We cannot assume that since grace is irresistible that God exempts us from the process by which the elect are brought to salvation. Unfortunately, many of us must contend with a practical fatalism that begins to sound something like “justification by election.” It says that if grace is truly irresistible, salvation will happen regardless of anything I do.
True, the elect will necessarily come to faith, but in the divine order of things it is normative for God to employ us as the means by which they are irresistibly drawn. We must not mistakenly absolve ourselves of all evangelistic efforts to minister God’s grace to a lost and dying world.
Sir Winston Churchill provides an excellent example of this principle. Returning in 1941 to give a speech at Harrow, his alma mater, Churchill stood up and emphatically stated with his classic sense of resolve, “Never give in—never, never, never, never!” The sense of passionate determination he communicated to those young men helped to galvanize a nation. However, it was totally insufficient in helping the people know how to persevere. I doubt that Churchill and his war Cabinet were able to prosecute the war successfully on the basis of that oneline mantra. At some point, his inspirational words had to give way to plans, strategies, tactics, and directives to troops in the field.
In the same way, we cannot reduce our evangelistic outreach to simply affirming “grace is irresistible.” Oh, it would be true, all right. We would have avoided the errors of many who eschew this doctrine. But we would have failed to undertake the evangelistic thrust of this doctrine as it relates to the work of Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and repentance unto faith.
The Preached Word
This doctrine is so glorious it fairly begs to be preached, sung, and prayed unto our soul’s satisfaction. Just as it is the work of the rhetorician to adorn truth with beauty, so it is the work of the preacher to adorn this doctrine with the other beautiful elements of the gospel.
In fact, one aspect of the irresistibility of grace is manifested in the very act of preaching. Effectual calling, this work of irresistible grace, is accomplished by the instrumentality of gospel preaching. “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21a). And again, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). God has ordained that the gospel will necessarily and effectually come to the elect through the foolishness of preaching and the weakness of earthen vessels.
The Work of Christ
Those sitting under such preaching will rejoice to hear that sin, circumstances, and human volition cannot and will not prevent the grace of God from accomplishing its regenerative work. But they will want to know more about how God guarantees that the gospel will reach the elect. Flesh out this doctrine in the Word made flesh. “ ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,’ ” lift up Christ before your people, “ ‘that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’ ” (John 3:14–15).
Preach the substitutionary atonement. Put before the unregenerate their sin and total depravity; draw the connection that unless grace is irresistible, there is no hope that anyone could be saved. Preach the need to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, showing from Scripture how even faith is a gift sovereignly given. Again, relate how the work of God cannot depend in any part upon the work of man. If salvation is to be accomplished, it can result only from this effectual and irresistible grace.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
In showing how the doctrine of irresistible grace is rightly understood and applied, boldly assert not only the work of Christ, but also the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Speak the Biblical truth that notwithstanding their hostility to God and rejection of the gospel, the Holy Spirit sovereignly regenerates those whom the Father has promised to give to His Son.
Tell them of the new heart and nature that is granted in conversion: “ ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you’ ” (Ezek. 36:26). Help your hearers to understand that this sovereign work of the Holy Spirit is prevenient, that is, it precedes all spiritual activity of man that relates to salvation. Assert that this work is accomplished solely by the good pleasure of God and the singular power of the Holy Spirit. Urge them to conclude, with the uniform witness of Scripture, that unless God necessarily and effectually accomplishes all of this in us and for us by the irresistible nature of His grace, no one can come to saving faith. Fervently pray for the Holy Spirit’s conversion of the unregenerate.
Finally, conclude with the sober warning of Scripture that “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:7b–8a). Preach repentance to sinners, counseling them to come acknowledging their need for just such a divine initiative of transforming grace.
Pastors, remember: God has appointed means unto His ends. Preach the Word, expositionally and with religious affections. Herald the doctrine of irresistible grace from your pulpits, and adorn it with the beauty of the work of Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and repentance unto faith. Do the work of an evangelist, and rejoice when God uses you to bring others to Himself.