08 January 2011

The Doctrines of Grace: Part "I"

It's been several months since my last post on the Doctrines of Grace. I don't have a good reason for my procrastination. I suppose the hours of research and writing for school took precedence and once classes were over for the semester, my need and desire for rest trumped this series of articles! I'm trying to catch up now and hoping to take advantage of the next couple of months while my schoolwork is less demanding.

Since it has been quite awhile since my last post on limited atonement, I need to take a moment again and remind my readers of this: while it is true that these doctrines are commonly known as Calvinist or Reformed, this does not mean that I adhere to every doctrine espoused by John Calvin or the Reformers. I stand as bit of an oddity, I think, as I must be labeled as a dispensational Calvinist. Some might think that an oxymoron, but from my perspective this label can also be translated as: Biblical. So let's leave it at that. I believe that the Doctrines of Grace, or "TULIP" are quite Scripturally accurate and that they are necessary to the Christian. Of course, my more Arminian-leaning friends disagree with me on this point and, just as I would not condemn them as heretics for their exaltation of man's "free will" over God's sovereignty so too would I hope that they would not send me into the flaming depths for my belief that God is wholly and supremely sovereign over all.

Long introduction aside, this article will examine the "I" in TULIP, namely: Irresistible Grace. This label offers a somewhat negative view of the doctrine, as opponents seek to describe it as God dragging a sinner kicking and screaming into His kingdom. For the sake of this article, then, I will henceforth refer to this doctrine rather as that of "Effectual Calling." What is this call, who makes it, and can it be resisted? In this article, I hope to accurately, yet briefly answer these questions.
"For many are called, but few are chosen." Matthew 22:14
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God..." Romans 1:1
"To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:" Romans 1:7
"Paul, called by the will of God...To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together..." 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2
"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ..." Jude 1
What is this call? Is this the general Gospel call, which all Christians are commissioned to proclaim? Or is this something more? Who are these ones who have been "called"? The answer is simple: these are believers, those who have repented and turned in faith to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the Church. The Greek word for "church," ekklesia, stems from a word that means "called out ones." The church, then, are those who have been called out. This "effectual" call cannot be a general Gospel call that is pronounced to all nations, because clearly not all peoples and nations are part of the Church! So what is the difference? The difference is between the external call and the internal call. The external call, that universal gospel call, comes to all people. All are presented with the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ and yet, this call is only effectual in some of those people. We can see this illustrated quite clearly in John 6:
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69 ESV)
The general gospel call goes out to all men. "Common grace" is bestowed upon all of mankind. But that effectual call, and that irresistible grace of God is granted to His elect. As Martin Lloyd-Jones simply states of those who are described in John 6 as turning away, "the word was effectual in the case of the saved in a way that it was not effectual in the case of the unsaved who refused it."
"Sinner, we shall know whether God calls you by this: if he calls, it will be an effectual call--not a call which you hear and then forget but one which produces good works. [...] We do not believe a man to be converted unless he doth renounce the error of his ways; unless, practically, he is brought to know that Christ himself is master of his conscience, and his law is his delight." (C.H. Spurgeon, "Effectual Calling")
"He who is effectually called has a visible change wrought. Not a change of the faculties, but of the qualities. He is altered from what he was before. His body is the same, but not his mind, he has another spirit. Paul was so changed after his conversion that people did not know him (Acts 9:21). Oh what a metamorphosis does grace make! 'And such were some of you; but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified' (1 Corinthians 6:11). Grace changes the heart." (Thomas Watson, "A Divine Cordial: Effectual Calling")
A true, effectual calling will result in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, which will in turn, out of gratitude for salvation, be evidenced by the fruit of good works. This justifying call will result in a person's salvation.
"[E]very use of the word "call" with regard to salvation in the New Testament epistles refers not to a general outward call, but to a specific inward efficacious saving act of God. It is in that sense an unyielding summons from God that you will respond to, that is why theologians have called it irresistible grace." (John MacArthur, "The Doctrine of God's Effectual Call")
I can hear the retorts, "So what you're saying is that God saves us against our own will?" Nope, I'm not saying that at all. Scripture doesn't teach that and therefore I would never claim that to be so. Those who have been saved and who will be saved reach such a state because they willed to believe the Gospel. But who made them willing to believe? Was it the author of the book they read, or the preacher, or their friend who first shared the Good News with them? We've already seen, in the doctrine of total depravity, that no man of his own unregenerate self is going to be willing to yield to the things of God. "No sinner is ever going to be willing until the power of God comes upon that sinner" (MacArthur, ibid).
"But it's not that the sinner comes kicking and screaming and protesting and trying to resist because when the summons comes, the sinner is made willing. In fact, it is the passion of his heart. When the gospel comes the sinner is so eager to respond. As lost sinners, people have the freedom of the will. [...] They operate freely. And what do they do? They choose to sin. [...] The lost sinner has the freedom of the will. In salvation, we also have the freedom of the will but instead of choosing sin we choose Christ and the difference is because we have been summoned with a divine call" (ibid). 
And so who makes the sinner willing to yield to God? The Holy Spirit. Only God can bring a person to the point of recognizing his own sinfulness and need to be saved. Even the Prince of Preachers, Mr. Spurgeon himself, couldn't do that of his own power and talent.

I know this comes up against resistance, because our human rationale and our unwillingness to be totally subject to God naturally opposes the idea of election and predestination. But we cannot deny the words of Christ himself when He said that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). We cannot deny the countless references in the epistles to those who were "called" in Christ Jesus. What came first, the calling or the choice? Well you cannot choose something unless you are first presented with the choice, and that happens when we receive that general Gospel call. But without the work of the Holy Spirit within us, without that internal, effectual call, no one can ever come to Christ.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8 ESV)
Of these verses, Dr. Lloyd-Jones comments:
"Men and women by nature are opposed to God; they hate God and they are not interested in Him, neither are they interested in the things of God. From that statement of the Apostle I deduce that the intrnal work of the Spirit is an absolute necessity before anyone can possibly believe in the gospel of God and accept it and rejoice in it." (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Effectual Calling and Regeneration").
Man cannot regenerate himself, it must be a work of God.
"It is not merely that the Holy Spirit heightens our natural faculties and powers, it is more than that. It is the Spirit acting upon the soul from within and producing within us a new principle of spiritual action. [...] It is not simply that He brings the truth of His great moral suasion to us. No, no. We need some new faculty, some new principle, and that is the very work that He does. He implants within us this new spiritual principle, this principle of spiritual vitality and activity, and it is as the result of this that the general call of the gospel comes to us in an effectual manner." (ibid).
Unless we deem some of the work of the Holy Spirit to be a failure, we must necessarily conclude that this effectual call does not go out to all. But we may rejoice in knowing that those whom God has called, God will bring to glory.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30 ESV)
It is, it must, though, be the work of God to bring one to a point of willingness to receive Him. We see this throughout Scripture. Take the example of Lydia:
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14 ESV, emphasis mine)
Who opened Lydia's heart? The Lord. She didn't feel overwhelmed by sappy music and an altar call and decide of her own volition to "ask Jesus into her heart." No, the Lord opened her heart to receive the truth of His salvation. This is not the Holy Spirit as a bully beating us into submission. It is instead God working upon our will so that, through His power, we may desire the things and the way of God.
"He leads, He persuades, He acts upon my will in such a way that when He does, the call of the gospel is effectual, and it is certain, and it is sure. God's work never fails, and when God works in a man or woman, the work is effective" (Lloyd-Jones, ibid).

See Also:


  1. Might I suggest this for your reading pleasure for a different view:

    I am not an Arminian, but I have never found anything biblical about TULIP


  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Glenn. I have skimmed much of this document already and my heart breaks for this woman and her experience with those who have abused these doctrines.

    As I've said before, I think it's important for us to acknowledge a divine paradox which our human minds can never reconcile between God's sovereignty and man's volition. I think a healthy recognition of this leads to a better understanding of these doctrines. There's far too much Biblical evidence for these doctrines for them to be flatly denied. There is also much evidence for man's role...a paradox which I don't claim to have the answer to!

  3. Well, I still disagree that any part of TULIP is found in the Bible, and I also find Caryl to be very thorough in exposing the problems with the theology. Dave Hunt's book, "What Love Is This?" is also an excellent analysis of the problems. "Why I Am Not a Calvinist," by Walls and Dongell and "Grace, Faith, Free Will" by Picirili are also excellent works. But what I find most interesting are the writings of Irenaeus which demonstrate the early church before Augustine knew nothing about such TULIP doctrines. Calvinists all disagree with Hunt, Carly, etc, claiming all sorts of mis-quotes, mis-representations, etc. But the same thing happens when I deal with cults, so it is expected.

    Anyway, I just thought I'd suggest another viewpoint to you. I think Calvinism is one of the worst things that happened to the church, but I don't debate it because I find it doesn't go anywhere. Which is why I will never address it on my blog. :oD

    As an aside, some of my favorite teachers/authors are Calvinists - I just overlook that part.


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