The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
To download the entire book in PDF format, visit our home page at https://www.abookofbiblestudy.net/
Christian, have you ever wondered why some people hear the Gospel message and believe in Christ, when others who have heard the same message do not believe? Is it because of an exercise of their own free will and their own decision not to believe, when they could just as easily decided that they would believe?
In the Gospel of John we read: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Many of us will read John 3:16 and in our own minds we will add the thought that everyone is free and able to believe the Gospel message as they choose. However, the text of John 3:16 says nothing about a man’s freedom or his ability to believe the message.
It is fine to add thoughts and conditions to a passage of Scripture, as long as those thoughts and conditions are stated elsewhere in the Bible. However, the thought or the idea that everyone who hears the Gospel message is free and able to believe the message is stated nowhere in the Bible. What is clearly stated in the Bible is that unregenerate men are indeed not free or even able to believe the message at all, unless and until God intervenes in their lives to call them to faith in Christ.
By way of a brief review, we will consider just a few Scriptures that challenge the interpretation of John 3:16 as teaching that everyone is free and able to come to Christ if they should choose to do so. These Scriptures are John 6:44, 6:65, and Romans 8:7. There are also others that we have studied previously.
In John 6:44 and 6:65 Jesus taught about the inability of man to believe in Him apart from God’s intervention in his life. In John 6:44 He taught that no one can come to Him unless they are drawn by the Father. And in John 6:65 He taught that no one can come to Him unless it has been granted to them by the Father to do so. Jesus also taught in John 6:44 that whoever is drawn to Him by the Father will be raised up at the last day.
In Romans 8:7 Paul taught that “the mind set on the flesh”, or the mind of unregenerate man, is hostile toward God; it will not submit to God’s law, nor is it even able to do so. Therefore, if unregenerate man who cannot submit to God’s law is to be saved, then God Himself must intervene in his life to forcefully overcome his hostile will and bring him to faith. We can see this reality demonstrated in the life of Paul himself as we read in the Scriptures of his conversion on the Damascus road, even while he was still intent on persecuting the church.
Believing in Christ is not an act of our own will or volition that we choose to do when we are still dead in our sins whereby we take advantage of a perceived “offer of salvation that is available to every individual”, as some would say. Rather our believing in Christ is evidence that we have already been called by God to faith in His Beloved Son.
The Scriptures teach us that when anyone believes in Christ, it is not because they chose to believe; it is because God has chosen to intervene in their lives to cause them to believe. The Scriptures teach that man cannot, and therefore he does not, choose to believe the Gospel message. Rather God chooses certain men, His elect, and these He brings to faith in Christ.
The Bible teaches us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). Many receive the proclamation of the Gospel message in their hearing, but as Jesus taught in the parable of the wedding banquet, though many are called outwardly when they hear the message, only few are actually chosen to come to faith (Matthew 22:14).
Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) that the seed sown by the farmer yielded a crop only where it fell upon the “good soil”. The "good soil" is the analogy Jesus used to symbolize God's elect. So the lesson here is that the seed of the Gospel message produces a harvest only where it is received in the hearing of God’s elect. His elect not only hear the word, but they also understand it, and they bear fruit: some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred times what was sown (Matthew 13:23). By this bearing of fruit, we demonstrate that we are indeed Jesus’ disciples (John 15:8).
Jesus also said: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…” (John 6:63). If man were able to come to Christ while he was still unregenerate and dead in his sins, or still in the flesh, then a decision made while in the flesh could potentially profit him everything. But Jesus said that the flesh profits nothing; rather it is the Spirit who gives life. Further, the Apostles John and Paul both taught clearly that a man’s salvation does not come about by way of his own will or decision (John 1:13, Romans 9:16).
In addition to being incapable of coming to Christ without being drawn by the God the Father, the unregenerate man has no desire to come to Christ, because as Paul taught, all unregenerate men are hostile toward God (again, Romans 8:7). Paul also wrote: “There is no one who seeks for God… not even one” (Romans 3:10-11). Since no man seeks God, God must seek men and Himself bring them to faith if any are to be saved.
When anyone has a genuine desire to come to Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and reconciliation to God the Father, they can be assured that this desire is evidence of a work of regeneration that God has already done in their life. They are one of God’s elect, and they have already been called to faith in Christ. As a result of this work that God has wrought within them, they now believe in Christ. Unless and until an individual is called by God to faith in Christ, they will not come to Christ; they will refuse to believe, and they are in fact not even able to believe.
God’s calling of an individual is effectual, meaning that all of those who receive God’s calling to faith in Christ do indeed come to Christ, and none refuse. And once again, this effectual calling of God is demonstrated clearly and powerfully in the life of Saul, as recorded three times in the Bible (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:1-16, and Acts 26:9-18).
In reading these passages, we find that Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul, remained hostile toward the Gospel message right up until the moment in time when God intervened in his life to forcefully overcome his own stubborn will and bring him to faith in Christ. Saul was brought to faith contrary to his own will and apart from his own decision (Acts 9:1-4, Acts 22:4-7 and Acts 26:9-15). In the same way, we will all remain hostile toward God unless and until He forcefully intervenes in our lives to bring us to faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
Our believing in Christ is evidence that we have already been called to faith. It is evidence that we have already received Christ and have therefore crossed over from death to eternal life (John 5:24). God chose to bring us to faith, apart from our own will and apart from any decision of our own (Romans 9:16). He has called us to faith in His Son, and as a result of His calling we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Our believing is not a choice or decision that we made whereby we took advantage of an “offer” of salvation, as some would say. If a man believes in Christ, it is not because he thoughtfully considered the Gospel message and decided that he would believe, when he just as easily could have decided that he would continue not to believe. The Bible teaches that God has already made that decision for him, and God Himself brings each of His elect to faith in His time. This is the lesson given to us from Saul’s conversion, and this is the teaching given to us through many other passages of Scripture as well.
When a man is called by God to faith in Christ, he comes to Christ, and he will be raised up at the last day (John 6:37, 6:44). Man does not choose to believe in Christ, rather God chooses certain men; God decides who will be brought to faith in Christ, and who will be left in their sins (John 15:16, Romans 9:6-24).
Those who desire to come to Christ can also be sure that God does not give that desire to everyone, but only to His elect, or His chosen people whom Jesus referred to as His “sheep” in John 10:1-30. These and only these will hear His voice; others will not be able to hear (John 6:63-65, 8:43, 8:47, 10:24-26). These and only these are the ones foreknown by God from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5) and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). These and only these are then called by God to salvation and redemption through Christ, and we know that those whom God calls He also justifies, and those He justifies He also glorifies (Romans 8:30).
Our salvation as God’s elect who have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ is the work of God from beginning to end. He calls us to faith in His Son, and He brings our faith to its completion, as all of us who are called are then justified and finally glorified together with Christ for eternity. Let us therefore rejoice and give thanks to God our Father, together with all of His saints, for His grace and mercy which He showed to us when He chose to call us to faith in His Son.