Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
There is only one way for you or me to be justified (made righteous) in the sight of God—and that is by turning to the one Saviour whom he has sent: the Lord Jesus Christ. But such is the condition of sinners, that not one of us will turn to Christ of his or her own free will. Repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ is not in fallen human nature (Psalms 2; Isaiah 53:1-3; John 3:19; 5:40; 14:6; 15:18; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:10,11; 8:7).
And when we honestly consider the numerous terrible examples of professing Christianity in the world—the schisms, disarray, heresies and sins in so many churches of Christ, we see that there is much that should put people off Christianity if that is what it is. When we’re told that the church is full of hypocrites and no better than the world, this is often true (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:4; 5:1; 11:19; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1; Colossians 2:20-23; James 1:26; 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 4,8,10-13,16-19; Revelation 2:4; 20:9).
If you understand these things rightly, i.e. in the light of the Scriptures just referenced, and many more that teach the same truths, then you can only conclude that God himself must have worked in a soul when any man or woman, boy or girl actually turns to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, and repents of their sins before God, and develops a real love for Christ’s Church.
Calvinists call this work of God the Holy Spirit irresistible grace1 or effectual calling.
There would be no real Christians without this work of God.
God Draws People to the Saviour
The case with the fallen, spiritually dead human beings is as the Lord Jesus Christ declared: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:44,65).
Does God fail to bring to Christ any of those whom he draws? No.
Does God draw all mankind to Christ? No.
Do only “wise” people choose to believe in Christ, as some proud church-goers may imply? No.
Or, do only “unintelligent” people believe in him, as Christ-haters allege? No.
The answer to all these questions is no because of the truth of the Lord Jesus’s doctrine here: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
That is precisely what we mean when we say that God’s sovereign grace is always irresistible, and that his inner calling of people to turn to Christ is always effectual.
God has organised the whole of your life up to your conversion—all that has happened, both “good” and “bad”. God has given you your parents, upbringing, education, friends, employment, spouse, children—or whatever you have in your life, all the minute details.
This is how it is with all mankind, because God “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;…and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:25,26).
By means of some of these influences in the lives of those whom God brings to Christ, God brought his Word to their attention and he made them to think upon it and to be persuaded by it.
At some point in time, before they knew that it must have been the Holy Spirit who brought these things into their minds, they were made aware of their sinful state before God, and were made aware that they really deserved to be condemned to Hell on the Day of Judgment—and were made to understand that this is where they too would be going, if they never turned to Christ for salvation.
Christians are those people who have been brought to the point where they really “get” this worst of all bad news! And—God causes them to give proper attention to the Gospel when they hear it preached or shared with them, or when they read it in the Bible or in a book or on a webpage. It is God who causes them to really understand the Gospel (the Good News)—and to believe it.
In other words, what God did in their souls was what God did in the soul of Lydia of Thyatira: the Lord opened her heart (Acts 16:14).
This is what happens in the souls of all the Lord’s people. God’s gracious, irresistible work in their souls grants them real faith2 in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and real repentance3 toward God.
But that is not the whole of the matter. We need more than an inner persuasion from the Holy Spirit to cause us to repent of our sins and to believe the Gospel.
Regeneration Is Required
How can a spiritually dead, totally depraved soul repent of sins and turn to Christ? It cannot do so. The spiritually dead soul is unpersuadable.
Fallen human beings always resist the Gospel. Therefore this gracious calling from God, in order to be irresistible, must be accompanied with a regeneration of the soul. God must first implant a new nature within us, with which we will then believe in his Word and repent of our sins against him.
Without the new heart we would never repent and believe—we would never see the kingdom of God. As the Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see4 the kingdom of God…Ye must be born again” (John 3:3,7).
It was not only the Lord Jesus Christ who taught the necessity of being “born again.”
The prophet Ezekiel wrote metaphorically of a spiritual heart transplant performed by God, where a “heart of stone” was removed and a “heart of flesh”5 was put in its place, enabling the Lord’s people to walk in his statutes (Ezekiel 11:19,20; 36:26,27).
Speaking of this same Divinely-wrought resurrection of the spiritually dead soul, Christ also teaches us that “as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will” (John 5:21).
In the Acts of the Apostles we are given record after record of Jews and Gentiles who:
believed the Gospel because they had been ordained by God to believe (Acts 13:48);
repented of their sins and started a new, godly life because God granted them the ability to repent (Acts 11:18);
gave heed to the preaching of the apostle Paul because the Lord had opened their heart (Acts 16:14); and
joined the Church because the Lord added them to the Church (Acts 2:47).
All this repeated emphasis should teach you that salvation is God’s work.
A New Creation
In the apostle Paul’s writings to the Churches he teaches us that the spiritual and increasingly godly life of Christians is due to a “new creation” of the Creator God within them (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10).
Paul also teaches us that:
it is God who delivers his people from the power of darkness and translates them into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:13);
it is God who irresistibly and effectually summons people to himself (Romans 8:30); and
the regeneration and renewal of those who are saved is the work of God the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
This new creation, or re-birth of the human soul involves God giving new life to the soul. As Paul explains: “And you hath he quickened,6 who were dead in trespasses and sins…Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus…For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:1,5,8).
The apostle Peter likewise teaches us that it is God alone who originates the new birth in Christians, and therefore he praises God alone for it: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again…” (1 Peter 1:3; and see also 2 Peter 1:3).
And the apostle John in his first epistle repeatedly teaches that Christians are they who are “born of God” (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).
This new birth—this quickening—this soul restoration—this heart of flesh that replaces the heart of stone—is a God-wrought transformation that sets people free from enslavement to their spiritually dead, sinful nature and which gives them the ability to believe the Word of God, the Bible.
Regenerate souls are not only now teachable and persuadable by the Holy Spirit to believe—it is now in their nature to believe God’s Word.
Only born-again souls turn to Christ in faith and repent toward God for all their sins.
People who have no part in the kingdom of God do not have this repentance and this faith. They have no personal experience of these saving graces (John 3:3).
To be continued.
- Irresistible Grace is the name given to the fourth of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism:
1. Total Depravity
2. Unconditional Election
3. Limited Atonement
4. Irresistible Grace
5. Perseverance of the Saints↩
- A good Biblical explanation of what real faith in Christ is can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to Question 86: “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”↩
- A good Biblical explanation of what real repentance is can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to Question 87: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.”↩
- This failure to “see” the kingdom of God means to have no part in it (compare “see life” in John 3:36; “see death” in John 8:51).↩
- To avoid confusion, it should be noted that Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh” does not mean the same thing as the apostle Paul’s usage of the word “flesh” but the opposite. Ezekiel means the regenerate heart, i.e. the “new man” in Paul’s terminology (see Romans 8:3-9; Ephesians 2:3). But Paul’s “flesh” is the “old man”, or equivalent to Ezekiel’s “heart of stone”.↩
- The words “hath he quickened” in v.1 have been added by the translators of the AV (KJV). They are supplied from v.5 in order to further identify those who are referred to as “you, who were dead in trespasses and sins”.↩