The five points of Calvinism often go under different names. Sometimes they are called “The Five Points,” others refer to them as “Biblical Christianity” (Spurgeon), and, of course, sometimes they are described as a TULIP. Equally common, “Doctrines of Grace” is used to refer to them. Grace. Grace is an appropriate way to think of these doctrines for at every point they force us back to the gracious plan of God to effect our redemption. It is by grace we have been saved (Eph. 2:8) and the grace extends back to election and is present today in perseverance. The whole of the Christian life is by grace.
Even among these doctrines of grace there is one, the I in Tulip, known as Irresistible Grace. When we speak of Irresistible Grace we are thinking specifically of conversion in real time. The Bible uses a host of metaphors and words to describe this event. God “opens eyes” and “hearts” and he enlightens “minds.” In our text he is said to “call” two times. Sometimes he “regenerates.” In other places we are said to be “born again” and given “ears to hear.” The “light” of the gospel shines upon those who sit in “darkness.” All of these capture the theme of Irresistible Grace.
Interestingly enough Irresistible Grace only makes sense when we remember that grace is constantly resisted. For example, we are told that men and women suppress the truth of God manifested in creation (Rom. 1:18ff). Stephen described his murderers as those who “always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). Every time the gospel is proclaimed and its hearers do not respond in repentance we are justified in saying they “resist the Holy Spirit” and the grace of God. In light of this, how can we refer to the doctrine as Irresistible? Obviously this needs a little explanation.
Irresistible Grace is the way God overcomes our depravity and applies the redemption planned in the past (election) and accomplished by Christ. Left to ourselves we would never believe the truth of God for our minds are darkened and our hearts are hard. But God overcomes this by making us alive, regenerating us. In common parlance, we are born again (Jn. 3:3-7). The most important distinction of this doctrine is the timing of regeneration. In competing theologies one believes and then is born again. Calvinism recognizes that depravity runs so deep that one cannot even believe apart from the intervention of God’s grace. Thus, God moves upon the sinner irresistibly, making them alive, causing them to be born again (1 Pet. 1:3; Js. 1:18) and calling us to himself. Once they have been born again they believe the gospel and are justified. The order is extremely important because if is it reversed or confused the honor is misplaced. If one believes first, then ultimately, the only thing that separates him and those who don’t believe is the something he did. He is smarter and wiser than his neighbor. When Irresistible Grace is emphasized the honor and glory is attributed to God who graciously overcomes our depravity. All praise and glory is his. Salvation is his work from first to last. Salvation is entirely gracious.