Wednesday, May 2, 2007

God's Sovereignty in Salvation: PART 4

Forgive the references to chapters, I wrote this section as it will appear in my book that I am writing, or at least the first rough draft. Most of the chapters I refer to are part of this series or the series on God's Sovereignty over all things as well as the issue of God's will versus man's will. Enjoy.

Irresistible Grace

We have already seen the clear biblical teaching that people are hopelessly lost in sin and unable to save themselves (Total Depravity), and that they need God to choose them or they have no hope, and God’s choice to save certain sinners is not based upon the sinners own actions (Unconditional Election), and we have seen that Christ specifically laid down His life not for all people, but specifically for the elect, those whom He has chosen to save (Limited Atonement). Now we come to the fourth doctrine in the doctrines of grace, most usually called "Irresistible Grace."

Irresistible Grace can be defined in this way:

"All who the Father draws to Himself will come to Him. When the gospel is presented, an invitation is issued from the Lord for all people to come, but due to the sinful state of man, man is rendered incapable of response. However as for those who are elect, God sends His Spirit to them and changes their heart, breaks the power of sin and reveals to that elect person their need for Christ as Lord and Savior. When the Spirit opens their heart, they respond in faith and by God’s grace the sinner receives salvation. The work of the Spirit irresistibly draws the elect sinner to Christ, making them willing to trust in Him."

To put this simply and bluntly, if God chooses to save someone, He is going to save them, and there is no way the sinner can resist His work in their life. The idea of this once again takes us back to our study of the sovereignty of God as well as our will and whether or not it is truly free.
First of all, remember in our study of God’s sovereignty that we concluded that God is completely in control of all things and therefore he does all things according to the council of His will (Eph. 1:11). In other words, everything that takes place does so because God wills it to be that way. Therefore if it is God’s will that a sinner should come to know Him, that is indeed exactly what will take place, or if God should will to leave a sinner to his condemnation, so that will be "...For who can resist His will?" (Romans 9:19). Everything that happens does so according to the will of God.

As we have already discussed in chapter 3, man’s will is not truly free. Man’s will is enslaved. The will of man is either enslaved to sin and does it’s bidding or enslaved to God and does His. Every man is born into sin and enslaved to sin. We all grow up and sin continually and love to do the sinful things we do. We will never choose God on our own because we are enslaved to sin, and we don’t desire or seek after God (Rom. 3:10-12). Therefore as we discussed in chapter 4 God has to actively save sinners because they will never turn to Him on their own. Hopefully if you’ve read carefully the preceding chapters you will agree that this is the case. The question now is "how does God bring this about?"

The Regeneration of the Holy Spirit

Clearly man will never choose God in the state that he naturally exists, enslaved to sin. Therefore God must change the very nature of man in order to bring about faith in the heart of the sinner. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

"8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

It is by God’s grace that we are given faith which is the vehicle of salvation. All of which is completely "the gift of God" and in no way anything we can do within ourselves. Salvation is a sovereign act of God where He actually makes us a new creation that is capable of faith. In man’s natural state, he is spiritually dead because of sin. This was primarily the kind of death God warned Adam would take place if he ate of the tree in the midst of the garden. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate of the fruit which they were commanded not to eat, they died that day, not physically but spiritually. And because of that each person born since then has been born spiritually dead.

In Ezekiel 37:1-10 we are given a wonderful illustration of God taking what is dead and giving it life.

"1The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD." 7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army."

While this passage is clearly speaking of the nation of Israel who had largely turned aside from following God, there is nonetheless great significance in this passage as to how God gives life to dead things. We humans are born spiritually as dead as that valley of dried bones. Incapable of doing anything. Only God could make those dry bones come to life. It would be utterly ridiculous to think that those dry bones could make themselves come to life.

A man I admire very much named Dr. James White gives a similar illustration when talking about this issue. He speaks of cadavers (dead bodies) in the morgue and how lifeless they are. You can poke at them, remove their insides, do whatever you want to them and they will not resist. Why? Because they are dead, they cannot resist. This is exactly how man is in the spiritual sense. You can poke and prod people with the gospel, but they will not respond. They wont because they can’t. They are spiritually dead.

Clearly that which is dead is incapable of doing anything, therefore in order for a person to be able to respond to the gospel they must be made alive. Who can make dry bones live? Only God. Look also at Ezekiel 36:26-27,

"26 And 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."

You see that Scripture teaches that God radically changes man, giving him a new heart, spirit and giving him even His own Spirit. Just as powerfully as God once breathed life into man when He first created him, so God puts life into the spiritually dead. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 says,

"17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation"

So then we see that those who are in Christ are only in Christ because God has made them "a new creation." As they were naturally they could not be in Christ because they were spiritually dead, but God literally made them a new person, with a new heart and a new spirit and His own Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that makes man new or "regenerated" as theologians often call it, that enables man to respond in the faith that God gives him. The Spirit frees us from our slavery to sin and makes us able to trust in the gospel of Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:14-18 says,

"14But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."

The hearts of man are veiled from the truth of God until the Spirit enters into that persons heart and frees them from the darkness of sin. The Spirit unveils the heart of sinful man to see his need for Jesus Christ to save him. It is the regenerating work of the Spirit that allows man to come to Christ in faith. But can anyone whom the Spirit regenerates refuse to come to Christ? No.

All Who Are Drawn (Regenerated) Will Come

Many have tried to say that the Spirit works in everyone’s life and that the Father draws all people to Himself. They claim that man can merely reject God’s drawing of them to Himself. But is this biblical? I will show that it is not. Look at John 6:44,

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

This verse was already used to demonstrate that man is incapable of coming to God unless he is first drawn by Him. We discussed that aspect chapter 3 on Unconditional Election. But furthermore the verse clearly states that those whom the Father draws, Jesus will raise up on the last day. This makes the correlation that anyone whom God draws, will inevitably be raised up to eternal life. So this verse single handedly defeats the notion that God draws all people, unless that is you believe that all people are going to heaven and you are a universalist. If that is the case I would point out the fact that Jesus talks more about Hell in the gospels than He does Heaven, and there is no Scriptural basis for your view.

John 6:44 leaves nothing open to any sort of conditions to be fulfilled by man. It does not say that "I will raise him up on the last day (if)...." It says that He "will raise him (whom the Father draws) up on the last day." This means, if the Father draws someone they will respond in faith to Christ. John 6:37 says also,

"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."

Scripture is very straightforward and clear that God sovereignly decides whom He will save and then does so to the fullest, it is not conditional upon our human will or action. When God’s Spirit comes into the life of a sinner and makes them new, their nature is transformed to the extent that they cannot resist their God given desire to place their trust in Christ. Whereas they were dead in sin and enslaved to do it’s bidding in their old nature, now they have been made new and given a new nature that desires God. The regeneration of God’s Spirit simultaneously causes faith in Christ. The new creature will not, cannot, does not resist coming to Christ when the Father draws him because the veil is lifted and his need for Christ is made clear.

It’s like a deaf and blind man who stands on a train track with a speeding train coming his way. He was born deaf and blind that was his nature and because of it he had no idea of the danger he was in. But what if that blind man was given the sight to see the speeding train and the hearing to hear the whistle blowing it warning, would he stay on the train track? No, how absurd. His nature has been changed and he cannot resist making the move that will result in his salvation from death.

This is the clear teaching of Scripture, man cannot resist the will of God. God makes the elect new creations at the time He draws them and with their new nature they cannot help but respond to the savior.

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