Believe it or not, not all Christians agree on how they came to faith in Christ. Some believe it was their complete free will choice and decision with no intercession from God. Others believe that their coming to faith was the sovereign supernatural calling of God. Why does it matter how we came to faith in Jesus? What is the big deal? The big deal is that one way gives all glory to man and the other gives all glory to God.
Believers of human free will often refer to John 3:16 as their biblical proof, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It goes on to say in verse 17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” When God said “whoever believes” he is not implying that faith is one of luck or happenstance–whoever will believe will believe. That would mean that God is inactive, indifferent, without a purpose and plan, and not sovereign.
Scripture must be taken in context. We must take into account what was written before and after the line of scripture to understand the whole picture, as well as study the Bible as one book. Let’s take a deeper look at the true meaning of John 3:16. Not only is that verse the Gospel summed up in one sentence, it is also a declaration and external call.
For centuries the Jewish nation was God’s chosen people. Their nation contained the people that were chosen by God to have eternal life. If a person was not Jewish they were considered evil, wicked, and not chosen by God. They were referred to as gentiles. With the coming of Jesus into the world, that was all about to change. The reference to “whoever” and the “world” now meant that eternal life with faith in Christ was extended to both the Jews and gentiles, and that made the Jews angry. The use of “whoever” and “world” in no way implies that God sits back and waits to see who is going to decide to have faith in Jesus.
There are two different calls that God sends out to his people. There is a call that goes out to everyone, but not everyone will repent and respond. This is known as the external call of the gospel. Paul wrote about God’s general revelation in Romans 1:18-23:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creepy things.”
The other call is referred to as the inner call of the Holy Spirit, or the effectual call. The call of the Holy Spirit gives new birth (regeneration). It is life changing. It is the irresistible call from God to turn away from Satan, and to turn to Him and love Him. In our sinful state we are unable to change our hearts on our own–to bring our hearts from death to life–to hate the Devil and love God. It must be changed by a supernatural act of God. We find this in Romans 3:9-18 (emphasis added):
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin as it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’
‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’
‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘
Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’
‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.'”
And Romans 10:20 (emphasis added), “….I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
As you can see, according to scripture, no one will seek God if left to their own devices. God has to intervene. The most compelling scripture that explains God’s sovereign selected election is found in Romans 9. Even though everything was given to the Jews in scripture, their prideful hearts blinded their eyes from truly seeing and understanding God’s election. Even Jews in today’s time refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and believe that God elects whom he will have mercy upon with eternal salvation, although it is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. But, with the study of scripture we will see the truth.
Due to their blindness, the Jews thought and think today that if they are born as a Jew they are guaranteed eternal salvation, but that is not what God says in the Old and New Testament. They cannot bear to believe that God would turn his back on the Jewish nation. They interpret that as a breaking of his covenant with them; God’s failure, but that is not the case. God never said that all Jews are guaranteed eternal salvation. This is addressed in Romans 9:6-24 (emphasis added). This is lengthy, but necessary to understand and see the whole picture.
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but through Isaac shall your offspring be named. This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promised said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but I also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who call–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
God clearly said that only a remnant of the Jews will be saved as Romans 9:27 quoted Old Testament scripture Isaiah 10:22-23, “..Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.”
In this portion of Romans, Paul refers back to the history of the Old Testament. The first thing Paul wrote was that the word of God has not failed because God never said that all who are descendants of Abraham will have eternal life. God said that only a remnant would be saved. He reminds the Jews that in the Old Testament God had promised Sarah, in her old age, that she would give birth to a son at the right time. That means that she was going to become pregnant by God’s supernatural power at God’s appointed time–God’s time, not theirs. She and Abraham did not trust in God, became impatient, and decided to take matters into their own hands. Sarah told Abraham to bear a child with their maidservant, Hagar. He did, and she had a son, Ishmael. But that son, who was a child of Abraham (a Jew), was not given eternal salvation. He was excluded. Abraham also had sons through another wife, Keturah, but those sons were also excluded by God.
Sarah eventually did give birth to a son, Isaac, when God said it was time. Isaac was promised eternal salvation. Right there, in the Old Testament, God has shown that not all Jews born a descendant of Abraham will be saved. This also shows that Isaac did not do anything to be given eternal salvation. God declared to Sarah that Isaac was to be chosen before he was even born. Isaac did not decide to have faith in God one day. It was an unearned merciful gift from God. God had elected to have mercy upon Isaac before he was born. He was chosen (called) by God’s sovereign will, not Isaac’s will.
Paul then gives another example and refers to the time in the Old Testament that Rebekah and Isaac gave birth to twin boys. Both are descendants of Abraham, but Jacob is saved, and Esau is not. Before they were born God said that the older shall serve the younger. The younger child was Jacob. He had elected to give the promise of salvation to Jacob before he was born.
Why does God choose whom he will save before we are born? The answer is right in scripture, “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who call.” God’s willed purpose–God’s call; not ours.
Paul goes on to address what many may be thinking, “That’s not fair! Everyone should be saved or have the free will to choose to be saved! It should be my choice, not God’s! Who does God think he is? He should do and and be what I think he should do and be!” God basically says, “You, man, who do you think you are? Who are you to question me? I created you! I created the universe, the earth, and all things living. I sustain this universe, the world, and each breath you take. It is my right to have mercy on whom I will have mercy. In this way, no man will be able to boast and brag that it was something they did to save themselves from eternal damnation. My mercy will be known to those I have called.”
Make no mistake, do not think you can use God’s merciful sovereign act of election as a scapegoat instead of owning responsibility for your lack of saving faith when judgment is handed down to unbelievers. How can that be? There is no way for us to know all the things of God, his ways, and his plan, nor are we to know all the things of God. We would not be able to handle it.
One thing is known; according to scripture we each will be held accountable on judgment day. An unbeliever’s rejection of Jesus will be the responsibility of the unbeliever (John 12:48). You may be thinking, “How can you tell me that it is God who elects whom he will save, but my lack of faith in Jesus will be my responsibility on judgment day?” This is one of the mysteries of God, but we do know from scripture that God’s general revelation is made known to all humans, his law is written on all of our hearts, no one seeks God, and we are without excuse.
Look at things this way; According to God, we all deserve the sentence of eternal damnation in Hell. Do not think for one second that there will be millions of people banging on the door to heaven trying to get in. The opposite is actually true. None of us, left to our own devices, seek God or entry into Heaven. It is a sovereign act of God’s grace and mercy to save the sinners of his choosing for the good of his plan. This is a great act of mercy for the believer and one we are to spend the rest of our lives giving all glory to God through love, service, and obedience.
Knowing that God chooses to love and save us before we are born is comforting and freeing. This means that once we are called to faith by God he will never let us go. He made that covenant promise to us (Deut. 31:8, Isa. 54:10). Why is the thought of God’s electing whom he will save so hard to swallow for some? Sadly, it is our prideful hearts that want control and to believe that it was our “free will” to decide to have faith in Jesus. It is hard for sinners to believe that God is the one in control and sovereign over all things. In truth, if faith was left up to us there is no way we could hold onto it. We would never be secure in our faith, because we may be inclined to believe that entrance into Heaven is something earned instead of an act of free mercy and grace from God. We need God securely holding onto us through our joys and our sufferings, not us trying to hold onto God.
If you feel the call of Christ on your heart, I encourage you to take a moment right now and say this prayer:
Dear Lord Jesus,
I know I am a sinner and ask you for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins, rose from the dead, and are now seated at the right hand of the Father. I turn from my sins and receive you into my heart. I want to trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior and recognize it is only by your grace that I am saved and can live in this way. Enable me by your Spirit to trust you and live for you from this day forward. Amen.
To read more teachings like this and the story of God’s pursuit of me and the effectual call he placed on my heart, you can purchase my book, Heaven’s Joy: The Seeking and Saving of a Runaway Psychic, on my website, susanmcceldry.com