Grace Is Resistible...Until It's Not

Learn your doctrine from texts. It stands up better that way, and feeds the soul. For example, learn irresistible grace from texts. In this way you will see it does not mean grace cannot be resisted; it means that when God chooses he can and will overcome that resistance.

In Isaiah 57:17-19, for instance. God chastises his rebellious people by striking them and hiding his face: “Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry” (v. 17).

But they did not respond with repentance. Rather, they kept backsliding. They resisted: “But he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart” (v. 17). So grace can be resisted. In fact, Stephen said to the Jewish leaders, “You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51).

What then does God do? Is he powerless to bring those who resist to repentance and wholeness? No. The next verse says, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners” (v. 18).

So, in the face of recalcitrant, grace-resisting backsliding, God says, “I will heal him.” He will “restore”—the word is “make whole or complete”. It is related to the word shalom, peace. That wholeness and peace is mentioned in the next verse which explains how God turns around a grace-resisting backslider.

He does it by “creating the fruit of the lips. ‘Peace, peace (shalom, shalom), to the far and to the near,’ says the LORD, and I will heal him” (v. 19). God creates what is not there. This is how we are saved. And this is how we are brought back from backsliding. The grace of God triumphs over our resistance by creating praise where it did not exist.

He brings shalom, shalom to the near and the far. Wholeness, wholeness to the near and the far. He does it by “restoring,” that is, replacing the disease of resistance with the soundness of submission.

The point of irresistible grace is not that we can’t resist. We can and we do. The point is that when God chooses, he overcomes our resistance and restores a submissive spirit. He creates. He says, “Let there be light!” He heals. He leads. He restores. He comforts.

Therefore we never boast that we have returned from backsliding. We fall on our faces before the Lord and with trembling joy thank him for his irresistible grace.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.