Church column: Irresistible grace — to get the TULIP really confused

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 24, 2016

Notice what Calvin said about free will.

“Having seen that the dominion of sin, ever since the first man was brought under it, not only extends to the whole race, but has complete possession of every soul, it now remains to consider more closely, whether from the period of being thus enslaved, we have been deprived of all liberty; and if any portion still remains, how far its power extends,” (Calvin, Institutes 2:2:1). “That man is so enslaved by the yoke of sin, that he cannot of his own nature aim at good either in wish or actual pursuit, has, I think, been sufficiently proved. Moreover, a distinction has been drawn between compulsion and necessity, making it clear that man, though he sins necessarily, nevertheless sins voluntarily (Calvin, Institutes 2:4:1).

Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity strips man of his free will. Meaning, that man really has no choice in the matter of his lifestyle.

When a man sins he is simply acting in accordance with his depraved nature and cannot choose otherwise. When Calvin says that the “necessity” of sin does not change the fact that he sins “voluntarily,” he is using some pretty extreme circular logic.

That is, man sins “necessarily” because he is depraved and because he is depraved he chooses to sin “voluntarily.” So, can man choose not to sin? No, says Calvin, because he is depraved.

Then, man does not sin voluntarily because he couldn’t choose not to if he wanted to? No, says Calvin, he does sin voluntarily because he is depraved.

Confusing? Yea, as confused as a dog chasing his own tail. And, it’s out of that confusion that Irresistible Grace comes.

The “I” in TULIP basically says that depraved man cannot do anything to choose salvation so God chose all those, individually, that would ever be saved. Those so chosen cannot deny that election any more than those unelected can choose not be lost. The Holy Spirit so directs the elect that they have no choice in the matter whatsoever.

Again, here is how Calvin, himself, said it. “Accordingly to make his disciples capable of heavenly wisdom, Christ promised them ‘the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive,’ (John 14:17). And he assigns it to him, as his proper office, to bring to remembrance the things which he had verbally taught; for in vain were light offered to the blind, did not that Spirit of understanding open the intellectual eye; so that he himself may be properly termed the key by which the treasures of the heavenly kingdom are unlocked, and his illumination, the eye of the mind by which we are enabled to see: hence Paul so highly commends the ministry of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6), since teachers would cry aloud to no purpose, did not Christ, the internal teacher, by means of his Spirit, draw to himself those who are given him of the Father.

Therefore, as we have said that salvation is perfected in the person of Christ, so, in order to make us partakers of it, he baptizes us “with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” (Luke 3:16), enlightening us into the faith of his Gospel, and so regenerating us to be new creatures. Thus cleansed from all pollution, he dedicates us as holy temples to the Lord” (Institutes, 3:1:4).

Aside from the gross misuse of Scripture in the quote, blatantly striping passages from their immediate context, let me summarize what Calvin said. The only way a person can be saved is for the Holy Spirit to operate directly on their heart to change their reprobate nature.

Because, this action of the Holy Spirit is according to God’s choosing, those chosen cannot resist the operation of the Holy Spirit upon them. If you were chosen for salvation, you can’t resist that salvation – it is Irresistible Grace. If you were not chosen, then you can’t do anything about that either.

Where Calvinist teach that the operation of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, we have in Scripture statements to the exact opposite. In Acts 7:51, Steven charged his audience with resisting the Holy Spirit because they rejected what he preached to them by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:10). So, apparently, they were able to resist the Holy Spirit because Steven said that’s what they were doing.

This also shows how the Holy Spirit operates on the hearts of men today. Calvin taught a direct, miraculous, operation on the heart of the sinner. However, we can’t find a single example of such in the Bible. Every example of salvation we have in Scripture begins with a person or audience hearing the word of God preached.

In Acts 2:37, Peter’s audience was cut to the heart by the preaching of the Gospel. In Acts 8, the Samaritans (Acts 8:6) and the Eunuch (Acts 8:35) were both converted by the preaching of the gospel. In Acts 16:32, the Philippian Jailor was converted by the preaching of the gospel.

These, just to name a few, show the consistent pattern for how God chose to convert sinners into saints – by the preaching of the Holy Spirit inspired word of God (1 Corinthians 1:21). Every single example of conversion starts with preaching the gospel.

When you compare that the word of God is the product of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Ephesians 6:17; et al), then it is absolutely correct to say that the Holy Spirit is active in a person’s conversion (cf. John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5). But how?

When the word of God is preached, it cuts to the heart of those seeking salvation. It is the sharp and powerful sword of God’s word, the sword of the Spirit, that the Spirit uses to convert men (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17).

It is up to the hearer to either accept or reject the gospel plan of salvation. In all of the examples cited above, and every example in Acts, every time a person accepts the preaching of the gospel, they are baptized into Christ (Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12, 13, 36-39; Acts 16:33; et al).

According to the gospel, salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). When compared with the examples in Acts, that means responding to God’s grace through the obedience of faith.

The Ephesians, to whom Paul wrote Ephesians 2:8, had actually been baptized twice (Acts 19:1-5). Obviously, they understood that salvation by grace though faith did not preclude any acts of obedience on their part.

There is no such thing as “grace only through faith only” in the Bible! God’s grace is the availability of salvation through Christ (cf. Titus 2:11-12). Our faith – which comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17) – is demonstrated in obeying God’s word, trusting in His promises (cf. James 2:18-24).

God does not want robots following Him just because that’s what they’re programmed to do. He wants people following Him because, in love and devotion, they choose to follow Him.

By His grace, we have the ability to make that choice because of what Christ did for us!

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or