“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Romans 6:17).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”–so begins John’s Gospel (John 1:1). Before time, the Word was, and the Word was divine. In time, this same Word added humanity to His divinity: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). One divine Person, having divine nature, added human nature. Please note: It was not the divine nature that added human nature, but the divine Person added human nature. Over both natures presides one divine Person–the Word, the second Person of the holy Trinity.
In debates over Calvinism and Arminianism, which has been the discussion of the last several posts, it is tempting to describe each side as correct and then to conclude with a statement about mystery and not to probe further. This option is especially tempting in postmodern times, when men act as if truth and non-truth can coexist, contrary to the Lord’s apostle, who wrote, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). Granted, there comes a point when probing must yield to humble adoration. Moreover, wrong inferences can lead to heretical conclusions that destroy the delicate balance between the divine and human aspects of salvation. Both of these points still stand in previous posts, in hope of urging more worship, more evangelism, and more conversions. However, having guarded the mystery between the divine and human aspects, it still remains to be said that God is sovereign in salvation in such a way that there is no human counterpart. To use the analogy of the Incarnation, there are two natures, which must be kept in constant balance and in mysterious union, but over both natures presides one divine Person, who has no human person as counterpart. The Word, the divine Person, took on human nature, and now superintends both His divine nature and His human nature in the adorable majesty of the Incarnation.
Regarding the sovereignty of God in salvation, consider the verse given above as an example of the human aspect, the divine aspect, and the divine superintendence. On the human side, the Roman Christians at their conversion exercised their own human will (“from the heart”) and their own natural human freedom (“ye have obeyed”). Their conversion was no sham, but real obedience from real human decision. This natural human freedom, however, was not complete moral freedom, for they are also said to have been in slavery (“servants of sin”). It is this moral slavery that makes the power of God necessary in conversion. Therefore, on the divine side, we should not be surprised to hear that these Roman Christians at their conversion were handed over to the Gospel (“that form of doctrine”). Honestly, the King James Version befuddles me here, for as far as I know there is no textual variant that supports its translation that what was “delivered” was the Gospel, not the people. In the Greek, it is the Romans themselves who are handed over, which is the same word used of Judas betraying Jesus. This handing-over is divine calling. Thus there is both a divine aspect and a human aspect in conversion. Against both of these aspects in salvation stands the superintendence of God: Who do we thank for our conversion? Do we thank our free-will? No. “God be thanked.” He is sovereign in salvation.
In my own experience, I have been consistently pressed by these realities. On the one hand, I am fully convinced that no one can truly turn to Christ in saving faith who has not yet seen His glory in the Gospel. We must “behold” the Son before we can “believe” in the Son (John 6:40, NASB). This vision of Christ requires a supernatural, internal revelation of Christ that only the Sovereign Father can give by His Spirit. It was true of Peter (Matthew 16:17; cf. 11:25-27); it was true of Paul (Galatians 1:16); and it is true of each one of us Christians. The revelation of the Son expelled the Satanic blindness of our minds with the same cosmic force of the initial creation, when the Sovereign God commanded, “Let there be light,” and there was light (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6; cf. Genesis 1:3).
As a result, in my own soul, I have cried out to the Lord God, “Show me Your Son through Your word by Your Spirit!” What a glory that such a supernatural light is real, and is available for everyone who comes to God in humble faith! God gives grace to the humble, and will give the Holy Spirit to everyone who asks Him in faith (James 4:6; Luke 11:13; cf. James 1:6-8). This promise sustained John Newton, the African blasphemer and later author of “Amazing Grace,” in his search for salvation while he was nearly shipwrecked at sea and searching the New Testament daily. In the words of James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraided not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5; cf. 3:17).
It is our pride that keeps us from asking–or from asking rightly in humble faith. Pride, in fact, disables a man from believing (John 5:44; cf. Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:21). So there we stand, in need of sovereign grace to see the Savior, and presented with precious promises that encourage us to ask in confidence, but we are stuck in our blind pride. Who will strike the first blow and begin the process? Will Lazarus first reach out to Jesus, or Jesus first call to Lazarus? Will creation first say to God, “Create me,” or must the divine Dread Sovereign first say, “Let there be!”? Do you see? For all the delicate balance between the divine and human aspects, at the end of the day, it is not we who seek for God, but it is He who is “found of them that sought [Him] not” (Romans 3:11; Isaiah 65:1; cf. Romans 10:20). It is all of the Lord!
Therefore, we thank God for not only our salvation, but even for our conversion itself. Our faith was “given” to us (Philippians 1:29; cf. possibly Ephesians 2:8-9). Someone may have seeded us with the Gospel, and another may have watered, but it was God who gave the increase; the others were simply “ministers by whom [we] believed, even as the Lord gave to every man” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). It is “of him” that we are in Christ Jesus, so that no flesh can boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:29-30). We hated the light and would not come to the light lest our deeds be exposed; but now our deeds are “wrought in God” (John 1:20-21). Salvation is of God–all of salvation. If our hearts have difficulty granting this truth, then our hearts have difficulty with letting God be God; for in the final analysis, there would be no creation at all if God had not sovereignly decided to create the universe, nor would there be faith at all, unless God had not sovereignly decided to create a divine and supernatural light in each of us (2 Corinthians 4:6). Creation is the prerogative of God, and is, in part, what identifies Him as God–and consequently what identifies us as well: “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3; cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). “So then,” I conclude in words borrowed from the apostle Paul, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showed mercy” (Romans 9:16).
Christian, as you contemplate the miracle of the Incarnation this Christmas season, please remember as well the miracle of Christian conversion. In His sovereign good pleasure, God spoke into your darkness, dispelling your deadening pride and revealing His Son to you, so that you could freely believe in Him unto everlasting life. May God be forever praised and thanked! “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).