A salvation that works
Are sinners able to come to Christ for salvation in their own power, and of their own accord?
Many have thought so. Some even believe they can ‘get saved’ any time they choose, as if the matter were entirely in their hands. But that is contrary to what the Lord Jesus Christ taught: ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him’; ‘no one can come to me, unless it has been granted to him by my Father’ (John 6:44, 65).
In his book Bondage of the will Martin Luther proclaims: ‘Here, indeed, Christ declares, not only the works and efforts of free-will are unavailing, but even the very word of the gospel is heard in vain, unless the Father himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws. The ungodly does not even come when he hears the Word, unless the Father draws him’.
Man in sin and fallen by nature, apart from Jesus Christ, is dead. You cannot give a dead man a pair of crutches and tell him to get up and walk (Ephesians 2:1-3).
So, how can a sinner be rescued from sin and eternal death? Only by the power of almighty God. It is this supernatural power that changes a person and draws him or her to Jesus Christ.
Jesus came into the world to ‘seek and save’ the lost. This is why he suffered and died on a cross. The cross was no mistake; Acts 2:23 and 4:28 tell us it was according to ‘the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God’, and Jesus suffered all that God’s ‘purpose determined before to be done’.
Consider Isaiah 53:10-12: ‘Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.
‘By the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the transgressors. Yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’.
We may conclude from these verses that God’s purposes will not and cannot fail, that the Son of God will be exalted in the justification of many people. Isaiah 53:11 does not say, ‘My righteous servant might justify many’, but he ‘shall’. The statement is not conditional, potential or probable, but objective, final and declarative.
God’s purpose was not to offer a potential salvation. Indeed, such is a monstrous suggestion — that God the Father would bruise his only begotten Son in a plan that only hoped people would be redeemed and wished people could be saved!
Can you imagine a scene in God the Father’s throne room where the resurrected Christ enters and says to him, ‘Father, look at the wounds I received on Calvary. Look at these wounds which were received for all the people who are now suffering in hell!
‘Father, all of my agonies of soul were dedicated to these people who are perishing. Father, all my prayers and the sweat of my blood in Gethsemane were for a people now for ever lost in perdition, suffering under your wrath and curse. Oh, dear Father, my soul is dissatisfied because so many for whom I died will not be saved’?
And can you further imagine the Father responding, ‘I just could not help it, Son. I left it up to the free will of men. I told you before, Son, there was no certain success for your mission, reminding you that if they choose not to believe I could do nothing to save them. I know you are disappointed, and I am disappointed along with you’?
But Jesus Christ would never be ‘satisfied’ to die for a people he could not save. Rather, in Isaiah 53, the Son is promised by the Father that ‘the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hands’. God’s elect will all certainly be justified and sanctified; all that the Father gave to the Son will come to him (read carefully John 6, 10 and 17).
Jesus Christ faced the hatred and cruelty of men and Satan knowing his mission would be successful. Our High Priest is not wringing his hands, worrying that those for whom he intercedes will somehow ultimately be lost.
Heaven is not a democracy, and divine election is not a ratification of man’s choice. What almighty God has purposed to do, he does, in spite of man’s depravity and sinfulness. ‘Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power’ (Psalm 110:3).
Why is the Lord able to save to the uttermost those who come to him? Because Christ fulfilled the purpose of the Father; and because the Father promised the Son absolute success. Truly, ‘Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21)!
Paul K. Christianson
The author is pastor of Grace Reformed Church, Clarkston, Washington, USA