Although salvation is a supernatural act of God that cannot be fully explained, Scripture offers many insights. One thing is certain: God is not wanting “any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
There are primarily two differing beliefs concerning salvation—free will (man is free to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation), or election (God elects only certain people for salvation).
A very popular practice among some free will advocates encourages unbelievers to say a quick prayer to avoid going to hell. Repentance is never sought, and belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord is minimized.
Is it the moving of our lips when we confess Jesus as Lord that secures redemption, or is it the condition of the heart? It’s the heart. A quick gesture in the form of a prayer does not save if the heart has not repented and truly believed: “if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance and belief are essential!
A very popular practice among some election advocates is to avoid preaching the gospel as not to manipulate God’s drawing of the elect. C.H. Spurgeon referred to this group as Hyper-Calvinists. He was criticized for statements such as, “The great error of Hyper-Calvinism is to neglect one side of the Word of God because it does not know how to explain both that God is effective and sovereign in all things and that man is free and responsible for all his actions.” Spurgeon added, “The system of truth is not one straight line, but two.” We won’t know where these two lines cross until eternity.
We are called to be faithful to the command to preach, witness, and proclaim the good news while understanding that God does the drawing, saving, and sealing.
As I understand it, predestination/election is a process by which God, who lives outside of time, established certain parameters before the foundation of the world. He clearly called Noah to preach righteousness, Abraham to bring forth the Nation of Israel, and the prophets to call nations to repentance (e.g., Jeremiah was called before he was even born). God called John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, to prepare the way of the Lord. God also predestined Jesus to die on the cross: Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Clearly, these men and these events were predestined.
Ephesians 1:4-5 confirms both election and predestination…“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”
We cannot discard election and predestination anymore that we can discard our responsibility as seen in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Peter adds, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19). We have a responsibility to confess, believe, and repent with the understanding that no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws them (cf. John 6:44).
Romans 1:18-20 tells us that the wrath of God is being revealed against all who suppress the truth. Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen so that people are without excuse. Guilt implies responsibility…“we are without excuse” because God’s attributes are clearly seen; they bear witness to a Creator.
Charles Hodge, in his classic work on Systematic Theology, spells it out plainly, “He [man] is a moral agent because he has the consciousness of moral obligation, and whenever he sins he acts freely against the convictions of conscience.”
In the act of salvation, God receives all the glory and all the credit. Salvation is His work, not ours. We are never outside of His sovereignty and control. But it begs the question, “Could God have created man to receive His offer of salvation or reject it?” Jesus said, in Mark 10:15, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Without question, even the ability to receive is a gift from God, as is faith (cf. Eph. 2:8). But does this mean that man does not have the ability to receive or reject the gift that is being offered? This ability does not make man good, quite the contrary, it makes him utterly dependant, desperate, and without hope unless he receives what God has offered (cf. Mk. 10:15).
1 Corinthians 2:14 states, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The word receive (Dechomai) means to take hold of, or to welcome. The natural man does not welcome the things of God, but can he accept or reject them? I do not receive or welcome visitors at 1am, but it does not follow that I cannot receive or welcome them.
Dr. Wayne Grudem is helpful at this point: “Exactly how God combines His providential control with our choices, Scripture does not explain to us. But rather than deny one aspect or the other (simply because we cannot explain how both can be true), we should accept both in an attempt to be faithful to the teaching of all of Scripture.”
Contextually, Mr. Grudem is referring to choices that believers make, but the overlapping principle applies: How God combines providence with commands to repent and believe, is not crystal clear. Yet, we are to accept both truths—man must repent and believe, but God’s sovereign plans will prevail.
2012 (c), by Shane Idleman