“And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65).
The word “given” comes from two Greek words (ean [eh-an], indicating indefiniteness or uncertainty; and me [may], which expresses an absolute denial; not, lest) which together mean “unless.” The word unless means there is an absolute necessity of God’s work of grace if any soul is to be saved. This Divine necessity has been put in place by God Himself lest any person think they had something to do with their own salvation, and boast about it. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
If a person could take credit for “doing their part” in helping to save their own soul, they would. If a person could say, “God did His part, and I did mine,” it would not be long before man’s part in salvation overshadowed God’s part, because that final decision to be saved on the part of man is what secured redemption. “If I had not reached out and received God’s gift, I would not be saved,” says the Arminian. “I was very wise to accept God’s gift,” says the proud soul. “I made a very good investment of my will and got a fabulous return on my wise decision.”
In this subtle way, the language is changed from salvation being a gift of God freely bestowed on the ungodly, to the ungodly having done something to earn, deserve, or merit eternal life in an hour of decision. If that was not the intent of the language, it is the result.
The truth of the matter, is that the command of God for a person to repent and believe in Christ is not rooted in a person’s innate decision, but in God’s enabling power. No man can come to Jesus unless He is given the ability to do so.
How God enables a person is a great mystery. Certainly, God uses means.
There is the preaching of the gospel. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14-17).
There is the testimony of witnesses to the Lord’s majesty and resurrection. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).
There is the testimony of the best theologians God has given to the Church, apart from the apostles. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were united in teaching that salvation is of the Lord, and is not of human decision, ability, or effort in any form. They all believed in the doctrine of predestination, in the elect of God, and in man’s inability to contribute any part to his own salvation.
There is the call of Christ. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
There is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).
If there is still a question as to how God enables a person to come to Christ, it does not matter as much as the fact that a person does call upon the name of the Lord. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
“I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.”
~Daniel W. Whittle
Despite the difficulties involved in understanding the doctrine of predestination, it is worth a person’s time and effort to struggle to understand, just like Nicodemus. Though a ruler of the Jews, though a student of the Law, Nicodemus went to Jesus one night to ask him the way tp salvation and light. The Lord said to him, “Nicodemus, you must be born again.” The story is told in John 3.
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus did not comprehend; he did not understand what Jesus was saying.
“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”
That is the greatest question a person will ever ask. “How can I be born again.”
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-8).
What Jesus told Nicodemus is that salvation is of the Lord. It is the Spirit of God that breathes life into a dead soul and says, “Live!” The new birth is a spiritual birth, it is a God given birth to all those who are drawn to Christ and enabled by God.
However God does it, He changes the disposition of the Fallen human spirit to make the soul want to repent, turn to Christ, and be saved. The ungodly soul that is to be saved is given a new heart.
If you are an unbeliever reading this, if you are not yet converted, ask God, in this very moment, to graciously give you, personally, a new heart based on this passage of promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Why must a new heart be given? The answer is this. Regeneration precedes faith. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1 John 5:1).
If you do not want to be born again, if you do not want to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, if you do not want a new heart, if you do not want anything to do with God, then your damnation is sure. You condemn yourself, but remember this. You will never come to faith in your own time. Today is the day of salvation. Nor will you ever come to Christ when you will to come to Him, for it is not through the will of man that a soul is saved (John 1:13). You have no power, no ability, no inclination, no willingness to be saved unless it were given to you.
It is operative grace, said Thomas Aquinas that must be given you, not co-operative grace. God does not need your permission to save you. God does not ask for your co-operation in saving you. God wants you to come to Christ without anything in your hands or heart.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
When God enables a person to come to Christ, they are first made alive, then they are given a new heart so they have the capacity to believe, then they are presented with the gospel, then their minds are illuminated, the scales of spiritual blindness are removed, and Christ is seen in all of His majesty and glory.
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:1-8).
The real issue is not the tension between God’s sovereigns and human free will. The real issue is God’s saving grace. People do not like the idea that the grace of God is not distributed equally to all, but his grace is administered justly when it is shown.
It must be kept in mind that the grace that is given on the basis of human merit is not grace but divine wages being paid to those who have performed a good work such as repenting, keeping the Law, moral reformation, saying one is sorry, being baptized, joining the church, or making a wise decision. If a person’s salvation is rooted in some sort of meritorious act, it is not grace. The amazing thing about God’s grace is that it is altogether gracious without the slight contamination of human goodness.
The problem for many is when it is realized that God does not give His saving grace to everyone, or everyone would be saved. “Then what about John 1:9?” it might be asked. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world”.
The answer is this.
There is a gospel light which is shown to all people in every nation. It is the light of creation so that individuals are without excuse. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
However, sin, self, and Satan causes the gospel light to be diminished to the point that nothing is left but spiritual darkness. Paul wrote how “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4).
It is only the sovereign selective grace of God that brings light to those who will be saved. As much as people resent the idea, the Biblical revelation is that God’s saving grace is not given to everyone, the glorious light of the gospel of Christ does not shine on everyone, and not everyone is among the elect.
To hear this strikes a negative emotional response in some. The thought comes, “this cannot be true. This is not right. God should treat everyone equally. God does not treat everyone the same.
In creation individuals are not equal as Moses learned. “And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).
In the presentation of the gospel, there is no equality. Some people have heard the gospel many times while others have yet to heard the name of Jesus. When I was a child attending Galilean Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas there was a missionary poster that asked a compelling question. “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice, before everyone has heard it once?” Is it right that some people hear the gospel many times, while other never hear it at all?
In the matter of salvation, there is no equality. Before he was born,Saul of Tarsus was a chosen man. Jesus said of Judas that it would have been better if he had never been born.
In administering the affairs of the earth, God does not treat everyone the same. Some are shown more grace, and more favor than others, not on the basis of who are what they are, but on the basis of who and what God is.
When God came to Abraham, the Lord did so on the basis of His own sovereignty will to have mercy on whom He would have mercy. God did not appear to everyone in Ur of the Chaldeans, but He did come to Abraham.
God did not appear to the Pharaoh of Egypt like he appeared to Moses.
When God told Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth”, He was not treating them equally, or like all other nations. Israel had a privileged relationship with the Lord. Israel was a chosen nation. Study Amos 3:3
When God appeared to Saul of Tarsus, who was on the road to Damascus with hatred in his heart against Christians, the Lord did so in a special way. The Lord never appeared to Caiaphas, or Pontius Pilate in the same majestic and saving way He appeared to Saul. Why? Why was Saul not treated equally and suffer the same fate as Caiaphas and Pilate? The answer is because Saul was a chosen vessel (Acts 9:15). God gave special grace, saving grace to Saul of Tarsus that was not shown to other Pharisees, or political figures of the day.
The point is Scripturally established.
God does not treat people equally. If you are a Christian, if you love Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then know this, you are part of “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Paul was forever grateful that God did not treat him as others. Paul was able to say with sincerity and new meaning, “But for the grace of God, there go I. There I go to hurt the saints. There I go to my own damnation with hatred in my heart.”
The question comes. “Do you see yourself as a trophy of God’s amazing grace?”
“Do you see yourself as the Pharisee and stand and say, ‘God, I thank you I am not like other people. I had the wit and wisdom, the innate insight, the self-righteousness, to embrace the gospel when it was presented to me. While your grace is appreciated, Lord, it is not totally necessary in my case. I can do my part”?
Long ago, Pelagius said that God’s grace is a good thing and facilitates faith, but, it is not the essential determinative factor to saving faith. Grace facilitates or help righteousness, but it is not necessary for morality is innately possible in every person. All a person has to do is to exercise their will to be holy.
In contrast, Augustine said grace is absolutely necessary if anyone is going to come to Christ.
When the Church council met to discuss who was right and who was wrong in their understanding of grace, Pelagius was condemned, not once, but twice.
Rather than go away, a form of semi-Pelagianism emerged in the Church, which has born much fruit in the modern Church.
Semi-Pelagianism concedes that man has fallen to such a degree that he cannot redeem himself without the assistance of God. Individuals need God’s grace, and is offered grace, but it is left to the sinner to accept or reject God’s grace. A person can co-operate with God’s grace, or reject it. This is called the prescience view of election, or predestination.
The basis for this position is rooted in divine prescience (lit. pre-knowledge) or foreknowledge. The idea is this.
In eternity past, God looked down the corridors of time and saw which way a person’s volition would respond when the gospel was encountered. Those who responded in a positive way were chosen to salvation. Those who rejected the gospel were placed under eternal condemnation. In all of this the determinate factor was the will of the individual.
The immediate concern some have with the prescience view of foreknowledge, leading to predestination and election, is that it presupposes that God comes into knowledge. As far as the salvation of anyone, God comes into knowledge.
Supposedly, God does not know which way the volition of a person will go until He looks down the corridors of time and see their decision.
If this position of semi-Pelagianism is true, then what else does God not know? In what other area must God come into knowledge? Who will instruct the Lord so that He can acquire more knowledge? “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him?” (Isaiah 40:13).
In the final analysis, according to the prescience view of salvation, the determining factor in salvation is not God’s grace, not God’s sovereign will, not God’s divine selection, not God’s eternal decree of predestination, but human free will, a will that the Bible says is in bondage to sin, inoperative in spiritual matters since the soul cannot understand the things of God, and is depraved by the Fall.
To illustrate their view of God’s saving grace according to the prescience view, the picture is presented of a poor and desperate person before whom gospel coins are cast. All the person has to do is reach down and pick up the gospel coins and be saved. That is what the Natural Man, the Fleshly Man is told to do. Of their own accord, they are just to reach down and pick up the golden gospel coins.
Another popular image is that of a terminally sick person. Life saving medicine is by the bedside. Someone is willing to pour the medicine onto a spoon and press the saving liquid grace to the lips but the person must open their mouth and drink.
Still another popular illustration is that of a drowning person about to go down to a watery grave. The fingertips are the only thing above the water when the person feels a gospel lifeline touching the hand, but there must a grasping of the lifeline in or to be saved.
Unfortunately, none of these man-centered illustrations reflect the true state of the Natural Man, the Fleshly Man, the Carnal Man, from a Biblical point of view.
The Biblical image of every human born is that they are physically alive but spiritual dead in tresspasses and sin.
The Natural Man have no capacity or ability to bend down and pick up gospel coins they cannot see.
The Natural Man has no power to drink a gospel liquid they are not thirsty for.
The Natural Man has no desire, or power, to clasp any pro-offer means of being rescued from the grave. In fact, Scripturally, the lifeline is being thrown to a drowned corpse.
Now receive the Biblical truth, which is this.
God makes the dead to live. “Lazarus, come forth!” When the Lord speaks in saving grace, the spiritually dead breathed again, rise again, and walk again.
That is the true Biblical image of salvation.
It is God who sends His spirit into the watery grave to pull the drowned corpse to shore for resuscitation.
It is God who sends His Spirit to make the blind to see so they look to Christ and live.
It is God who causes the thirsty to drink the living waters of Christ.
Herein is salvation.
If you are not converted, if you do not know if you are numbered among the elect, then tremble, and flee to Christ crying out for God’s grace and mercy. You will not be turned away, nor cast out of the Kingdom of heaven.