Not too long ago, I was meeting with a fellow pastor and our discussion turned to the issue of Irresistible Grace– the reformed doctrine which teaches that God effectually calls His elect to Himself through the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work of changing the mind, heart, and will of the sinner to repent and believe. It was already obvious from previous talks that this pastor was opposed to the Calvinistic teachings regarding predestination and election, but for the most part our conversations had always been somewhat cordial. As should be expected within the context of Christian disagreement, we regularly sought to go to Scripture to defend our views. So when we began to examine our differences regarding irresistible grace, I naturally went to Jesus’ words in John 6 for reference:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6:37-39, ESV
I explained to my pastor friend that this text clearly expresses the reality that no one comes to the Son except by the drawing of the Father (v.44), and that those who are drawn will without question come to the Son, and will ultimately be raised on the last day. I pointed out that Jesus’ words clearly demonstrate the effectual work of the Father’s drawing, and the positive work of the Son in the keeping and eternal redemption of those that are brought to Christ. From my perspective, there was no clearer evidence of the doctrine of irresistible grace in all of Scripture.
But I suppose this passage isn’t so clear for everyone.
GOD AND COSMIC RAPE
“You know something, Roger? Here’s the problem with the idea of God ‘drawing’ people in an irresistible way to save them: If you believe that God saves people against their will, then that would make God no different than a rapist.
“And God is NOT a rapist.”
This was in essence the reply from my pastor friend when presented with my understanding of God’s effectual calling from John 6. Needless to say, I was a bit stunned at his response. Not only because he didn’t attempt to argue his disagreement from any text of Scripture, but because his willingness to compare God’s grace in saving sinners with “rape” was evidence of his blind, hostile prejudice toward reformed thought. More shocking though, was that he was so insistent on rejecting God’s sovereignty in salvation that he was ready to engage in outright heresy to defend his position.
While I have to admit that I had never heard it said in such volatile terms, this kind of argument isn’t a new one. Opponents of reformed theology are fond of suggesting things like, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, and won’t force Himself on anyone”, which is a similar yet less graphic statement. Regardless, however, of how it is phrased, the idea is the same: God does not interfere with human autonomy, lest He be regarded as offensive and intrusive. At the end of the day, it is man’s freedom that seeks to be protected and preserved at all costs- even if the cost is God’s glorious grace.
MAKING GOD’S GOODNESS EVIL
Note that I just defined this argument as heresy, and I am not one to use such a term lightly. But I believe such a condemnation applies in the case of equating the work of grace with an act of pure evil. There are so many problems with the analogy itself that for a person to even consider using it reveals a blatant ignorance of the character of God and the nature of man.
First, what are the motives behind a rapist and a God who chooses to save sinners? Are they identical? Of course they are not. On one hand, you have a wicked, perverted individual violating an unwilling, innocent person against their rights for the purpose of self-gratification. There is no love or consideration of the well-being of the recipient involved in the case of rape. But when it comes to irresistible grace, God’s act of drawing unrepentant, unregenerate sinners to Himself for the purpose of redeeming them from eternal wrath is the complete opposite.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. –Ephesians 2:4-7, ESV
Why did God choose to save “dead” sinners? Because He is “rich in mercy”, because of His “great love”, and to show the “immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us.” And what are the benefits of such an act? Is it the carnal gratification and self-pleasure of an evil person at the expense of an otherwise innocent victim? Or do we see eternally glorious benefits on the part of the undeserving recipient at the expense of an infinitely holy God?
Secondly, why does the analogy portray the person being drawn by the Father as an “innocent victim” whose rights are being so violated? I’ve often noticed how those who oppose Calvinism do so on the basis of the false notion that free creatures are “good”, and to impose upon their freedom is somehow “bad”. Therefore, for God to step in and disrupt the path and pattern of human autonomy with His sovereignty would be a morally wrong act.
Paul should file a lawsuit, then.
Where do we get the idea that mankind is a victim of God’s sovereignty when He chooses to call us from death to life, from darkness to light? When did we start to think that we are “innocent”, as the analogy portrays? What “rights” do we have that would be “wrong” for God to so violate? We need to see the error of such an illustration- because no one is innocent (Rom. 3:10-18), and the only right we have is the right to die under God’s mighty hand of judgment.
A BETTER ANALOGY
Seeing now that the “rape” analogy in regards to God’s sovereign act of grace upon dead sinners is indeed a false one, we should now replace it with one more appropriate.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 37:1-6, ESV
The doctrine of irresistible grace is not the idea that God forces people to be saved against their will- you will never find a true convert that will say, “I don’t want to be saved.” Such an argument is foolishness. Rather, it is the biblical teaching that fallen man’s nature is so corrupted by sin that his mind and will is bent against God, and in order for anyone to repent and believe the gospel God must first regenerate them.
And if He does not, they will not.
Man is dead in trespasses and sins- he is not an innocent, autonomous free creature in this world. Furthermore, God is righteous, holy, and sovereign, and has chosen to set His love upon the unrighteous and unwilling and to redeem them in spite of themselves. This is not an act of selfish sensuality- nor should it ever be suggested that it is likened unto sadistic violence- it is amazing grace.