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Irresistible Grace

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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January 5, 2023 12:01 am

Irresistible Grace

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 5, 2023 12:01 am

A common caricature of Calvinism is that God drags people kicking and screaming into His kingdom and shuts out others who desperately want to be there. Today, R.C. Sproul corrects this view as he reflects on God's irresistible grace.

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Does God drag people kicking and screaming against their will into heaven? R.C. Sproul For robots with no will to choose for ourselves, let's dig into this important aspect of Reformed Technology. Today we're going to look at a letter from a P to an R. We turned unconditional election into sovereign election and then we took limited atonement into definite atonement, and we're going to do it again. We're going to change another letter here. This letter I stands for the idea of irresistible grace. because I don't believe the classical doctrine of irresistible grace, but because it also is misleading to many people when they hear it articulated in these terms.

And so we're going to talk about effectual grace, and unfortunately as you can see there's very little left of our beautiful flower tulip when I'm done with these modifications that we're going to have to look for some other acrostic, I guess. But the idea of irresistible grace also provokes a lot of controversy and there's much misunderstanding about it. I remember when I was a seminary student we had a professor who was teaching New Testament and the man was also the president of this Presbyterian seminary and in class one day one of the students raised his hand and said, do you believe in the doctrine of election? And the professor exhibited a little bit of irritation at that question and he said emphatically that he did not because he did not believe that God dragged people kicking and screaming against their will into the kingdom of God, people who didn't want to be there, and at the same time prevented others from coming who desperately wanted to be in the kingdom.

And I was astonished not only that this was such a serious distortion and caricature of historic Reformed theology, but that it would be uttered by a man who should have known better, a man who had been steeped in the confessional standards of the church and so on. But I thought if a person of this status in the church and this experience and this education has this misconception about irresistible grace, then how many other people must labor under the same misconception? The idea of irresistible conjures up that one cannot possibly offer any resistance to the grace of God.

Now beloved, the history of the human race is the history of relentless resistance by human beings to the sweetness of the grace of God. And what is meant by irresistible grace is not what the word suggests, that it's incapable of being resisted. Indeed, we are capable of resisting God's grace and we do resist God's grace. But the idea here is that in spite of our natural resistance to the grace of God, that God's grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to overcome our natural resistance to it.

That's why I prefer the term effectual grace rather than irresistible grace because this grace that is irresistible affects what God intends to effect by it. Now what we're really looking at in this controversy is the relationship between grace, God's work, and our response to it. The relationship between faith and regeneration. In fact, if there's any one point that divides Reformed theology from other theologies historically, it is the question of the relationship of these two ideas. In historic Reformation thought, the notion is this, that regeneration precedes faith.

Now let me take a moment to explain a subtle nuance of this word. When we use the term precede, we're usually talking about something that comes before something else in time. That is, if something precedes something else in time, we say it has temporal priority.

One thing comes and then after or later on the other thing follows from it. But when theologians talk with this language, you know we always have to make excuses for we theologians that are confusing to people. What is in view here in this formula with respect to what's called the order of salvation is what we call logical priority, logical priority. In this case, for example, we believe that justification is by faith alone. We don't say that faith is by justification, but rather that justification is by faith.

Now we believe that the moment, the very instant a person has faith, in that very instant God declares them just in Christ. So that there is no time gap between the presence of faith and the presence of justification in time, they're simultaneous. But when we say that justification is by faith and not faith by justification, what do we mean?

We mean that justification, the reality of justification depends upon a prior condition that is the presence of something else for it to be real. And in this case, justification depends upon faith, not faith depending on justification. So when we talk about regeneration preceding faith, what this means is this, that before a person exercises saving faith, before they believe in Christ, before they exercise their wills to embrace Christ, God must do something for them and in them so that faith can be exercised. Now it's common in our culture and in our religious circles to say this, that in order for a person to be regenerated or to be reborn, that all it takes in order to be reborn is to believe. So that if you have faith, then as a result of your faith, you then become a new creature.

You now are regenerated. You are now born again and you are born again precisely because you have exercised faith. Now we talked earlier about the old Pelagian controversy and that old view of original sin that left a little island of righteousness in fallen man whereby fallen man is still deemed to have the moral power to incline himself or herself to respond positively to the good, to choose Christ and so on. That the person is not dead in sin and trespass, that that metaphor of Scripture is hyperbolic and that really fallen people are only seriously ill. They've been weakened by the fall, but not to such an extent that it requires a renovation, a divine work of recreation in their souls for them to come to faith.

That is, the semi-Pelagian view is that fallen man still has within his heart the ability to exercise faith if God woos him, entices him, or in other ways draws him. John tells us the words of Jesus in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel where Jesus said, ''Nobody can come to me unless the Father draws him.'' And the way many Christians interpret that text is to say that the drawing has to do with God's external wooing, persuading, enticing, luring, whatever. And that God gives this drawing influence to many, many people.

Some respond positively to this drawing, others say no to the drawing. So God draws everybody presumably with an equal persuasive power and in the final analysis those who acquiesce to the drawing are saved and those who do not acquiesce are lost. I once had a debate on this subject at an Arminian seminary in the Midwest and had an interesting exchange with the head of the New Testament department there as he cited this verse and I was quick to say to him he realized that the same Greek word here that is used by John is used frequently elsewhere in the Scriptures, notably in the book of Acts where Paul and Silas are dragged into prison. And I suggested that the idea there in the book of Acts was not that the jailer went into the jail cell and tried to woo, entice, or persuade Paul and Silas to get in there behind bars. And I said the word has more force than that and then I called attention to the lexicographical study of that Greek word in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament where the preferred rendering of the word draw is the word compel, and that changes everything.

If you read the text and Jesus is saying, no one can come to me unless the Father compel him, that's much stronger than to use the weaker word draw, which could be left to be interpreted as this wooing type of concept that is a mere external suasion. And at that point in our debate, the professor threw me a curve that I wasn't expecting. He said to me, yes, but do you realize that this same Greek word is used in one of the Greek poets, and he cited a citation from Euripides or somebody I don't remember, where the verb was used for the action of drawing water from a well. And he looked at me in triumph and he said, Dr. Sproul, he said, you don't compel water to come out of a well, do you? And I said, no, sir, you don't.

You have me there, and I confessed that I was not aware of that reference in the Greek language. I said, but how do you get water from a well? Do you stand up at the top of the well and call down, hear water, water, water?

Do you try to woo it, entice it, or lure it, or do you have to go down there with a bucket and pull it out? I said, I'm perfectly happy with the allusion to getting water out of a well because that's what God does with us. We're buried in the water, and we need to be drawn out by somebody else's power, not by our own.

And that's what the debate here is all about. I said at the beginning that all of these controversies really come back and roost on our understanding of the T in TULIP, on our understanding of the doctrine of total depravity, and our doctrine of moral inability. Is our condition of bondage to sin so serious and the fall so severe that we have no more moral desire for God unless God plants that desire in our hearts? Now, Jesus put it this way to Nicodemus, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

He cannot enter the kingdom of God. What we hear our Lord saying in that discussion with Nicodemus where He says, that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that the flesh profits nothing. That there is a prerequisite, a sine qua non that has to happen to us as a work of God the Holy Spirit by which He raises us from the state of spiritual death as Paul articulates that in the second chapter of the book of Ephesians.

Let's take a moment to look at that where Paul says in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 1, and you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sin in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath just as the others. But God who is rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ and then parenthetically by grace you have been saved and raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ. And then again in verse 8, for by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. And again the immediate antecedent of the that is faith, it is the gift of God. And so what Augustine was saying to Pelagius, what Luther was saying to Erasmus, what Calvin was saying to the world, what Edwards was saying to Chauncey, and what we are saying to our friends today is that faith itself is a gift that is given and it is engendered in us by regeneration. It is not that the Holy Spirit drags people kicking and screaming against their will to come to Christ, but what the Holy Spirit does do is change the inclination and disposition of our hearts so that when we were previously unwilling to embrace Christ, now we are willing and more than willing, indeed we are dragged to Christ, we run to Christ, and we embrace Him joyfully because the Spirit has changed our hearts. And that heart is no longer a heart of stone that is impervious to the commands of God and to the invitations of the gospel, but God melts the hardness of our hearts when He makes us new creatures that when we're dead the Holy Spirit resurrects us from spiritual death so that I come to Christ because I want to come to Christ.

But the reason I want to come to Christ is because God has already done a work of grace in my soul, and without that work I would never have any desire to come to Christ. That's why we say that regeneration precedes faith. We also believe in Reformation thought that regeneration is monergistic, and that word's a $3 word, monergistic, and what it means essentially is this, that in this divine operation called rebirth or regeneration, it is the work of God in the human soul and the work of God alone.

Erg is a unit of labor, a unit of work. The word energy comes from that idea. Mo means one, and so monergism means one working, that the work of regeneration in my heart is something that God does by His power, not by 50% His power and 50% my power or 99% His power and 1% my power, but by 100% the work of God. He and He alone has the power to change the disposition of the soul and of the human heart to bring us to faith. And when He exercises this grace in the soul, He brings about the effect that He intends to bring about by it. When God creates you in the first place, He brought you into existence.

You didn't help Him. It was His sovereign work that brought you to life biologically. When He brings you to spiritual life, salvific life, it is His work and His alone that brings you into that state of rebirth and of renewed creation. And hence we call this effectual grace. It's grace that works. It's grace that brings about what God wants it to bring about. Let me read a passage that is found in the historical introductory essay to the Ravel edition of Luther's perhaps most important work, at least a book that Martin Luther thought was his most important work on the bondage of the will. And this historical introduction was written jointly by two men, one of whom was J.I.

Packer. And here's just one paragraph from that introduction that I'd like you to hear. Is our salvation holy of God or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter, as the Arminians later did, thereby deny man's utter helplessness and sin and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder then, the authors say, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work and a betrayal of the Reformation because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the reformer's thought. What they're saying here in this introduction is following Luther's work against Erasmus that the whole controversy over justification was a surface issue that thinly veiled the deeper question that engendered the controversy in the first place. And that question was the question of whether our salvation is solely of God's grace or isn't it? And that's what Luther was jealous to talk about in his work on the bondage of the will.

If indeed we are dead in sin and trespasses, if indeed our wills are held captive by the loss of our flesh and that we need to be liberated from our own flesh in order to be saved, then obviously in the final analysis, salvation is something that God does in us and for us, not something that we in any way do for ourselves. That's R.C. Sproul explaining Irresistible Grace, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Thursday.

I'm Lee Webb. Thank you for being with us. You know, that phrase has been misunderstood and maligned over the years, and it was helpful to hear R.C.

's term, effectual grace. I hope you found this clear teaching helpful today. Dr. Sproul's series, What is Reformed Theology?, is an excellent introduction to the doctrines commonly known as Calvinism. If you have struggled to understand these principles, let me encourage you to contact us today and request the complete series. We'll send you the 3-DVD set when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries, and we'll add the digital study guide to your online learning library.

You can make your request and give your gift when you call us at 800-435-4343, or if you prefer, you can go to to contact us. After you've watched the video series, perhaps you'd consider donating the DVDs to your church library. Finally our doctrinal heritage is an important part of our theological training. Again the series is titled, What is Reformed Theology? We'd love to hear from you so that we can send this series to you. Our phone number again is 800-435-4343, and our online address is

At a live Q&A session several years ago, R.C. was asked how the word call relates to irresistible grace. The Old Testament uses the word to call in more than one way, and the distinction, actually we can distinguish among three different ways in which the idea of divine calling, actually four different ways in which we can speak of divine calling, there is what we would call the idea of a calling that we have that is a vocation, where God calls us to a particular task, or a particular ministry, or again a particular career.

We call it a vocation, which is simply the word to call. But also we talk about the distinction between the outward call or the external call of God and the internal call of God. The outward call, the external call, is that which is proclaimed indiscriminately to everyone who hears the voice of the preaching of the gospel. When we proclaim Christ to the world, anybody who is within earshot can hear the outward or the external call to come to repentance and to come to Christ.

Now I don't think that's what Paul is talking about in Romans 8 in the golden chain when he talks about calling there, because in the context of that, as you recited it for us, all of those who are called are justified. So that can't possibly refer to the external call, because not everybody who hears the external call comes to faith and to justification or to glorification. But in addition to the outward call, there is what we call the inward call, which is in theological terms called effectual calling. That is that internal call by which God calls His elect to Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit, changing the disposition of their hearts through regeneration. Then in that inward call that is accomplished by the Holy Ghost is effectual in that it brings about God's desired and decreed consequence. That call is irresistible, not in the sense that I don't have the power to resist it, but my resistance cannot overcome it. God's effectual call affects what He intends it to do, namely to bring us to saving faith. And tomorrow we will learn about another biblical doctrine. You've probably heard the phrase, once saved, always saved. I hope you'll join us tomorrow as R.C. discusses the last letter in the Tulip Acrostic, Perseverance of the Saints. That's Friday, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-05 03:44:18 / 2023-01-05 03:52:41 / 8

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