I would like to share an interesting comment I received recently to a post I wrote a few years back called: “What Must We Believe? – 10 Components Of The Gospel Message.” One of the components I mentioned was that “Salvation is Voluntary and Contingent on if we Believe.” Under that heading, I wrote the following:
Salvation is not an automatic provision for anybody. It occurs only if we believe. There are some who teach that you need to do absolutely nothing in order to be saved. There are others who teach that everyone (or almost everyone) will be saved. Neither of these teachings are supported by the Bible.
Granted, our part in the process of Salvation is vastly lesser than God’s part. In fact, He has done EVERYTHING else in order for you to be saved. The ONLY thing that you have to do is believe on Him. But you do have to do that.
Here is the comment that I received:
“You have one major mistake in your outline that is not supported by scripture.
You say,”Salvation is Voluntary (1st mistake, How is it voluntary and dependent on us if it is all of God? Even Nicodemus recognize he could not do what Jesus was saying, Because Salvation is a Spiritual Birth, According to Paul Eph 2 out side of Christ men are dead, Can dead men bring themselves back to life? Was Lazarus coming out of the grave his doings or jesus? Paul also says Men are blind. Can a blind man restore his own sight if He wants to? So How can salvation be voluntary? Aren’t men in the same postion as Nicodemus? Jesus did not Preach you can be saved if you want to. He said ye must be born again. In John 3 he states this twice and give the consequence if one is not born again.”
I suspect that this gentleman’s comment came as a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that anything is required in order to receive Salvation. I suspect this because I myself often have a very similar reaction when people begin to talk about needing to do this or that in order to be saved. But I remember reading something else a while back that I found very disturbing also. It seems that many in the Church have begun to teach that absolutely nothing is required for Salvation, including faith. They contend that since faith and believing are works on our part, then they have no place in the process of Salvation. Yet the Bible teaches otherwise. Jesus Himself, when asked what “works” needed to be done by man to please God, He responded:
“…This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29)
No other work is required, but we do have to believe. Even so, our ability to believe is actually a gift of God so we can’t even take credit for that! I don’t suggest that this is necessarily the position of the one who wrote the comment, like I said, I think this was a just a reaction to how I chose to word my post. I did, however, feel that it was important enough for me to clarify what I meant and I would like to share my response:
“Perhaps to head this section of the outline with the words, “Salvation is voluntary…”, is a mistake which leaves open wide the door for misunderstanding. My intent in writing this article was to keep the matter as succinct as possible without digressing into an involved theological argument. However, I assure you, that my statement was in no way an endorsement of a works-based Salvation. I wrote under the heading:
“Granted, our part in the process of Salvation is vastly lesser than God’s part. In fact, He has done EVERYTHING else in order for you to be saved. The ONLY thing that you have to do is believe on Him. But you do have to do that.”
This is not to imply a work of Salvation on the part of man, but rather a reception of God’s grace for Salvation. I have given the analogy before of the plight of a beggar. The benefactor decides to give money to the beggar, it is his choice. The benefactor has earned the money he will give, it is his work which provides it, not the beggar’s. The benefactor extends the money in his hand and freely offers it to him. The beggar then…what?…places his hands in his pocket and turns his back on the benefactor while the benefactor tackles him and forces him to take it? No. The beggar reaches out his hand to receive that which is being freely offered to him.
So, who is then responsible for the meal that the beggar will now enjoy with the money? Was it the gift of the benefactor or the reaching out of the beggar which secured it? I maintain that it is entirely the work and graciousness of the benefactor (Christ) without which the beggar (the sinner) would go away hungry. Yet the beggar did have to hold his hand out and take (faith) what was being offered.
I recognize that this whole subject matter is a very theologically complex one that has been parsed ad infinitum and has drawn battle lines in the Church for centuries. I staunchly support the vindication of Salvation Sola Gratia and the refutation of any works-based approach. Yet to hold that faith has no place in Salvation is to deny a crucial component of the Gospel.
You mentioned Ephesians 2, but remember, this is where Paul wrote:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Eph. 2:8, emphasis added)
It is by the Grace of God, it is the gift of God, but it is received through faith (the beggar holding out his hand). Therefore, it is no contradiction for Paul to say it is not “of yourselves” even though you are receiving it through faith. It is God’s work, not ours. Nevertheless, the beggar who refuses to accept what he is given is in no better state than he was before.
Maybe the best illustration from Scripture is found in Romans 10:13-15:
“For “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (you have to call on His name, i.e., accept Him through faith, right?). But how can you do that except you hear the Gospel (the work that God has done, i.e., Salvation by Grace alone). And how will you hear the Gospel except it is preached by someone whom God has sent (Calvinism, pre-destination, Divine election, and whatever else we wish to label it!). God has done the work, sent the Message, and even chosen to whom it will be preached. All we have to do is hold out our hand and receive it.
Men are blind and a blind man certainly cannot restore his own sight. But what would have happened to the blind man if he did not accept the words of the Lord by faith and go and wash his eyes at the Pool of Siloam (John 9:1-11)? Was it the waters of Siloam that gave him sight? No, it was the touch of Jesus Christ that gave him his vision. But the Lord decided that he was to receive the healing through faith and had he not done so he would have remained blind.
The Bible makes it clear that Salvation will not be forced upon anyone (if you don’t believe me, consider Judas Iscariot). It must be received. Jesus knocks at the door, but we must open it (Rev. 3:20). He simply is not going to break it down. Salvation is not voluntary as in it is our decision for it to happen. But it is received voluntarily and is contingent on whether we accept the Gospel by faith.