When Jesus calls people to Himself, they come. Today, Barry Cooper shows how God puts His sovereign grace in display every time a lost soul is drawn to Christ.
Sometimes I’m asked why I became a follower of Christ in 1992, and the most honest answer to that would be, “I have no idea.”
If a film crew had been following me in the years leading up to 1992, with full access to my thoughts and my behaviour, that documentary would show a young man running away from God, and fast. I wasn’t interested in church, and I did not want to obey the Bible. During my teens, I had a religious education teacher who clearly didn’t believe any of it, and then at university, I had a professor who claimed to be a Christian but whose life – as far as I could see – was the living definition of hypocrisy. My other professor was an atheist – and he seemed absolutely delightful.
But God likes those kinds of odds. Because when a person in that kind of situation becomes a believer, it’s another demonstration of what theologians call God’s “irresistible grace”, or “effectual grace”.
It’s the idea that whoever they are and whatever they’ve been doing, when God calls someone, they come. His saving grace is always effective. It cannot be finally stopped or resisted – not even by someone running hard in the opposite direction.
Slightly more dramatic than my own story is the story of the Apostle Paul. He was, in his own words, a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man full of what he described as “raging fury”. Paul drove Christian men and women from their homes, had them incarcerated, voted to have them killed, and approved the stoning to death of Stephen, one of the early church’s most beloved and powerful leaders. Scripture goes so far as to say that Paul “began to destroy the church”.
And then, at midday, while returning to Damascus from Jerusalem with a letter from the high priest giving him authority to arrest Christians, something happened. Paul describes a light from heaven, so bright that it causes he and his travelling companions to fall to the ground. Then Christ Himself speaks directly to him in Hebrew, calling Paul to be a “servant and witness” to Him.
If Paul could have resisted that call, there’s certainly no hint of it in Scripture. On the contrary, Paul says, as if it were inevitable, “Therefore… I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” He immediately obeyed the call of Christ, visibly performing the kind of spiritual 180 that would give a person whiplash. It’s no wonder that at first, other Christians are deeply suspicious of him. How could this murderous persecutor of the Church really be saved?
Not only was Paul saved, of course, but he went on to become a spectacular evangelist, and write most of the New Testament. And in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 1-3, Paul draws back the curtain on what happens to a person when they are saved. First he describes what we were like before we were saved, and this of course was true of him too. He says:
you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…
We were dead. And a dead person, of course, is unable to reach out for God, or have faith in Him. A dead person can do nothing.
But God [says Paul], being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive…
God made us alive. Without being made alive, of course, we can’t put our faith in Christ, and be saved. But even that faith is a gift from God, as Paul continues:
…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
This is irresistible grace, or effectual calling. God takes spiritually dead people, makes them alive, and gifts them the faith in Christ that saves them.
But someone might say, is it really inevitable that a “made alive” person will put their faith in Christ? How irresistible is God’s grace? Perhaps God makes people “alive” so that they can then freely choose whether or not to put their faith in Christ.
No, says Paul, this time in Romans chapter 8:
…those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Paul’s point is this: once a person is called, their justification and their ultimate glorification is inevitable. When Lazarus was raised from death by Jesus, he did not remain sitting in the tomb. Nor did Paul get up off the Damascus road in order to keep persecuting Christians. When Christ calls a person to Himself, they come.
In his final interview before he died, the author C S Lewis described his own moment of conversion. “I chose [he said] yet it really did not seem possible to do the opposite.”
That is the experience of countless believers. And that is irresistible grace.