In Acts chapter 7 we read of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. It is a stunning account of his brief trial and execution in which he testifies against those unbelieving souls in Jerusalem who “betrayed and murdered” the Righteous One. Immediately preceding his execution he says to them, “you stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).
I think it is important to note that all mankind resist the Holy Spirit. That is what it means to be totally depraved. It is not that they want God, but are hindered by external sin, it is that all men by nature are haters of God (John 3:19-21; Rom 3:9-11; Eph 2:3) . Unregenerate men, whether they say it in harsh tones or by self-centered lives are moment by moment expressing hatred towards God in that they do not acknowledge him as God or give him the praise that he deserves. All unregenerate men DO resist the Holy Spirit.
If It is a earmark of depravity that we resist grace so how can anyone call it irresistible?
Notice Acts 7:58 which says, “Then they cast him our of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Or Acts 8:1 which says, “And Saul approved his execution.” This man Saul is the executor of the church, upon his deaf ears fell those same words from Stephen, “you always resist the Holy Spirit.” So what? Saul was there. Exactly, Saul was guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit like the rest of us. We read two chapters later in Acts 9 the story of Saul’s resistance being overcome by Christ in quite an effectual way in Acts 9:3-19:
"3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;19 and taking food, he was strengthened."
Saul resisted the Holy Spirit, no doubt about it, but Christ overcomes the hardest resistance in a moment. It is this same story for all of us, not the blinding light, but the overcoming of our resistance to the Holy Spirit and the effectual salvation in the timing that God chooses. We resist, yes, but God overcomes our resistance irresistibly. He changes our will and makes us to love him. This is the language used in the prophets (Jer 31:33; Ez 36:26-27) and in the New Testament (John 6:37, 44, 63-65; John 10:16, 26-27; 1 Cor 1:22-24) to describe conversion.
As Blaise Pascal said, "Do not be surprised at the sight of simple people who believe without argument. God makes them love him and hate themselves. He inclines their hearts to believe. We shall never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith unless God touches our hearts; and we shall believe as soon as he does so.”
I cannot help, but to think about the swelling Jihadist groups across the world. I think of ISIS and Boko Haram and I am filled with joy that some of them will leave their deception and come to know Christ. The promise is demonstrated clearly in Habakkuk 1:4 that "the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas" and in the testimony of Revelation 7:9, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb... crying out with a loud voice, ' Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!'" This irresistible grace is also demonstrated in the testimony of history. There are Roman Centurion thugs, Communists, slave traders, and Jihadis along with numerous other groups of Christian persecutors that have come to know and love Jesus as God and savior.
We must see our trust in Christ as a miracle, it is a choice, but what prompted that choice but grace? Where else did your faith come from, that impulse to trust in Christ? It did not come from you and it won't come from them. It is a miracle, it came, “from him" and it is "through him, and to him" (Romans 11:36). Paul speaks this way in 1 Corinthians 1:30, "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." It is the sovereign mercy of God that saves and because of this we have great confidence that when we preach God will make it effectual and powerful.
While the actions of ISIS, Boko Haram, and other like entities are currently heading towards the devastating wrath of God with great speed we can have confidence that God is going to save some of them. The sword of the nations against these groups is justified and righteous, yet we have a situation in front of us which requires both the calling for justice to relieve the oppressed as well as a prayer for our oppressors asking the Lord to "have mercy on these men, draw them to yourself, and make them a witness of your glory among those who hate you."
¹. Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). Introduction. In 131 Christians everyone should know (p. 62). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.