There is only one way for you or me to be made righteous (justified1) in the sight of God—and that is by turning to the Saviour whom God has sent: the Lord Jesus Christ himself. But such is the condition of sinful human beings, that not one of us will turn to Christ of our own free will. Repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ are not in our fallen nature (Psalms 2; Isaiah 53:1-3; John 3:19; 5:40; 14:6; 15:18; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:10-11; 8:7).
Moreover, when we honestly consider the numerous terrible examples of what is claimed to be Christianity in the world—the schisms, disarray, heresies and sins in so many churches of Christ, we see that there is so much that should put people off Christianity if that is what it is! When we are told that the church is full of hypocrites and no better than the world—this is, sadly, often true (see 1 Corinthians 3:4; 5:1; 11:19; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1; Colossians 2:20-23; James 1:26; 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 4, 8, 10-13, 16-19; Revelation 2:4; 20:9).
If you understand these things in the light of the Scriptures just referenced in the previous two paragraphs (and many more that teach the same truths), then you can only conclude that God himself must have worked in a soul when any man or woman, boy or girl actually turns to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, and repents of their sins before God, and develops a real love for Christ’s Church.
Calvinists call this work of God the Holy Spirit irresistible grace2 (or effectual calling).
There would be no real Christians without irresistible grace. Fallen human beings always resist the Gospel. Therefore, this gracious calling from God, in order to be irresistible and therefore accepted by any fallen human being, must be accompanied with a transformation of the soul. God must first implant a new nature within us, with which we will then believe in his Word and repent of our sins against him.
As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see3 the kingdom of God…Ye must be born again” (John 3:3, 7).
It was not only the Lord Jesus Christ who taught the necessity of being “born again”.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote metaphorically of a spiritual heart transplant performed by God, where a “heart of stone” was removed and a “heart of flesh”4 was put in its place, enabling the Lord’s people to walk in his statutes (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
Speaking of this same Divinely-wrought resurrection of the spiritually dead soul, Christ also teaches us that “as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will” (John 5:21).
In the Acts of the Apostles we are given record after record of Jews and Gentiles who:
Believed the Gospel because they had been ordained by God to believe (Acts 13:48);
Repented of their sins and started a new, godly life because God granted them the ability to repent (Acts 11:18);
Gave heed to the preaching of the apostle Paul because the Lord had opened their heart (Acts 16:14); and
Joined themselves to the Church because the Lord added them to the Church (Acts 2:47).
All this repeated emphasis should teach you that salvation is, entirely, God’s work.
The case with the fallen, spiritually dead human beings is as the Lord Jesus Christ declared: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:44-65).
Does God fail to bring to Christ any of those whom he draws to him? No.
Does God draw all mankind to Christ? No.
Do only “wise” people choose to believe in Christ, as some proud church-goers may imply? No.
Or, do only “unintelligent” people believe in him, as Christ-haters allege? No.
The answer to all these questions is no because of the truth of the Lord Jesus’s doctrine here: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
That is precisely what we mean when we say that God’s sovereign grace is always irresistible, and that his inner calling of people to turn to Christ is always effectual.
You should know that God “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things…and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:25-26). This means that God has organised the whole of your life—all that has happened, both “good” and “bad”. God has given you your parents, upbringing, education, friends, employment, spouse, children—or whatever you have in your life, all the minute details.
By means of some events and encounters in the lives of those whom God brings to Christ, God brought his Word to their attention and he made them to think upon it and to be persuaded by it.
At some point in time, before they knew that it must have been the Holy Spirit who brought these things into their minds, they were made aware of their sinful state before God, and they were made aware that they really deserved to be condemned to Hell on the Day of Judgment—and they were made to understand that this is where they too would be going, if they never turned to Christ for salvation.
Christian reader, do you really think that, of your own internal resources—which you know are full of sin (see Romans 3:10-18; 7:18)—you could have turned to Christ if you had willed to? Do not avoid this issue by saying, “I don’t know; I am not sure what really happened in my own heart.” Jesus says, “No man can come to me [Christ], except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44).
You would not have turned to Christ unless the Father drew you.
Non-Christian reader, do you think that you can turn to Christ of your own “free will”? Then try it! No? No, you will not—because you cannot, and you do not will (you do not want) to turn to Christ.
But if you ever do turn to Christ, for real, then you will also come to admit that it is because God the Father changed your heart and enabled you to do so.
In other words, what will have happened to you is the same what happened to Lydia of Thyatira when she heard the Gospel from the apostle Paul: “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14).
This is what happens in the souls of all the Lord’s people. God’s gracious, irresistible work in their souls grants them real faith5 in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and real repentance6 toward God.
But that is not the whole of the matter. We need more than an inner persuasion from the Holy Spirit to cause us to repent of our sins and to believe the Gospel.
In the apostle Paul’s writings he teaches us that the spiritual and increasingly godly life of Christians is due to:
God working a “new creation” within them (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10);
God delivering his people from the power of darkness and translates them into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:13);
God irresistibly and effectually summoning people to himself (Romans 8:30); and
God the Holy Spirit regenerating and renewing those who are saved (Titus 3:5).
As Paul explains: “And you hath he quickened7, who were dead in trespasses and sins…But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus…For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5, 8).
The apostle Peter likewise teaches us that it is God alone who originates the new birth in Christians, and therefore he praises God alone for it: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again…” (1 Peter 1:3; and see also 2 Peter 1:3).
And the apostle John in his first epistle repeatedly teaches that Christians are they who are “born of God” (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).
This new birth, this quickening, this heart of flesh that replaces the heart of stone—is a God-wrought transformation that sets people free from enslavement to their spiritually dead, sinful nature and gives them the ability to believe the Word of God, the Bible.
Regenerate souls are not only now teachable and persuadable by the Holy Spirit to believe—it is now in their nature to believe God’s Word.
Only born-again souls turn to Christ in faith and repent toward God for all their sins. People who have no part in the kingdom of God do not have this repentance and this faith. They have no personal experience of these saving graces (John 3:3).
Irresistible Grace is the name given to the fourth of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism. ↩︎
This failure to “see” the kingdom of God means to have no part in it (compare “see life” in John 3:36; “see death” in John 8:51). ↩︎
To avoid confusion, it should be noted that Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh” does not mean the same thing as the apostle Paul’s usage of the word “flesh” but the opposite. Ezekiel means the regenerate heart, i.e. the “new man” in Paul’s terminology (see Romans 8:3-9; Ephesians 2:3). But Paul’s “flesh” is the “old man”, or equivalent to Ezekiel’s “heart of stone”. ↩︎
A good Biblical explanation of what real faith (i.e. belief) in Christ is can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to question 86: “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel”. ↩︎
A good Biblical explanation of what real repentance is can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to question 87: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience”. ↩︎
The words “hath he quickened” in v.1 have been added by the translators of the KJV. They are supplied from v.5 in order to further identify those who are referred to as “you, who were dead in trespasses and sins”. ↩︎