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Grace Alone: The Divine Initiative

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
October 14, 2021 12:01 am

Grace Alone: The Divine Initiative

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 14, 2021 12:01 am

Why do some people respond to the gospel while others do not? Today, R.C. Sproul outlines the gracious initiative of God in salvation.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind... ... ... .... ... .. .. ... . ... . ... ... ... ... The initial conversion of man and the coming to Christ is a synergistic work. It is a cooperative venture between God's grace and man's will. If God gives us no grace, we could hear the preaching of the gospel every day and never come to faith because we could not exercise faith without God's help. And the help that God gives us to exercise grace and to come to Christ for our salvation is a necessary aid for that to happen. But that grace that assists people to come to Christ and to embrace Him in faith is resistible. Remember back when we were talking about the Roman Catholic view of salvation, how that in the sacrament of baptism grace is infused into the soul, but for a person to be justified the person had to cooperate with that grace and assent to that grace in order for that person to be justified. So God the Holy Spirit in His grace helps, woos, lumens, attends the preaching of the gospel to stoop to our weakness because we are severely weakened by the fall. But in the fall, there remains, as I've said in other contexts, a little island of righteousness unaffected by the fall where still there is this power left in the will that can be stirred by the fallen person while there is yet unconverted and unregenerated. There is still the power in the will to either accept the offer and advice or, excuse me, the assistance of grace or to reject it. The choice is ours. Again, we couldn't be saved without grace because we're so weak, but we're not so weak that God actually has to create faith in us for us to come.

He offers His assistance. If we accept it, we are saved. If we don't, we are lost. And of course, it's up to us to make the choice. That's why so much of evangelism in semi-Pelagian camps focuses attention on the human decision.

This is decisional conversion. The way you become a Christian is you make a decision to follow Christ. You think back to the Old Testament where Joshua gave his covenant renewal speech at Shechem when he says, choose you this day whom you will serve. If God is God, follow Him, and if God is not, then if Baal is God, follow Him.

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Now obviously, both sides of this controversy believe that people are called upon to make decisions and to make choices. Every day I'm confronted with a myriad opportunities of possible choices that I can choose to do this or to do that, to go one way or to go another way. And the church is always called to make that decision to follow Christ, to choose the things of God.

But here we're talking about the initial point of conversion where we are transformed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of life, where we are raised from spiritual death to spiritual life. There we want to know how the will is involved. And what the Reformers, Calvin and Luther, taught following Augustine was that in the fall the power of making choices freely was not lost, that human beings are created with certain faculties by God. We are given a mind with which to think.

We are given a heart with which to have affections. And we are given a will by which to make choices. That is, we are volitional creatures, creatures who are held responsible for our decisions that we make and the choices that we make that are of a moral sort.

So, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Edwards all believed that in the fall the will of man was not destroyed, that man is still a volitional creature, that he still makes choices. The problem is that will is imprisoned by sin, and so that the choices we make are made according to our sinful impulses, our sinful desires. You think of a person who is a drug addict or an alcoholic or something like that, and they say, I try to stop using heroin, but I can't.

The enticement, the desire is so great that when I'm confronted with that drug, I use it. It's like I cannot do otherwise, but at the same time they're using it because they choose to use it. But the reason why they choose to use it is because their desire for it is so overpowering that that leaves them in a moral situation of paralysis. And this is what Augustine and Calvin and Luther were getting at. They said, don't think like the pagans do or like the humanists do or like Pelagius did that the will is left unaffected by the fall. The problem is that the flesh in your fallen condition has no desire inherent in it to do the things of God. You don't want God in your thinking. Your mind is at enmity with God.

Your heart is far removed from God. You're still making choices, just like the devil makes choices every single day, every time he acts. And so the sinner chooses. He's still free in the sense that nobody is forcing him to do what he does. Nobody outside of himself is forcing him to sin. He sins because he chooses to sin, and he chooses freely in the sense that no one is coercing him, but freedom is a fairly magnificent word to apply to somebody who's bound to their vices, who's incarcerated by their moral condition. Now again, the language that the Bible uses to describe what we're like in the flesh is that we are dead in sin, biologically alive, spiritually dead.

Now the semi-Pelagian position says, man is sick. He's very, very sick, desperately sick, can't possibly survive without the help of God. But he's not spiritually dead. He still has this ability, this pulse that exists in him that when confronted with the assistance of God's grace can reach out and say yes rather than, but he can also say no. And some people exercise their will while they're still unconverted to say yes. Then when they say yes with faith, then they are reborn. What Augustine was saying, what Calvin was saying, what Luther was saying, what Edwards was saying, what classical Reformed theology says is the fall is so great that it leaves us in a state of moral inability to still make choices, but we will never choose the things of God because they are contrary to the flesh. And the flesh profits nothing. This was the point that Luther was making to Erasmus.

And he said to Erasmus, somewhat sarcastically, he says that nothing is not a little something. Jesus says to his audience in John 6, no man can come to me unless it is given to him by the Father. And Jesus doesn't say no man can come to him unless God helps him. He says no man can come to him unless God in fact gives it to him.

And that no man can can is what we would call a universal negative in terms of propositions. And it says that the universal situation of fallen humanity is moral impotence. Nobody can come to Christ on their own. And for me to go to fallen people and say, decide this day to believe on Christ is an exercise in futility unless God the Holy Spirit so attends the preaching of the Word that the Spirit doesn't just enable the person to come, but the Spirit actually penetrates the soul of the person, changes the disposition of that heart, and gives that person now an internal desire for Christ so that now that person chooses Christ because he wants Christ, because he now has a desire for Christ that prior to the intervention of the Holy Spirit he did not have. That's what Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus when he says, unless a man is born again, born of the Spirit, he can't even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. Semipelagianism has unregenerate people seeing the kingdom, entering the kingdom, choosing the kingdom in order to be reborn.

So that for semipelagianists always faith comes before regeneration. That's what the issue was then. That's what the issue was in the sixteenth century.

That's what it is today. David Hunt has written a recent book against Reformed theology calling it a great distortion. He uses my name as exhibit A for teaching people all the time that regeneration or rebirth comes before faith. He believes that's a terrible, terrible heresy and a terrible distortion.

And so he's writing with all of his passion to refute me and Augustine and Calvin and Luther and Edwards and I believe the Apostle Paul and Jesus Himself. The point is that we're dead in sin and trespasses. Unless the Holy Ghost quickens us while we're still in that state of death, nobody will ever come to Christ. Well, see that what's lurking in the background here is not just the doctrine of original sin but the doctrine of election. Remember what it was that bothered Cassian so much about Augustine's view was he says this really weakens the force of preaching because that means that only the people who ever believe will be the elect. And if you're not elect, you won't believe.

And if you're not elect, you won't be saved. You've got something to say? Yes.

Yes. Luther would say, that's what we're trying to tell you. That's what the Bible teaches, that our salvation is of the Lord and the election is the God's manifestation or outworking of His saving grace. And that's when people say what Paul anticipated they would say in Romans 9, that's not fair because not everybody gets the same opportunity. And Paul says, let me remind you what the Lord said to Moses, the divine prerogative for mercy and grace is, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.

That's his prerogative. God does not owe saving grace to anybody. And even if He gives it to one, He's still not obligated to give it to anybody else. He never treats anybody unjustly, but only the elect receive the grace of regeneration that brings them to faith and to Christ.

And all of the elect receive that regeneration. They receive the gift of God that changes their hearts so that now they have faith in their salvation. Now, they have faith in their souls that God gives them that gift. He says, we're saved by grace through faith and that, the antecedent of that is faith, is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. That's what Augustine was saying.

That's what Calvin was saying. It was what Luther was saying to Erasmus, the faith by which you are saved is the gift of grace. And that that grace is effectual.

That is, it brings to pass what God intended for it to do. When God brings that grace to bear on your soul, it works. When the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the Word, your heart is changed.

You may go down an aisle, and if you do, the only reason you do it truly is because the Holy Spirit has changed the disposition of your heart. There are lots of people that go down aisles who haven't been regenerated, and they're down at the next meeting going down the aisle again, because we're not saved by making decisions. We're not saved by professions of faith. We're saved by faith, and that faith is the gift of grace. And that's why Luther said the issue behind the controversy of justification in the sixteenth century was the issue of grace.

Let me just finish up this way. I talk to my Arminian friends all the time about this and say, look, let me ask you a question. Why is it that you're a believer and you're a believer? Maybe members of your own family or friends that you have are not believers when you've both heard the gospel. And they said, well, because I responded to the gospel and the other person didn't. I said, okay, you said yes to the aid of God's grace. God gave the same offer to your neighbor, and your neighbor said no.

I want to know this. Why did you say yes? And your neighbor said no. Oh, because I'm free.

I said, I understand that. But why in your freedom were you inclined to say yes to grace, and your neighbor said no? Is it because you're more righteous than that person is? Now, what would any Arminian say? Of course not.

I don't believe that I'm in there because I'm righteous. I say, why not? What your friend did was the wrong thing. It's a sinful thing to say no to an offer of divine grace for salvation. Wouldn't you agree? And they said, well, yeah. And I said, and the right thing is to say yes.

I said yes. And the final analysis, the reason why you're saved and that person isn't is because you did the right thing and they did the wrong thing. And if you really think that that's the reason you're saved, the danger you're in is in actually trusting in what you have done rather than somebody else.

And that's why Packer and Johnson were so severe when saying, how far away is that from wrong if you really believe that it's what you did that made the difference? Sola Gratia says, salvation is more energistic at the beginning. Regeneration is solely the work of God's grace in your soul. Now, after he makes that change in your heart, after he changes the disposition of your soul, you come, you believe, you work for an entire Christian life in cooperation with sanctifying grace, and the rest of the Christian life is synergistic. But the beginning is by the divine initiative, and you're being rescued from the kingdom of darkness and from the state of the flesh is by God's grace and by God's grace alone. That's the doctrine of Sola Gratia, according to the Reformation. From our perspective, our salvation seems to be by our own volition. We heard about Christ, felt convicted of our sin, and we made the decision to repent.

But what we've heard today from Dr. R.C. Sproul is how salvation works from God's perspective. He moves first on our behalf and makes us alive.

Then and only then can we repent. Thank you for joining us for Renewing Your Mind. We're airing portions of Dr. Sproul's series, God Alone.

R.C. has explained the doctrine of justification through the lens of the five solas of the Reformation. There are ten messages in this series, and we'd like for you to have this three-DVD set. Just request them with your donation of any amount when you go to or when you call us.

Our number is 800-435-4343. Dr. Sproul and his wife, Vesta, began Ligonier Ministries 50 years ago as a study center there in the hills of western Pennsylvania. From the beginning, R.C. wanted to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.

While technology has changed over the years, our mission has not. And if you'd like to know more about the Bible, theology, and the historic Christian faith, let me encourage you to download our free app for your phone or tablet. You'll find articles, daily Bible studies, videos, and an archive of this daily radio program, Renewing Your Mind.

Simply search for Ligonier in your app store. Well, tomorrow it's going to be a pleasure to hear R.C. read one of his children's books, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray. I hope you'll bring the whole family together to join us. That's Friday, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-11 10:51:33 / 2023-08-11 10:58:37 / 7

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