Calvinism and Acts 7:51?
Acts 7:51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
Reformed theology biblically teaches that people can and do resist the Holy Spirit. People in their natural state literally hate God (John 7:7; 15:18; Rom 1:18-32). Resistance is natural for the unregenerate. This is the reason that grace must be irresistible.
Acts 7:51 clearly teaches why grace must be irresistible. While it is true that those in Acts 7:51 resisted the Holy Spirit, the text clearly states that the people in question had "uncircumcised" hearts and ears. Circumcised in the Old Testament is language used for the regenerate (Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:26). In addition, these Acts 7:51 uncircumcised individuals are described as "stiff-necked." This is their natural state. So, Acts 7:51 actually confirms the absolute necessity of irresistible grace, as there is no other way such people could ever be regenerated.
Sinners always resist the outward call of the gospel. God must first open a person's heart with his effectual call before they come to Christ (John 6:44, 65). Acts 16:14 states, "One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 26:18).
Regeneration is an act of God alone (John 3:1-8). Regeneration is described with different phrases in Scripture. As already stated above, regeneration is seen as circumcising and softening otherwise unholy and hardened hearts (Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:26). In Jeremiah, it is understood as the act of God's writing his law on the human heart (Jer. 31:33). Paul portrays regeneration as becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). It is seen as being born again (John 3:7), being brought from death to life (Rom. 6:13), or being called out of darkness into God's wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9). In each description it is an act of God alone.
The real issue is whether the unregenerate can thwart the grace of an omnipotent God. If so, this is a weak god - not the God of Scripture. This also would be a god who couldn't guarantee one's salvation. However, this is not the God of the Bible.
The true and living God is sovereign. He is sovereign over all, even over such miracles as the Cross (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28) - and every other person, event, minute, and millisecond of time - over all creation. He does everything he pleases (Exod. 15:18; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; 2 Chron. 20:6; Psa. 22:28); while retaining the right to control all things, he actually and actively ordains and brings to pass everything that takes place on the earth (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6-8; Job 9:12; Psa 33:11; 115:3; 135:6; Isa. 14:24; 45:7; Acts 15:17-18; Eph. 1:11); he controls the simple roll of a dice (Prov. 16:33), to the greatest events of the earth (e.g. Isa. 45:1-4); he is bringing all things to pass according to his will. He governs and superintends "coincidental" happenings (1 Kings 22:20, 34, 37), the wicked actions of men (Gen. 45:5; 50:20; Exod. 4:21; Judges 14:1-4; Psa. 76:10; Prov. 16:4; 21:1; Isa 44:28; Amos 3:6; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), men's good deeds (John 15:16; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12-13), the actions of both evil spirits and good angels (1 Sam. 16:14-16; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 1 Chron. 21:1; 2 Sam. 24:1; Psa. 103:20-21; 104:4), the habits of animals (Num. 22:28; 1 Kings 17:4; Psa. 29:9; Jer. 8:7; Ezek. 32:4; Dan. 6:22), and the operations of all creation (Gen. 8:22; Psa. 104:5-10, 13-14, 19-20; Mark 4:39). God is sovereign even in salvation (Jonah 2:9).
There is nothing in existence that God does not control. The doctrine of irresistible grace says that, though God's elect initially resist him, they will not ultimately prevail (Gen 20:6; 35:5; Deut 2:25; 30:6; 1 Kings 4:29; 1 Chron 22:12, 29:18; Ezra 1:1, 5; 6:22; 7:27; Neh 1:11; 2:8; 12; Esther 2:17; 4:14; Ezek 36:25-32; Psa 33:10; 65:4; 139:16; Prov 21:1; Jer 10:24; Hag 1:14; Luke 24:16, 31, 45; John 6:37; 10:3, 4, 27; Acts 11:18; 13:48; 16:14; 17:26; 1 Cor 3:5; 12:13; 15:10; 2 Cor 8:16; Gal 2:8; Eph 2:1-6; 3:7; Phil 2:13; Heb 13:20; Jas 4:13-15). God's will always prevails.
Saul of Tarsus resisted God. Saul, later called Paul (Acts 13:9), was the first century terrorist of the church. He is introduced during the stoning of Stephen - consenting to his death (Acts 7:58; 9:1). He persecuted Christians. He was relentless. He pursued the "Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22) unto foreign cities (Acts 26:11). Moreover, he beat, imprisoned, and even had Christians put to death (Acts 22:19). Saul/Paul describes himself as one who "beyond measure persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it" (Gal 1:13). Saul/Paul's own assessment of himself was that he was "the chief of all sinners" (1 Tim 1:15; cf. 1 Cor 15:9; Eph 3:8).
In the fullness of time, God met Saul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-3). Armed with arrest warrants for Christians, Saul was surprised when a bright light engulfed him. Then God begged him to get saved? God then negotiated with Saul to get saved? God told Saul to will to get saved? No, none of that is in the Bible. Luke records, "And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"" (Acts 9:4). The mention of Saul's name twice was reproof (cf. Matt 23:37; Luke 10:41; 22:31). He responded to God saying, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:5). The Lord responded saying, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Ironically, Saul thought he was serving God (Acts 23:1; 26:9), when he didn't even know him.
Blinded as a consequence of meeting Christ (Acts 9:8, 17; 1 Cor 15:8), Saul was led into Damascus. He fasted and prayed for three days (Acts 9:9). Initially questioning God's command, Ananias finally went to Saul and prayed for him and God restored his sight (Acts 9:10-18). He then commanded the chief persecutor of the church saying, "Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). After a few days he began to proclaim Jesus as "the Son of God" (Acts 9:19-22).
Saul's salvation was God ordained. Saul was not out looking for God, rather God surprised him while he was still terrorizing the church. God did not select Saul because he was a 'good ole boy,' rather Saul was elected before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) and God changed him (John 3:1-8) in accordance with his good pleasure (Eph 1:5) - changed the worst persecutor of the early church. Salvation is not a negotiation between a person and God, rather it is a supernatural event! Other conversions may not appear to be as spectacular as Saul's, but every saved soul is a miracle of God's amazing grace.
God gives the elect an effectual call (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Pet. 1:10), or what Paul describes as a "holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9). It is a calling by special grace unto salvation (Gal. 1:15). God thereby draws the elect irresistibly to himself with a special lovingkindness (Jer. 31:3; Hos. 11:4; Song 1:4). He causes the elect to come to him (Psa. 65:4) by turning their wills around (Prov. 21:1). This is irresistible.
God "draws" us to Christ (John 6:44) and "compels" us by divine omnipotence to come (Luke 14:23). God's "drawing" (John 6:44) is so powerful that the same Greek word (helko) is also translated "drags" or "pulls" in other texts (Acts 16:19; 21:30; Jas 2:6).
I'm a former Homicide Detective. I've lifted numerous bodies into Coroner's vans. I mean no disrespect, but the dead never helped. They just laid there. They were completely resistant. All there was is dead weight. Similarly, it takes divine power to raise the spiritually dead as they are naturally resistant - dead weight (Eph 2:1-3). So, God uses his loving divine irresistible compulsion to raise the dead to life. God actually regenerates our wills so that we come willingly in the day of his power (Psa. 110:3; Phil 2:13).
God is sovereign over his creation (Job 42:2; Psa 135:6; Isa 46:9-10; Dan 4:35). God is sovereign over individuals (Exod 4:11; Isa 64:8; Lam 3:37-38). God is sovereign even over our decisions:
Proverbs 16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD..
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
God is the Potter and we are his clay (Isa 64:8; cf. Isa 45:9; Rom 9:20-21). God is at work in his people "for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). The elect are not born again because they believe; rather, they believe because they have been born again (1 John 5:1). The new birth (John 3:1-8), faith (2 Pet. 1:1; cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; John 3:27; 6:65; 1 Cor. 3:6; 4:7; Rom. 12:3), and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25; cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18) are all free gifts of a loving and merciful God. God's grace is irresistible.
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Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).