How Does a Person Move from Unbelief to Belief?

S. Lewis Johnson

“And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.  2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” –Matthew 9:1-2

“When he saw their faith” is a reference to the faith of the five, and it is the faith of all of these men that is referred to in the text, and specifically, it is the faith of the paralytic in our Lord that is fundamental. These five men evidently had heard of the Lord Jesus, had heard of his mighty miracles and had heard of his power as a prerogative from God, and they came in faith to him, hoping to find forgiveness of sins.

Now this brings up a very interesting question and some very interesting doctrine. A week ago, I went to Nashville, Tennessee to see one side of my family: my son and his two daughters, my grandchildren. So I rejoiced in seeing my grandchildren, and read books that I had been wanting to read for some time. Last week, I went to see my other grandchildren in Alabama, and there, also, read books.

And one of the books that I had started but had not been able to finish was a book edited by Clark Pinnock, a well-known evangelical scholar, called Grace Unlimited. Now this book is very, very misnamed. It is as misnamed as that kind of party when girls get together and spend the night, calling it a “slumber party.” If there is one thing that doesn’t happen on a night like that, it is slumber. Now, this book is called Grace Unlimited; I recommend that you read it. Because, it will point out to you very plainly the issues in the Arminian-Calvinistic controversy, and furthermore, this is fundamental to the kind of Christianity that we see when we study the word of God.

There are these two Christian viewpoints: the Arminian viewpoint and the Calvinistic viewpoint, and this book has bought totally into the Arminian position. It is titled, Grace Unlimited, but it is really conditional grace that is set forth in the book. Conditional depravity. Conditional election. And the rest of the doctrines of the word of God are all grounded in the condition of human faith; faith that arises out of a human heart.

For example, in Grace Unlimited – we’ll call it, Grace Limited, or Grace, If (that’s really the way it ought to be titled) – in this particular book, the depravity of man is not taught. Man is not able to come to the Lord Jesus, but rather, man has power of himself to come to God. Men are not totally depraved. They are sick, but they are not dead in trespasses and sin. They are weak, but they are not unable. Now, the Scriptures make it plain that they are unable. The Apostle Paul states in Romans chapter 8 verses 7 and 8, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be.” The mind of the flesh cannot be subject to God.

So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if you are believers, so a man outside of Jesus Christ cannot please God. He is totally unable to come to God. But in this book, the doctrine is taught that men can come to God of themselves. The doctrine is taught that men are conditionally elected. They are elected on the basis of what God foresees what they will do, so that election is not really the election of God, it is the election of man, and God’s choice is dependent upon the previous choice of man.

The doctrine of the atonement is not that Christ died for a definite number of people and a definite group of people, but he died universally for all, even those who are already reserved for eternal judgment. The book teaches that efficacious or effectual grace is not the teaching of the holy Scripture, because men can come of themselves to God, and doubts are raised about the fact that we, once having come to the Lord, are sure to persevere in the faith. Eternal security is also denied. So that all of the five fundamental doctrines of the soteriology of the Bible are denied in this book.

Now there is one man in this book who has written very wisely. The rest of the men that I have read so far – and I have read halfway through the book – do not really understand the biblical position of Calvinism. But this man does. He is an Arminian. He believes that salvation begins with man, rather than God. This is what he says, “The Calvinistic mind sees election as bringing about the transition from unbelief to belief. The Arminian says that this transition is made by a free act of the will. Election, then, is an act of God directed toward the believer after this transition from unbelief to belief has been made.”

What kind of an election is that, if you have already believed? You have been selected out from what, since you have already accomplished the transition from unbelief to belief? Later on he says very frankly and plainly – he does not apologize – he says that the transition from unbelief to belief is “not an act of God.”

Now the Scriptures teach very plainly that the transition from unbelief to belief is an act of God. We read, for example, it is given on behalf of Christ not only to believe on his name – given, given mind you – but also to suffer for his sake. The Scriptures tell us that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, in Christ. What good would the blessing of all spiritual blessings be if we weren’t blessed with trust in God? Why, not the least of these great blessings with which we have been blessed is the blessing of faith. So he procures not only the end but the means in his saving work for us.

Christ did not die for any on the condition, “if they do believe,” but he died for all of God’s own that they should believe, and that in believing, they might have life. That’s why we preach the grace of God in human salvation. Not only is the cross of Jesus Christ the foundation of his saving work, the blood that he shed, but the power that brings us from unbelief to belief is the power of God, so that men are saved by God from beginning to end. Now that is great doctrine.

I do not have any doubt at all, I do not have any question at all, in understanding why the men of the New Testament, when they were saved, jumped up and down in joy and thanksgiving shouting out praises to God because they had been brought to the conviction that they were unable to come to God of themselves, and they had been brought to God by the power of God in Christ.

Now that is why it is important that we understand the issues that face us in soteriology. If we should believe that the decision to receive Christ comes out of our own free will, apart from divine initiative, apart from divine enablement, then there would be something in us able to respond to God, acceptable before him.

Now we do not believe that we do not have a will. We have a will. We must make a decision of the will. But the decision is a decision that comes, ultimately, from God, not from ourselves, so that the decision is something that comes from God.”

A person moves from unbelief to belief by the Holy Spirit of God regenerating the heart so that when the gospel is heart the heart is enabled to believe and the will is willing to say, “I believe.” Can you say, “I do believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” Can you say, “I do believe that Jesus died for my sins, that He was buried, and on the third day He arose from the dead?” Can you say, “I do believe that Jesus loves me and this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Can you say, “I believe that Jesus is MY LORD, and MY SAVIOUR and I want to follow and serve HIM all the days of my life.”

If that is you testimony, welcome to the family of God. If that is your testimony, I hope you will write to me:

I want to pray for you, encourage you, and send you some free gospel literature that will help you to grow in the Lord.

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