Did Stephen Believe the Spirit was Resistable?

Let’s read some Scripture:

Acts 6:8-15

“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.

10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.

13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law;

14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”

15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

Acts 7

1 The high priest said, “Are these things so?”

2 And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,

3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’

4 “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.

5 “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION, AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM.

6 “But God spoke to this effect, that his DESCENDANTS WOULD BE ALIENS IN A FOREIGN LAND, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ENSLAVED AND MISTREATED FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS.

7 “ ‘AND WHATEVER NATION TO WHICH THEY WILL BE IN BONDAGE I MYSELF WILL JUDGE,’ said God, ‘AND AFTER THAT THEY WILL COME OUT AND SERVE ME IN THIS PLACE.’

8 “And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob ofthe twelve patriarchs.

9 “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him,

10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.

11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food.

12 “But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time.

13 “On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh.

14 “Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all.

15 “And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died.

16 From therethey were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

17 “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt,

18 until THERE AROSE ANOTHER KING OVER EGYPT WHO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JOSEPH.

19 “It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive.

20 “It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home.

21 “And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son.

22 “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.

23 “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.

24 “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian.

25 “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand.

26 “On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’

27 “But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND JUDGE OVER US?

28 ‘YOU DO NOT MEAN TO KILL ME AS YOU KILLED THE EGYPTIAN YESTERDAY, DO YOU?’

29 “At this remark, MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons.

30 “After forty years had passed, AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai, IN THE FLAME OF A BURNING THORN BUSH.

31 “When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord:

32 ‘I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.

33 “BUT THE LORD SAID TO HIM, ‘TAKE OFF THE SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND.

34 ‘I HAVE CERTAINLY SEEN THE OPPRESSION OF MY PEOPLE IN EGYPT AND HAVE HEARD THEIR GROANS, AND I HAVE COME DOWN TO RESCUE THEM; COME NOW, AND I WILL SEND YOU TO EGYPT.’

35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND A JUDGE?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush.

36 “This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.

37 “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.’

38 “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.

39 “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt,

40 SAYING TO AARON, ‘MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT—WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.’

41 “At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.

42 “But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘IT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL?

43 ‘YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. I ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.’

44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen.

45 “And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David.

46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.

47 “But it was Solomon who built a house for Him.

48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by humanhands; as the prophet says:

49 ‘HEAVEN IS MY THRONE,
         AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET;
         WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?’ says the Lord,
         ‘OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE?

50 ‘WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?’

51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.

52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;

53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”

54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.

55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;

56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.

58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”

60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.

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Before Stephen is killed, he gives some brief history to those who are questioning him. At the end of this, Stephen says the following,

51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.

52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;

53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”

For the one who maintains that the Holy Spirit can not be resisted, this bit of Scripture may pose a problem. I have heard two responses. The first one, provided by those who hold to free will, says that this is an obvious refutation of what is classicly known as the “Irresistable Grace”  of God. The other response is provided by those who would say they hold to Irresistable Grace. They have said that God allows Himself to be resisted. I disagree with both responses, because Stephen isn’t referring to salvation at all here. No where does he say, “God is trying to save you guys, and tried to save your fathers, but you guys just won’t let Him!” It also doesn’t say, “God loves you and wants to save you, and can do so irresistably, but is allowing you to resist Him, unless He decides otherwise (anyone else confused?)” 

On the contrary, Stephen’s rebuke is exactly like Christ’s rebuke of the Jewish leaders in Matthew 23. In Matthew 23, the famous “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” passage, Christ says the following,

““Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Matthew 23:37 

Many read this passage as saying that Christ wanted to save Jerusalem, but He was frustrated. But the verse doesn’t say that those He wanted to gather didn’t gather under His wings. Rather, He tells the leaders that what they wanted was contrary to what He wanted. If you’d like to read a fuller explanation that I’ve written on Matthew 23, click here. 

Stephen tells these men, who are stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart, that they are always resisting the Holy Spirit. If we had only this verse to speak, then we might conclude that these men are doing what the free will proponents say. But we have all of Scripture that speaks of our deadness and enslavement in sin, and only hope not being our free will, but the Spirit bringing us to life. The uncircumcised heart can only be changed by the Spirit of God. Secondly, Stephen qualifies his previous statement in the next verse,

52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;

53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”

It wasn’t as though the Spirit was trying to save these men, but they were fighting their “inner urges.” It was that the prophets who announced Christ – were killed by the lawless ancestors of those who would kill Christ and His messengers. Notice what Christ says in Matthew 23,

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,

30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31 “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.

33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?

34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,

35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

Stephen’s rebuke is that they are just like their ancestors who killed the prophets, and ironically, they were about to kill Stephen. And these men resisted those who were sent by God to proclaim the gospel. They didn’t stop God’s purposes or decrees. They only hated it and tried to. This is illustrated in Christ’s parable of the vineyard in which the vine growers beat those sent to them by the landowner, and subsequently kill the landowners son.

Matthew 21:33-41

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey.

34 “When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce.

35 “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.

36 “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.

37 “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

38 “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’

39 “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”

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