God Is Stronger Than Your Stubbornness
What was it that changed your heart from unbelief to faith in Jesus?
It’s remarkable to ask Christians that question and see how eager they are to give God the glory, not self. Which is a very good instinct. As John Piper says, “There is something about true grace in the believer’s heart that makes us want to give all glory to God.” Many of us have discovered that sometimes our experience of the power of God’s grace far outpaces our theological explanation of it.
John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” was an awful, evil man whose heart was captured by God. Reflecting on his lifestyle as an unbeliever, he wrote, “I not only sinned with a high hand myself, but made it my study to tempt and seduce others upon every occasion: nay I eagerly sought occasion sometimes to my own hazard and hurt” (Memoirs, 13). Newton is one of many examples that God’s strength is able to overcome all stubbornness and depravity.
As I wrestled with Calvinism, I was confronted with this dilemma and tension. I had already accepted that man is totally depraved based on what I read in the Scriptures, and because I knew (too well) the state of my own heart and my own failures.
What made me believe? Who gave me sight? I can’t take credit for my salvation just as Lazarus can’t take credit for his resurrection. Like Newton, I knew I had been evil — spiritually dead in sin since physical birth. But something changed inside of me. I think most Christians, if pressed with this question, would acknowledge that something miraculous happened to them. God is glorified when his grace alone is credited for our salvation.
We Resist Salvation
When we speak of irresistible grace, we are not saying that it’s impossible to resist God’s will and influence. In the New Testament, we’re warned not to “quench the Spirit,” and “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). In Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, he calls his listeners “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart and ears,” telling them that they always “resist the Holy Spirit.”
We are all guilty Spirit-resisters. The question is whether God will leave us in our stubborn, forsaken plight of sin. Will God leave us in our resistance, or will his grace break through despite it?
God Is Active in Salvation
John Piper writes, “Irresistible Grace means that the resistance that all human beings exert against God everyday (Romans 3:10–12; Acts 7:51) is wonderfully overcome at the proper time by God’s saving grace for undeserving rebels whom he chooses freely to save” (Five Points, 16).
The grace of God, says Charles Hodge, “cannot be resisted, any more than the act of creation. The effect follows immediately on the will of God, as when He said let there be light, and light was” (Systematic Theology, 688).
Our sin was passed down from Adam, internally infecting us with evil. The Bible teaches a few things about our sinful nature as humans:
- The human heart is deceitful and desperately sick. (Jeremiah 17:9)
- We are dead in our sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
- The gospel is foolishness to those who are dead in their sins, and we will not accept the things of God unless a supernatural work takes place. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
But the grace of God moves to restore all that was made wrong, giving us a desire for God himself and all that is his. When we are saved, he begins to internally repair what was broken through Adam. Now we’re able to see him as our highest good — the ultimate source of joy. The Bible reveals a God who actively works like a physician inside of the hearts and minds of his chosen people to accomplish our salvation, not just offer it.
- God the Father draws any that come to God the Son. (John 6:44)
- God gives us the knowledge that any of us have about him and his glory. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
- God makes us alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2:5)
- God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)
Skeptics may attack the doctrine of irresistible grace, citing the words of Jesus in John 12:32: “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” However, the usage of “all” throughout John’s Gospel presents serious problems with using this verse as an objection (Five Points, 28).
Jesus’s promise at the end of John 6:44 shows us that his use of draw is effectual — effective, authoritative, successful. At the end of verse 44, Jesus says, “And I will raise him up on the last day.” Him refers to the person that was drawn. Jesus leaves no room for doubt that those whom the Father draws are sealed for the day of redemption. So, the all in John 12:32, taken in context, does not mean every single person that has ever existed. The phrase all means all types of people — Jews and Gentiles.
God Is More Glorified
We owe God all praise and thanks for his action in our salvation. We are less capable of saving ourselves than a blind man is capable of driving. Less able than a camel fitting through the eye of a needle. But God graciously rescued us and gave us new hearts.
God’s ability to change the worst of sinners offers hope for all. This reality should make us bold as we proclaim the gospel to our neighbors. God is able to save the worst human being that you know. After all, he is saving the worst human you know — yourself. How sweet it is to know that a person’s conversion isn’t based finally on the eloquence of the presenter or the goodness of that individual, but solely on the sovereign grace of God.
If total depravity is the great equalizer of mankind, irresistible grace could be regarded as the saving equivalent for the church. Through this truth, God alone is glorified and made much of by all.
The next time you give your testimony, give God the glory for the change that has taken place inside of you. God is more glorified when he is not merely an assistant to our faith, but the author and perfecter.
God bless you and give you peace.
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