In a chronological look at the process of an individual coming to salvation in Christ, there are Scriptures that track those steps. It is evident in those Scriptures that God allows mankind a free moral judgment that He does not violate. Strange, isn’t it, how God retains His sovereignty, yet allows His creation of angels and mankind to exercise that free moral agency?
For instance, that first angel who decided he wanted to become like God, even to usurp His authority; so he rebelled and became known down through the ages as the very essence of evil, the devil, Lucifer, Satan (see Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14). Likewise, Adam and Eve were given a choice as to which way they would go—to take the way God warned them against, or choose obedience to Him. They chose to disobey (see Genesis 3).
Mankind was then saddled with that fallen nature from conception and birth to a life of separation from God, and a life of hopelessness and moral degradation in a sinful existence.
But according to Psalm 139:13-16, God tracks the life of every individual ever conceived in the womb in His book. As a matter of fact, He has seen that mankind retains the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong—the knowledge of good and evil—embedded in his conscience. This is told to us in Romans 2:13-16, that even without the direct knowledge of God’s laws, man is aware of his free choice to do good or evil. Thus, he is held accountable to God for his choices. God has a plan for mankind, and it is called “judgment,” and it will ultimately come at the “Day of the Lord,” an “Appointed Time” in the future.
The experience of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9 tells us how God uses that embedded knowledge of right and wrong in a person’s conscience to awaken him to his need for forgiveness and restoration to a spiritual existence in favor with God. Romans 3:20 says that “by the law comes the knowledge of sin.” That knowledge either chases a person away because of his fear of exposure, for who likes being declared guilty, or it will open his heart to the need for mercy and forgiveness, and then he responds to God’s ever-present call for repentance and acceptance of the gift of salvation as offered in Romans 6:23. The directive in the Word for that is found in Romans 10:13, “For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
There is a problem, however.
How does one who is born spiritually dead in trespasses and sins have any way to respond to an invitation to call on the Lord? It is an attribute of God’s character called grace, unmerited favor with God. Unmerited, not earned. He says in Romans 5:20 that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
A couple of verses give us an idea how this works. In John 6:29 Jesus said, “This is the work of God that you believe on Him whom He has sent.” And, John 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus says, “You must be born again!” in John 3, and “must” is a very strong and exclusive declaration. No one can repent of that one sin which will take them to hell unless the Spirit of God intervenes. All who are born of Adam’s heritage, and that is everyone—all humanity—are already condemned to that judgment, as John 3:18 clearly says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Therefore, as the John 3 context indicates, the Spirit of God searches out that person who realizes his sinfulness through the “goading of his conscience” with the reminders of God’s laws against sin (see Acts 9 and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus).
It is established over and over again with each account of a person’s conversion that one who is born again must come to know that he is a sinner before God, and there he must find a remedy for his sinfulness. Paul the apostle then wrote to Titus this: “…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
It is a sure thing that no one will be in heaven who does not want to be there. God’s love is balanced with His justice. That is, His love will overrule His righteous justice. (It is called “grace.”) There, He allows man to choose His salvation. This is the trail of “free moral agency” that has been evident in the Scriptures since the creation of the angels, and the highest one chose to defy the God of creation. So it is that Jesus says, in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any person hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and live with him, and he with Me.”
Apparently, many are called—the door of their heart is knocked on—but they have chosen that wide road that leads to destruction and do not open the door to the Lord. Within this framework the Biblical concepts of “election,” “predestination,” and “chosen” fit in as God, in His foreknowledge, sees all these things come together.
In a later article we will see how the manner of this relationship of the believer with God in Christ continues in the Christian’s growth into maturity in Christ.
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