SO FAR ...
We are dead (condemned) before God, and dead towards him (in will, mind and affection).
But God out of love, and before time, chose a great number to be his children, like Jesus.
In love God sent his only Son to die for them, atone for their sins, and bring them to heaven.
BUT… how do we come into possession of this salvation? If we are dead, what can we do to come to a knowledge of this salvation, and the enjoyment of it?
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
1. God brings the elect to Jesus
Hearing the truth, seeing miracles etc are not enough for someone to come to Jesus ... the Jews who saw the feeding of the thousands with 2 sardines and 5 bread rolls did not believe (Jn 6:36,41,52).
How can such blind unbelief be explained?
- We could say: ‘they refused to believe’ … that is a perfectly true answer. But WHY did they refuse to believe. What was the reason behind this refusal?
- Because God has left them in their sin: v44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
Jesus does not say “no one may come” (a word of permission) but that “no-one can come” (a word of ability). This inability is universal – “no-one” can come.
Only when God “draws” a sinner to Jesus, is he able to come. (The word ‘draws’ means much more than “invites” or “influences” … it describes the action of “taking hold of and bringing’ … see the other times this word (elkuo) is used: Jn 18:10, 21:6,11, Acts 16:19, James 2:6.
2. God brings sinners, by first changing their nature
Only once we are born again, can we then “see” that Jesus is the King (Jn 3:3) and “enter” his kingdom (Jn 3:5).
We are not born again because we first believe. We believe because we are first born again. (A baby cries because it is born ... it is not born because it cries.)
The work of new birth is a silent, secret work of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:8). The work of believing is a conscious, external action within us. We have no part in regeneration; but are fully involved in believing.
The work of regeneration is a sovereign work of God’s Spirit. No one can prevent it, and no one can force it.
3. God brings sinners by the outward call of the gospel
There are ‘2 calls’ in the Bible:
- the outward call comes to everyone through the preaching of God in creation (Rom 10:18), but most clearly through the preaching of the gospel. This call comes to people’s ears … “many are called”.
- the inward call comes to the heart – it is a sovereign, divine opening of the heart and will to the message of the gospel. God alone can do this (Acts 16:14). This is the ‘calling’ of Romans 8:28,30. This inward call is described as the Spirit giving life (2 Cor 3:6); God makes light shine in darkened minds (2 Cor 4:4-6); the Spirit renewing (Tit 3:5); God making alive (Eph 2:1) etc.
4. God’s calling is irresistible
While the outward call of the gospel may be, and often is rejected, the inward call of God always results in the conversion to Jesus, in faith, of those to whom God makes it … Rom 8:30, 1 Cor 1:1,2,9,23-31, 2 Tim 1:9, Heb 9:15, 1 Peter 2:9, 5:10, 1 Jn 5:20, Rev 17:14.
Just as Lazarus was called to life by the compelling voice of Jesus after 4 days in his grave, so every elect child of God called by God to Jesus will come.
Jesus said “All that the Father gives me will come (not might) to me.” (Jn 6:37) This is certain because “no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). If God intends to bring a person to Jesus, neither sin, Satan, unbelief or any circumstances will prevent it.
TWO QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
#1. Does this mean that the elect never resist?
No. Paul is a clear example of one of the elect who resisted for a long time. But what it means is that this resistance will not succeed. (Remember Job 42:2, and that God’s purposes are eternal.)
So when a person on a first or second or tenth hearing of the gospel does not believe, and is even hostile, we do not conclude that he is not one of the elect. (God alone knows whether he is or not.) We are governed by the revealed will of God (“Keep preaching, pleading, urging”) not by his secret plans.
#2. Does this mean that sinners are brought to Jesus against their will?
When a person comes to Jesus, it is not passively (as though God believes for him); he makes a choice to come because he now wants to come, because his will has been radically changed by God. He has been given a new heart and a new spirit (Deut 30:6, Ezek 36:26,27) so that he now wants what God wants.
This does not mean that God has done a part, and we now do our part, as though it is a 50/50 deal. It is more 100/100 ... because this is what God has planned and done, it is what we do, with all our will. God works through our wills, not against them. He comes to us as a lover to win us, not a rapist who takes us against our wills. When he draws us, he changes us so that we want to come to Jesus.
Why was I made to hear his voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin. Isaac Watts
CHANGING OUR PRACTICE
⇒ We are confident there will be a great kingdom for Jesus
The Father has determined a “reward” for Jesus (Is 53:10-12): the salvation of all the elect in a kingdom of which he is the Head (Rom 8:29b). The kingdom of Jesus is never in doubt – all those “given” to him, will become his. If the matter were left to an imagined “free choice” of man, no one would ever come.
Electing grace is completed by effecting grace … redemption accomplished, is redemption applied by God in order that all those chosen for Jesus, and redeemed by him, come to him for life. Some of the elect come to Jesus when they are young / old … some come quickly and easily / over a long period and with difficulty. But “All whom the Father gives me WILL come to me” (Jn 6:37).
Not one drop of Jesus’ blood is wasted. Every elect, died-for child of God, with the faculties to come, will come to him. Nothing is left to chance or to the will of man at any point.
⇒ We are humbled before God, and before men
We did not make the first move or choice, and we did not offer faith to God as something we could contribute to our salvation (the RC view). Faith, like regeneration, was always the gift of God (Eph 2:8-10). God done it this way so that:
- we will not boast, brag, swagger, be demanding or self-promoting.
- God, as the giver, will always, always, always receive all, all, all, all the glory and praise.
A man-centred view of salvation feeds pride. Grace destroys it. “If anyone should be awakened at hearing me, let me not hear about it, if I should glory.” (Henry Martyn)
⇒ This changes the way we appeal to sinners to believe
We do not tell sinners “it is all up to you” or “believe, and then God will make you born again”. We tell them that just as they cannot improve their legal standing before God (they are condemned), they can do nothing about their personal situation before him (they are helpless). We tell sinners to call on God for mercy – both for forgiveness, and for grace to repent and believe. They have no right to either.
If we were to get this message right in our evangelism, it is likely that we would have fewer problems later with Christians who are arrogant, proud, careless and self-content.
Telling sinners of the irresistibility of the purposes of God gives them great reasons for believing. Jesus will accept them, if they come, regardless of how bad, poor, unimportant they are. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)
More than that, he will not abandon them if they fall into sins. If GOD has brought them, and they did not come of their own “freewill”, then GOD will not leave them. Our confidence is in what he wills, not what we will: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” (Jn 6:38)
⇒ This enables us to persevere in evangelism
God is not in a difficult situation. It is not as though, in his love, he is trying to save people, but can’t get anyone to believe, so we had better rescue him. We evangelise to win those he has determined to win.
The work of evangelism will be fruitful … those whom God has chosen and redeemed WILL believe … through the hearing of the gospel (Romans 10:14,15). The final result is absolutely guaranteed.
Our concern is faithfulness, not success ... faithfulness in content (God’s truth), in manner (not marketing God’s word or promoting ourselves) and in faith (we pray and wait for God to work, his way). Whether this means results, or not (see Is 6:9-13), we keep doing it, because of his revealed command.
We do not know in advance who the elect are, so we preach to all, certain there will be a great harvest.
VOICES FROM THE PAST
Those whom God hath predestined unto life, he is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; 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 most freely, being made willing by His grace. (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith)
If God in conversion should only morally persuade and no more, then he does not put forth as much power in saving men as the devil does in destroying them. (Thomas Watson)
Can you imagine someone praying: ‘Lord, I thank you that I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with power by which I can turn to you of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace which I have done with mine, then they all might have been saved. Lord, I know you do not make us willing if we are not first willing ourselves. You give grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many who had as much of the Holy Spirit given them as I; they had as good an opportunity and were as much blessed as I am. It was not your grace that made us differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given to me, and others did not – that is the difference between me and them.’ That is the prayer of the devil. (Spurgeon)
Neither side in the debate will deny that God is the one who raises men to spiritual life. The question is: Does He do so because men fulfil certain conditions, or does He do so freely, at His own time, and in the lives of those He chooses to bring into relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ? This question is normally framed in the context of the relationship of faith and regeneration. Do we believe to become born again, or must we first be born again before we can exercise true, saving faith? Can the natural man do what is pleasing to God? Can the dead choose to allow themselves to be raised to life? This is the issue at hand. (James White)