No Christian would ever deny that God gives grace to sinners. Even the least studied among us would affirm the grace of God. We read about God’s grace in the scriptures, we sing about God’s grace in our hymns, and we praise God for His abundant grace in our prayers. The grace of God is central to our Christian faith.
The disagreements over grace arise not in its existence, but in its application. The question that is most often debated regarding grace is over its supernatural potency. Is the grace of God in salvation irresistible to man? Or do we have the power resist God and thwart His attempts to save?
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2.
Clearly, the scriptures state that no one can thwart the purposes of God. To even think that we could have that kind of power over God is to place ourselves on the throne and put God at our mercy. But in order to adequately and rightly answer this question, scripture must be our guide and opinions must go out the window. Also, as to not merely take one scripture and try to make a point, we will go to a few differing texts to see how the whole of scripture speaks to this issue.
Scripture shows plenty of incidents of where man is resistant to the grace of God.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” Acts 7:51.
“Because they were rebellious against His Spirit, He spoke rashly with his lips.” Psalm 106:33.
There are also plenty of verses that speak to the fact that the calling of God upon the life of a man is irresistible.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28.
So which is it? Is the scripture in contradiction to itself? Do some verses claim that God’s grace is indeed irresistible while others elevate man’s ability to deny God? 2 Chronicles helps us reconcile this issue and shows that the Bible is not at all in contradiction to itself.
In 2 Chronicles, King Hezekiah wrote letters to all of Israel, Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh, calling people of these lands to repentance and for them to return to the Lord from whom they had rebelled. He gave the letters to couriers for them to deliver. Here is the account.
“So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:6-9.
The Gospel calling has gone out through the pleas of King Hezekiah. Now notice the response of the people.
“So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.” 2 Chronicles 30:10.
It appears to be an open and shut case. Apparently the people resisted this calling of God through Hezekiah. It would seem that man possesses the power to thwart the plans of God to save. But lets continue reading;
“However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD.” 2 Chronicles 30-11-12.
The text says that there were some men from Manasseh and Zebulun who responded to the call of the Lord. Now notice the next sentence of the verse. It begins by saying, “The hand of God was also on Judah…” This word “also” immediately implies that God’s hand was upon these few men in Manasseh, Zebulun, and Judah. What was the purpose for God’s hand being upon these few men from these cities that repented?
“The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD.”
Who is the “them” in this verse that God gave one heart to? Obviously it is certain men in the cities. What was the purpose for God giving them one heart? So that they would follow obediently the call of King Hezekiah and return to the Lord. Ezekiel describes is greater detail what had just taken place.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.
It is undeniable that man can and will resist the drawing of the Holy Spirit. However, God has a leash and will let sinful man run for a time. But when God determines that enough is enough, He reveals Christ to the heart of that man, opening his eyes and irresistibly drawing him in.
“But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,” Galatians 1:15-16.
God chose and set Paul apart to be His when He was in the womb. Paul went on from his youth to live a very religious life, but He hated Christians and denied Jesus to be the Messiah. He was a murderer of God’s people, and had nothing but rage in his heart towards anyone that would profess Christ as Lord.
It was not until his infamous trip to Damascus that Christ chose to reveal Himself truly to Paul. Jesus did not ask Paul to follow Him or beg him to repent. Jesus blinded Paul and then gave Him marching orders basically saying that Paul was now working for Him.
So the question is, “Why didn’t God just reveal Himself to Paul right out of the womb?” To answer this question, read these accounts of what Paul says about Himself after his conversion.
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1:13-14.
“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:9-10.
God let a man like Paul run in His sin nature for a time so that upon His eyes being opened to the irresistible Christ, he would truly understand the meaning of grace. Now a new man in Christ, Paul looks back upon his former life with utter humility and shame and a newfound deep thankfulness and appreciate for the grace of God in and upon his life. Paul understands that although he heard the Gospel calling, in his flesh he was by nature hostile towards that call and dead to its drawing.
In our fallen nature, we are a stiff necked people. We are rebellious to God. And we want no part of understanding or even seeking Him (Romans 3). The Bible calls our fallen nature being “Spirtually Dead.” But God is able to overcome death. He is the resurrection of our dead souls, and He is the bringer of new life. His resurrection on the cross was also a divine pointer to Him being the resurrection of our souls.
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” John 15:21.
If you have a testimony of a former life in which you rebelled against God, it is not that you had power over the calling of God, but rather that He had not deemed it time. There is a general calling, to which all the world hears the calling of God through the Gospel. And then there is the effectual call, to which God opens the eyes of those whom He chose to lavish grace upon, and draws them to Himself.
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14.
God does not cause, but allows us to run in our sin nature for a time. And after regeneration in Christ, we then look back upon our former life and can see our right condemnation as undeserved sinners before a Holy God. Only in mourning over our depravity can we truly marvel in the grace of God. And this amazing grace of God is truly irresistible.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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” Ephesians 2:1-6.