As with Adam and Eve, both before and after their fall, so today it is necessary that God must work within us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2.13). And this is what God does in those whom he saves.
Nothing we think, say or do can save us, or can contribute toward saving us. Nothing of our own is in any way meritorious—because all that we do is sinful. So, even if God did have “scales of justice” (which he does not), we have no good deeds to be weighed!
When the Bible describes the coming judgment according to a person’s “works,” it does not mean that God is weighing up a person’s bad and good deeds. This judgment of “works” refers either to sinners being declared guilty or to believers being revealed as truly the Lord’s people—as judged by their deeds and their heart, not by mere words and outward actions (see e.g. Matthew 25.31-46; 2 Corinthians 5.10; Revelation 20.11-15).
Do not think that unsaved sinners will stand uncondemned presence of God: “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing:1 the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man” (Psalms 5.4-6).
Christians are no longer in the state of enmity against God. We were God’s enemies before we were converted, but that is no longer the case with us—we have been reconciled to God. So, this is now true of us: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5.8-11).
The Word of God commands human beings to do things that their spiritually dead souls are incapable of. It requires a work of God’s grace in our souls for us to do or to possess these things. Here are a few examples:
- God commands “all men everywhere” to repent of their sins—but it is God himself who must grant this “repentance unto life” (Acts 11.18; 17.30).
- God invites “all the ends of the earth” to look to him for salvation; this great invitation is made to all to whom the gospel is preached: that if they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ then they shall be saved—but salvation is by God’s grace alone and faith is the gracious gift of God (Isaiah 45.22; Acts 16.31; Ephesians 2.8).
- The Lord Jesus Christ tells one and all what is mankind’s need above every other need: “Ye must be born again”—but this new spiritual life is not obtained through family bloodlines, nor through the totally depraved nature of man, nor through a man’s will or effort, but it is entirely “of God” (John 1.12-13; 3.7).
More examples could be cited from the Bible.
If you are saved, then sooner or later you will come to understand that you have contributed nothing toward your own salvation—not even your faith. If you are saved it is no thanks to you, yourself! “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…For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6.17,23). “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9.15).
Whenever a man, woman or child turns to the Lord Jesus Christ—whenever they hunger and thirst for righteousness—whenever they are pained in their consciences and recognise their real need for the Saviour—whenever they seek the Lord while he may be found—whenever they give sincere attention to the Bible and to the Bible’s gospel—whenever they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins—all of this is entirely because God is visiting them in mercy and working these things within their souls.
All these are evidences of God’s saving grace. “Marks of grace,” as some of our spiritual ancestors called them.2 Such is man’s total depravity, that salvation must be totally provided by God as an unearned and undeserved gift—or there is no salvation.
Our ability to glorify and enjoy God was destroyed when the covenant of life was broken. So now, fallen human beings do not have it within themselves to raise themselves from this state of spiritual death. We would not turn to Christ, or hunger and thirst for righteousness, or see and admit our need for the Saviour, or seek him, or trust him, or repent of our sins—unless God works these within us.
Turning to the Saviour, true repentance, and craving personal righteousness are all evidences (marks) of God’s gracious working in a soul.
I should add here, to reassure anxious souls, that the conversion event is not always an emotionally intense and overwhelming experience. For example, in the case of those who are converted at a very young age, or those who were raised in a Christian family, they may not have had the opportunity to manifest their own total depravity to a great extent.
In some cases, God may not cause his people to pass through a long time of mental anguish and mourning for themselves under the weight of their guilt, before their conversion. On the other hand, for example, the experience of the Puritan John Bunyan, which he described in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,3 was clearly exceptionally overpowering.
Sometimes conviction of sin, etc. becomes more evident after conversion, as the believer matures spiritually and appreciates more concerning their old nature and their ongoing struggle against sin.
The older English word leasing means lies; untruths. ↩︎
The earliest that I have found the phrase “marks of grace” is in the collected works of George Gillespie, called The Presbyterian’s Armoury. Gillespie was one of the commissioners from the presbyterian Church of Scotland to the Westminster Assembly (London, England) in 1644. In his A Treatise of Miscellany Questions (included in Book 3 of his Armoury, published in 1846) Gillespie uses this phrase frequently, which leads me to think that it was already in common usage among his contemporaries and original readers. ↩︎