Of the ten questions in our theological survey, this one proved to be one of the most misunderstood. The statement read: “A person obtains salvation by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.” A surprising 56% of the respondents agreed with that statement.
In reality, the question is with whom does salvation begin? Does it begin with God or us? Does God respond to our movement of faith, or do we respond by faith to Him drawing us to Himself?
Quite frankly, we believe that the Bible is very clear on the subject. Salvation does not begin with us. God is the Author and the Finisher of our salvation. This foundational doctrine is founded upon several biblical truths.
- The depravity of man
What does that mean? The doctrine simply means that man was so deeply and utterly affected by the Fall that he is totally incapable of doing good; he is totally incapable of reaching out to God on his own. This belief is not new or contemporary. To the contrary, as far back as Augustine, we see the majority of Church Fathers and Church leaders embracing this truth. It also is clearly seen in Scripture.
Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Romans 3:10-12 – As it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Ephesians 2:1 – and you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
Each of these verses point to the same basic truth: man is totally corrupt, degenerate and wicked. He is dead in his sins. His depravity keeps him from taking even the smallest step towards God.
- The drawing of the Father
In John 6 Jesus gives the beautiful Bread of Life discourse. The response by His Jewish listeners was not positive. They grumbled against Him, questioning how could Jesus, the son of Joseph the Carpenter, come down from heaven? Jesus’ reply is powerful and to the point…
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise Him up on the last day.
Later in the chapter He states,
John 6:65 – That is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.
What is Jesus saying? There was a reason the Jews could not believe in Him. They were incapable of coming to God on their own. God must draw them.
Ephesians 2:8, 9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is gift of God.
Many believe that the antecedent to the gift of God in this verse is faith. In other words, faith is not something that we produce. It is something that God graciously gives to us. Our faith, our ability to believe comes directly from Him.
What a blessed truth! The salvation process begins with God, not us. He is the One that initiates. He is the One that takes the first step. Without His drawing, our depravity keeps us in our sins. Without His drawing we would never move towards Him. He draws us, and then we respond to Him by faith.
Paul reiterates that important truth in Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. It is of extreme comfort and consolation to know that our salvation begins and ends with God. He began the good work and He will complete it. Earlier in John 6 Jesus stated – All that the Father gives to me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out (John 6:37)
How should we respond to such a profound truth? We ought to cry out in thanks to God for His unmerited and incomprehensible gift! Salvation truly belongs to our God. (Revelation 7:10)