Resistible vs. Irresistible Grace: The Key Issue

, posted by Godismyjudge

The topic of resistible vs. irresistible grace is of vital importance. In my experience, the Calvinist’s biggest objection to Arminianism is that it is a man-centered theology and gives man a reason to boast. In contrast, they view Calvinism as the “doctrines of grace”. But what’s the key issue?

The key issue is not:

  1. Is man totally depraved? Arminians agree with Calvinsts that man is totally depraved and in need of grace.1
  2. Does God grant prevenient grace? Many Calvinists agree with Arminians that God does give prevenient grace. 2
  3. Is God’s call to the reprobate external only? Many Calvinists agree with Arminians that God’s call to the reprobate isn’t just external.3
  4. Does regeneration precede faith? Calvinists and Arminians often disagree on this issue. Calvinists say regeneration comes first and Arminians say that faith comes first. But it’s not key to the resistible/irresistible debate. I plan on posting on this subject later.
  5. Is regeneration monergistic or synergistic? Arminians agree with Calvinists that man doesn’t regenerate himself.4
  6. Is faith a choice? Calvinists generally agree with Arminians that faith is a choice.5
  7. Are we responsible for our choices? Calvinists agree with Arminians that we are responsible for our choices.6
  8. Is faith a work? Arminians agree with Calvinists that faith, defined in the way which Paul defines it, is not a work.7
  9. Is faith a gift? Arminians agree with Calvinists that faith is a gift.8

The key issue is: can a man, experiencing God’s grace leading towards conversion, choose not to believe? Arminians say yes, Calvinsts say no. Stated another way: Is grace given in such a way as to necessarily cause faith? Arminians say no, Calvinists say yes.

Evidence that Grace is Resistible

  1. Freewill – The bible says that man has a will and makes choices. (1 Corinthians 7:37, Joshua 24:15) Choices relate to alternatives. So if by grace we can choose to believe, we can also choose not to believe. If, on the other hand, we must believe, and choosing to not believe is impossible, we are not choosing. This issue was the focus of the Edwards book review.
  2. God’s will to save – Scripture teaches that God wants to save all men and that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16-17, Ezekiel 18: 32) More on this subject of God’s will to save here. Supporting this idea point is the fact that Christ died for all men and that the offer of the universal offer of Gospel is sincere. (link)
  3. Scriptural statements about resistance – Many passages say God’s grace is resisted such as: Luke 13:34, Luke 7:30, Hebrews 6:4, Psalms 81:13, Matthew 11:21and Isaiah 5:4.


1 Hodge said: The Arminians admit that the fall of our race has rendered all men utterly unable, of themselves, to do anything truly acceptable in the sight of God. But they hold that this inability, arising out of the present state of human nature, is removed by the influence of the Spirit given to all. This is called “gracious ability”; that is, an ability due to the grace, or the supernatural influence of the Spirit granted to all men. On both these points the language of the Remonstrant Declaration or Confession is explicit. It is there said, “Man has not saving faith from himself, neither is he regenerated or converted by the force of his own free will; since, in the state of sin, he is not able of and by himself to think, will, or do any good thing, any good thing that is saving in its nature, particularly conversion and saving faith. But it is necessary that he be regenerated, and wholly renewed by God in Christ, through the truth of the gospel and the added energy of the Holy Spirit, — in intellect, affections, will, and all his faculties, — so that he may be able rightly to perceive, meditate upon, will, and accomplish that which is a saving good.” (link)

2 Hodge argues based on Genesis 6:3, Acts 7:53, Romans 1:25-28 and Hebrews 6:4 that “the Influences of the Spirit granted to all Man.” He goes on to list: virtue, fear of God, religious experiences, conviction of truth, temporary faith based on the moral evidence of the truth, and reformation of life as effects of the influence of the Spirit on all men. (link)

3On the one hand, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones seems to indicate that God’s call to the reprobate is external only when he says: What, then, is the difference between the external call and this call which has become effectual? And the answer must be that this call is an internal, a spiritual call. It is not merely something that comes to a person from the outside — it does that, of course, but in addition to that external call which comes to all, there is an internal call which comes to those who are going to be Christians, and it is an effectual call. The contrast, therefore, is between external, and internal and spiritual. (link) But on the the other hand, Hodge states, “the Spirit of God is present with every human mind, restraining from evil and exciting to good; and that to his presence and influence we are indebted for all the order, decorum, and virtue, as well as the regard for religion and its ordinances, which exist in the world” And he also said, “To the Spirit are also referred conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment; the resistance and rebuke of evil in the heart; strivings and warnings; illumination of the conscience; conviction of the truth; powerful restraints; and temporary faith founded on moral convictions” (link)

4Wesley states: [the new birth is] that great change which God works in the soul when he brings it into life; when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness” (link) I quote Wesley because Arminius at times indicated (at first glance) that regeneration comes before faith.

5Hodge states: “The Protestants did not deny that men cooperate in their own conversion, taking that word in the sense in which the Romanists used the term (and the still broader term justificatio), as including the whole work of turning unto God. No one denies that the man in the synagogue cooperated in stretching out his withered arm or that the impotent one at the pool was active in obeying the command of Christ, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.” But the question is, Did they cooperate in the communication of vital power to their impotent limbs? So Protestants do not deny that the soul is active in conversion, that the “arbitrium a Deo motum” freely assents” (link) The Canons of Dort say: “all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active.”(link) RC Sproul states: “When God regenerates a human soul, when He makes us spiritually alive, we make choices. We believe. We have faith. God does not believe for us. Faith is not monergistic.” Chosen by God p 118.

6Hodge states: “man is a free agent, in such a sense as to be responsible for his character and acts.” (link)

7Robert Picirilli denies that faith is a work and argues that 1) salvation is by God’s grace, not man’s works, 2) “by faith” and “by works” are logically and scripturally mutually exclusive, 3) scripture links “by grace” and “by faith” especially in Romans 4:16, 4) since faith is receiving a gift and not the instrument of justification, but rather the apprehension of Christ, we get no credit for faith and 5) we, not God, believe. – Grace, Faith and Freewill p 161-162.

8Arminius states: Faith is the effect of God illuminating the mind and sealing the heart, and it is his mere gift. (link)

9X is sufficient cause of Y, if given X, Y always happens. (more info on sufficient causes)