Do You Understand God’s Part and Man’s Part in Salvation?

Posted on March 28, 2017 in Theology by

graceI recently read an incredibly well written article detailing God’s part and man’s part in salvation. It helps to clear up many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings about the part each plays in God’s saving work.

Many misconceptions about salvation exist today. Misconceptions such as “everyone can be saved” pave the way for massive evangelistic efforts that leave churches wondering, “what went wrong?” Other misconceptions, such as “man has no part in salvation” make it seem as though anyone that is saved is saved against their will. These misconceptions and others are creating confusion as to the nature of salvation and the part that God and man play in the process.

An article by John Reisinger at Monergism does an excellent job of explaining the process of salvation, including God’s part and man’s part in the process. I want to share it with you in the hopes of clearing up misconceptions and laying out the biblical process for salvation. The article starts by stating:

“God and man must both do something before a man can be saved.  Hyper-Calvinism denies the necessity of human action, and Arminianism denies the true nature of the Divine action.  The Bible clearly sets forth both the divine and human as essential in God’s plan of salvation.  This is not to say, as Arminianism does, God’s part is to freely provide salvation for all men, and man’s part is to become willing to accept it.  This is not what we said above, nor is it what the Bible teaches.”

This is an excellent statement on the reality that both God and man must be active participants in salvation. However, that seems to be where the confusion begins and grows for many. The nature of the participation between God and man in salvation has created distinct theological positions for many. The article then lays out 6 points to help clarify the process of salvation as well as God’s part and man’s part. These 6 points are:

Point 1: A man must repent and believe in order to be saved.  

Point 2: Every one who repents and believes the gospel will be saved.  

Point 3: Repentance and faith are not vicarious but are the free acts of men.  Men, with their own mind, heart, and will must renounce sin and receive Christ.  God doesn’t repent and believe for us~we repent and believe.  

Point 4: The same Bible that states man must repent and believe in order to be saved, also emphatically states that man, because of his sinful nature, is totally unable to repent and believe.  All of man’s three faculties of mind, heart, and will, which must be receptive to gospel truth, have neither the ability to receive such truth nor even the desire to have such ability.  In fact the exact opposite is true.  Man’s total being is not only unable to either come, or want to come, to Christ, but every part of his nature is actively opposed to Christ and truth.  Rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not a passive “non-action,” but a deliberate volitional choice.  

Point 5: The new birth, or regeneration, is God giving us the spiritual life that enables us to do what we must do (repent and believe), but CANNOT DO because of our bondage to sin.

Point 6: The Scriptures clearly show that faith and repentance are the evidences and not the cause of regeneration.  

These 6 points create a biblical understanding of sin and salvation that is both easy to understand for any person, but also theologically robust. I want to take a moment to dive a little deeper into each of these points and expound on them a bit more.

In Point 1 we have the basis of the Gospel message: any person that is to be saved must repent and believe the Gospel message that Jesus Christ has died for his sins and created a way for us to be reconciled to God. No one is saved apart from repenting and believing the Gospel. The bible continually makes it clear that any person that is to be saved must “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 16:31) in order to be saved.

Point 2 reminds us that every person that in fact repents and believes on Jesus Christ will be saved. We can be assured of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Any person that obeys the Gospel command to repent and place his faith in Jesus Christ will, without any doubt, be saved. John wrote for this very reason, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

Point 3 is important. Here we confess that no one can secure salvation for another person. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory and prayers for the dead are unbiblical. The only way people can be saved is by intentional actions of their own. This is one reason I do not like the Protestant “sinner’s prayer” method. By telling people to “repeat this prayer after me” we remove any conscious participation on the part of a person. A person needs only to repeat some words that he may or may not understand and is then told he is saved. But nowhere in the Bible do we see this method. And we wonder why “Christians” don’t know the Gospel they claim.

Point 4 is also critical to our understanding of the Gospel. The Bible makes it very clear that “no one seeks after God,” (Rom. 3:10-12; Psa. 14:1-3) and that we are born as “enemies of God,” (Rom. 5:10), and that we are all “dead in trespasses and sins,” (Eph. 2:1-10). We are further told that we all “loved the darkness,” and “hate the light.” (John 3:17-21) In these verses we can clearly see that our state, simply being born into this world, is one in which we have no ability to come to God. There is nothing in us that desires God or seeks to repent of our sins. Indeed, we have no ability to repent because we are “dead in trespasses and sins” and dead people have no ability to do anything because they are dead. The idea that we came to God, seeking Him, desiring repentance and salvation is a false Gospel. (See also 1 Cor. 2:14)

Point 5 further reminds us that we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” and have no ability to bring about our own salvation. The article makes several excellent points here that I can’t state any better. Rather than attempt to do so, I will repost those articulate statements:

“We indeed need Christ to die and pay the penalty of our sin, but we just as desperately need the Holy Spirit to give us a new nature in regeneration.  The Son of God frees us legally from the penalty of sin, but only the Holy Spirit can free us from the power and death of our depravity in sin.  We need forgiveness in order to be saved, and Christ provides complete forgiveness and righteousness for us in His death.  However, we also need spiritual life and ability, and the Holy Spirit provides it for us in regeneration.  It is the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration that enables us to savingly receive the atoning work of Christ in true faith… How dreadful, and ridiculous, to give Christ the glory for His work on the cross, and then give sinners the credit for the Father’s work in eternity (election) and the Spirit’s work in our hearts (regeneration).  It does great dishonor to the Sovereign Spirit to say, “The Holy Spirit will perform His miraculous work of quickening you unto life as soon as you give Him your permission.”  That’s like standing in a graveyard saying to the dead people, “I will give you life and raise you up from the grave if you will only take the first step of faith and ask me to do it.”  What a denial of the sinner’s total spiritual inability…The root error of the Arminian’s gospel of freewill is its failure to see that man’s part, repentance and faith, are the fruits and effects of God’s work and not the essential ingredient’s supplied by the sinner as “man’s part of the deal.”  Every man who turns to Christ does so willingly, but that willingness is a direct result of the Father’s election and the Holy Spirit’s effectual calling.  To say, “If you will believe, God will answer your faith with the New Birth,” is to misunderstand man’s true need and misrepresent God’s essential work.”

We read in John 6:44-45 that only “those drawn by the Father will come,” and those that have “heard and learned from the Father come to [Jesus].” This is clearly telling us that it is only by the efficacious drawing of the Father that any person can receive the faith needed to believe the Gospel message.

We further read in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that the “word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Here we learn that for every person not born again, the Gospel message is foolish to his natural mind, heart, and will. As an enemy of God, dead in trespasses and sins, not wanting to seek the light or seek God because he loves the darkness, the cross of Christ, the Gospel message is foolish. Only by the sovereign drawing of the Father can any person receive the faith needed to be saved.

Point 6 reiterates that dead men have no ability to make a choice. A dead man cannot will himself to do anything because he is dead. This is why those that are “dead in trespasses and sins” can’t do anything to change their position. And when the Father draws him, and the Holy Spirit regenerates him, he receives the faith needed to turn to Christ and repent of his sins and be saved. Without the drawing of the Father (through sovereign election) or the work of the Holy Spirit (regeneration), no man can hope to be saved. But for those that are saved, faith and repentance are the evidence of their salvation.

So what is the work of God and man in salvation? It can be summarized in this way:

God the Father draws man to Himself (sovereign election), not because of anything in man but because of His own will and for His own pleasure. The Holy Spirit quickens the dead, gives them the ability, through His regenerating work, to repent. All this is the free gift of God, by grace and through faith, as a result of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Once the dead man has been drawn by the Father, and regenerated by the Spirit, he is given the faith needed to repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and be saved. The man must now willfully choose to repent and believe in obedience to the Gospel message. This now begins his life as a child of God in which the Holy Spirit is the Helper in the sanctification process that will grow the believer in faith and produce good works in a life of obedience to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That is as concisely and accurately as I can state the Gospel and the theology of salvation as it relates to God’s part and man’s part. I hope it is helpful to you as you learn and serves you well as you increase your own understanding of this “Amazing Grace” God has blessed us with for His glory.

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