Salvation is entirely of God and men are recipients of His action. In the chapter on Saving Faith, regeneration was presented as the initial stage of salvation that effects man’s being (mind). In regeneration, God is active and man is passive. Thereafter, man is an active participant as God works in him “to will and to work for His good pleasure.” In the chapter, “What Difference Does It Make,” we saw that God’s glory and praise are increased when salvation is seen to be totally His work. In this chapter, we will begin with scriptural truth as an area of common agreement between Arminians and Calvinists. I choose these labels because they are commonly used to represent the arguments of free will and election. Then, I will show that, logically, salvation must be entirely of God.
The Biblical Argument
Man is dead. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2:1) describes man before he is regenerated. Certainly, one characteristic of death is total unresponsiveness. The corpse will not respond no matter how he is stimulated and neither can he cause himself to respond. His inability is total. What is overlooked here by many Christians is the two-fold aspect of sin. First and foremost, sin is a state of being. This state of being causes the second aspect of sin, personal sins of thought, speech, and behavior. These personal sins cannot be changed (that is, made righteous — infra) until one’s state of being is changed, that is, the state of death and sin must become the state of life and righteousness. Since man is unable to change this state, God changes it for him through regeneration. Man then becomes able to overcome personal sins and to do good works.
Man is an enemy of God. The Bible is clear that unsaved man is rebelling against God; that he is an enemy of God. It is also clear that reconciliation between enemies can take place only if peace is made. Peace, however, requires agreement upon the issues that caused the warfare. God’s requirement of man is holiness, that is, absolutely pure and perfect thoughts, speech and behavior (Matthew5-7). Yet, all man’s supposed righteousness is abominable to God (Romans 3:10-18). Man cannot begin to fulfill that condition of peace; all that he can do is as “filthy rags.”
You may challenge that an enemy can defect, become a traitor, and join the “other side,” but even this action requires acceptance by the other side. The standard of holiness is always the same. Man has nothing to negotiate with God for this peace.1 Man is totally helpless to meet this perfect standard.
Man is a slave to sin. The Bible consistently refers to two kinds of people: the saved and the unsaved. Both are called slaves: the former to righteousness and the latter to sin (Romans 6:15-23). A slave cannot choose to free himself. Freedom must be granted by his master or he must be freed by someone who can overcome or make arrangements with his master. By this description the slave to sin does not have the power or right to work out his own freedom. It must be done for him, making his release a “free gift” (Romans 6:23).
Man cannot understand spiritual reality. Unsaved man cannot understand that he needs to be saved because such knowledge is “foolishness” (I Corinthians 2:14). Only the Holy Spirit can cause a person to understand spiritual reality (I Corinthians 2:12) and accept that the gospel is “the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
Man is without hope. Not only is man without hope but he is without God (Ephesians 2:12). Knowledge of God and hope are inseparable. Further, only He gives eternal hope. All other hope is temporal and limited. If man is without hope apart from God, then any hope that he gains must be given to him.
If natural man is dead in sin, in rebellion against God, enslaved to sin, without spiritual understanding, and without hope, how can he change? Only by God’s reversal of these inabilities. Ephesians 2:8-10 not only states that faith is “not of yourselves,” but to avoid misunderstanding, adds “that no one should boast.” Surely the most important possession that a man can have is salvation in Jesus Christ. And if man is able to have any part in that process, he should boast. This passage, however, clearly excludes boasting. Other passages do also (Romans 3:27, 11:18). The Christian can make no claim that he had any part in his salvation. Verse 10 further underscores God’s role, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand,” indicating that sanctification is God’s work as well.
The first chapter of John states, “He (Christ) was in the world … and the world did not know him” (v. 10). We have seen that the natural man is in darkness and unable to recognize spiritual reality. As this passage states, they were unable to recognize the Son of God! Further, those who “received him” (v. 12) were those “who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (vs. 12, 13). How can it be said more clearly that it is not the will of man but the will of God?
You may respond that God is not willing for any to perish (II Peter 3:9). This response, however, overlooks to whom this verse and the entire book of II Peter is addressed. God is not willing for any to perish “who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” (1:1). In other words I Peter is addressed to believers. This verse is a promise that God will sustain the believer eternally, not God’s desire toward the unbeliever. Besides, God can accomplish anything that he wills, so if He did not will for any to perish, then all would be saved, and none would be lost. Obviously, the Bible teaches that many will be damned, so this universalism cannot be true. II Peter was written to those who were already Christians and it should be interpreted consistent with its intended audience.
John 3:1-15 reveals the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus requires that a person be “born from above” (v. 3) and “born of the water and the Spirit” (v.5) in order to be saved. It is obvious that no one takes part in his own natural birth, the analogy that Jesus is using here. He even makes it clear that it is impossible for man to accomplish, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). Further, Jesus indicates that the work of the Spirit is unpredictable, “you … do not know where it comes from and where it is going” (v.8). Nicodemus is stunned (v. 9) because he understands that salvation cannot be accomplished by man.
One’s starting-point must be the Biblical description of man. It is clear that until God works in a person, he wants nothing to do with God. In the greatest work ever written on The Existence and Attributes of God, Stephen Charnock even says that man would “annihilate (God’s) being if it were in his power” (I:94).2 The position that man has anything in him that would cause him to desire God or completely without evidence in Scripture.
The modern defense of man’s ability to respond to the gospel likely comes from humanistic psychology that says that man is basically good (see pp. 34-35). Because he is good, he can recognize that God is good and that he needs God to become better. Scripture teaches the opposite.
The Logical Argument: Predestination
We have seen previously that faith involves logic. The current problem is that logic stands in bad repute. Careful and reasoned thought is not “in.” If you want to stretch your mind, however, you can follow, as I demonstrate by logical reasoning that God must be the total author of salvation. The argument is not complex
Cause of saving faith. First, what are the possible factors that cause us to behave as we do. Science tells us that there are only two possibilities: genes and environment (family and society). As believers in the supernatural, we would have to add God as a third possibility. No other possibilities exist. The question is: “What control (free will) do we have, considering these possibilities?” Most obviously, we do not determine our own genes. Whatever we receive at the time that we are conceived is what we have for the rest of our lives. There is no free will in our genetic structure.
Not quite so obvious is our lack of control over our environment (“nurture”). We seem to have control because we can decide where to go and what to do. But, what causes us to choose as we do? In our look at the process of faith, we saw that decisions are based on knowledge. At any given point in life decisions are limited to the knowledge that has been determined by previous experience. This dependence of decisions upon prior experience goes all the way back to birth. But, here again, we have lost freedom to choose. In our early years our decisions were made by our parents. We were not given the opportunity to choose these parents. They chose for us where to go to school, where to live, what to say, and had a significant influence on the friends we chose. So, decisions based upon knowledge (and they can be based upon nothing else except genes) are based upon previous knowledge that finally is based upon choices made by our parents and teachers. Current decisions have been totally conditioned by past decisions.
Our third possibility, God, is certainly not controlled by us. He is at liberty to do as he pleases and He does so (Ephesians 1:11). One could postulate that He could give us free will, but the above argument prevents even that possibility. Upon what would such freedom depend? We are still left with genes and acquired knowledge.
Thus, starting with the decision-making process itself, it is impossible to arrive at a will that is free from pre-determined conditions. I invite you to come up with any reason why one person “chooses,” Christ while another person does not choose Him when they hear the same gospel. Whether it is genes or environment or God, their choice is pre-conditioned.
Take one more step back in this process. Are the genes and environment into which each of us is born a result of chance or design? Philosophers talk about the first motion that caused all other motions. In other words, every action has a cause.3 Events at a point in time may seem to be random, but they are caused by other events all the way back to the first cause. The Bible starts with the solution to this philosophical quest of the first cause: “In the beginning God created (caused) …” If this first cause conditions all subsequent causes, then predestination of all events (of which salvation is one specific event) is unavoidable.
Let’s take one example. Jesus’ death and resurrection were “predetermined” by God (Acts 2:23). Consider the complex events that brought about those two events. Each person in these events encountered thousands of other events and people that shaped their lives and understanding to culminate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. These events involved not only the Jews but the Romans since they governed Jerusalem. Further, these events had to take place at a specific time in history as predicted by the prophets. It would be like planning a space flight to the moon. Both extensive planning and continuous control during the event are necessary for its successful completion. Those events in Jerusalem which involved the most important transaction for the human race in history were far more complex than a flight to the moon.
God’s omnipotence. God’s omnipotence is an argument for predestination in general and election in particular. Omnipotence means ALL power. It means that ALL causes come from God. Although all Christians might agree, so far, some would separate initial causes from continuing causes. That is, God gives powers to people to use for good or evil. But can he really? Omnipotence ultimately cannot “give” any portion of itself because that which is given up changes omnipotence into almost omnipotence. All power is no longer present as a unity. So omnipotence means not only that God must initiate “the beginning” but that he must constantly control all power at all times everywhere.
The Bible confirms this logical deduction from the definition of omnipotence. “He (God the Son) … upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). “… in Him (God the Son) all things hold together” (Col. 1:17b). “… for in Him (God the Son) we live and move and exist …” (Acts 17:28).
In conclusion, we have seen that both Scripture and logic clearly demonstrate that salvation must be entirely of God. Secondarily, I have demonstrated the coherence or consistency of Scripture and logic. It is my hope that not only will systematic understanding of Scripture increase among God’s people, but that logic will lose its disfavor and come to be recognized, as it once was, to be the means by which Scripture can be most fully understood and applied. The writers of the Westminster Confession of faith had this connection in mind:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set downing Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture (my emphasis).
- This concept of peace is the exact meaning of peace in the Bible. It does not refer to a “feeling” of calm but to the settled relationship between enemies, primarily that God’s wrath toward sinful man has become settled because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.
- Stephen Charnock’s famousExistence and Attributes of God(reprinted by Baker Book House, 1979) has a chapter, entitled, “On Practical Atheism,” a vivid description of man that is perhaps unparalled in Christian literature. He “tells it like it is.” You would greatly increase your praise of God’s mercy by a review of this chapter.
- The search of philosophers throughout history for causes and meanings to man’s existence forms a fascinating parallel with Biblical truth. They come so close at various points, but miss entirely the unity of the whole. For the serious student of philosophy this search has been succinctly described: Gordon H. Clark,Thales to Dewey, Reprint, 1957 Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.