By Irresistible Grace we mean that it is the Holy Spirit who calls a sinner out of his deadness in sin and makes him alive in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:15; Col2 :13; 1 John 5:1). This call – which is often termed as the internal call or effectual call – cannot be resisted. There are plethora of passages from which this doctrine can be proved. I will choose just two. In John 6: 37, Jesus says that all whom the Father has given him will come to him. On the other hand, in John 6:44 , he says that no one come to the him unless the Father draws that person. These two verses form a logical construct called syllogism. From these two verses we can easily conclude that all that God the Father draws towards Jesus will put their faith in Jesus; and none but these only. This ‘drawing’ happens through agency of the Holy Spirit (Eze 37:3-6, 11-14; Joh 3:3-8). This act of drawing a sinner or making him alive is termed in theology as Regeneration.
Perseverance of Saints on the other hand is the doctrine that all those who are internally called will persevere in their faith through out their earthly lives and none will fall into final apostasy. Jesus, who is the author of their faith, is also the finisher of their faith. Romans 8 :31-38, Jude 1: 24 – 25 sufficiently prove this point.
I have been thinking of these two doctrines lately and particularly on the nature of God’s grace as it pertains to each of them. Quite often it is easy to understand the doctrine of Irresistible Grace vis-à-vis regeneration. When God quickens a sinner, he cannot but believe. So, God’s grace in regeneration is indeed irresistible. But is God’s grace also “irresistible” in perseverance(or in other words sanctification)? I think it is! God ensures that we do not ultimately fall away. From this perspective, Perseverance of Saints is nothing but a logical extension of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace to the entire duration of the Christian life. However, this is where things get a little difficult. If we confess that God’s grace works through out our Christian life, why do we still sin (even though we may be sinning far lesser when compared to our previous life)? Does God’s grace cease to operate at the point of time of our sin? Or do we manage to truly ‘resist’ this irresistible grace when we do willfully sin? The answer to such questions is not easy and perhaps may be even beyond the bounds of human inquiry. Nevertheless, with whatever little wisdom God has given me, I seek to glean some insights.
I think the grace of God does not diminish in quality or quantity during our sanctification. For example, Paul said at the end of his life “I am what I am by the grace of God” (1 Co 15:10). Paul obviously is summing up his entire Christian life till that point and not just those times when he did not sin. Although he led a near impeccable life he must have fallen short of God’s standards at some points. Yet he was what he was by the grace of God. And this is true of even our lives. We are what we are by the grace of God. The same grace which regenerated us is also working in our sanctification.
Notwithstanding this truth, the reason why we sin during our Christian life is the presence of our sinful nature (Rom 7:7-21). When the Holy Spirit makes us alive in Christ he definitely breaks the dominion of sin in our lives. However, he does not abolish sinful nature altogether. If he had done that, we would have been glorified instantly. No, but the Spirit of God is pleased to keep us in a kind of intermediate state where although we are free from the dominion of sin, we are not free from its presence altogether. So, the ability to sin is not taken out.
What would be God’s purpose in keeping us in such an estate? I think the answer is clear from Romans 8:29 – to conform us into the likeness of Christ. The presence of sin nature during the course of our Christian lives is ultimately a good thing because only through our constant struggle with it, we become more like Christ.
The Holy Spirit through the presence of sinful nature teaches us humility and glorifies Christ. The presence of sinful nature ensures that even the best of our good works is tainted with sin (Isa 64:6) and is accepted only because of the righteousness of Christ (Eph 2:10). This keeps us from boasting in our own works and helps us boast only in Christ.
The constant struggle against sin also helps us to share in Christ’s suffering (Php 3:10). We look to Him who was tempted in every way and yet never sinned. We suffer many kinds of temptations but perseverance through them makes us perfect, complete and lacking in nothing (Jam 2:1-4); in other words, suffering arising out of trials and temptations, makes us more like Christ.
The presence of sinful nature also teaches us to the sinfulness of sin and consequently helps us thirst for righteousness(Rom 7:13; 24-25). It helps us fight the good fight, it helps us run the difficult race and it makes us worthy of the eternal prize.
The Holy Spirit in his divine dispensation does not allow our sinful nature to resist him at the point of time of our regeneration. Nevertheless, during our sanctification/perseverance, he does not work in a way as to rule out the possibility of our sinning altogether. Yet we must always hold that when we do sin, it is we who are responsible and God is free from every taint of guilt (James 1:13-14). God in his wisdom works out all things for our ultimate good (Rom 8:28 – 29) – which includes our sins as well – yet this does not make sin in and of itself good and God the author of sin(Psalm 139:16; Mat 26:34;26:75). The Holy Spirit is well aware of our past, present and future sins. In his graciousness, He allows himself to be grieved by our sin. He patiently endures our rebelliousness and ungratefulness. Yet in his manifold wisdom, he does not suffer that we continually sin against him but rather grants us repentance and helps us turn away from sin. God in his inscrutable wisdom has ordained all our sins yet he is not responsible for any of them. He rather uses them to work out his greater purposes(Gen 45:5; Gen 50:20). We perhaps will never be fully able to understand his manifold wisdom as it pertains to our sanctification. Nevertheless, we should be content with that and rather thank God that through his irresistible grace he will help us persevere in our Christian life and present us faultless before himself with exceeding joy. To the only wise God be all praise and glory.
- An Interview With John Piper (particularly the first question; challies.com)
- Am I Prone to Wander? (challies.com)
- What Sanctification Is and Is Not (challies.com)