Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is a doctrine in Christian theology particularly associated with Calvinism which teaches that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect), whereby in God's timing, he overcomes their resistance to the call of the gospel and irresistibly brings them to a saving faith in Christ.

The doctrine

Those who obtain the new birth do so, not because they wanted to obtain it, but because of the sovereign discriminating grace of God. That is, men are overcome by grace, not finally because their consciences were more tender or their faith more tenacious than that of other men. Rather, the willingness and ability to do God's will are evidence of God's own faithfulness to save men from the power and the penalty of sin, and since man is so corrupt that he will not decide and cannot be wooed to follow after God, sovereign efficacious grace is required to convert him. This is done by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit whereby a fallen man who has heard the gospel is made willing and necessarily turns to Christ in God-given faith.

Biblical evidence for the doctrine

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John contains three quotations from Jesus that summarize the view that no one can obey God unless God first regenerates the heart (all quotes from the ESV):

  • John 6:37, 39: "All that the Father gives me will come to me.... And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day."
  • John 6:44-45: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.... Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me."
  • John 6:65: "[N]o one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

And the statement of Paul is said to confirm that those whom God effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation: "Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:28, 30).

The doctrine is inexorably bound up with the biblical view of man's inability to respond to God and the extent of God's common grace. As Charles Hodge says, "The Arminian and Roman Catholic doctrine is true, if the other parts of their doctrinal system are true; and it is false if that system be erroneous. If the doctrine concerning the natural state of man since the fall, and the sovereignty of God in election, be Scriptural, then it is certain that sufficient grace does not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will" (3.14.4). Thus the passages discussing those doctrines are also relevant here.

History of the doctrine

The doctrine is one of the so-called "five points of Calvinism" that were defined at the Synod of Dort (1618) during the controversy with the Arminian party, which objected to the general predestinarian scheme of the Belgic Confession of Faith. The doctrine is most often discussed in comparisons with other salvific schemes and their respective doctrines about the grace of God and the state of mankind after the Fall.

Objections to the doctrine

Arminians, notably Wesleyans, reject the doctrine of irresistible grace just as they reject the doctrine of unconditional election. Instead, they believe that God's Universal prevenient grace is equally provided to all human beings alike, overcoming the effects of the fall, thus leaving each individual at liberty to choose to follow God's call or not. In this view, (1) after God's universal dispensation of prevenient grace to mankind, the will of man, which was formerly adverse to God and unable to obey, can now choose to obey; and (2) although God's grace is a powerful initial move in salvation, ultimately it can be resisted and rejected.

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