Audio Worship 5/26/2024, "The 'I' of TULIP" Romans 9.14-26

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1639

May 26, 2024

Romans 9:14-26          Click here for audio worship

Dr. Ed Pettus


“The ‘I’ of TULIP”

14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But 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?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” 26“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”


  • Amazing Grace

We are almost to the end of our consideration of the five points of Calvinism called TULIP – the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Today we take a look at irresistible grace.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

Amazing Grace is a unique hymn for many reasons. It is one of the few hymns known by believers and non-believers alike. It even became a top pop song on the music charts in the 60’s and, if Wikipedia can be trusted, Joan Baez noted that it was one of the most requested songs at her concerts. It is well known as a tune and in its lyrics. Amazing grace… saved… wretch… lost… found… blind… see… taught… such words describe the saving work of God. Grace is a heavyweight in the world of theological jargon. We speak of God’s grace as God’s unmerited favor toward us. We give thanks to God for His saving grace. We ponder the meaning of grace.

One of the first serious books I read about the Christian life was The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in Germany in 1943, arrested by the Gestapo, and he was executed at a concentration camp in 1945 just days before that same camp was liberated by the allies. Bonhoeffer’s works, for many people, hold a certain kind of authority because of his suffering. In The Cost of Discipleship, he writes about grace, particularly the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace is easy, nothing more than toleration of sin and an ideology without price. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace means the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner” (p. 46). How appropriate is that definition today as some in the church justify sexual sin as “born that way” or, on the other side of the coin, as “born the wrong way” and then seeking to transition from one gender to the other. Cheap grace is not real genuine grace, not God’s grace but an imitation created out of the depravity of human thinking.

Costly grace, God’s grace, calls us to follow Jesus Christ, to follow as a disciple – as one seeking to learn and grow and serve. Costly grace was bought through Jesus’ death on the cross. Costly grace condemns sin and justifies the sinner. Cheap grace justifies the sin and therefore cannot justify the sinner. God’s grace is costly because it was made possible in Jesus’ death, but it is also costly in that it costs us our lives as well. It costs us the death of the old nature, crucified with Christ and therefore killing off any disposition that would add any qualifier to being in Christ. The battle ground for denominations today is over that distinction, that people can claim Christianity and some other identifying mark like “gay Christian”. We make no provision whatsoever for any other sin to coincide with our identity in Christ. I’m a greedy Christian. I’m an adulterous Christian. The inane claim for some denominations is that one can be gay and Christian. Now it has evolved into what is called Side A gay Christian or Side B. Side A includes those churches that fully affirm the gay Christian LGBTQ+ agenda and life style. Side B is a little more subtle but just a dangerous in that it still claims to identify not fully in Christ but with a descriptive adjective prior to Christian. Costly grace means fully crucifying any disposition the Bible calls sin and growing into the fullness of Christ and Christ alone. Paul writes,There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). Paul is saying there is no distinction to be made beyond being one in Christ Jesus. But here’s an even further rub against today’s Side A or B argument, being a Jew is not in and of itself a sin, nor being Greek, nor slave nor free, so that even these neutral descriptors are not a part of our identity in Christ, let alone a sinful descriptor!

Costly grace ends the debate about how we are to identify ourselves as a faithful repentant people. In Christ all that was sinful is nailed to the cross. We do not hang on to it in any way that couples with being described as a Christian. Bonhoeffer says it this way: “When Christ calls a man [or woman], he bids him come and die” (p. 99). This is the call of Christ when he said to take up the cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23-25). We come and die to the old nature, to the dispositions that are not of Christ and His Holy Word.

Grace is costly. Grace is not easy. Grace is unmerited favor from God. Grace is pardon and freedom and gift and love. Paul writes in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (2:8esv). Let’s take a quick look at the key terms in this verse:

  • Grace – God’s grace, favor, unmerited affection. Two kinds of grace: common – upon all, in creation, sun, rain, breath, given to all people; special grace – mercy, forgiveness, given to his own, the elect; special grace – power, the power to believe, to resist temptation, “twas grace that taught my heart to fear”

  • Saved – salvation satisfies the soul, brings wholeness, peace. We are set in a right relationship with God. We are saved from sin, death, and the devil – saved from ourselves and from the wrath of God. We are saved in order that we become totally God’s own.

  • Faith – confident trust that leads to action.

  • Gift – Saving faith is a gift from God. Otherwise we cannot respond to God because of the “T” in TULIP – total depravity. Faith is given to us, out of the grace of God, out of His love for His chosen. Faith is not something we create within ourselves but it is generated within our being by God’s costly grace.


  • Irresistible Grace

Today we consider irresistible grace. “Irresistible grace means that God will always accomplish God’s purpose” (EPC Leadership Training Guide, p. 96). RC Sproul prefers the term effectual grace, that God’s grace effects our total depravity in such a way that we do not want to resist God’s grace. Because we are totally depraved and beyond hope apart from God’s initiative, God must effect a change in our disposition. Total depravity means that we can resist God’s grace, to a point…but God’s grace is irresistible in that God’s will is effectual and His Will will prevail! The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that we are unable to resist any influence of the Spirit of God in granting grace, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit has the power to remove all our resistance and therefore make the Spirit’s influence irresistible. Let me say that again: the Holy Spirit has the power to remove all our resistance and therefore make the Spirit’s influence irresistible. The Holy Spirit pours out the grace of God to effect our being and transform us from totally depraved to a softened heart receptive to God’s grace.

There are cases when God’s will or God’s grace is resisted, in fact, the nature of human beings in the doctrine of total depravity means that we are naturally resistant to God’s grace, not even able to receive grace on our own. Irresistible grace is the only answer to total depravity! In Acts 7 while Stephen was speaking to the council of the high priests, he said: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit as your fathers did” (7:51). Paul warns against grieving the Holy Spirit in Ephesians (4:30) and quenching the Spirit like water to a fire in 1 Thessalonians (5:19). Israel is noted throughout the Scriptures as a people resisting God through rebellion and idolatry. The TULIP distinction of irresistible grace does not say that we can never resist God, only that if God so chooses, God will complete God’s purpose in our lives, particularly drawing us to Jesus Christ, and that is effective and irresistible grace.


In the same way there is a common grace and a special grace, there is also an external call and an internal call.

External call – come to me all you that labor (Matthew 11:28); this one can be resisted or ignored. The external call is also our responsibility to others because we do not know whom the Lord will save. We are called to extend the external call. This is the work of evangelism by Jesus’ disciples, by the church, meaning, by us!

Internal call – many are called, few are chosen Matthew 22:14. This is the work of the Spirit within our hearts. The Westminster Confession says: “All those whom God had predestined unto life…he is pleased, in his appointed time, to call by his word and Spirit…out of that state of sin and death into salvation…enlightening their minds to understand…things of God…renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come freely, being made willing by his grace” (Chapter 12).


  • Grace for a New Heart

When Paul was speaking to the church in Romans 9, he quotes Exodus 33:19 where God says, I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. The argument continues that God used Pharaoh as an example…that is, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for God’s purposes – we might call that irresistible hardening! I recently heard a Jewish theologian who spoke of God strengthening the resolve of Pharaoh that already existed in his heart. It wasn’t that Pharaoh was a good guy and God turned his heart to stone, he was already opposed to God and God just strengthened that existing resolve. Thus Paul’s argument continues by asking who are we to question what God chooses to do:

19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But 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?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9.19-21).

Certainly an implication of the potter metaphor that some pots are made for special use and some for ordinary use, or in the matter of irresistible grace, some people are made for election and others are not. Who are we to argue with the one who hardens the hearts of some and opens the hearts of others?

On the opposite side of God hardening the Pharaoh’s heart is the prophetic word of softening the heart.

Ezekiel 36.22-32, 22“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.


This, in my estimation, is a gift of irresistible grace. The Lord will give His people a new heart, a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone. God will give a new spirit within His people. They are not asking for that, they have no say in it, it is what God wills. And God does this not for the sake of the people, but for His own sake, His own holy name. Is that why God chooses some to this day, for His own glory? The doctrine of TULIP would proclaim yes!


One of my favorite examples of God opening the heart to receive His grace is Lydia in the book of Acts. "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" (Acts 16:14). It is God who opens our hearts to hear the gospel; we will not heed the message of the gospel on our own. This “heart-opening” is the irresistible grace of God. But notice too, Paul was sent to proclaim the Word. Paul did not know if God would open her heart. So Paul proclaimed the gospel to everyone! We do not know who God has chosen. We share the gospel but it is God who opens the heart.

Irresistible grace is really a miracle. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:4-6, "4In their case the god (little g) 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. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6For 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."

We are blinded to the gospel and without God’s grace we simply do not have any chance. God does a miracle in our lives by giving us grace, giving us repentance, and giving us faith. Light only comes out of darkness by the will and grace of God. Just as it came in the creation story when God said, “Let there be light”, so it comes into the life of the unbeliever when God grants light in our darkness. When that light comes, the cross is no longer seen as foolishness, but is seen as the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). This is the doctrine of irresistible grace.

What we see in Scripture is that God gives some the gifts of repentance, faith, grace and all resistance to Christ is removed, Christ is immediately received. New birth is the effect of irresistible grace, not our own doing, but the gift of God. We say to that, Amen! Thank you, Lord! For He has given us a new heart and a new spirit that does not desire to resist God’s grace. And then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we go out into the world in thanksgiving to share the gospel in the hope that God will open more hearts and ears to hear the good news. While some would argue that TULIP is a detriment to evangelism, I think just the opposite is true. Because of irresistible grace, we are so thankful to God that we want to share what God has done, so we share the gospel knowing that God will open more hearts and ears to hear the good news.

I hope that we will consider God’s grace as the gift that it is, and live in gratitude and humility recognizing all that God has done for us. We can respond in obedience, love, humility, faithfulness, and go forth rejoicing, proclaiming, serving, all in thanksgiving to the Giver of grace. Amen.