The Glorious Doctrine of Irresistible Grace
Those who proclaim the gospel preach in a graveyard. Lazarus cannot obey Christ’s command until he is given new life, and this is something only God can do (John 11:1-44). When Lazarus is given new life, he immediately responds and exits the tomb. In the same way, the spiritually dead sinner cannot respond to the gospel until he is given new life through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Once he is regenerated, however, he immediately responds, placing his faith in Jesus. He is then justified by God.
Those who proclaim the gospel preach in a graveyard
Irresistible, or efficacious, grace is not a dry and dusty old doctrine that was invented by curmudgeonly Calvinists. It is, in fact, a glorious biblical doctrine, for without the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit, we would all be without hope in this world and the next. When we come to a full understanding of how serious our situation is as fallen human beings, our perspective on these doctrines changes dramatically. If we view fallen man as merely disabled or sick, we will never understand the full riches of God’s grace. When we see ourselves as God sees us, however, the truth of the matter is sobering. When we realize that we were spiritually stillborn, rebels against the Almighty and Most Holy God, the Creator of heaven and earth, wicked to our core, we will not have an overinflated sense of our own goodness and abilities. We will not delude ourselves into thinking that God chose us because of some innate goodness within us. We will not flatter ourselves in thinking that we are saved because we made the first move to come to God.
On the contrary, we will fall down on our knees and thank God every day for His amazing grace. We will thank God that He came to our tomb, when we were dead and helpless in sin, and cried out to us, “Come forth!” We will thank Him for giving us new life, for turning our wills from evil, for granting us faith and repentance, for bringing us out of the tomb and loosing us from the burial cloths in which we were bound. If we walked out of the tomb, it was not because of any power in us. It was not because we made a decision for Christ. Rather, it was solely because of the irresistible grace of God, the sovereign and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, who gave us new life. When we finally learn this, we will, with Calvin and our Reformed forefathers, ascribe all glory to God alone for our salvation.
An excerpt from John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology by Burk Parsons. Download the digital edition free through October 31, 2013.