Saturday, May 21, 2016

Irresistible Grace: What a Blessing!

The textbook definition
One will rarely hear sermons from the historical books of the Old Testament: First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles. There are a few exceptions, especially from the life of David, but, in general, they are a homiletical wasteland. And the reason is simple: they don't lay out theological themes, or even easy feelgood stories for grown-ups. Rather, they lay out how God has worked in history, laying the groundwork for the spiritual event usually laid our elsewhere, such as in the Psalms or in the Gospels. Yet, there are wonderful nuggets throughout the historical books, exactly because they describe how God interacts with His people in real life.

One such nugget is subtle, hidden, easily passed over in our rush to get through such an unspiritual book. It is II Chronicles 20:6, in which Judean King Jehoshaphat prays, "O Lord, God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In Your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand You."

This verse is an Arminian's nightmare. In debates with Arminians, they consistently claim that God gives man "free will," that is, a natural ability to choose spiritual good or evil (a heresy called semi-Pelagianism), and that He is duty-bound to honor our free-will choices. Never do they produce Scriptural evidence for either such free will or for God's responsibility to hold His plans in abeyance for it.

In contrast, the Chronicler (we don't know the identity of the human author of First and Second Chronicles) describes, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the sovereignty of God, not just over the willing, but over all! In theology, this is referred to as "irresistible grace." "Irresistible" isn't intended to mean that God conks us over the head, to drag us to do His will. Such a caricature (as one will often hear from Arminians) misrepresents the relationship of believer to God. Rather, God changes our will (Philippians 2:13), so that we then choose to carry out His intent freely. Apart from that act of grace, there is no such will (Romans 3:11-12). We also find this principle in the prophets, e. g., Ezekiel 35:26-27: "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules" [emphasis added]. Notice the verbs in that passage. They indicate the effectual initiative of God, which produces His intended change is us. In none of them do we see an indication that the object of His grace initiates or chooses that change. See also what I have written here.

I know my own heart. At least, I know it as well as any man can know himself. I am conscious every moment that my own spiritual strength would fail if left to its own freedom. I glory in one thing only, and that is the irresistible grace of God, by which He made me His own child, and sustains me, as such, every moment that I am in this fallen world. Why do so many people hate that truth, when it brings me such comfort?

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