I’ve recently been thinking through what I believe about God, about His scheme of redemption, and how in the person of Jesus He brings sinners like me to himself. In two recent posts, here and here, I tried to display a snapshot of man’s sinfulness and his hopeless and helpless condition without God. In this post I want to show what I believe is the clear teaching of Scripture about how a person is awakened to the grace and mercy of God in Christ.
It is very common to hear someone serve up the idea that salvation is a cooperative effort, “God’s part” and “man’s part“. For many years I have contended that this idea is not true, and cannot be true. Two verses come to mind that are convincing.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
A person in his natural state of being is so alienated from God, and the things of God because of sin, that he does not and cannot receive the things of God. Look closely at these verses.
1. A natural man “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God“.
Left to his own devices and his own resources a person without God will not accept the truth of God. This is true every time, in every case. Why? Because the things of God are “foolishness” to him. The story of the passion of Christ makes no sense to him. I have spoken to many people who upon being told of God’s love expressed in the work of Jesus’ death for sinners, and that he now makes sinners pure without their participation, reject it outright. They want no part of it! Man always wants to get credit for his goodness.
2. A natural man “does not submit to God’s law“.
It isn’t that a person without God is neutral, that he just has no interest. Oh no, the truth is he is in rebellion against God. He is “hostile” toward God. He doesn’t “accept” the things of God, and doesn’t “submit” to God’s law because he is against God in his heart.
3. A natural man “is not able to understand” the things of God. And, he “cannot submit” to God’s law.
Here in these two verses is the picture of men and women apart from God who have NO ability on their own to receive the truth about God, to understand, or to submit to Him. You might say to yourself, “If these verses are literally true then how could anyone ever be saved”? It’s a legitimate question and there is an answer, but first one more passage to affirm the utter hopelessness of people without God.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Here the Apostle Paul is speaking to folks who are now God’s very own children. He is reminding them of their past and the awful condition of that ugly past. They were “dead” to the things of God, they lived in “trespasses” and “sins“, they were on a course like the rest of the world, following Satan (“the prince of the power of the air”), they lived only to please themselves, and were “children of wrath” like everyone else.
This is indeed a pretty sad state. Here is a people who are dead in sin, dead to the things of God, following the devil, against God, not willing to accept or submit to God, and in fact cannot possibly do so. How then can a person come to Christ and be saved? Thank God the passage above did not end with verse 3.
But God, being rich in mercy,because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Yes, people are helpless and hopeless. Yes, they are dead to God, are his enemy, and can’t do anything about it. They have absolutely NO ability to come to God. But God!
God came to where we were. Right in the middle of our rebellion, our spiritual death, our selfish, ungodly lives and “made us alive together with Christ“! My salvation and yours was by God’s initiative, not mine or yours.
You see, this is precisely what grace is! God loves sinners and he provided a remedy for their sins and then comes to gather them to himself. Paul continues….
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
But for God’s work in us and for us, shining the light of the truth of the gospel into our dark souls we should all perish in our ungodly condition. But He does come to us! The Holy Spirit stirs the heart to faith and repentance and the light of the gospel dispels the darkness of sin and unbelief and God gives LIFE to the lifeless!
“Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling” goes the old song. I can claim no worth, no merit, no work. I can only give glory and praise to a loving God who makes the dead live and love! Oh how wonderful is the story of Jesus and his love for sinners like me. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord! He alone can save the lost sinner.
May God’s truth grip our hearts and minds so that He alone has the glory he deserves.