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John 3:16 Conference: Message on Irresistible Grace by Dr. Steve Lemke

Guest blog by Andrew Lindsey

Congregational singing: “Amazing Grace”

Prayer by Ergun Caner.

Dr. Steve Lemke:

“It is my desire that we as Southern Baptists can go forward in unity.”
Quote from Nathan Finn that we must be free to hold differing convictions and to attempt to persuade others of our convictions.

Irresistible grace did not originate at Dort, but was made famous by this Synod.

Quote from one of the Remonstrants that the grace of God is absolutely needed in order for a sinner to think, will, or do any good before God; only God can renew our understanding, our thinking and our willing. The Remonstrants utterly rejected the idea that sinners could do anything to contribute to their own salvation; therefore, the Synod of Dort is wrong to label the Arminians either Pelagian or semi-Pelagian.

Having defended the Arminians on this point, it was stressed that none of the speakers at this Conference are Arminians, Pelagians, or semi-Pelagians.

What was it the Remonstrants said that earned them such persecution from the Synod of Dort? One main point of contention was Irresistible grace, which the Remonstrants denied due to the passages in which it is said that people resisted the Holy Spirit.

Why is it that some people do not receive the grace of God? Is it because God did not desire the salvation of all persons, or was it because of something else? The Remonstrants refused to blame God, and placed the blame of rejecting grace squarely upon humanity.

2 senses of “calling” prominent within Calvinist literature:
1. The outward call, which never works
2. The inward call, which is irresistible

There are many different kinds of Calvinists, but there are many Calvinists who do not like the term irresistible grace, but they like to wrap this doctrine in a nice package.

Quotes from Piper and Sproul in which it is asserted that God “drags” people to salvation or overcomes their will, and yet they want to say that God does not force people to choose Him against their wills: Lemke asserted that these are irreconcilable.

Dr. James White quoted, “He can do so without our permission to do so” [referring to God drawing people to Himself].

What does the Bible say about Irresistible grace? “Not a lot” [this met with laughter]. Irresistible grace is not in your concordance. (Though, it is admitted, neither is the Trinity.)

Acts 7:51 and Luke 7:30 quoted to defend the idea that grace may be resisted.

Jesus Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:24 cited to demonstrate that the tenor of Jesus’ ministry was against the idea of Irresistible grace.

Rich young ruler cited to demonstrate that Jesus believed that something within a person can make it harder for someone to come to Him; if Jesus were a Calvinist, he would have just said that grace was irresistible, and so the wealth did not matter. [As a side note, when mentioning that Jesus did not lower His standards for the rich young ruler, Lemke said: One thing our Calvinist brothers are helping us get a handle on is a regenerate church membership.]


In the parable of the prodigal son, the difference between the sons is that one repented and the other resisted.

In the parable of the vineyard owner and other parables “the key differential” is whether those are willing to respond.

Acts 9 and Paul’s kicking against the goads is taken as evidence that Paul resisted and that the Holy Spirit had been working on him a long time before his salvation.

“All means all” as seen in 2 Timothy 3:16 and other texts.

Several “all” Scriptures, and the Scriptures where people ask, “What shall we do to be saved” (at Pentecost, with the Philippian jailer, etc.) are said to disprove the doctrine of Irresistible grace.

Theological concerns about Irresistible grace (these do not pertain to all Calvinists, but to those who are more extreme):

1. Irresistible grace can undermine the doctrine of conversion. The Synod of Dort taught that baptized children would be irresistibly drawn to salvation. Very few Calvinistic Baptists practice infant baptism (there are some), but when Calvinists seek fellowship with Presbyterians over other Baptists and allow those who are infant baptized to become Baptist church members without being Baptized, it is hard for those who are not Calvinists to see the difference.

2. Irresistible grace reverses the biblical order of salvation. (This is the most serious.)
a. Which comes first, regeneration or faith? R.C. Sproul quoted to demonstrate the Reformed view that regeneration precedes faith. Jesus words in John 3 concerning the serpent lifted in the wilderness and those looking to the serpent living, proves that John 5:40: coming to Christ precedes having life. John 11:25, the believing precedes the living. b. Which comes first the Spirit’s regeneration or is regeneration commensurate with justification?
c. What comes first repentance and faith or regeneration? John 20:31, the believing precedes the life [other texts cited].

3. Irresistible grace weakens missions and evangelism
a. Quote from Romans 10
b. Calvin’s distinction between the internal and external call quoted
c. Terrance Thiessen (sp?) a self-described Reformed theologian quoted to say that people in other religions can be saved
d. Irresistible grace leads to a rejection of the well-meant offer of the gospel (Prof. David Engelsma quoted to prove this).

“I’m not sure there is such a thing as a living hyper-Calvinist; it’s someone who is more Calvinistic than you are.”

Practical questions:
1. What does it mean that regeneration is logically prior to faith? (Can one be regenerated days before one is saved?)
2. Is it possible to be elect, but not be saved?
3. Does God have a secret will by which He doesn’t really love everyone?

“It’s only human nature to think of power and control” as being in control of everything, but God has different ideas than we do. If you our I had power and had people that resisted us, we might smack them. But Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient unto death of the Cross. Let’s recognize God’s maximal sovereignty and God’s maximal glory in the way that He counts glory.