. God has to regenerate us if we are to even be able to see spiritual realities. But what happens once God does this?

John Calvin believed God's first grace to the newly born is to give them faith to believe that the Bible is the word of God. By believing that, they will be able to hear the gospel message and believe it is God's message to them. Through the word of God faithfully preached (whether by a preacher or another faithful witness to God's gospel) the sinner sees Jesus Christ as the Loving, All Sufficient Savior for their sins. The sinner is shown, through the gospel, their vile, sinful, and helpless state, and they see Jesus as the One from heaven who was sent for them. Here the Holy Spirit makes the gospel personal and the sinner sees Christ, not just as Savior, but as their Savior. We join the Apostle Thomas as he falls on his knees and confesses "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).

Far from being dragged forcefully by God against our will, the awakened sinner finds nothing more desirable in the universe than to claim Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Jesus is to him the "Altogether Lovely," the "Fairest of Ten Thousand" and the "Bright and Morning Star." The sinner is drawn to Christ like a man dying of thirst is irresistable drawn to a glass of ice water. He must have it or die. Jesus becomes the "Pearl of Great Price" for which a person would sell everything he has to possess.

Jacob Arminius believed that man's will was sufficiently strong to resist God's calling to the sinner and so, a man could refuse, by a free will decision, to reject Christ. The Reformers and Puritans answered their Arminian opponents by speaking of the Glorious Savior who is the deepest desire of our hearts. The beauty of the Reformed gospel is the loving drawing (with cords that bind us as tight as steel), cords of love from God drawing us, speaking to us, calling to us, bringing us, with the very power of God's Being to Himself. Whom Christ died for, He will have. Jesus said the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. He also said that the sheep hear his voice and they follow him. Since no one can know who God's elect people are, the gospel is preached (as Jesus said) to every creature. We throw out a wide net, but if anyone is caught, it is God who catches them. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Also, "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it." (1 Cor. 3:6; Isa. 55:11).

A closely related scriptural concept is that of the Old Testament love slave. In the year of Jubilee in Israel, slaves were to be freed. However, if there was a slave who loved his master so much that he could not bear a life apart from that master, the slave could ask to be kept. Such a slave was taken to the doorpost of the house and his ear was pierced with an awl. Such a slave could never again be freed and would live out the rest of his life as a slave to that master. We are such slaves to Jesus Christ. We are not held be decree or force. Our love for Jesus Christ compels us to devote ourselves to Him. We are bound to Him by cords of love. BUT "We love him because He first loved us."

Calvinists speak of the general and the effectual calls. The general call is what is given by preachers and Christians witnessing their faith to other people. The general call goes out to everyone who will listen. But then there is the effectual call of the Holy Spirit to the spirit of the person. This call goes out to the elect, to those whom the Father has given to the Son. As Paul says "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16). This call, the inward call of the Spirit cannot be ignored or turned away. Scripture says "Whom He calls, He justifies." Now justification is God declaring us to be "not guilty" of our sins. It is God's declaration to the believer. Note, whom He (God) calls, He justifies. Everyone who is called of God is justified by God.

There is much, much more that can be said. But this is enough to show how Calvinists define the phrase irresistable grace. Picture, if you will, that God had stuck his hand into a pail of vomit. As He pulls it out and looks it over, that is how we appear to Him when we are in our sin. But He has chosen to love us ("Elect before the foundation of the world" Eph. 1:4) and in the day of His power He changes us from that ooze of dripping vomit into a child of the Living God. We, who were not a people, are now a people. We, who once had no hope, now have a hope. He calls us His children. We are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ - the God-man. He calls kings and priests in His kingdom. We become heirs to every heavenly blessing. We, who were less than nothing, will one day stand in judgment over angels.

God shows us what we are without Jesus Christ. Then He shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ. He teaches us repentence and gives us the gift of saving faith. And we choose to do what we want to do the most. Turn from our wicked ways and self worship and cling to the One and only One who stood in judgment for us and hang on till we get the blessing.

Do Calvinists believe a sinner chooses to be a believer in Jesus? You bet we do. Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian put it like this "God does all and man does all." Yet at every point, man's action have a source in God's action on our behalf. So that, at no point, can a man claim any credit at all for any part of his salvation. We pray with the thief "God have mercy on me, a sinner." Then we sing with the angels "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!" Amen.

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