“Seer Apostolic Grace”
The first apostles walked in a high level of supernatural power that gave them ability to meet any need and rise to any challenge the enemy could hurl at them. This supernatural ability is otherwise called the grace of God at work in their lives, and was a major theme of apostolic preaching.
“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified”, Acts 20:32.
Scripture gives us a key to walking in that dimension of grace that is available to every believer and will first be demonstrated by the restored apostles in today’s church. Before we look at this key principle of obtaining grace, we should notice that there are measures of grace outlined in scripture such as;
“All grace” – 2 Cor.9:8
“More grace” –James 4:6
“Great grace” – Acts 4:32-33
Grace is God’s ability to do what we cannot do ourselves and applies to all areas of life including victory over sin, miraculous works, financial abundance and physical deliverance. The Apostle Paul was the primary revelator on the grace of God, and as a result he manifested a very great measure of that grace in his life and ministry. His revelation can be summed up in two key phrases, grace is all you need (2 Cor.12) and all the grace you need is available, Hebs.4:14-16. Paul gave us the main key to obtaining increasing measures of grace in our lives, as did John the Baptist when he said, “He must increase and I must decrease”. Paul’s very name reveals the same key in its meaning, “little”. We must become small in our own eyes in order to obtain grace in increasing measures as the modern day company of apostolic people. The Lord Jesus walked in the revelation of total dependence on Father God as indicated when He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing”. Recently while mentoring a young former Marine and decorated soldier of the Iraq war, I shared how that we must learn a change of pace in our walk with God because most of us are used to running full speed ahead in life. This young man is a warrior who is highly trained in personal fighting skills and military combat, he is not used to doing nothing. Now that he is learning to walk with God, a change of pace is required so that he may learn to be “led by the Spirit”. God’s pace is stop, or “be still and know that I am God”. Slowing down is hard to do and usually doesn’t happen until enough frustration occurs from walking out of step with Him. As we learn to be “crucified with Christ” stillness comes into our spirits whereby we are always quiet before His Presence which is aglow in our inner man (holy of holies). A dead person is very quiet and still, they have stopped all movement.
Another term that describes this “total dependence on God” is “humility”. Paul told us to come boldly to the “throne of grace” to receive mercy and “obtain grace in time of need (for every need)”. The designation, “throne of grace” is revealing in that it is customary to bow before a throne, approaching the King in humility. It is therefore necessary not just to pray for grace, but to come with the proper attitude of humility and service. The early apostles had great humility as is indicated by Paul’s greetings to the churches where he refers to himself as “Paul, a servant of God, called to be an apostle”. He remained “little” in his own eyes and maintained the attitude of a servant which is humility, as a result he had access to all the grace he needed to finish his assignment and conclude his life at his own discretion. I believe restored apostles will have undergone the greatest levels of breaking and will have come to a stop before God in total dependence and humility. They can therefore manifest the greatest grace and be an example to the body of Christ on how to obtain and walk in the grace of God, having supernatural ability that is more than enough for the times we live in. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds the more”.
RESTORING APOSTOLIC GRACE
The book of Acts is the ‘Genesis’ of the New Testament church. It is full of the Lord’s creative power being demonstrated in and through the lives of common people with a not so common cause. It was the creative presence of the Lord that gave existence and form to the early church. That same presence is presently being released upon the earth today to bring to birth a completely new form of church. Every aspect of the church is going to take on new form in the way it functions and the purpose for which it exists as the life of God flows freely in the church.
THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
Immediately after the presence of God was poured out upon the men and women in the upper room they began the great commission. The Holy Spirit had transformed them into bold witnesses that the most powerful men in the world would stand in awe of them. Without the Holy Spirit we can accomplish nothing. With Him, we can overcome the greatest darkness and any resistance to the cause of His kingdom. Great change came upon ordinary people that had failed to stand with the Lord during His scourging and crucifixion. Some denied Him, others abandoned Him. Yet what was it that so dramatically changed them? It was the awesome grace of God.
Grace is the ability of God to do what ordinarily could not be done. They were the recipients of “Great Grace.” (Acts 4:33) The word “great” here is the Greek word megas, from which we derive the commonly used word “mega-,” meaning very large in size or proportion. These ordinary people had mega-grace.
The church must not settle for being average any more. Our commission is not an average commission. That’s why Jesus called it a “great commission.” He also gave us the opportunity to fulfill this commission through “great grace.”
We must beware of not hindering the mega-grace of God from flowing through the church again. This is why the Lord is releasing apostles at this time. Apostles always give birth to apostolic people. The apostle Paul said, “Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defence of the gospel, you all are sharers of my grace.” One of the primary objectives of an apostle is to impart the grace of God to others so that they may be equipped for the commission of Jesus to go forth into the entire world. Church success is not so much determined by how many people we can gather but rather how many have been partakers of the grace of God and released to function in that grace. When we are only functioning in the first part we will hinder process of the people being able to function in great grace. I’m not talking about salvation grace. What I am talking about is a measure of Christ’s life abiding and flowing through the lives of the people we are leading.
A HOUSE FULL OF MEGA-GRACE
The prophet Haggai said that the “latter glory of this house will be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9). We often misquote this verse by saying that the house is going to be greater. He did not say that the house was greater, but that the glory in it would be greater. True apostolic commission is not so much focused on the house as it is on the glory of the One who is to inhabit the house. With this kind of focus the life of God will begin to flow through the church into the nations of the world. The life of the early church was the result of this one basic factor – Jesus was in their midst manifest in everything they said and did. To the early Christian He was their primary focus. Day by day they encountered the Lord in ways that propelled them into kingdom living. When the true nature of apostolic Christianity is revealed again, we will see the church rise into a house of new shape and form full of glory and grace. In the first-century, Christians were not recognized just by their doctrines and titles, but by the presence of the Lord in their midst. So will be the nature of the church in the coming days ahead.
The Grace of God
Where does one begin in order to understand the grace of God? I ask this question because it is something so beyond the scope of human invention that we must back up and begin with God Himself.
The glory of God is the first principle in the universe. God created everything for His glory, and He does not share His glory with anyone. (Isaiah 42:8) The follow-up question, “Why is this first principle of the universe?” is answered, “Because God Himself is the greatest Being, the Creator of all things which exist; He is of greater worth and value than all things. Therefore when His beauty, worth, and value are recognized and honored, the order is established for the proper ascribing of worth and value to everything else which exists in reference to Him.”
That God would create Man in His image is the highest honor imaginable; and thus our worth and values are derived from His worth and value. Our “glory” comes from relating properly to Him. When we violated “our place,” we “exchanged the glory of God” intended for us. (Genesis 1:27 and Romans 1:23) Man’s nature became deeply marred, and he now lives under a sentence of God’s just wrath. (Romans 1:18)
The grace of God begins with the desire of God to restore Man to his former place as His sons and daughters. Such a desire can only come from a love that originates in the
Godhead, for nothing like it exists in humans. It might be compared to expecting the Jews of the holocaust to desire the best of all things for their Nazi tormentors. This desire on God’s part comes from something within His nature; and He calls it, “grace.”
The grace of God’s desire must issue forth in another aspect of grace that fully satisfies the justice of God, in that His nature cannot but hate all that contradicts His nature, for this is the definition of evil. His just wrath must be propitiated; thus it is God’s grace that creates the only way possible for God to extend a “just mercy” to those whose nature only fits them for rejection, alienation, condemnation, hostility, and judgment.
Grace is something that God Himself initiates in both His desire to recover His children and in all that He does in active ways to bring His redemption to completion. In all of this, God alone receives the credit, for Man does not add a single ingredient to the saving process. It is truly said, “Salvation belongs to the Lord,” or “Salvation is of the Lord.”
Thus, only what comes into a person’s life from grace will be admitted into God’s heaven.
The only cure for sin (the source of all Man’s problems) is the grace of God. Welcome to a month of pondering this great topic: the grace of God.
More specifically, I rarely meet Christians who want to take credit for their conversion. There is something about true grace in the believer’s heart that makes us want to give all the glory to God. So, for example, if I ask a believer how he will answer Jesus’s question at the last judgment, “Why did you believe on me, when you heard the gospel, but your friends didn’t, when they heard it?” very few believers answer that question by saying: “Because I was wiser or smarter or more spiritual or better trained or more humble.” Most of us feel instinctively that we should glorify God’s grace by saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” In other words, we know intuitively that
God’s grace was decisive in our conversion. That is what we mean by irresistible grace.
But We Do Resist Grace
The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit, whenever he chooses, can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible. In Acts 7:51 Stephen says to the Jewish leaders, “You stiffnecked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” And Paul speaks of grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). God gives many entreaties and promptings which are resisted. In fact, the whole history of Israel in the Old Testament is one protracted story of human resistance to God’s commands and promises, as the parable of the wicked tenants shows (Matt. 21:33-43; cf. Rom. 10:21). This resistance does not contradict God’s sovereignty. God allows it, and overcomes it whenever he chooses.
The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can conquer all resistance when he wills. “He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand!” (Dan. 4:35). “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). When
God undertakes to fulfill his sovereign purpose, no one can successfully resist him. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
God’s Work of Bringing Us to Faith
This is what Paul taught in Romans 9:14-18, which caused his opponent to say, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” To which Paul answers: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:20-21).
More specifically, irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved. If the doctrine of total depravity, as we have unfolded it in the previous chapter, is true, there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace.
If we are dead in our sins, and unable to submit to God because of our rebellious nature, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.
Someone may say, “Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing.” But that is not what the Bible teaches. Except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God. That is what it means to be “unable to submit to God.” “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).
If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God, it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature. If a person remains too hard-hearted and proud to submit to God, it is because that person has not been given such a willing spirit. But to see this most persuasively, we should look at the Scriptures.
Unless the Father Draws
In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This drawing is the sovereign work of grace without which none of us will be saved from our rebellion against God. Again some may object, “He draws all men, not just some.” Then they may cite John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” But there are several serious problems with this objection.
One is that the word translated “all people” is simply “all” (Greek pantas). There is no word for “people.” Jesus simply says: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.” When we see that we have to ask from similar contexts in John what this “all” probably refers to. One similar context is in the previous chapter—John 11:50-52.
Caiaphas the high priest is speaking more truly than he knows,
“ … Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
These last words describe the scope of Jesus’s death as John presents it in this Gospel. Jesus died not just for one ethnic group, but “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”—all of them. This is a reference to Gentiles whom God will effectively draw to himself when they hear the gospel. They are called “children of God” because God has chosen them to be adopted, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:4-5.
So if this is a good parallel, then the all in John 12:32 is not all human beings, but “all the children of God.” “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all the children of God to myself.” From every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). Or you could say, “I will draw all of my sheep,” because Jesus says in John 10:15, “I lay down my life for the sheep”—all of them. And in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”—all of them. Or you could say, “I will draw all who are of the truth,” because Jesus says in John 18:37, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Or you could say, “I will draw all who are of God,” because Jesus says in
John 8:47, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” Or you could say, “I will draw all that the Father gives to me,” because John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.”
In other words, running straight through the Gospel of John is the truth that God the Father and God the Son decisively draw people out of darkness into light. And Christ died for this. He was lifted up for this—that all of them might be drawn to him— all the children, all the sheep, all who are of the truth, all those whom the Father gives to the Son. What John 12:32 adds is that this happens today in history by pointing the whole world to the crucified Christ and preaching the good news that whoever believes on him will be saved. In that preaching of the lifted up Christ, God opens the ears of the deaf. The sheep hear his voice and follow Jesus (John 10:16, 27).
But the main objection to using John 12:32 (draw all) to deny that the drawing of John 6:44 (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”) actually produces the coming, is the way John describes the relationship between God’s drawing and the failure of Judas to follow Jesus to the end.
In John 6:64-65 Jesus says, “There are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Notice that Jesus says the reason he said (back in John 6:44) that “no one can come to me unless it is granted him (=is drawn) by the Father,” is to explain why “there are some of you who do not believe.” We could paraphrase it like this: Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would not believe on him in spite of all the teaching and invitations he received. And because he knew this, he explains it with the words, “No one comes to me unless it is given to him by my Father.”
There were many influences in the life of Judas for good— in that sense Judas was wooed, and entreated, and drawn for three years. But the point of Jesus in John 6:44 and 6:65 is that Judas’s resistance to grace was not the ultimately decisive factor. What was ultimately decisive was that it was not “granted him” to come. He was not “drawn” by the Father. The decisive, irresistible gift of grace was not given. This is why we speak of “irresistible grace.” In ourselves we are all just as resistant to grace as Judas. And the reason any of us has come to Jesus is not that we are smarter, or wiser, or more virtuous than Judas, but that the Father overcame our resistance and drew us to Christ.
All are saved by irresistible grace—amazing grace!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
This is what happens when the Father “draws us” irresistibly and infallibly to Jesus.
The Requirements for Salvation As Gifts of God
Now consider the way Paul describes repentance as a gift of God. In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 he says, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Just as Jesus in John 6:65 said that coming to Jesus was “granted” by the Father, so here Paul says that repentance is “granted” by God. “God may perhaps grant them repentance.”
Notice, he is not saying merely that salvation is a gift of God. He is saying that the requirements for salvation are also a gift. When a person hears a preacher say, “Repent, and come to
Christ,” he can choose to resist that call. He can disobey. He can say, “No, I will not repent.”
But if God gives him repentance, he cannot resist because the very meaning of the gift of repentance is that God has changed our heart and made it willing to repent. In other words the gift of repentance is the overcoming of resistance to repentance. This is why we call this work of God “irresistible grace.” Resistance to repentance is replaced by the gift of repentance. That is how all of us came to repent.
Thousands of truly repentant people do not know this. They have been taught erroneous things about how they were converted, and therefore they are stunted in their worship and love. Perhaps you have been one of them. If that is true, don’t be angry at your teachers, rejoice with great joy that you have seen 2 Timothy 2:25, and let your heart overflow with thankfulness and brokenhearted joy at the new awareness at how amazing your repentance is. It is an absolutely free gift of God’s grace. Which means he loves you more particularly than you have ever thought.
Never Against Our Will
It should be obvious from this that irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to repent or believe or follow Jesus against our will. That would even be a contradiction in terms because believing and repenting and following are always willing, or they are hypocrisy. Irresistible grace does not drag the unwilling into the kingdom, it makes the unwilling willing.
It does not work with constraint from the outside, like hooks and chains; it works with power from the inside, like new thirst and hunger and compelling desire. Therefore irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests. God uses the ministry of the word to accomplish his supernatural changes in the heart. These changes bring about repentance and faith. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Notice the two kinds of “calls” implied in this text.
First, the preaching of Paul goes out to all, both Jews and Greeks. This is a general call of the gospel. It offers salvation impartially and indiscriminately to all. Whoever will believe on the crucified Christ will have him as Savior and Lord. But often this general call to everyone falls on unreceptive ears and is called foolishness.
But notice, secondly, that Paul refers to another kind of call. He says that among those who hear, both Jews and Greeks, there are some who, in addition to hearing the general call, are “called” in another way. “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). In other words they are called in such a way that they no longer regard the cross as foolishness but as the wisdom and power of God.
Something happened in their hearts that changed the way they saw Christ. Let’s describe this not as the general call but as the effectual call of God. This is like the call of Lazarus out of the grave. Jesus called with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). And the dead man came out. This kind of call creates what it calls for. If it says, “Live!” it creates life. If it says, “Repent!” it creates repentance. If it says “Believe!” it creates faith. If it says “Follow me!” it creates obedience. Paul says that everyone who is called in this sense no longer regards the cross as foolishness, but regards the cross as the power of God. They are not coming to Christ under coercion. They are acting freely from what they truly value as infinitely precious.
That is what has happened to them. Their resistance to the cross has been overcome because the call of God broke through their spiritual blindness and granted them to see it as wisdom and power. This is what we mean by irresistible grace.
At Work Beneath Our Will
How God works to change our will without coercion against our will is further explained in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6: The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Since men are blind to the worth of Christ, a miracle is needed in order for them to come to see and believe. Paul compares this miracle with the first day of creation when God said, “Let there be light.” One of the most wonderful statements about how all of us were brought from blindness to sight—from bondage to freedom, from death to life—is: “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” A real light—a spiritual light—shone in our hearts. It was the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v. 6). Or as verse 4 puts it, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In other words, God causes the glory—the self-authenticating truth and beauty—of Christ to be seen and savored in our hearts.
From that moment on our will toward Christ is fundamentally altered. This is in fact a new creation—a new birth. This is essentially the same divine act as the effectual call that we saw in 1 Corinthians 1:24, “To those who are called … Christ [has now been seen as] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Those who are called have their eyes opened by the sovereign, creative power of God so that they no longer see the cross as foolishness but as the power and the wisdom of God. The effectual call is the miracle of having our blindness removed. God causes the glory of Christ to shine with irresistible beauty. This is irresistible grace.
“The Lord Opened Her Heart”
Another example of it is in Acts 16:14, where Lydia is listening to the preaching of Paul. Luke says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Unless God opens our hearts, we will not hear the truth and beauty of Christ in the message of the gospel. This heart-opening is what we mean by irresistible grace. It overcomes the willful resistance of blindness to beauty and deafness to the goodness of the good news.
Another way to describe it is “new birth” or being born again. New birth is a miraculous creation of God that enables a formerly “dead” person to receive Christ and so be saved. We do not bring about the new birth by our faith. God brings about our faith by the new birth. Notice the way John expresses this relationship in 1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” This means that being born of God comes first and believing follows. Believing in Jesus is not the cause of being born again; it is the evidence that we “have been born of God.”
New Birth: An Act of Sovereign Creation
To confirm this, notice from John’s Gospel how our receiving Christ relates to being born of God. “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). So John says that God gives the right to become the children of God to all who receive Christ (v. 12). Then he goes on to say that those who do receive Christ “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, it is necessary to receive Christ in order to become a child of God, but the birth that brings one into the family of God is not possible by the will of man. Only God can do it.
Man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). He cannot make himself new, or create new life in himself. He must be born of God. Then, with the new nature of God, he sees Christ for who he really is, and freely receives Christ for all that he is. The two acts (new birth and faith) are so closely connected that in experience we cannot distinguish them. God begets us anew and the first glimmer of life in the newborn child is faith. Thus new birth is the effect of irresistible grace, because it is an act of sovereign creation—“not of the will of man but of God.”
This glorious truth of the new birth and how it happens is so wonderful that I wrote a whole book about it called, Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again. If you want to go deeper into the wonders of irresistible grace, that might be a good place to turn. We began this chapter by saying that most Christians know intuitively that God’s grace has been decisive in bringing about our conversion. We look at those who resist the gospel and say with trembling, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Now at the end of the chapter I hope it is clearer why that is. God really did overcome out resistance. He really did draw us to himself.
He really did grant us repentance. He really did cause us to be born again so that we received Christ. He really did shine in our hearts to give the light of the glory of Christ. He really did call us—like Lazarus—from death to life. It is not surprising then, that all true Christians, even before we have been taught these things, know intuitively that grace was decisive in bringing us to Christ.
Often the heart precedes the head into the truth. That is surely the case for many Christians in regard to irresistible grace. But now we have seen this truth for ourselves in God’s word. My prayer is that because of this you will go even deeper in your experience of the grace of God. May you worship God and love people as never before. That is what a profound experience of sovereign grace does.