Irresistible Grace / Efficacious Grace

by Mike Ratliff

As we have seen, Unconditional Election is the work of God the Father. Particular Redemption is the work of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, is also at work in the salvation of the elect. It is His efficaciously gracious work to apply the benefits of Christ’s works to those elect whom Jesus has redeemed. 

The Doctrine of Irresistible Grace refers to the way God calls us to Jesus Christ. However, to some, these words imply that God drags people kicking and screaming into His Kingdom. They also seem to imply that grace is never resisted by us. Obviously it is. However, this doctrine does tell us that no one called can resist effectively. When God calls us to faith in Jesus Christ he calls effectively, always succeeding. The grace of God’s calling is overwhelmingly efficacious, therefore, I prefer to call it “Efficacious Grace.”

Why is it God’s calling overwhelmingly efficacious? The Holy Spirit regenerates those who are being called, giving them a new nature. As a result of which, they naturally do what the new nature does, that is, believe the Gospel, repent of sin, and trust in Christ unto salvation.

This puts the determining factor in a person’s salvation in God’s hands, where it clearly belongs. Reading through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we see the Jewish authorities opposing our Lord continually. God allowed them do so to the very last (Acts 7:51). However, the apostle Paul, when he was the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, also resisted, but he was allowed to do so only to a point. God brought his resistance to an end (Acts 9:5-6).

The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses this quite effectively:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,by His Word and Spirit out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God,taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh;renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good,and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christyet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. (Chapter X, Sec. 1)

In The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther said:

“When God works in us, the will is changed under the sweet influence of the Spirit of God. Once more it desires and acts, not of compulsion, but of its own desire and spontaneous inclination.”

If the Gospel is freely offered to all men (as it is), some respond to it and are saved while others reject it and are lost. The Arminian says that this is because of something in the individual, so that the individual is responsible for his own destiny. The Calvinist says that it is God who makes the difference, and that this is due entirely to His grace.

There are two kinds of calls in Scripture. The first is external, general, and universal. It is an invitation to all persons to repent of sin, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved. It is the call that Jesus gave in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are wear and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Or again, when he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). Another example would be Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11). When Jesus (and later Peter) issued that call, the call was universal. It was for everyone. Anyone who wanted to respond could come to Jesus Christ and be saved. We should be hearing that same call from every true Christian pulpit today.

What’s the problem with this “general call?” It is ineffectual. Why? People are left to themselves. If people are left to themselves, no one ever actually responds to it. People hear the Gospel and may even understand it up to a point, but the God who issues the call is undesirable to them, and so they turn away. Our Lord gave us a parable that exemplified this in Luke 14:15-24.

Now we come to the second kind of call, which is internal, specific, and effectual. It not only issues the invitation but also provides the willingness or ability to respond. It is a case of god bringing to spiritual life those who without that call would remain spiritually dead forever.

Think of our Lord raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Lazarus had been dead for three days and his body had been putrefying in the tomb. That is a graphic description of that state of our moral and spiritual decay because of sin. There was no hope that anything could be done for Lazarus in his helpless condition. His case was not serious or grim, but hopeless. George Whitefield the great eighteenth-century evangelist used to say that the sinner’s condition is worse than hopeless. But, not to God, with whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Having prayed, Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43), and the call of God brought the dead man to life.

That is what the Holy Spirit does today. The Holy Spirit operates through the preaching and teaching of the Word to call to faith those who God previously has elected to salvation and for whom Jesus specifically died. Apart from these three actions—the act of God in electing, the work of Christ in atoning, and the power of the Holy Spirit in calling—there would be no hope for anyone. No one could be saved.

In John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, he makes the distinction just made, showing that there is such a thing as a general or universal call and that there are examples of it in the Bible. But then he points out that:

“in the New Testament the terms for calling, when used with reference to salvation, are almost uniformly applied, not to the universal call of the gospel, but to the call that ushers men into the state of salvation is therefore effectual. There is scarcely an instance where the terms are used to designate the indiscriminate overture of grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Here are some examples:

6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:6-7 ESV)

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29 ESV) 

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, (Ephesians 4:1 ESV) 

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (2 Timothy 1:8-9 ESV)

10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10-11 ESV) 

In each of these passages, the call of God effectively saves those to whom it is addressed. Putting the above texts together, it is a call that unites us to Jesus Christ, bringing us into fellowship with him and setting before us a holy life in which we will be sure to walk if we truly have been called.

Do we have to believe? Of course, we do. But even faith is of God or, as it is better to say, it is the result of His working in us.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “Irresistible Grace / Efficacious Grace

  1. Hi Mike,

    I thank you for your faithfulness in this blogging service to the church. Thank you for this TULIP series to better explain The Gospel.

    You stated, “What’s the problem with this “general call?” It is ineffectual. Why? People are left to themselves. If people are left to themselves, no one ever actually responds to it.

    I wonder…

    Maybe some do respond to it. “It” could be a proper presentation of The true, correct Gospel or more likely a weak man centred gospel, which after being “preached” is followed by an invitation to “receive Christ” by walking to the front, to the altar or “inviting Jesus into your heart”, signing a card, etc. These may be the Arminians, Pelegians, etc. that you do most of your battles with. They think they are saved, because of their “decision”. The important part being THEIR decision. It is what THEY have done and not a working of the Grace of God. They are deceived. They could (and most likely are) fully functioning church members, but not members of the Family of God.

  2. Mike, thank you for presenting this series. I look forward to further studies for a deeper understanding on this matter. Yep! I am a Calvinist! Petra…spot on! This is what I am seeing as well. It was not until I received the filling of the Holy Spirit that this truth was revealed to me by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit and His written Word. Prior to receiving this “gift,” I was a bonafide “Armenian.”

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