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.
It is a work of God the Holy Spirit whenever a sinner is convinced1 of the extent and enormity of his or her own sinfulness—what Calvinists call total depravity.2 This is the reason why in our hearts God’s truth wins out, and why there came a day when we began to seriously turn from our sins.
Repentance is a gift from God. We could not repent at all—and we would not repent at all—if left to ourselves (see Psalms 23:3 Psalms 119:37; Jeremiah 31:18; Acts 11:18). And unless God draws us to Christ, we do not have it within us to turn to him (John 6:44,65).
Moreover, if “there are none that doeth good, no not one” as the Bible teaches (Romans 3:10-19), and if it is good to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then it follows that unregenerate people cannot believe in Christ of themselves.
We would never have believed the Gospel. Christians would never have become Christians.
Fallen human beings are so enslaved by their sins and so spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5)3 that they cannot turn to Christ of their own so-called “free will.”
Unless we are born again—we do not have a will that is free to seek God.
The Lord Jesus teaches us, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34).4
That is how things are with fallen mankind; and they prefer to have it that way. They will always choose sin and the Devil over Christ. And that is why we would not have turned to Christ until the Holy Spirit gave us a new heart, spiritually speaking.
Paul explains to Christians that they are not sin’s slaves any more:
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye [Christians] were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free [by God] from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18).5
5 To obey a form or system of doctrine involves believing in it. Paul here referred to the Christian form of doctrine that had been delivered (i.e. preached and taught) to the church at Rome.
Christian reader, do you really think that, of your own internal resources (which you know are full of sin) you could have turned to Christ if you had willed to?
Do not avoid this issue by saying, “I don’t know; I am not sure what really happened in my own heart.” Jesus says, “No man can come to me [Christ], except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). And Paul affirms that we have only God to thank if we turned to Christ.
You would not have turned to Christ unless the Father drew you.
Do you believe that?
Non-Christian reader, do you think that you can turn to Christ of your own “free will”? Then try it! No? No, you will not—because you cannot and you do not will to turn to Christ. The unspeakably sad truth is, your boasted “free will” is utterly enslaved by your God-rejecting, Christ-rejecting, sinful nature.
But if you ever do turn to Christ, for real, then you will also come to admit that it is because God the Father changed your heart and enabled you to do so.
Thank God for Irresistible Grace
Can a person, with God’s work of grace in their soul—this work of the Holy Spirit, which we have been considering—go on forever resisting the appeal of the Gospel? No.
Can they spend their entire lives rejecting and opposing the “Five Points of Calvinism” (while thinking they cannot be found in the Bible)? Yes, sadly, some do resist many of these doctrines.
But will they always persist in claiming that their faith and repentance originated with themselves? No, not when they honestly assess what is in their own heart.
They will come to thank God with humility and awe for all things pertaining to their salvation, even as we Calvinists do, with the apostle Paul.
I here repeat it: “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” (Romans 6:17).
Christian, you must thank God alone for your faith in Christ. That you have faith in Christ is no thanks to your old fallen nature.
Thank God for his irresistible grace! Praise the Lord for sending the Holy Spirit to work this grace in your soul.
With irresistible grace, God’s unconditional election in eternity past becomes manifest in the lives of his people.
God’s predestination of the elect to salvation is not based upon foreseen faith, but upon his own love for them and his own will to save them. Besides, there was no true faith in Christ for God to “foresee” except that which he would implant in the hearts of his chosen ones.
Salvation is not earned by faith in Christ. And predestination to salvation is not a reward for foreseen faith in Christ.
No matter how many times we repeat this vastly important doctrine of the Bible, those people whose eyes God is not opening will refuse to accept it. But the truth remains, that it is “by [God’s] grace are ye [true Christians] saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
This gift of faith from God is a necessity. No-one—no fallen sinner of mankind—would believe the Gospel of Christ without it.
Born of God
We must understand that God gives this inner transformation—this new heart—to exactly as many people as he saves. Regeneration is that initial part of the elect’s salvation that God works within them.
The apostle John writes concerning Christ and his people:
“He [the Word, the Son of God] was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).
Notice John’s careful explanation of what was happening in the souls of some particular people in his day: those who truly believed in Christ were the same people (“as many as”) who received him; and these people were “born…of God.” This is a one-to-one (1:1) correlation.
These things are still true among Christians now. As many as are regenerated by the Holy Spirit receive Christ.
And the logical inverse is also true: As many as have recieved Christ (i.e. who believe in him) have been born again. Indeed, they believe in Christ because they have been regenerated.
Real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is an evidence that the new birth has happened in a soul. And where this new birth is, is salvation.
This is a one-to-one-to-one (1:1:1) correlation!
Evidence of Things Not Seen
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews explains that true faith5 in God’s Word is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
We must ask the obvious question concerning all these things that Christians “hope for”: from where do they come? They come from the hand of God; they are the things promised by God in the Bible.6
6 Some of the Bible’s promises to the Christian are mentioned subsequently in Hebrews 11. There they are exemplified in these brief to-the-point biographies of several Old Testament believers. We should read each one, and examine our own heart to see whether we have the same faith as these old saints.
If this faith in the Gospel is “the substance” of those things hoped for from God, then it must also be true that this faith itself—this belief in the Gospel—has come from God.
And therefore we must conclude: to possess this faith is to possess the things hoped for, from the hand of God.
In other words, and as the writer of Hebrews further explains: this faith is itself “the evidence of things not seen.” These things hoped for but not yet seen are the promised things of God’s “exceeding great and precious promises” which the Bible reveals to every Christian (2 Peter 1:4).
And these promises are utterly sure, because God is totally faithful—“For all the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
God keeps his promises. What God promises, God bestows.
What God has promised to true believers in Christ are all really, truly and certainly theirs: this is salvation, including all that it entails—“all spiritual blessings” (Ephesians 1:3).
How do the Lord’s people know they are saved? By these truths:
Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world through being conceived and born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-23);
This he did in order to be their great High Priest before God, their Covenant Representative Head (Hebrews 2:10-17; 5:5-10; 9:11-15);
And in that capacity he lived an obedient life under the law of God (Hebrews 4:15), actually walking in all the ways of the Lord (i.e. he “did no sin” and “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22);
And then he made full reconciliation (atonement) to God for their sins by offering up himself as a sacrifice without blemish or spot (Romans 4:25; 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:17; 7:27; 1 Peter 1:19);
That Christ’s crucifixion has definitely provided full reconsiliation and complete justification7 by God is evidenced by Christ’s resurrection from the dead (John 11:25; Romans 4:24–25; 1 Peter 3:21);
The Lord’s people, therefore, “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of [God’s] grace” (Ephesians 1:7; compare Hebrews 9:12);
And here are three of those riches of God’s grace: God gives his elect the new birth; he teaches them concerning their salvation; and he enables them to believe all these things (and more).
Thus, those people who can affirm with real faith that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Saviour, say what they know to be true. They have been taught this truth by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3; compare 1 Corinthians 2:10-13).
As Christ himself said:
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matthew 11:25-27).
Indeed, Christ explained this repeatedly (e.g. Matthew 13:10,11,16,17; John 6:37,44-45,64-65). In John 6:44-45 he cites the prophet Isa’s words, “They shall be all taught of God” (see Isaiah 54:13).
And therefore we do right to pray with Paul, both for ourselves and our fellow Christians:
“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:17,18).
The Lord’s people are those who are taught the truth concerning the doctrines of the Gospel—and they come to believe them, and to repent of all that contradicts them.
They may struggle with the false doctrines of Arminianism (free-willism, potential universalism, or whatever else this false gospel may be labelled)—perhaps for many years. But they will be brought out of these errors sooner or later.
The Truth will eventually gain an absolute victory in their hearts, so that they will ascribe all the glory to God in their salvation. They too will be brought to know that the whole of their salvation is “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6).
Are you there yet, Christian? It is inevitable that you shall be, one day!
## God Gives Grace to the Humble
You who are called “Calvinists” for your believing in the Biblical doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints—“Be not highminded, but fear” (Romans 11:20).
Paul counsels us:
“Learn…not to think of men [including yourselves!] above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:6,7).
You received everything pertaining to your salvation from the hand of God—and you know it. Now you should understand that even your “knowing it” at this moment is coming from the hand of God too.
You have no reason whatsoever to boast or to be proud or to feel superior: you know that you have not contributed anything toward your salvation. You know that you were not “clever” enough to choose to become a Christian!
You know that you are utterly dependent upon God for all things—material, physical, mental and spiritual. You know that, but for the grace of God having saved you, you would have remained dead in your trespasses and sins, deserving condemnation to Hell.
Always bear in mind that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). Therefore, “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) should be your life—this should be your new nature, now.
Please remember that, Christian friend.
To be continued.
- See Chapter 13, The Work of the Holy Spirit.↩
- See Chapter 3, Man’s Enmity Against God.↩
- See also Chapter 1, Death Passed upon All Men.↩
- The Greek word translated “servant” is δοῦλος, doulos: a bond-servant, i.e. a devoted and willing slave. Doulos servants have so much appreciation and respect their master (or mistress) that they consider it a great honour and benefit to themselves to be bound to them, and so they they are not interested in escaping or being set free. This is how fallen mankind is toward sin, Jesus is saying. And this is how Christians should be toward Christ.↩
- In English we have two words from different ancestral sources (Latin and Saxon) that essentially mean the same thing: faith and belief. Both these words are used to translate one Greek word, πίστις, pistis—and similar for the various tenses (and negations, e.g. unbelief translates ἀπιστία, apistia).↩
- To be justified (or declared righteous) by God means to be pardoned by God (as a judicial act) for our sins—instead of being condemned for our sins. God the Father justifies us because Christ’s righeousness is imputed to us, and our sins are imputed to Christ, when he died for us.↩