Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Biblical Arguments For Irresistible Grace

In this post I will give the four strongest biblical arguments for the Reformed/Calvinistic Doctrine of sufficient grace (or more popularly “irresistible grace”). This is the “I” in the Calvinistic acronym TULIP. To be clear, what I mean by sufficient grace is that when God acts on any agent for the purpose of bringing about faith, all that is needed is God’s causal activity and nothing else. In Short, God’s grace in scripture is more than necessary, it is sufficient for bringing about faith unto salvation.

Argument 1:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
-John 6:44

This passage is teaching that anyone who is drawn is raised up on the last day. Raised up refers to being raised up in glory rather than damnation because Jesus consistently uses the phrase “on the last day” in this way throughout the entire discourse (John 6:39-40). Moreover, the Greek word “helkuo” (or "draws") suggests sufficient causality because John uses it with regards to Peter dragging fish that he has caught (John 21:11) and John seems to use it this way consistently throughout his Gospel. All this to say: the causal deterministic interpretation of this verse seems more reasonable than not.

Argument 2:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you
-1 Peter 1: 3,4

These verses are fairly self-explanatory. Peter is saying here that our imperishable salvation was caused by God. Some may argue that only our being born again is what is caused in this passage, and that once we are born again we can still synergistically reject salvation. However, it is clear that Peter is saying that we were caused to be born again "to" an imperishable inheritance. This simple connecting word is important. Peter is directly connecting God's causation with everlasting life in heaven through our regeneration, or being born again. The two (regeneration and salvation) cannot be separated. Moreover, there is a lack of mention of libertarian human cooperation here. We should be wise as Paul was and we ought to go beyond the things that are written (1 Cor. 4:6).

Argument 3:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
-Ephesians 2: 8,9

Believe it or not this is one of the strongest forms of positive argumentation for causal determination in salvation from scripture, but it involves a little understanding of Greek to flush this out. The Greek word for “this” which in Greek is “touto” is neuter, so it refers to the entire statement: “For by grace you have been saved through faith”. In Ephesians 2:8 when it says “this (or “touto”) is not your own doing", it is referring to the entire statement which includes both the grace and the faith. This is because the words "grace" and "faith" in the Greek are in the feminine gender. The only way that one could ever argue that "this" is referring to one or the other (either grace or faith, rather than both) is if "this" was also in the feminine. But as the statement stands neither grace nor faith agree in gender with "this", so it must be referring to the statement as a whole.

In light of these exegetical considerations the argument for this passage leading to causal determinism in salvation would go something like this:

P1: Either agents are causally determined or they are libertarianly free with respect to salvation
P2: If faith and grace are not of you but of God then agents are not libertarianly free with respect to salvation
P3: Grace and Faith are jointly sufficient conditions for salvation
P4: Grace and Faith are not of you
CP5: Therefore, agents are not libertarianly free with respect to salvation (P2, P4)
C: Therefore, agents are causally determined with respect to salvation (P1, CP5).

Argument 4:

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
-2 Corinthains 4: 6,7

This verse is drawing an analogy between light shining in darkness as God giving us personal saving knowledge of his Son Jesus Christ. Light shining in darkness is a causally sufficient event in nature and thus God giving us saving knowledge is causally sufficient upon us. The darkness cannot reject the light. Moreover, when Paul says that God said "let light shine out of darkness" this is clearly a reference to creation ex nihilo, which was a totally unilateral act of God. In the same way that God acted unilaterally and monergistically when He commanded light to be, so too He acts in the heart of the believer, according to Paul. Finally, the verse goes on to drive home this point by emphasizing that this treasure that we have shows God’s power and not ours, but if libertarian cooperation were to be true then it would be God’s power plus ours. However, this verse seems to negate this alternative possibility. Thus, the text seems to teach causal determination in salvation.

In conclusion, we have seen from these texts that the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace is more reasonable to believe rather than not.


  1. Can Philippians 1:29 be used in arguing for Irresistible Grace?


  2. Hey Vic,

    Yes it does seem that Phil 1:29 can be used to argue for IG, but it isn't quite as strong as the other passages in this post. Many non-Reformed folk would agree that faith or belief is in some sense a "gift" from God, but they would say that humans have the power to reject (resist) that gift. The strength of a verse like 1 Peter 1:3-4 is that it connects ultimate salvation to God's causal activity, and not just initial regeneration.

    Still, I think Phil 1:29 does make a good case because most people tend to view "belief" as the activity by which free human agents choose to recieve God's gracious offer of salvation, so it would be hard for a non-Reformed person to explain how beleif itself can be a gift.

  3. What are your comments concerning John 6:65? The verb "enabled" seems compelling.

  4. Hello Fred,

    Enabled is a possible gloss for didomi. But it is not likely given context with John 6:44 and the fact that enable is a rare usage of didomi.

    God Bless,