As with just about every other teaching in Calvinist theology, the idea of a grace that cannot be resisted conflicts with our natural, fallen concept of freedom. "God wouldn't force us to love him," some argue. "He didn't create us to be robots. Wouldn't it make more sense to give us the freedom to choose?"
Jesus says in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." This reinforces the fact that there is no one doing good or seeking after God (Psalm 14:1-3). But our depravity goes beyond a mere inability to do anything that is pleasing to our Creator. Not only do we fail to seek God, we are hostile to him (Romans 8:7).
In one sense, we are robots in that sin has programmed us to hate God. Yes, we do what we want, but our unregenerate hearts only want that which is evil. As Martin Luther wrote, "'Free-will' is a mere empty term, and that every thing which we do, is done from necessity under the bondage of sin." The only thing that can set us free is divine grace. As we see in scripture, it is not the sheep who seek the shepherd, but the shepherd who seeks the sheep (Ezekiel 34:11-12, Luke 15:3-7).
Irresistible grace may initially seem at odds with certain passages of scripture. For example, in Acts 7:51, Stephen accuses his listeners of always resisting the Holy Spirit. In Zechariah 7:11-12, we learn that the people "refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets." The list of examples goes on.
As I pointed out earlier, scripture teaches that the unrepentant, unbelieving heart is hostile toward God. We resist him all the time. We are born resisting him. So, what do we mean by "irresistible grace"?
It may help to think of it in terms of an "outward call" and an "inward call." The outward call is the general gospel call for all people, both elect and non-elect, to repent and believe. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This call is rejected all the time, sometimes violently. Stephen was stoned to death for presenting the truth, and Christians throughout history have been martyred for the sake of the gospel.
The inward call, however, is the irresistible pull of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of those whom God has elected for salvation. Paul tells us that "those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). Note his use of the past tense, as if these have already been accomplished for every believer. Those who receive the Spirit's call are justified. There is no question about it.
The truth to be learned here is that while it is natural for fallen man to resist God, the power of the Holy Spirit can and does overcome that resistance. The creature is not more powerful than the Creator, therefore we are incapable of disrupting God's plan of salvation.
Part 1: Total Depravity
Part 2: Unconditional Election
Part 3: Limited Atonement
Part 4: Irresistable Grace
Part 5: Perseverance of the Saints