Can Sinners Called by Grace Resist If They Want To?

We read in Mark 3:13, “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” It should be clear to anyone who reads this text that coming to Jesus is an act that results from Jesus’ desire and not from theirs and that such a call is effectual in its nature. He called and they came.

Often, our non-Calvinists friends like to amuse themselves by asking whether sinners who are called by God’s grace are able to resist that call if they want to and remain in their sins. This is their banal and misguided attempt to derail the Calvinistic doctrine that has regrettably been called “Irresistible grace.”It seems the burden of their question is whether sinners are forced to act like preprogrammed robots who are unable to choose what we desire.

In reality, they are asking the wrong question. The issue is not whether sinners could resist grace if they wanted to; the issue is whether any sinner to whom God has manifested his glory [the sum of his glorious attributes] in the face of Jesus Christ, would desire to resist him. Those whose stony hearts have been made pliable by God’s grace are not forced against their wills to become followers of Christ. Instead, in effectual grace, God has graciously removed the sinner’s persistent and pervasive disposition to resist his offers of mercy in Christ. The issue is that those whom God calls no longer want to resist him.


11 Responses to “Can Sinners Called by Grace Resist If They Want To?”

  1. December 31, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    In fact, those who resist God are not being called unto new life by Him! As you pointed out, in converting a sinner, God regenerates him, giving him spiritual life that is by its nature attracted to God as a bee is to honey. Certainly He acts against our nature in His initial act of salvation – He could not do otherwise, as our natural condition is at war against Him. All those whom He has redeemed are joyful and willing servants of the Great I AM!

    • January 1, 2017 at 3:04 am

      Stuart, It is always good to hear from you and read your comments. We wish a blessed new year for you and your family.

      • January 1, 2017 at 3:10 am

        Thank you my dear brother. So good to have you back on your blog. May the Lord be your wisdom and strength – yours and Vicki’s – in the new year, as in the old.

        I have been having an enjoyable conversation via email with David HJ Gay. Been reading some of his books. Very good.

  2. May 3, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Randy, popped over to your blog to see what you were up to. I have a couple of thoughts on this. But first…

    I have done quite a bit of self-evaluation over the last year or so and have realized that I have acted extremely uncharitable in my “debates” over the years. I have had to apologize to MANY people, including Paul Dohse and his wife (yes…I disagree strongly with Paul on several key things), for this…and I know that you and I weren’t on the friendliest of terms in the past and I am truly sorry for how I have expressed disagreement. I enjoy debate, and enjoy differences of ideas, but the only way to indulge this is with love and civility and respect. So I resolve to keep to this here and everywhere. I’m not here to troll you or insult you or otherwise present you with a big, fat pain the the neck. I just want to challenge you and have you challenge me.

    -Argo (Zach)

    So here are my thoughts:

    1. You are making a distinction without a difference. You’re arguing that people could resist, but they never woul–once enlightened, there is absolutely no context by which they would ever resist. This being the case, you have no frame of reference by which to assert that man is capable of resisting God’s call. What I mean is: since there is no scenario in which man’s free will will ever be exercised, it is impossible for you to know that he could choose to resist. There is no contextual basis for the argument, which really means there’s no actual argument at all. It’s like me saying that I can jump over a splingsplat. Since there is no such thing as a splingsplat, I cannot substantiate my claim. And while it’s true that you cannot disprove it, this only because it is impossible to disprove what can never be proven.

    2. Since man has no choice with respect to God’s gospel enlightenment…that is, his understanding is an absolute result of God’s power, and zero result of man’s ability (which is null wrt Truth prior to conversion according to reformed ideology), then his will with respect to accepting it is irrelevant. I cannnot choose by my own ability what I cannot KNOW by my own ability. The knowledge isn’t actually my own. So I cannot act upon it. That is, I cannot act upon or refuse to act upon what I don’t actually know. But if you say that I have tha ability to know it, then my understanding of it isn’t ultimately due to God’s power but rather my own ability to access the knowledge he presents to me. Which means that the foundational–the metaphysical–the base–means of holy enlightenment is myself. God can enlighten me because I AM ABLE to be enlightened. I have ability. Which means I can know. Which means I can choose. But this of course violates reformed ideology.

    • May 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm


      Thank you for your civil tone. What I am trying to correct here is the non-Calvinistic idea that Calvinists believe sinners make no real choice in coming to Christ. We do not deny free will in the sense that people are free to choose what they want most at any given time. When sinners come to Christ, they do so freely and voluntarily. The are not forced to do something they don’t want to do. If they truly wished to remain in their sins at that point, the clearly had the ability to make that choice. The reality is that they simply didn’t.

      In regard to your question [?] about “knowing” by our own ability, Paul made it clear in 1 Cor. 2 that no one could know spiritual things apart from divine revelation. Certainly, you aren’t suggesting that no one is able to act [regenerate or unregenerate] on revealed truth. I don’t know of anyone who suggests that sinners cannot know that God exists, that he will judge them, that they do not measure up to his standards. I don’t even know of anyone who suggests that sinners cannot know and understand the facts of the gospel. God has flooded sinners with light. What sinners lack is sight, but they have been willingly blinded by the god of this world. No reputable Calvinist would deny that you have the ability to choose what you desire most. It is the sinner’s desire that is the problem.

      I would love to discuss this with you further but I will be spending my time preparing for the Dohse debate. Thanks for your comments.

    • 6 John Calvin of Geneva
      May 13, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      You should apologize to me too. I recall reading you hard some harsh words about me and my theology. Apologize, now!

  3. May 3, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Okay, Randy. Understood. No discussion necessary…thanks for hearing my two cents. Look forward to the debate.

  4. May 3, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Just a quick question for my own clarity. No discussion needed, just want to be sure I understand. If you have time.

    Are you saying that it is fundamentally a person’s ability to choose God’s offer of salvation that causes them to accept it? I would agree with that.

  5. May 4, 2017 at 1:57 am

    It depends on what you mean by ability. There is no physical, emotional, mental or volitional incapacity . The problem is that a person without the Spirit is controlled by what Paul called “the flesh” [not referring to the physical body but to the person who is controlled by the sin to which he is in bondage. Another word Paul used was natural [the same word, sensual, Jude used of those who do not have the Spirit]. Paul said such persons are unable to welcome spiritual truth. This inability results from his sinful unwillingness. Romans one makes it clear that sinners have the ability to reason that God exists. For this reason he is without a legal defense.

    I hope that is a sufficient answer for now. I need tie to prepare for this debate with Paul, not because I don’t already know my position but because I know he will try to misrepresent everything I say. For me, it is not about winning a debate. My only desire is to clarify the issues involved and demonstrate what the Scriptures teach. Once it is over, I will be happy do discuss this with you further.

  6. May 4, 2017 at 2:38 am

    Sounds good, Randy. Thanks!

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