Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptised, and her household, she besought us, saying, if ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. (Acts 16:11-15)
How and why do we come to Christ? Considering the history and standpoint of Theology, the answer is not an easy one. Many answers have been provided and they deal with the Biblical doctrine of grace. For example, let’s consider the Pelagian followers of Pelagius, a British monk who came to Rome as a preacher of morals in the days of Augustine. Their answer to the question is, “I come by myself” and that is that. They deny grace altogether. They are descendants of fallen man and they think that the power to come to God rests in the power of fallen man. Pelagianism—which is really legalism—came to be modified because of its obvious unscriptural character. The result, in favour of Augustine, came shortly after the conflict between Pelagius and Augustine was settled. This doctrine, known as Semi-Pelagianism, arose in the Roman Church and has permeated and filled many churches, including many of the Biblically based churches today.
The Semi-Pelagianism doctrine is held by believers in Christ; in my opinion, they are confused believers in Christ. Their answer to how and why we come to Christ is, “I wanted to come and God helped me”. Now you can see that there is bound, within Semi-Pelagianism, the doctrine of the freedom of the human will. The Semi-Pelagian denies prevalent grace, but he admits cooperative grace if man first chooses to come.
In other words, the basic decision that one makes is to freely turn to the Lord; and then the Lord supplies grace and we co-operate with it, coming to Jesus Christ in order to be saved.
Semi-Pelagianism has afflicted many Bible churches all over the world. The doctrine of the freedom of the will is characteristic of Semi-Pelagianism. Therefore, when you hear someone say, “I do believe in Jesus Christ but I believe in the freedom of the will” or “I believe in salvation by grace but I believe in the freedom of the will”, then you have the components of Semi-Pelagianism. This was thought to be heretical through the centuries, but it has come to exist in so many of our churches. Since we are not living in a day in which theology is preached and taught, it exists as a heresy within the bosom of professing Christian churches. However, these same people very strongly believe that we are saved by grace, while at the same time they just as strongly believe in free will.
They have never been able to see, or never had it pointed out to them, that the doctrine of the grace of God and the doctrine of the freedom of the will are in basic contradiction. If a man truly believes in the doctrine of the freedom of the will and that the decision of a person to turn to Christ is a decision of one’s own free will, he does not really believe in the grace of God.
It should be obvious to us. When the Gospel is preached, if a man at point A responds and a man at point B does not, the reason is because A has made a decision of his own free will. It is obvious that there is something within A that is not within B. Whatever we wish to call it, it is that which caused A to respond positively to the Gospel. A’s salvation does not depend only on what Christ did, but also on whatever it was within A that caused his own free will to respond to the Gospel. This was not in B, so B did not respond to the Gospel. Ultimately, salvation would depend upon the work of God as well as the work of man. Semi-Pelagianism says, “I wanted to come and God helped me”. The Arminian is not, strictly speaking, a Semi-Pelagian, although there are certain things that are similar. The Arminian founder was James Arminius—incidentally, a Dutch Calvinist.
Arminius died a member and a minister of the reformed church. He introduced certain teaching that came to be full-blown Arminianism after his death. The Arminians said, “God gave me sufficient grace to come because Christ died and I cooperated”. Arminians admitted the total depravity of man. They admitted that, naturally, we would never have responded—we were unable to respond. They have believed, like the Calvinists, in the inability of man. But the Arminians supposed that because of Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross, God gave all men sufficient grace, by virtue of what Christ did. Naturally, they were totally depraved; naturally they were unable to respond. Because of what Christ did on the cross, however, God gave them sufficient grace to believe. That sufficient grace, which every man possesses, becomes efficient in our salvation when we cooperate with it. This may sound more in harmony with scripture and may sound as if they had avoided the error of the Semi-Pelagian. But what enables man to cooperate with the grace of God? What is it that marks one who cooperates from the one who does not? Again, it is something that is located within man, not something located in God. Ultimately, in principle, the Arminian plan of salvation leads to the same kind of denial of the grace of God.
The facts are proven in many great Christian men, such as John Wesley. Wesley was just inconsistent. He talked about free will and grace at the same time. We must accept that he believed in grace, but the principle of legalism was there in that it enabled him, or others, to cooperate with the grace of God. If there is something within one man that enabled him to cooperate, but is not within another man, it is clear that the salvation experience depends not only on what Christ did, but on something within us.
The Lutherans have avoided Arminianism. Lutherans share with the Reformed or Calvinists an equivalent opposition to Arminianism. Lutherans have said, essentially, “God brought me to Jesus Christ and I did not resist”. In other words, the Lutheran refuses to admit that the reason unbelievers are not quickened is due to sovereign withholding of efficacious grace. It is because of resistance to grace. We must thank God for the Lutheran denial of some of the precepts that have motivated Semi-Pelagians and Arminians. They have said, “God brought me to Christ but in this addition I did not resist”. In principle, we come back to the same thing. What is in us that makes some of us resist?
Even though they have been very strong in their opposition to Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism, they have not avoided something of the same problem with the grace of God. Reformed people have affirmed the answer to the question, “How and why do we come to Christ?” The simple answer is “God brought me to Jesus Christ!” In other words, our salvation is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit from beginning to end.
We were unwilling to come and He, in His grace, has made the unwilling, willing. So, while it is true that we do exercise our will in salvation, incidentally, we do not deny the fact that we exercise will. However, what we deny is free will; meaning that out of one’s free will, decision is made. Every decision is made by the will. The will is active in our salvation, but the will of a Christian believer who responds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is motivated and energised by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit in efficacious grace Who moves the man out of unwillingness, into willingness. He receives the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour out of a decision of the will. The key point is, did our salvation begin in a self-movement towards God or did it begin in a movement from the Lord God? If it began in movement from the Lord God and the Holy Spirit moved our hearts to Christ, then our salvation is a salvation of grace. If, however, it moved from man as well as from God, we have a mixture of grace and works and thus we have violated the principle of the Gospel of Christ. When we read the Bible, the answer to this should be very plain to us.
The Bible says salvation is, “of man and of the Lord”, right? If you did come across such a verse, then you probably have the wrong Bible. The quote cannot be found in the scriptures. The Bible stresses, in more than one place, that salvation is of the Lord. When we unfold salvation passages that end in a doxology, we do not read, “Now unto to him that loved us, and unto ME who responded be glory, majesty, dominion and power both now and forever”. In the Bible, the work of salvation is traceable to the Lord God only; it is in this way that God is truly glorified in our salvation. A lot of people who are saved believe in grace, but when they talk about it they talk in a confused language. If it comes right down to push-and-shove they believe in grace like Semi-Pelagians. They talk like Arminians, but you can always tell how they feel when they talk about prayer. When they pray, they do not pray the Arminian prayer.
They do not thank God for His saving work of giving the Lord Jesus Christ to die for us. In addition, they do not thank God that they, of their own free will, responded to the Lord; that when they get to heaven they are going to rejoice in the fact that, of their own free will, they responded to the Lord God.When they get down on their knees and pray, they thank God for their salvation—that is exactly what they do. Giving glory to God is the believer’s fundamental disposition, but not having been trained in Theology, they frequently talk in a confused language. It is God in His wonderful grace that brings us to Christ, overturns our unwillingness, and makes us willing. God does this to the elect. Because we do not know who they are, we preach the Gospel to everyone. We urge men to come because it is important in the preaching of the Gospel, but the work of salvation is the work of the Lord.