Moving on from my introductory remarks, the next section is on assumptions. I have a few, I think, that you might not have. Let’s put them on the overhead here.
1. The Bible is the word of God.
The Bible is the word of God, verbally inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
That comes from our Bethlehem Affirmation of Faith. I’m not going to argue for that. I did that some weeks ago. It’s overwhelmingly important.
I love to be around people that I can smell have a heart to submit to the Bible. You can tell. Are they suspicious of it? Do you read it and they say, “But, but, but, but?” Their first response is not, “Oh,” but, “But, but, but, but.” Some people are just deeply under the Bible as their authority, and others — they play with the Bible. They are governed by what they have inherited and not by the Scriptures.
Now that doesn’t settle what the Bible teaches. It doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, it makes it harder, because you want desperately to submit to what’s really there and not just make up your own ideas. I am what I am about these matters because I see them in the Bible.
If I see 10,000 brilliant PhDs saying one thing and the Bible saying another thing, the Bible gets my vote. That’s the way I’m going to be. You just need to know that’s my assumption. There’s a simple way of saying the reason for it; namely, the Bible has lasted for 2,000 years-plus, has stood against attack after attack after attack, and has made it from generation to generation so that its vote is superior to 10,000 brilliant people who will be here today and gone tomorrow.
One of the great things about being 62, that’s me, is that you’ve seen a lot of things come and go. Dr. Harrison at Fuller used to say something that was so wise. I didn’t realize how wise at the time. He said, “Don’t fret too much about liberal views because liberalism has a way of correcting itself. By its very definition, it must move beyond conserving the old.” In other words, if a liberal view says such-and-such is true about the Bible, which isn’t in this generation, a generation later, the young fellows writing PhDs as liberals have to disagree with that. Otherwise, they’re conservatives.
There is an amazingly self-correcting power within liberalism that means we don’t have to invest most of our energy into dealing with it. Some people should invest significant energies, but we don’t have to invest most of our energies into quickly responding to every new thing that comes along. It’s going to get responded to even from inside its own school.
2. Faithfulness to Scripture is more important than faithfulness to theological systems.
Being faithful to Scripture is vastly more important than being faithful to Calvinism or Arminianism. I want you to feel that flavor here. I don’t want you to go away thinking, “Oh, they’re doing this seminar at Bethlehem to make sure everybody believes Calvinism or makes sure that this system gets pushed on people.” It’s not the flavor of this at all. I want you to be radically critical of ideas that are not in the Bible. I want you to either see it in the Scriptures or not embrace it.
3. The teaching of Scripture is of the utmost importance.
Right thinking about what the Bible teaches about God, man, and salvation really matters. Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season but will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church. Not everybody believes that. It’s one of my assumptions. Right doctrine honors God and blesses people; wrong doctrine dishonors God and hurts people.
Sometimes people play off love against theology or doing doctrine, and say, “Don’t spend time defending the gospel or arguing for true doctrine because it’s not loving. What people need is relationships and love.” My answer to that is, indeed, they do, but they are not mutually exclusive. If these things go wrong with doctrine, the foundations for these relationships collapse. It hurts people when we think wrongly about God in the end.
4. The work of the Holy Spirit is essential in understanding Scripture.
The work of the Holy Spirit and the pursuit of his work in prayer is essential for grasping the truth of Scripture. I’m not assuming that unaided human reason can come to this book and figure it out. I’m assuming that we need the Holy Spirit who inspired it to cause our minds to be submissive to it. We need to ask him through prayer that he would do that for us. “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom,” Paul says, “but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God . . . (1 Corinthians 2:14).
If you’re unspiritual, you don’t have the Spirit holding sway in your life. You won’t receive what God has to give you. They’ll be folly to you.
For they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14–16).
Without the mind of Christ being given by the Spirit, we simply will reject the things that come to us in the Bible from God.
5. Thinking is essential for understanding the Bible.
Thinking is essential for grasping biblical truth. I just said unaided reason without the Holy Spirit and without prayer isn’t going to make any headway in truly grasping what the Bible means, but now I’m saying on the other side that thinking is essential for grasping biblical truth.
I’ve just prepared my message for this weekend on 1 John. I don’t think I’ve had to think so hard as I had to today for quite a long time. The first epistle of John is just mind-boggling. There are things in it that are so provocatively contrary to each other. You know they’re not contradictory because they’re right there next to each other in the same verse, like 1 John 2:1–2. So you have to think and think. I felt very deeply helped by the Lord in these last couple of days as I’ve worked on this issue for this weekend. Thinking is essential.
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (1 Corinthians 14:20).
Or 2 Timothy 27 says:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Paul is saying, “Think, Timothy. Think over what I say. The Lord will grant you understanding.” You think, and he gives. That’s the paradox.
Proverbs 21:31 says:
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but the victory belongs to the Lord.
Brains are engaged in trying to understand the Bible, but understanding comes from the Lord. It’s both/and, it’s not either/or.
6. God ordains teachers.
God ordains that there be teachers in the church to help the body grasp and apply the truth of Scripture. I just put that there so that you know why I’m standing here. Why don’t I just trust you to come and see everything you need to see? Why are there pastors? Why are there elders? Why are there teachers? Why are there colleges and seminaries? Why are there small groups with leaders and non-leaders? What’s the deal with all this hierarchy of, not authority, but of influence and teaching? The answer is right here:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . . (Ephesians 4:11–12).
God ordains that there should be teachers and that we should learn from each other. I lean on teachers every day. Most of them are books because I’m sort of the main teacher in Bethlehem. I lean on other teachers every day. I’m leaning on John Stott in 1 John pretty regularly. I ask, “How did John Stott see this? I want to see how he saw it. How did Law see it?”
Hebrews 13:7 says:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
I’m not God, and I’m not the Bible. I am, I think, a God-called instructor, pastor, teacher, shepherd, elder, and overseer at Bethlehem. My responsibility is to feed the flock so that when the master comes he will find me so doing. I love that parable. Peter said, “Lord, did you tell this parable for us or for everybody?” (Luke 12:41), and Jesus simply says, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:43).
I just want to be found doing what I’m doing. I’m not the Bible, and I’m not God. I’m a pointer to texts and an explainer of texts. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit would illumine those texts so that you would see for yourself what’s really there.
7. No Bible teacher has perfect knowledge.
Like all fallen, finite humans, you and I see in a mirror dimly. We do not claim to be perfect in what we know. We do not claim to know all that can be known, nor do we claim to see what we know more clearly than others see it. We do say with Paul, since we have the same Spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke” (2 Corinthians 4:13), we also believe, and so we speak. Though we do not know everything there is to know, and though we do not know anything perfectly, we do know many things truly and confidently because of God’s revelation and his Spirit.
Now, before I give you couple of examples, I’m reacting here today to the postmodern skepticism of the ability to know anything and the accusation that if you presume to say you know something, you’re arrogant. Let me give you a take on that arrogance piece. I think the opposite is the case. Consider a person who says, “I believe there is objective reality here. There is propositional truth that two minds looking at can see, understand, and decide to submit to or not. I think that’s what’s in the Bible.” If you say, “I think it’s arrogant to presume that you can see what’s here, claim that you see it, and then tell another person they’re wrong because they’re not seeing it,” contemplate the alternative.
The alternative would be that this either doesn’t offer objective, concrete propositional reality, or you can’t really know it and have access to it. Then what’s left for you to do? What’s left for you to do is what you jolly well please. That’s not humble. That’s a subtle way of warranting doing your own thing. It’s couched in the language of great humility, saying, “I don’t know what the Bible says. I don’t think the Bible says anything that we can all see, and then put ourselves under, and say, ‘This is true, and that’s not true.’” All that sounds like such humble talk; it’s not humble talk. It’s arrogant talk because basically, when you close the Bible, and then turn around, and go home to your television, your video games, and your family, how do you make your choices?
You do what you feel like doing. You don’t submit yourself to anything outside yourself because you don’t think it’s there to be submitted to. You increasingly become God in a postmodern, relativistic, non-propositional world. The person who says, “It’s here. I will find it with God’s help. I will get myself under it and submit to it. I will make myself vulnerable to other people who say, ‘You missed it. That’s not what it says,’ so that I can change my mind and submit to the truth.” All that is a humble framework toward life that keeps you underneath the Bible instead of putting you over the Bible where you just do your own thing.
It’s not surprising then that we find things like this in the New Testament:
- We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again (Romans 6:9).
- We know that for those who love God all things work together for good . . . (Romans 8:28).
- We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord . . . (2 Corinthians 5:8).
- We know that a person is not justified by works of the law . . . (Galatians 2:16).
- We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
- We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding . . . (1 John 5:20).
That’s a very short list. All I did was enter, “We know,” into my concordance, and there they were.
8. There are things that God has not revealed.
Nevertheless, there remain things that God has not chosen to reveal to us, and we must sometimes be content with mystery. Deuteronomy 29:29 says:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
There are secret things that simply are not ours to know.
Now, how do you know when you’re dealing with one of those? You give it your best shot, and you read those who are smarter than you who gave it their best shot. If you realize they haven’t found it, then you can rest and say, “Well, perhaps it’s not meant to be found. God hasn’t given it to us.” We’ll see if we run into any of those. I have two or three that are very foundational that I do not have answers for, and I simply live with the mystery of what I don’t know.
That’s the end of assumptions. Now we’re on historical background. This is a very brief historical background. I just want to give you the flavor of an overview of where this talk, Calvinism, came from.
These are the origins of Calvinism and Arminianism. John Calvin, the great reformer of Geneva and author of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, died in 1564. The Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius was born in 1560 and died in 1609. He came to disagree with the key tenets of Calvinist doctrine. In the early 1600s, a controversy arose, especially in Holland, between the Arminians and Calvinists, the groups who bore the name of the person who most powerfully expressed their understanding of Scripture. In 1610, the Arminians presented five doctrinal positions called the Remonstrance to the state authorities in Holland. These expressed the key areas where they disagreed with the Calvinists. From November 13, 1618, to May 9 of 1619, the Calvinists came together in the Synod of Dort to answer these five disputed points. Their answers came to be called the Canons of Dort. These are the original expression of the Five Points of Calvinism.
Thus, the Five Points were not asserted by Calvinists as a summary of their doctrine. It didn’t start with Calvinists saying, “We have T.U.L.I.P. We have Five Points, and that’s what we believe.” It didn’t start that way at all. It started with a huge, big, rich, complete body of church doctrine, and parts of it were disputed by the Remonstrance. In answering those disputes, they addressed those five things. That’s how it got going. They were the Calvinists’ response to the Arminian Remonstrance, who chose these five points with which to disagree.
Nevertheless, these Five Points are at the very heart of how we understand God, sin, grace, atonement, and salvation — all the things that are touched by these great realities. In short, the Five Points are vital to understand and have a bearing on all of life and ministry.
Then last, somewhere along the way — I don’t know the history of this well enough to assign a location — the Calvinistic view of Five Points came to be summarized under the acronym, T.U.L.I.P.
- T — total depravity
- U — unconditional election
- L — limited atonement.
- I — irresistible grace.
- P — perseverance of the saints
That’s what we’re going to turn to the rest of our time and deal with those five things.
I just have a note here. A person may embrace these Five Points because they are biblical while not embracing other things that John Calvin and the Dutch Reformed Church endorsed. For example, one may embrace believer’s baptism and renounce the idea of a state church. That would be two differences that would distinguish us, say, from the Calvinists of Calvin’s day.
Differences Between Calvinism and Arminianism
Now here’s a summary of the differences between these two theologies. The first point is total depravity. We’re asking, “What’s the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism?” And we’re going to lay out the differences here. Then we’re going to step back, and go to the Scriptures in the next while, and see the foundations for both of them.
T — Total Depravity
Calvinists believe that people are so depraved and rebellious that they are unable to trust God without his special work of grace to change their hearts so that they necessarily and willingly believe. I’ll read the Arminianism difference, and then come back and comment on those two words and why they’re so important.
Total depravity means we’re so depraved and rebellious that we’re unable to trust God without his special work. We don’t like God. We resist God. We rebel against God. In this rebellion, we cannot bring ourselves to submit to him, trust him, or love him. Arminianism says people are depraved and corrupt but are able to provide the decisive impulse to trust God with the general divine assistance that he gives to all people.
Now let me explain. Arminianism is not Pelagianism. Pelagianism was the view that you don’t need any divine assistance for your will to produce a right response to God. They said you could just will it and do it. That was condemned as heresy from early on and has always been. This would be a modified version of that, because virtually all Arminians — Wesley, Arminius — have said nobody can respond properly to God without grace, without the assistance of grace — prevenient grace, which is grace coming before.
That’s what Calvinists believe also, but here’s the difference: Calvinists believe that we’re so depraved that when that grace and assistance comes, it won’t bring us to faith. Nobody will come to faith unless there is a decisive impulse. Arminians believe that people are depraved and corrupt but are able to provide the decisive impulse. According to Arminianism, out of your own free will, you can, once you’ve been given divine enablement, provide the decisive (key word), ultimate difference, not God, in whether or not you use the grace that you have been given in order to trust Christ. Whereas, Calvinism says people are so depraved and rebellious that they’re unable to trust God without a special work of grace to change their hearts so that they necessarily and willingly believe.
In other words, if this grace doesn’t compel them to believe, they won’t believe. This is why we’re going to get to irresistible grace. There’s the difference. It’s very nuanced. I don’t want to put any straw men here. I don’t want to paint Arminianism in a worse light than it should be. It’s a nuanced difference here.
Arminians do not say you can make your way to God without grace, but they do say that grace helps everybody. Then, what makes the difference in who comes to Christ and who doesn’t is ultimately and decisively you and not God. That’s the difference. Whereas Calvinists would say grace comes and helps. What makes the ultimate, decisive difference between whether or not you believe is God, not you.
U — Unconditional Election
The second point is election. Calvinism says God has chosen unconditionally whom he will bring to faith and salvation. Arminianism says God has chosen to bring to salvation all whose faith he foresaw but did not decisively bring about.
In Arminianism, election is based on the foreknowledge of self-wrought faith — that is, decisively self-wrought. Not that there’s no grace working, but that the decisive impulse is from you. God doesn’t, before the foundation of the world, choose who will believe. He rather foresees those who will believe on the basis of their own decisive free will and then says, “Those are the chosen ones.” That’s the difference at the point of election.
L — Limited Atonement
The third point is the atonement. This is a little bit tricky. Calvinism says that in the death of Christ, God provided a sufficient atonement for all human beings, but designed, intended, and purposed that it be effective for the elect, meaning, that it purchased for them the new covenant promises that God would work in his people the grace of faith and perseverance. Calvinists believe that in the atonement, God purchased for the elect their own faith. The cross contains in it a definite work that brings about the salvation of the elect.
Arminians, on the other hand, would say this: In the death of Christ, God provided a sufficient atonement for all, and designed that it would become effective by virtue of faith. In other words, it doesn’t effect faith; rather, faith makes it effective, meaning that the faith itself is not a gift purchased by the cross but the human means of obtaining the gift of purchased forgiveness. That’s complicated. Probably, there’s no point in lingering over it now until we deal with it next week in some great detail on the basis of texts rather than just trying to explain it in abstract here.
I’ll put it like this. The way I find it very helpful to talk about the atonement between a Calvinist and an Arminian is that almost any Arminian I’ve ever talked to who wants to explain in a positive way what they understand Christ achieved will say Christ died for all men such that whoever believes, his death covers their sins. To that, I totally agree. Christ died for all men such that whoever believes, their sins are covered. No argument.
The difference arises here. That’s as much as the Arminian wants to say about the design of the atonement, whereas the Calvinist says more happened in the atonement. It’s not less than that, but more, namely, that God not only designed to make forgiveness available for who all who would believe, but he designed in the cross to achieve faith for the elect. He not only designed that whosoever will may come through the cross, but he had a bride and he paid for his bride. It’s a kind of dowry, you might say, but more on that later.
I — Irresistible Grace
The fourth point is irresistible grace or the new birth. Calvinism says the new birth, or grace, is God’s work of renewal in our hearts which necessarily brings about the act of saving faith. Arminianism says the new birth is God’s work of renewal in our hearts in response to our act of saving faith. Prevenient grace is not the new birth; rather, it makes all people able, if they would, to believe. It takes you so far, then it stops. God waits and watches, and you, by your decisive power of free will, believe. If you believe, then you are born again. I’ve been arguing for 13 weeks in our series on the new birth at Bethlehem that the opposite is the case — namely, that the new birth is precisely what causes faith. First John 5:1 says:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God . . .
P — Perseverance of the Saints
Finally, number five is perseverance. Calvinism says God works infallibly to preserve in faith all who are truly born again so that none is ever lost. Arminianism says God works to preserve his people but does not always prevent some who are born again from falling away to destruction. If people ask me, “Where does your assurance lie that you will last to the end and be saved, that you’ll be a believer for the rest of your life?” My answer is not my will.
I mean, just ask yourself the question, “Why should you wake up believing in the morning?” Most of you right now are believing. If somebody forced you to choose, you’d say, “Christ is my Lord, my Savior. I trust him. I stake my life on him.” Why should it be that way tomorrow morning? Why shouldn’t you get up tomorrow morning and realize, “I don’t believe that anymore at all. I don’t want to yield to him as Lord. I don’t want to submit to him. I don’t want to embrace him as my Savior.” Why?
If you say that the ultimate answer to that is your sovereign, free will, you’re standing on very shaky ground. The ultimate answer to that question is: God is faithful. He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). God’s faithfulness is the only hope that tomorrow morning, I’m going to be a believer like I was this morning. It’s a very comforting thought, and it’s a very fragile thought, that is, I know that I am not in charge. I’m so glad I’m not in charge because I know my will is so fickle. You get a little sick, and all kinds of things happen to your emotions. Your relationship starts to have trouble, your emotions go up and down, and things shift around. Oh my goodness, our hearts are fickle. That’s a summary of Calvinism and Arminianism.
Question and Answer
Now I want to get a good start on irresistible grace. I’m taking it in the order not of T.U.L.I.P. but of I.T.U.L.P. There’s a reason for that. Do you know what we should do? I think we should stop here for three or four minutes and take a few questions. Let them put in a new tape because otherwise this is going to run out of that tape. Let’s do that. Ask me a question.
Question: Is it possible to be biblical and be in between Arminianism and Calvinism?
Answer: I suppose it’s going to depend on your understanding of the two extremes and what you mean when you’re in the middle. For me, it wouldn’t be possible because my way of understanding this one over here, Calvinism, is what I see in the Bible.
I am trying to be biblical so that when you try to be biblical and not fit into the systematic categories, you might sound like you’re in-between sometimes or that you’re at the other end because people have these conceptions about what a Calvinist is or what an Arminian is. They might think, “If you believe this, how could you be a Calvinist?”
I find that regularly to be the case. I mean, there are a lot of people who think that if you’re a Calvinist, you can’t pray, you can’t do evangelism, you don’t care about missions, and you don’t have any affections and all that stuff. I’m just eager to blow all of it out of the water.
One more question. We have a thumbs-up.
Question: Would you say it’s accurate to say that in God’s commanded will, Christ’s atonement is for everybody, but in God’s secret, sovereign will, it’s for the elect?
The question is if you distinguish sovereign will from will of command. I do embrace that distinction. Is it accurate to say that the death of Christ is by his will of command for everybody and by his will of decree or sovereignty for the elect only? I’m not sure exactly what you mean, but I certainly would say this. We are commanded to say to everybody on the planet, “Whosoever will may come, and your sins will be forgiven by the blood of Jesus if you come.”
In that sense, the will of command, the Great Commission to do evangelism is to take the blood of Christ and hold it out to every single person on the planet as what would save them if they believed, knowing that they will or they won’t believe based on whether or not God liberates them from their bondage to rebellion. When they’re liberated, then his design of the cross, since he knows exactly who that’s going to be, would apply to them.
I have six arguments for irresistible grace, and I’ll tell you why I start with I instead of T. I think that’s where most people start in life. You all who are believers got saved somewhere along the way. Something happened. My guess is that most of you would feel extremely uncomfortable, no matter what your theology is, saying, “I did that. I was the decisive cause of my conversion.” You stand before God in heaven and he asks you, “Why are you here?” you will say, “Because I have believed in your Son, and I have thrown myself on him for mercy. I have counted on his death for my forgiveness and his life for my righteousness. That’s my only hope.” The Father will smile and say, “That’s exactly the right answer.” Then he might say, “Why did you do that and not your cousin that I strove with for so long in so many ways?”
At that point, I don’t think you’re going to want to say, “I’m smarter,” or, “I’m more spiritual,” or, “I was wiser.” You’re going to put your hand over your mouth, and you’re going to say, “Grace, grace, it’s inexplicable grace why you humbled me, broke me, brought me down, shut my mouth, and knocked me off my horse.”
Most people start here. They get confronted by God, and he changes them. Then they spend the rest of their lives trying to figure out what happened. That’s where we are tonight. We’re trying to figure out what happened to us because we want to give him all the proper credit and glory. We want to understand our conversion.
You didn’t understand how depraved you were before you got saved. You had a little inkling that you were a sinner and needed a Savior. Then God opened your eyes, and you embraced Christ as your Lord, Savior, and treasure. Now you’re devoting time to trying to know who you are and what he’s done for you. I’m starting where I started.
An Objection to Irresistible Grace
Before I give you the arguments, I have to respond to an objection. People say, “Grace can be resisted.” The first thing people have said to me over the years is that they say, “You believe in irresistible grace?” I say, “Yes.” And they say, “Well, how can you believe in irresistible grace? Of course, it can be resisted.” Then they point to these verses, right?
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51).
People will say, “How can you even talk in terms of irresistible grace when the Bible says right there that it’s resisted? The Holy Spirit can be resisted.”
Or Ephesians 4:30, which says:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
You can grieve the Holy Spirit. You can resist him.
Or 1 Thessalonians 5:19, which says:
Do not quench the Spirit.
You can quench the Spirit.
Or Romans 10:21, which says:
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Here’s God stretching out his hands to a disobedient and obstinate people. That doesn’t sound irresistible, does it?
What do we mean by calling grace irresistible? We don’t mean it can’t be resisted. We mean that as soon as God chooses, he can overcome your resistance. That’s all we mean. I mean, the only reason everybody is not a Christian is that they can resist God. And the only reason anybody is a Christian is that he overcame that resistance when he chose. He can suffer you to resist him. He’s God. As soon as he wants, bang, he can overcome that resistance. Don’t let anybody boggle you by saying, “Oh, there’s no point in believing in irresistible grace because the Bible says you can resist it.” Of course, you can resist. You just can’t resist any longer than he wants you to. Then he overcomes your resistance, and that’s why we’re saved. That’s what irresistible grace teaches.
Argument 1: The Gift of Repentance and Faith
Here are the biblical foundations for it. The first argument is that faith and repentance are a gift of God. These are different arguments for why I believe in grace being able to triumph over my resistance and thus become irresistible.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:9–10).
God is very eager to strip us from boasting. Salvation and faith here are called the gift of God.
Romans 12:3 says:
By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Or listen to 2 Timothy 2:24–26. This one had a huge effect on me when I saw it years ago because it combines what we usually separate, namely, human effort to change somebody and divine, decisive effort to change them. This could be any of you wanting very much to bring somebody out of their bondage to sin:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach (you’re teaching, you’re kind, and you’re not quarreling), patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness . . .
You are being bold enough to correct those who are in opposition. Now here’s the change, here’s the shift, here’s the gift:
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
We do our part. That’s our part, right there. Then perhaps, God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. I believe in irresistible grace because this verse teaches that when I’ve done all that I can, whether or not somebody repents depends on whether God grants them repentance. Repentance is a gift.
Argument 2: The Necessity of Being Drawn
We cannot come to Christ unless God draws us. John 6:44 says:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
I remember showing that to a student at Bethel about 30 years ago when I was a teacher there, and he quoted me John 12:32, which says:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
In other words, this applies to everybody. I wonder how you would respond to that — a person quoting those two passages.
Here’s the problem: That was John 6:44, but if you drop down and just keep reading, you encounter this in John 6:63–65:
“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.”
For this reason, he knew who it was who would betray him. For this reason, he said nobody can come. This is not everybody. Judas did not come because he was not given to come. His rebellion and deep-seated opposition to Jesus were not overcome and had to be overcome. That’s the meaning of verse John 6:65.
Argument 3: God’s Effectual Calling
The third argument is that God’s effectual calling overcomes resistance to the gospel.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22–23).
Now think about that with me for just a moment. A call is going out to everybody, Jews and Greeks, and Paul is saying, “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. Christ came into the world to die for sinners. Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” That’s a general call from Billy Graham, or Paul, or me, or you, or anybody, and you can share in a small group as well. The call goes out to everybody, “Whosoever will, come.”
Among those who hear, there are those who call what you just said “a stumbling block.” There are those who call what you just said “foolishness.” They’re not coming. They’re not believing. They think it’s stupid. But there’s another group. They’re made up of both Jews and Greeks. They come because, for them, Christ becomes the power of God and the wisdom of God. He’s not foolish; he’s wisdom. He’s not a stumbling block; he’s power. What made the difference?
The answer is “those who are called.” You might say, “Well, I thought everybody was called?” Well, they were in the general sense, but this text clearly teaches there is a calling that makes all the difference in the world as to whether we regard Christ as foolish or regard Christ as wisdom. If you’re called, you live. The calling here is the calling of Lazarus out of the tomb — “Lazarus, come forth.”
I was just watching a video of the conversion of C. S. Lewis. You may remember that story. It was very progressive, moving from atheism to theism, to kind of vague Christianity. But eventually it was Jesus, the Son of God, dying for the world, and him believing. The video pictured him, and I remember reading in Surprised by Joy that he got on a bus going to a zoo. He says he got on the bus an unbeliever, and he got off the bus, believing. This video showed him in a sidecar of a motorcycle, and I said, “Does bus mean something different in Britain?”
But the point here is that Lewis could not explain what happened. His resistance totally collapsed. He was looking at Christ, and he was just foolish. It was mythological. It was what all the myths said — a dying and rising God, and all that stuff — and he just thought, “No way.” And then, half an hour later, he got off the bus or out of the sidecar, and he realized, “I’m believing. I believe it. I believe it now.”
Well, what happened to him was that God called him. To those who are called, it is the power of God. God said, somewhere along that road, “Lazarus, live. Lewis, see.” In here, the eyes of his heart embraced the truth.
Argument 4: The New Birth
Argument number four is that the new birth enables us to receive Christ. These are all arguments for why grace is irresistible. Here we’re talking about the new birth. We’ve already mentioned this, so I’ll just pass over it quickly with 1 John 5:1:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God . . .
Literally, it’s in the perfect tense, and says, “has been born of God.” I just think that’s crystal clear that the reason you believe is that you have been born again, not the other way around.
Argument 5: Grace Greater Than Our Resistance
Argument number five is that the new covenant promises grace that will triumph over our resistance. We were working on this one in preaching class yesterday. Deuteronomy 5:29 says:
Oh that they had such a heart as this always (it’s literally, “Who will give them such a heart?”), to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!
For those who were in that class yesterday, we were fumbling around trying to find the other text. It’s this one here:
Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear (Deuteronomy 29:2–4).
When he says, “Who? Who will give you such a heart?” the answer is, “It’s going to be the Lord. Here, it hasn’t happened yet in Deuteronomy 29:2-4. The Lord has not given you a heart to know or eyes to see. He hasn’t overcome your resistance. How will that ever be changed? This new covenant promise:
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
How are you ever going to come to love the Lord your God? He’s going to circumcise your heart. He’s going to change your heart. He’s going to make it possible for you to love God.
Or let’s go to this one. This is Jeremiah 32:40, which says:
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
That’s the same as circumcising their hearts so they love God. He says, “I’ll put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me.” Now that’s a great text for perseverance, but that’s not the doctrine we’re on right now. We’re on irresistible grace. He says, “I will put the fear of me in their hearts.”
Or listen to Ezekiel 11:19–20, which says:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
There’s coming a new covenant day, Ezekiel and Jeremiah say, in which God will act decisively so that we stop rebelling against him.
Argument 6: God’s Sovereign Right to Show Mercy
This is the last argument for irresistible grace — argument number six. Who then can resist his will? This is a long passage from Romans 9. It might be helpful just to drop down and deal with Romans 9:18–23. Paul writes:
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
In other words, the perception of this listener is that such a statement removes personal accountability. They object, “Why does he still find fault? Because you just said, nobody can resist his will.” And if you back up to Romans 9:16, he says:
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
And then Romans 9:20–23 continues:
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory . . .
When I was teaching at Bethel, I had been struggling for six years in class after class with these things. It didn’t matter what course I was teaching, students always raised their hand and said, “Well, how can that be? How that can be?” because this issue of the sovereignty of God comes up everywhere. It’s just everywhere in the Bible. Every class, it became an issue.
Who Are You, O Man?
I would generally wind up my argument at this passage of Scripture because it’s the one that consumed me when I was in seminary. Remember, I wrote on my exam, “Romans 9 is like a tiger going around eating free-willers like me.” This was the section that consumed me. I had to say, “Either I’m giving up on the Bible, or I’m embracing the God of this passage.” They would always say, “Oh, that doesn’t mean that. That’s not referring to individuals. That’s corporate.” They had all kinds of arguments that they learned in other classes. I would say, “Huh. That’s not the way I see it.”
It came to a point where I said, “I just have to settle this for myself. I have to have something I can put in people’s hands.” So I asked for a sabbatical after six years at Bethel. Dr. Brushaber, who was then the dean — now he’s been the president for all these years — mercifully granted me a sabbatical. For most of 1979, I was on a sabbatical. All I did was study Romans 9. I wrote the book The Justification of God, which is a book about Romans 9, and settled it for myself, “What does this passage really mean?” I do believe it means what it seems to say — namely, that individuals are intended here and that God is absolutely sovereign over them.
I wrote it, but the amazing thing is that I’m standing here because, during those months, the Lord kept saying out of Romans 9, “I will not just be analyzed. I will not just be explained. I will be proclaimed. I want you to be a preacher, not a teacher,” and so I resigned. I mean, the result of Romans 9 and the result of the sabbatical was that I handed in my resignation in December of 1979 and went to the Baptist General Conference and said, “I want to preach. Would you help me find a church?” They called Marvin Anderson, the chairman of the committee down at Bethlehem. Bethlehem called me, and that was that. I’ve been there ever since. Romans 9 has a huge history for me. It has a huge history from 1968, and it has a huge history from 1979 in bringing me to the key points of my life.
All of those are six arguments are for why I believe that when God pleases, he overcomes our resistance. That’s the only reason anybody gets saved. We’re going to stop here. Let me pray. I’m going to make a suggestion, looking at the amount of material that we have, that we start tomorrow morning at 10:00, not 9:00, mainly for my voice sake and three sermons I’ve got to give at Bethlehem over the weekend. I think we can manage this in two weekends even if we only do two hours together tomorrow. We will start here, God willing, at 10:00 a.m. and pick it up at the T of Total depravity. Let’s pray.