On my way to a family reunion in Alabama, my dad and I had a short little talk about irresistable grace after hearing John Piper in one of his on-air Q & A sessions. I have to admit that we were both a little confused. Piper referred to several scriptures in support of his argument but most of them were similar to the Romans 9:16 passage: “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.” Dad pointed out that this seemed to address the sovereignty of God in initiating salvation in the heart of men, but did not address what we understood irresistable grace to mean–that man cannot resist the grace of God. We both needed further clarification.
First, Piper opens with the following:
The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible.
In Acts 7:51 Stephen says to the Jewish leaders, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit as your fathers did.” And Paul speaks of grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). God gives many entreaties and promptings which are resisted. In fact the whole history of Israel in the Old Testament is one protracted story of resistance, as the parable of the wicked tenants shows (Matthew 21:33-43; cf. Romans 10:21).
The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when he wills. “He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand!” (Daniel 4:35). “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). When God undertakes to fulfill his sovereign purpose, no one can successfully resist him.
This is what Paul taught in Romans 9:14-18, which caused his opponent to say, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” To which Paul answers: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me thus?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?” (Romans 9:20f).
More specifically irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved. If our doctrine of total depravity is true, there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace. If we are dead in our sins, totally unable to submit to God, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.
Someone may say, “Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing.” Our answer is: except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God.
The doctrine as explained here helped me tremendously. I always had a problem with irresistable grace because I understood it to mean once God began drawing, the man was being forced towards salvation. However, Piper pointed out a false premise in my thinking. Specifically, Piper wrote “except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God.” Therefore, all salvation is a result of God drawing against the natural resistance of man.
Secondly, and Piper alludes to it, God does not do violence to man’s free will. In the book, Salvation in Full Color, in the chapter entitled, “Effectual Calling,” the writer makes the point that, while God’s calling cannot be resisted if God does not want to be resisted, God uses rational thinking mixed with divine mercy to persuade an unbelieving heart and reveal the light of Himself to a darkened heart.