God’s irresistible grace, also referred to as the ‘effectual call’ in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is probably better known as “irresistible grace” as it represents the “I” in “TULIP” – a broader collection of doctrines ascribed to John Calvin (even though he existed long before the acronym).

This doctrine of irresistible grace or effectual calling of God teaches “God’s sovereign drawing of a sinner to salvation. The effectual call to a sinner so overwhelms his natural inclination to rebel that he willingly places faith in Jesus Christ.” (gotquestions.org) In other words, God’s supreme power and authority (e.g. His sovereignty) has such an effect on a sinner that any natural inclination he/she may have to resist is overcome by God’s saving grace.

That’s the doctrine of “God’s irresistible grace”, but what does Scripture say about it?

T-U-L-I-P

(aka “total inability”) Every person that is enslaved to sin as a result of the fall of man and further, is not inclined to love God. Instead, man’s nature is to reject the rule of God and serve themselves. As a result, no human has the moral capacity to choose to obey God for spiritual salvation. Their sin (“depravity”) affects every part of them (“total”). Calvin’s “total depravity” doctrine is based on his interpretation of Augustine’s definition of Original Sin.

From the beginning, God chose individuals that he would call his own. This was not based on any foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Instead, his selection is unconditional (e.g. unilateral) and based only on his mercy. He extends mercy and salvation in Christ Jesus to those chosen (the “elect”). Those not chosen are separated from him because of their sins, receiving his wrath.

(aka “particular redemption” or “definite atonement” or “particular atonement”) Because of God’s complete sovereignty over man, the sins of the elect – and only the elect – were atoned for by Jesus’ death.

(aka “efficacious grace”) God’s saving grace is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect). By his sovereignty, he overcomes any resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. After all, he has purposed this from the beginning (“Unconditional election”). Here a distinction is made with the Holy Spirit’s “outward call” (preaching of the Gospel) that goes to all (elect and non-elect). It is only this “outward call” that can be rejected by sinners, whereas the “inward call” (or “effectual call”) of the Holy Spirit’s saving grace cannot be rejected (e.g “irresistible”).

(aka “perseverance of God with the saints” and “preservation of the believing”) God’s sovereignty precludes any that have received his “inward call” to be lost.  These “elect” will definitively be saved.

how Scripture answers "Is God’s grace irresistible?"

God is sovereign, but no passages declaring this truth1,2,3 necessitate or even connect it with His saving grace being irresistible. The closest to this is possibly Paul’s statement in Romans3, but properly contextualized4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 it’s clear that Paul is not arguing for any kind of “irresistible grace”. If he were, he would be directly contradicting what he believed about himself13 and what he taught the Romans3 and the very clear warning to the Corinthians12.

We see this same reality in statements from Jesus4 where He speaks of the surety of God’s promises. God’s sovereignty (even His love3,8) and man’s reaction to Him are mutually exclusive4,5,6,7,11,13 and demonstrated in statements about the Holy Spirit10. Even the saved (or “elect”) can “refuse” and “reject” God5,6,7,8,13. In fact, Scripture elaborates on the severity and difficulty in returning if this occurs9.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1
Our God is in heaven. He does whatever he pleases.
Our God is in heaven and he does whatever he pleases.

This psalm, possibly written post-exile, is a hymn about how God’s “love” and “faithfulness” (vs 1) warrant Israel’s (and possibly even Gentiles – vss 11, 13) worship.  Specifically, God’s greatness and sovereignty is extolled above idols and their uselessness (vs 4-8).

How does it inform?

This verse certainly speaks to God’s sovereignty but speaks only of it in terms that it simply “is”. It says nothing of any type of irresistible grace nor is the context applying his sovereignty in that way. If anything, the hymn is highlighting an opposite reality by encouraging the people to continue to trust in him.

Does it apply? No

2
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, “What have you done?”
All of the earth’s inhabitants are considered nothing.  He [God] does as he wishes with heavenly armies and with those inhabiting earth. No one corrects or challenges him saying, “What have you done?”

A remarkable account (chapter 4) and actual words of a pagan, Gentile King Nebuchadnezzar.  At the time he ruled Babylon it was considered the center of the world.  This declaration from him is after he had been humbled by God – fulfilling a dream that he had (vs 19-27) and following his self-exaltation (vs 28-30).

How does it inform?

Nebuchadnezzar, probably the greatest man living at that time, learned his position relative to God. While he extols God’s sovereignty, it has nothing to do with whether or not God’s grace is irresistible.

Does it apply? No

3
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
What should we say about these things? If God is for us, nobody can be against us.  The One that didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Nobody can bring any charge against God’s elect.  God is the judge.

Directly on the heels of Paul’s oft-quoted (out of context) statements in

vss 28-30
, Paul is drawing a conclusion about “these things” or facts about the Christian’s justification process before God.  He further asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (vs 35) 

How does it inform?

Lifting just these verses might leave one thinking that Paul is advocating for some sort “irresistibility” of God’s grace. However, just in the immediate context he could be making the point that God’s “team” is superior to all other “teams”. In other words, if you’re on God’s team (“the elect”), you are playing for the best and you will win if you just hold on.

Does it apply? Possibly

4
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Nobody can come to me [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And in such case, I will raise him up on the last day.

Jesus is teaching and answering questions from the crowd that has followed him to Capernaum (vs 24).  After feeding the five thousand the day before, he is teaching them that “the work of God [is] that you believe in him whom he has sent” (vs 29).  He goes on to teach about the enduring need for spiritual food and that he is the “bread of life” (vs 35).

Finally, He concludes with the statement in verse 40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  After some back and forth, Jesus repeats the same thing, only restating the “everyone who looks and believes” part as God “drawing them”.

He goes on in the next couple of verses to make this connection by interpreting the prophets’ statement as “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (vs 45)

How does it inform?

This passage speaks to God’s grace (sending His son) but in context has nothing to do with anything “irresistible” about it. In fact, Jesus points out that some were resisting by their unbelief (vs 36).

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Note also verse 35 where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Does it apply? Yes

5
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.
Make sure that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.  Take care not to let bitterness grows to make you defiled, or that you become sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who was shortsighted in selling his birthright for a meal.
The writer’s summation (chapters 12-13) of a letter dedicated to encouraging Christians to “hold fast” to their faith and “run with endurance the race” that is before them (vs 1).  He implores for them to strive for holiness since “without which no one will see the Lord” (vs 14) and concludes his example of Esau by pointing out “that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (vs 17)
How does it inform?

The very real possibility of failing “to obtain the grace of God” is the point of the entire chapter, indeed the entire book. Following these verses he tells them, “do not refuse him [God]” and the doom “if we reject him who warns from heaven.” (vs 25)

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Does it apply? Yes

6
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Pay attention! I,Paul, am saying that if you accept circumcision then Christ will no longer be of value to you.  I’ll say it again, that every man that accepts circumcision must adhere to the Old Law.  As a result, you would be separated from Christ and justified by the law.  In other words, fallen away from grace.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians encouraging them to not be led away by a “different gospel” (1:6).  He shares his personal testimony (1:10-2:10) and other events including his rebuke of Peter and Barnabas who had been swayed by Jewish Christians holding Mosaic traditions above the command of Christ (2:11-14).

How does it inform?

Paul warns to those of a part of the body of Christ (not “severed”) that going back to the Old Law would mean they have rejected God’s grace.

Does it apply? Yes

7
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Therefore brethren, as you have been even now – obey!  Not only because I was with you, but even more now that I’m away.  Each of you work out your salvation with careful reference, for it is God who works in you for His glory and honor.

Paul is transitioning into a long closing in an otherwise short letter to the church in Philippi.  He has expressed his deep fondness for them (1:6-7) and encourages them throughout to have the “mind of Christ.”  His encouragement here is to remain strong in their “partnership in the gospel” (1:5) so they continue to “shine as light in the world” (vs 15).

How does it inform?

Paul’s earnest desire is for them to remain faithful. He notes that God is still sovereign (“his good pleasure”) and is working in them, but that’s true with the righteous and unrighteous. In fact, Paul speaks to this reality earlier in the letter regarding those that “preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (1:15-18).

Does it apply? Yes

8
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

We are lying if we say we are partnered with God when we walk in worldly ways and ignore the truth.  However, if we walk in righteousness, as he is righteous, we have fellowhip with each other and the blood of Jesus washes away our sins.

The Apostle John’s opening in a letter written to Christians encouraging them to love each other (as God loves) and resist false teaching.  His instruction appears to be to individual Christians (not a particular church).

How does it inform?

If there is an irresistible grace from God, why is John warning these Christians to “walk in the light”? Indeed, “God is love” as explicitly states and develops later (1 John 4:8), yet in spite of this Christians can be unloving and so no longer “walk in the light.”

Does it apply? Yes

9
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

It’s impossible to restore to repentance those that have fallen away after coming to understand and experience salvation – having shared in the Holy Spirit and the goodness of God’s word and the power to come – since they crucify all over the Son of God, putting him to public shame to their own harm.

The Hebrews writer is arguing the “better” things in Christ, contrasting with things from the Old Law these Hebrew Christians had turned from, but apparently were at risk to turn back.  He is chastising them for having become “dull of hearing” (5:11) and requiring someone to still need to teach them these “basic principles” (5:12).
How does it inform?

The writer is emphasizing the grave consequences for the saved (“elect”) to return to God if/when they “have fallen away”. The Hebrews writer is stating an opposite reality to an “irresistible grace” of God.

Does it apply? Yes

10
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

God established a fellowship of the saints through Jesus and sealed it by the Holy Spirit, who was given in our hearts as a down payment.

Actually Paul’s third letter (13:1) to the church at Corinth, writing to them defending his apostleship and also rejoicing in their handling of the some of the issues/sin he dealt with in 1 Corinthians (his second letter).

How does it inform?

God gives his Spirit to believers, not as a literal guarantee but as the Greek word (arrhabon) indicates: a pledge or down payment.

Does it apply? Yes

11
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

So, as we are working together with him [Jesus Christ], we appeal you to not receive the grace of God in vain.  For he said, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’  Listen! Right now is the favorable time, and now is the day of salvation.

Paul is literally imploring some at the church of Corinth to “be reconciled to God” (5:20) after reminding them that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (5:10)
How does it inform?

Paul’s appeal infers that God’s grace could in fact be received “in vain”.

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Does it apply? Yes

12
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourself. You should know that Jesus Christ is in you unless of course, you fail to meet the test!

Paul’s closing and final instructions to the christians at Corinth.  He is sternly warning those practicing sin to repent.  Specifically, he is concerned he will find on his return to them those still engaging in jealousy, gossip, impurity, and sexual immorality among other things (vss 20-21).

How does it inform?

Paul references the conditions by which Christ (e.g. Holy Spirit) lives in them – they must test themselves to make sure they are still “in the faith.”

Does it apply? Yes

13

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

I [Paul] work to keep my body under control so that after all my preaching to others, I end up being unworthy of my calling.

Paul is admonishing the Corinthians throughout 8:1-11:1  to temper their “rights” and freedoms in Christ for the sake of others’ conscience.  His main point through these chapters is that they should “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (9:12).

How does it inform?

Paul didn’t believe he was immune from being “disqualified” from God’s grace.

Does it apply? Yes

Do you agree? If so, share this question and the Bible Study Framework with others.

If you know of some other verses or you have something to add to the verses already listed for this question please leave a comment below! We welcome the public discussion and will incorporate your input into the Framework above. We have nothing to hide and invite your help in considering all that God’s word has to say.

what do you think?

Send Us Your Question