One of the clear teachings of Scripture alone is that our coming to faith alone in Christ alone for our salvation is all by grace alone. Yet it is this very teaching that causes some confusion in people’s minds about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in the process of salvation. Some are quick to say that God is unfair in choosing some to be saved in Christ and not others. Others suggest that since it is all up to God’s choosing anyhow, why worry about it. If there is nothing we can do, let’s just sit back and let God do his work, if He so wills.
Usually, when I teach on this difficult doctrine I try to highlight both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility by asking people to imagine a closed door through which we must enter. Throughout Scripture we have this constant refrain, call, appeal if you will, for God’s people to choose life, not death (Deut 30:11-20), serve God, not idols (Josh 24:15), turn, repent and live and not die (Eze 33:10-11), repeated calls in the NT for repentance and belief in Jesus Christ; knock and it will be opened etc (Mat 7:7ff), choose rest in Christ rather than slavery (Mat 11:28ff), eternal life rather than eternal punishment (Jn 3:16), life rather than death (Jn 5:24), a call to reconciled unto God (2 Cor 5:20), to mention a few. In all these texts, there is an implied responsibility for us to respond.
Now imagine all these texts and many more are on the one side of this closed door, graciously placed there by the Holy Spirit to call us through the door. When we enter through the door and close it behind us, we see only one text, (Eph 1:4-6) “For the Father chose me, a sinner in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, the Father predestined me to be adopted as his child through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” [emphasis added].
Now some people feel a little uncomfortable with this analogy, for it seems that you are making the decision to go through the door. In a way that is true but then again, you didn’t place those wonderful texts on the door, calling you to enter through. That remains the gracious work of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on your heart. And even if people do initially think they have had a part to play in entering through the door, does it really matter? It may take such a person another five years or longer to realise that all of it was God’s wonderful grace working through the power of His word and Spirit, that brought them through the door, all to God’s glory alone.
And it is only after God has caused us to enter through the door that we can begin to experience the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him and not before. And it is only because we know the beauty of Christ that we continue to implore people to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour. And it is only after we have been drawn through the door, we can sing with the saints, “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew; He moved my soul, to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You. it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You.” JZ
Have you ever thought about the fact that it is only the pinnacle of God’s creation who can actually say 'no' to God? It is true that all creation groans under the weight of sin, but it is only human beings who can disobey and say 'no' to God.
It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God as Jonah also experienced when he was asked to go to the city of Nineveh. However, it is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous to say ‘no’ to God, for you may not be given too many opportunities to say ‘yes’ to God. God’s patience with the wicked, although long-suffering, is not limitless as was experienced in the days of Noah. Furthermore, there is evidence in Scripture to suggest that if you keep saying ‘no’ to God, He may withdraw His grace and allow your heart to be hardened against Him because of your disobedience.
In Exodus 7:3 we see God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and in Ch 8:15, 19, 32, Pharaoh hardening his own heart towards God. When people continually reject God and His gracious offer to embrace His Son as Saviour and Lord, then there may come a time when the opportunity to obey and embrace the offer of salvation is withdrawn and people will no longer be able to accept and obey.
According to trained children workers, this hardening is similar to what happens to children who have been neglected by their parents. Some parents have never taught their children the true meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or the way of obedience and hence some children do not know what they are or are not allowed to do. As a result, they do not take authority seriously until the police insist that ‘no’ means ‘No’. Sadly, trained children workers must often admit that such children are no longer teachable. They are hardened.
People who continually refuse to obey God and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour are playing a dangerous game. While at the beginning they will not believe, in the end they may not be able to believe. The writer to Hebrews regular appeals to his readers, “Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your heart as you did in the rebellion.” According to Scripture, there is a connection to unbelief, disobedience and a hardened heart.
Now before we become judge and executioner, it is only God who knows the process of hardening. It is not up to us to declare that someone has reached the point of no return. In fact, our responsibility is to continue to reach out to the lost with the gospel, even towards those whose membership of the church has lapsed through whatever means. Our first step towards those who are outside of Christ’s kingdom is not condemnation, but a positive, loving, winsome approach with the good news of embracing Christ as Saviour. While doing so, all the time praying that the Holy Spirit would soften their hearts and wills towards the gospel and that they would no longer keep playing the dangerous game of saying ‘no’ and disobeying the good offer of the gospel. JZ
Pastor John Zuidema
Since 1997 Pastor John has been ministering to Churches across Australia and New Zealand.