Richard Coords, “Irresistible Grace”

, , Comments Off on Richard Coords, “Irresistible Grace”

[This post has been excerpted with permission from Richard Coords, Calvinism Answered Verse by Verse and Subject by Subject, © 2020.]

In Calvinism, everyone who will ever become saved is already predetermined from eternity past, and those individuals comprising such a preselected saved-class are called “the elect,” or what non-Calvinists often refer to as “Calvinism’s elect” because many non-Calvinists believe that the real New Testament “elect” are simply Christians, that is, believers in Christ whom God has chosen to save—not unbelievers God has chosen to make into believers. So, that brings us to the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace. “Irresistible Grace” is a necessary component to Calvinism’s doctrine of “Unconditional Election,” because if someone is preselected to someday become a believer, then something needs to happen in order to guarantee that a member of Calvinism’s elect does in fact become a believer. An irresistible grace is what makes that happen. However, Calvinists typically don’t use the term “Irresistible Grace.” Often, instead, they use different terms such as Pre-Faith Regeneration, Effectual Grace, Efficacious Grace, Radical Grace, Powerful Grace, Scandalous Grace, ect.

Calvinists insist that it’s not a “decision for Christ” that produces conversion, but instead a preemptive, preceding grace work of the Holy Spirit who irresistibly and inescapably causes conversion for those whom such an Irresistible Grace is secretly applied. But what’s really going on when Calvinists piously champion “Irresistible Grace” is just a pretext to advocate for their own presumed and assumed personal claim to being unconditionally elect. That’s the hidden agenda. Calvinists will cite “Total Depravity” to build their case for “Irresistible Grace,” which is ultimately aimed to justify their personal claim for “Unconditional Election.”
If God applied an “Irresistible Grace” to a believer—such as in Heaven—then there would be no controversy because it would be something applied to a willing recipient. The problem for Calvinism is that it would be something applied to a “total hater of God,” as per the Calvinist doctrine of “Total Depravity.” In other words, in Calvinism, God administers an Irresistible Grace to elect-unbelievers, simply because they happen to be “elect,” and certainly not because they asked for it. In Calvinism, everyone is born a “total hater of God,” and so when someone (according to Calvinism) becomes a believer, it’s because God did something against their will—transforming their will—in order to unilaterally change their mind for them so that they would be made to “freely” receive Him.

What do Calvinists believe?

You believe that you were saved by grace, but it was up to you?

Our reply:

In order to be “saved,” it is up to you to “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9), and it is up to God to keep His promise to grant salvation on the terms He alone had set. Ultimately, however, this is another instance where Calvinists use normal words like “grace” but with hidden meanings. In other words, for any grace that is associated with salvation, a Calvinist will always assume it must have been an Irresistible Grace, and so unmasked, here is what a Calvinist is really asking: “You believe that you were saved by irresistible grace, but it was up to you?” Since non-Calvinists don’t believe that God’s grace is irresistible—such as at Acts 7:51—then a grace that is resistible means that we indeed have a choice to make, for which we are eternally accountable and responsible.
What do Calvinists believe?

James White: “…God can work in the heart so that without fail the regenerated person will naturally, fully, consciously cling in faith to Jesus Christ.”1

Erwin Lutzer: “Now (and here it gets tricky) Calvinism goes on to say that God grants the inclination and ability to choose Christ to some, namely, the elect. God does not coerce anyone, if that means he saves a man against his will.”2

R.C. Sproul: “Reformed Theology does not teach that God brings the elect ‘kicking and screaming, against their wills,’ into his kingdom. It teaches that God so works in the hearts of the elect as to make them willing and pleased to come to Christ. They come to Christ because they want to. They want to because God has created in their hearts a desire for Christ.”3

Our reply:

“Made willing” is a contradiction in terms. Moreover, although Calvinism does not teach that God saves anyone against their will, it does teach that God regenerates people against their will, simply because they happen to be among Calvinism’s elect. However, to claim that God creates “yes-men” with an “Irresistible Grace” or that God could not get anyone to love Him apart from apart from using irresistible-means would be embarrassing, shameful, unethical, immoral, hardly glorious and frankly very insulting to God. At best, it would be analogous to brainwashing and at worst, comparable to using a date-rape drug. Thankfully, Irresistible Grace doesn’t appear to be anything on God’s realm of thinking:

Isaiah 5:1-5: “Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.”

God is not merely pronouncing judgment but also pointing out that He did everything He could—consistent with His set of principles—in terms of anything He would ever consider doing. Obviously, God could have waved a magic wand and turned everyone into obedient citizens, but He doesn’t, and instead asks, “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?”, showing that using an irresistible force is simply outside of His set of principles. Yet, in Calvinism, using an irresistible force is the only way anyone is ever saved. So, obviously, that puts Calvinism into a strange predicament. So, one object lesson is this: The Holy Spirit will never override a proud and haughty heart. A humble heart of faith with trust is required before He will choose to take residence in the spirit/soul of any human.

What do Calvinists believe?

John Calvin: “The Lord in His unmerited election is free and exempt from the necessity of bestowing equally the same grace on all. Rather, He passes by those whom He wills, and chooses whom He wills.”4

Our reply:

So, for Calvinism’s non-elect, the type of grace they receive—by contrast—is a “Common Grace” which does not include regeneration, and hence is not efficacious and will never result in true conversion.5 It’s hard to understand the purpose of such a “Common Grace,” especially if it is given to those whom (according to Calvinism), God never intended to save and never intended to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

In Calvinism, Irresistible Grace is not the belief that all grace is irresistible, but rather that when God chooses to convert Calvinism’s elect, He unilaterally and involuntarily implements an irresistible regeneration against their otherwise depraved will, simply because they happen to be among His eternally chosen “elect.” Such pre-emptive regeneration accompanies a new heart that is made receptive to conversion so that the individual has been made willing to love God. However, if God wills to act irresistibly upon human volition so as to guarantee conversion, then why would God (according to Calvinism) be unwilling to cause Calvinism’s elect to never sin again? In other words, why would it only function in conversion?

Dave Hunt: “And why is irresistible grace no longer irresistible grace once a person is saved, so that Christians can so often be carnal?”5

Non-Calvinists, by contrast, believe that grace is resistible, both in conversion and in daily living. Every Christian would love to be able to receive an Irresistible Grace so as to never sin again, but we intuitively know that that isn’t how God works, and instead, we must battle with our own fallen nature daily in order to walk in fellowship with God.

Our choices matter to God, but in Calvinism’s decree which causes everything that comes to pass, our choices become a function of God’s choices. Can one do differently from that which is immutably decreed? This concept can have a very negative impact upon the minds of those converts who struggle with addictions and sometimes fail, believing that their sinful desires come from God, who not only permits their sin but also conceived their sin in eternity and effectually executed it according to a divine decree.

Another problem for the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace (which is made necessary to overcome humanity depravity in order to guarantee the conversion of certain “elect” people), is that such irresistible preemptive regeneration doesn’t seem to be able to account for gradual conversion. In other words, salvation doesn’t always amount to a light-switch being flipped and someone insistently becoming a believer. Sometimes conversion is progressive and gradual until a person finally surrenders to God in repentance and faith, thus culminating in salvation. Alternately, sometimes such progression doesn’t end in salvation at all. Jesus illustrates the reasons why in Luke chapter 8, citing various metaphorical soils in His parable of the Seed and the Sower. Suffice it to say, though, Calvinism does not provide a compelling answer to gradual conversion. According to the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity and Total Inability, the unregenerate are entombed, total haters of God, rather than being people who are open, seeking and receptive to God. To illustrate, consider the following testimony:

I remember the Spirit beginning some serious convicting work in my heart in 1993. It was greater and subtle respectively over the next two years. I finally repented May of 1995. During that time I resisted, but some times drew closer. Then I would resist again. The whole experience was like that: steps forward and steps back. The clincher was in May of 1995 when my dad was talking to me about the return of Christ. It was that brief phone call that caused me to seriously think about my standing with God. In a moment, I knew the reality of Christ’s return (something to which I hadn’t really given much thought), and I knew that I was not right before God (I had previous knowledge of these things, being raised in the church). I told my dad that I’d be home in two weeks. I hung up the phone, prayed to the Lord to forgive me of living my life in sin, and to make me into a new person. I was changed. What do we do with those three years of the Spirit’s work (1993, 1994, 1995)? How does the Calvinist explain that the Spirit was convicting me concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11), but I resisted that work much of the time? Must we concede that the Spirit waited three years after His initial (and strong) conviction to irresistibly regenerate me unto faith / repentance and salvation? This is why I say that Calvinism cannot be lived out; it may look good to some in black and white, but it does not correspond with reality, which, if I remember correctly, is the definition of ‘truth,’ right? ‘Truth is that which corresponds to reality.’7

By experience, we observe similar examples. An unbeliever mocks Christianity, but a Christian patiently explains the gospel to them. The unbeliever launches well-known objections to Christianity involving things like evolution, or Bible mysteries such as how Noah safely transported the animals, or moral dilemmas such as the existence of suffering in the world. The Christian answers the questions as best as they can and gives them a Bible. The unbeliever is invited to church and agrees to attend. They read some more. They ask more questions. They attend church some more. At some point—in being open, seeking and receptive to the Christian gospel—they inform the Christian that they prayed to receive Christ in their heart and request to be baptized as a believer. Now, when were they saved? The answer is when they gave their heart to Christ—not before. However, previously they were in a place of transition, in a process of gradually becoming converted. How does such progression work with Calvinism’s irresistible regeneration?

In Calvinism, the unregenerate are totally depraved—born helpless and hopeless to accept the gospel—being hostile, uninterested and unseeking toward God, having no desire for Him whatsoever, being dead an entombed like “Lazarus.” But human experience shows otherwise. An unbeliever may read the Bible or hear the gospel preached and come under conviction. Sometimes it takes a while, but the individual is in a transitional condition, which may result in salvation if they do not persist in resisting the Holy Spirit. In this transitional, open state they may or may not ever end up getting saved, but while lost, but they are also enlightened by the Holy Spirit through God’s word. So, there is the totally lost state, and the saved state, but also the state in between—the transitional state—where the person is still lost and unsaved but yet the proof-texts used by Calvinists do not apply to them, and that’s the problem for Calvinists. The Calvinist scheme leaves no room for a process of someone gradually coming to faith. Their scheme leaves only two options, that is, either rabid God-hater or regenerated God-lover. In some cases, the former may be deluded in thinking that they love God, but are revealed to be God-haters when they reject the gospel and persecute those who preach it. But what about those who don’t hate the gospel, and actually believe it for a while, until in times of temptation fall away? (Luke 8:13) How does Calvinism’s doctrine of Total Depravity and Total Inability account for them without resorting to smoke-screens, red herrings and other diversionary tactics?

What do Calvinists believe?

John MacArthur: “Arminianism is the theological perspective that basically says man is sovereign and God can’t really determine what he’s going to do, He just leaves it up to man and God does love everybody and certainly wishes everybody would get saved, but everybody won’t, and so God’s as disappointed as anybody else would be who would like to see that happen.”8

Our reply:

Firstly, when Calvinists insist that in non-Calvinism, “man is sovereign” over salvation, or makes man the decisive cause of his own salvation, consider that in terms of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Although it was 100% the son’s choice to return home and apologize to his father, it was also 100% the father’s choice to receive him back, when he otherwise didn’t have to. The father was not compelled to take his son back or put the family ring back on his finger. Instead, the father could have had him stoned to death. So, while the son was 100% the decisive cause in his own choice to return home, the father was 100% the decisive cause of his own choice to accept him back and to restore him. In terms of salvation, we may be 100% the decisive cause in our choice to ask God for the forgiveness of our sins, it remains 100% God’s choice to set the terms of forgiveness to grant it to whoever asks Him. In non-Calvinism, it’s not a 50/50 or 90/10 ratio. Both God and man remain 100% responsible for their own choices.

Secondly, when Calvinists say that non-Calvinism makes man sovereign over salvation, or makes man the decisive cause of his own salvation—even after correcting this flawed perspective by citing the parable of the Prodigal Son—are Calvinists really offering a morally superior alternative in the form of Irresistible Grace? As an analogy, consider a man who believes that a certain woman would not want to be with him unless he first “made her willing” without her prior consent through the use of a stealthily administered date-rape drug. Someone may say, “Sure, that would be immoral, and even criminal, but that’s not what Calvinism’s doctrine of Irresistible Grace is all about.” But, how so? How would the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace (which teaches that God unilaterally regenerates certain people without their prior consent and against their will, so as to make an unwilling person, willing to love and worship God) avoid the moral equivalent of a date-rape drug?

One answer is that one thing is considered a heinous crime while the other amounts to God saving someone. So, “saving” someone (such as by Calvinism’s doctrine of Irresistible Grace) then becomes the moral justification to act with stealth and without consent, that is, for God, as described by Calvinism, to administer a pre-faith regeneration so that the unwilling recipient is unconsciously made willing. This is still scandalous. Consider the example of famed atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who said that if anyone were to find out that he became a Christian on his death-bed, to know in advance that if that really were to happen, it would be a lie or he would not have been in his “right mind.” As a Christian, I believe that if he were to have become spiritually saved, even on his death-bed, it would be a good thing, but not necessarily if it was stealthily and irresistibly imposed against his consent. That would be disturbing behavior.


1 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 219.

2 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 191.

3 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 159, emphasis mine.

4 Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, translated by Ross Mackenzie (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 200.

5 See also the discussion on Evanescent Grace.

6 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 209.

7 Testimony provided by our friends at The Society of Evangelical Arminians.

8 John MacArthur, “The Love of God, Part 4,” January 1, 1995.