A Primer on Salvation

Does man have free choice as it pertains to salvation?

I believe a careful study of Scripture will reveal that man has the ability to make choices, yet we are not totally free in our moral agency. This is due to the fact that the natural man, before he is saved, is spiritually dead and is thus limited in the degrees of freedom he has. He is a slave to his nature which is wholly sinful. He cannot make certain choices, such as choosing Christ, in this fallen sinful state. Due to total depravity man’s will is only free to choose evil.

Imagine a prisoner locked in a cell. Within the cell (his moral nature) he can make real choices that are free, he can pace the floor, read a book, or whistle a tune. However he cannot walk outisde the cell. His nature (the cell) traps him inside and prevents him from making certain choices. So too are we dead in our sinful nature and can act only according to that nature, in other words, we can only choose the actions which our nature permits.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

Ephesians 2:1

even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Ephesians 2:5

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

Colossians 2:13

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,

Romans 8:6

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Romans 8:10

It’s like expecting a dead man on the operating theatre to jump up and dance an Irish jig. It’s not going to happen unless the heart is shocked back to life. Without God’s sovereign grace selecting us (predestined at the foundation of the world) and quickening spiritual life into our dead soul thus regeneration us, we would remain spiritually lost.

The natural man has a heart of stone. When we are saved we’re given a heart of flesh.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Salvation is a monergistic process, it occurs solely through the work of God. Some such as Orthodox, Catholics, and Arminian Protestants assert that salvation is a synergistic process of man and God working together. This is utter heresy and is condemned by Scripture. This semi-Pelagian belief that man has a share in his salvation contradicts Scripture which is clear that man is spiritually dead in his trespasses and unable to choose God.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

John 6:37

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:44

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

God’s sovereign grace which regenerates a man is irresistible. Imagine a person who nearly drowned and is on the beach hanging between life and death. The lifeguard alone can save their life, and when he begins working on the person this is irresistible. So too does the Holy Spirit move when quickening a man.

This doesn’t mean a person is saved kicking and screaming against their will. God conditions them and works a miracle giving them a new heart which is receptive to faith which is a gift. Regeneration always precedes faith.

“To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.” – John Owen

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Ephesians 1:4-5

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Romans 9:16

These passages clearly indicate that God chose certain people, the Elect, for salvation prior even to the creation of the universe! This process was wholly independent of their merits, abilities, or any other intrinsic metric. These verses suggest salvation is the result of a “single force”: a mono-ergon. That single force is God, the one and only person responsible for salvation!

Here are some excellent essays on monergistic regeneration.

I found this excellent sermon which portrays vividly monergism at work in the example of the maid raised to life from death by Jesus:

 A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, March 6, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles “And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat” (Luke 8:54-55).

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this miracle. When Jesus returned from Gadara on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, great throngs of people gathered around Him. There were two people in the crowd that were in desperate need. One was a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years. The other was a man named Jairus, whose twelve year old daughter was dying in bed back home. Jesus began to talk with this man about going to his house to heal his daughter. In the meantime, the woman with an issue of blood reached out through the crowd and touched Him. She was healed immediately. Jesus stopped talking with this man Jairus about his daughter, and turned around to have a conversation with the woman who had been healed. While he was speaking to the woman, someone came from Jairus’ house and whispered to him that his daughter had already died. The man told Jairus,

“Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master” (Luke 8:49).

But Jairus was insistent. Matthew tells us that he said to Jesus,

“My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live” (Matthew 9:18).

Jesus went with Jairus to his house. A crowd of people were outside weeping and wailing over her death. Jesus said,

“Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth” (Luke 8:52).

They stopped weeping and actually laughed at Him. They knew she was dead. She had already been dead for some time before He got there.

Jesus put them all out of the house. But Mark adds a detail. Peter and James and John, and the dead girl’s parents remained in the room.

“But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the [girl], and them that were with him, and entered in where the [girl] was lying” (Mark 5:40).

Jesus had put all those who were weeping and wailing out of the house, and went in with Peter, James, John, and the girl’s parents, to the room where her dead body was lying.

“And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid [girl], arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway [right away]: and he commanded to give her meat. And her parents were astonished; but he charged them that they should tell no man what was done” (Luke 8:54-56).

I think there are certain very valuable lessons we can learn from this miracle that will not only help you to be converted, if you are lost, but will also help those who are doing evangelism, bringing in lost people to hear the gospel preached, as many of you are laboring to do.

I. First, consider the purpose of this miracle.

It was obviously a miracle, and a very great one. The girl was certainly dead by the time Jesus got there. Her body was probably already washed and prepared in a preliminary way for burial, at least to some extent. The Jews didn’t wait around like we do today. It was their custom to bury a dead body the same day it died. This is still done in many parts of the world, such as Central America, where my wife was born. That’s still the custom in Guatemala, El Salvador, and other parts of Central America. You don’t wait around because they often don’t have proper refrigeration to keep a dead body preserved for several days. This is also true in remote parts of China and Southeast Asia, and other parts of the Third World, like Africa. The fact that the mourners had already come to the house and were wailing and weeping outside, shows that they had time to get there, and the girl had been dead for some time before Jesus arrived on the scene.

What was the purpose of Jesus Christ in raising her from the dead? Many people died while Jesus was doing His ministry. Twice we are told that Jesus healed all that came to Him (Matthew 12:15; Matthew 14:14). We may get the impression that He healed every sick person in Israel. But I do not think that was true. I think these healing times were specimen cases – to show that He could heal because He was the Messiah, the Saviour.

This, I believe, is also true when He raised the dead. He did not raise everyone who died during His three-year earthly ministry. He only raised three people from physical death – the widow of Nain’s son; this girl, Jairus’ daughter; and Lazarus, his friend. Those are the only three people Jesus raised from the dead during the three years of His ministry on earth. Others died during this time, undoubtedly a great many of them. But Jesus only raised those three from death.

He raised these three people for a reason, a very definite reason. Jesus didn’t just do things. He always had a reason for doing them. What, then, was His reason for resurrecting these three young people from death? I think the answer lies in the Apostle Paul’s statement in I Timothy 1:15.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
    (I Timothy 1:15).

I Timothy 1:15 tells us that the main reason Jesus came into the world was “to save sinners.” Each healing recorded in the four gospels is given as an illustration of that great truth. Jesus’ main reason for performing these three miraculous resurrections showed, or illustrated (or we might say typified) a certain important aspect of His ministry of saving sinners (I Timothy 1:15).

I say this for two reasons. First, because these three resurrection miracles Jesus performed were such perfect pictures of the new birth He gives to sinners, who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). Also, because these three raisings from the dead picture so perfectly the monergistic nature of salvation. The word “monergism” means “by one power” – that of God. In contrast to that, “synergism” refers to the combining of powers – that of God and man. These three resurrections Jesus performed show that regeneration is accomplished by one power (God’s), not by the combined power of God and man, cooperating with God.

II. Second, the resurrection of this girl is a perfect picture of regeneration;
her raising from the dead typified all true new birth experiences.

These three physical resurrections were completely monergistic, to use the technical theological term, which I think is a good one. Monergism means that a person is born again and converted completely by the grace and power of Christ, without human help. Synergism is the belief that man provides some help by cooperating with Christ in the salvation of his soul. Synergism is what many evangelicals believe today, as a result of faulty theology and the influence of many modern revivalists since Finney. Pure Pelagianism is the third view. It holds that man is saved solely by an act of his own will. Pure Pelagianism is what Charles G. Finney taught, illustrated by the title of one of his most famous sermons, “Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts.” He preached that all up and down America – that people could regenerate themselves by a “change of choice.”

Now it is clear from the story of Jairus’ daughter that Finney was not right. Since her resurrection by Jesus is a prototype of the new birth and conversion, it is very clear that Finney was wrong. The girl did not resurrect herself. She was dead. Stone dead. This account of her resurrection also shows, I believe, that synergism (sometimes called “semi-Pelagianism”) is also wrong. The dead girl couldn’t contribute one thing to her resurrection from death. The entire work was monergistic. God did the whole work of raising her to life through His Son, Jesus Christ. The girl contributed nothing at all.

Now if that isn’t the correct understanding of this miracle, I don’t know what is. The Bible says so quite strongly,

“And you hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

The whole quickening, making alive, of a dead soul is monergistic. God does the whole thing, from start to finish, without any help or cooperation from man. The Apostle John makes that quite clear when he says, that those who believe savingly,

“Were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

The whole act of salvation, not part of it, is done by God in Christ. That’s monergism. And that is the teaching of this miracle, as well as the rest of the Bible. That was the teaching of John Bunyan, our great Baptist forefather, as well as the teaching of the great evangelists George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Asahel Nettleton, who so strongly disagreed with Finney.

Monergism was the view of almost all the great evangelistic preachers, like Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards, C. H. Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was the teaching of the earlier Reformers as well – Martin Luther and John Calvin. It was the teaching of the great pioneer missionaries like William Carey, who founded modern missions, and David Livingstone, who opened Africa for Christ, as well as the men who went as missionaries to open China in the nineteenth century, and John Nevius, whose influence opened Korea to the gospel.

None of these great historical figures in evangelism and missions believed that man could make a new heart for himself, as Finney did, or that man could cooperate and help God convert him in any way, as the later evangelists did. No, these early men were all monergists. They all believed that salvation was a work of God in Christ – without the aid of man in any way – pure, old-fashioned monergism.

Isn’t that what you see in this story of Jairus’ daughter? Christ came in to the room,

“And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat”
    (Luke 8:54-55).

III. Third, the resurrection of this girl did not depend on any “decision”
on her part, nor did it depend on the prayers of her friends,
or on their help.

It was solely, monergistically, dependent on the power and grace of Christ alone! Today we live in a time of decisionism. It has been so ingrained in us that we think we have to help people, or at least they have to help themselves be converted. Nearly every book I read on revival tells us that revival depends on God’s people preparing themselves for it, by fasting and prayer, and other efforts. But that is synergism, man doing his part, and God doing His part as a result. I don’t see that in the New Testament. What I see there is monergistic revival, revival totally dependent on the work of God with man playing no part in it. In fact, since we have switched to man preparing himself to bring about revival – there has been no revival of any consequence. Why? The great revival in the Book of Jonah gives the answer:

“Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).

And this is not only true of revival, where many people are converted. It is also true of each individual conversion. I am not telling you you shouldn’t pray for revivals or for individual conversions. Of course you should. The Bible repeatedly tells us to pray for these things. But our prayers do not make revivals or cause individuals to get saved. They don’t “make it happen!” God makes it happen in Christ! Salvation of an individual, or of many people in revival, is totally in the hands of God.

We can yell and scream and pray like the people did who came to Jairus’ house and it will do no good at all. Haven’t we been doing things like that for years, fasting, praying, preparing – and yet has revival or many individual conversions come of it? They have not. We need to go back to the old way of our forefathers and depend on God in Christ alone for salvation!

IV. Fourth, what this means to you if you are still unconverted.

It means that you must stop looking to yourself. You will find nothing in yourself to help you come to Christ. The Bible says that your

“heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”
    (Jeremiah 17:9).

Your heart is so full of tricks and deceptions that it will fool you every time. Your heart is not only deceitful, it is also innately and habitually in rebellion against God. The Apostle Paul said,

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”
    (Romans 8:7).

Your heart can’t obey God. It has the seeds of Adam’s sin controlling it. It has your actual sins polluting it even further. You are just like the Ephesians (who were exactly like all human beings),

“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18).

With your heart in this depraved condition, there is really nothing you can do to help God save you.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said,

It is perfectly clear in the pages of the New Testament that no man can be saved until, at some time or other, he has felt desperate about himself…(Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, Banner of Truth Trust, 1983 reprint, page 207).

Why would you feel the need for Jesus and His Blood to cleanse you if you have not had such an experience? Why would you need Jesus at all if you were not a ruined, dead sinner?

“And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat”
    (Luke 8:54-55).

A ruler once came to Jesus by night To ask Him the way of salvation and light;
The Master made answer in words true and plain, “Ye must be born again.”
“Ye must be born again, Ye must be born again,
I verily, verily, say unto you, Ye must be born again.”
    (“Ye Must Be Born Again” by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).

May God grant you the grace and faith to come to Jesus Christ.  Amen.


2 responses to “A Primer on Salvation”

  1. Salvation is a gift of God. The only thing we do, is accept it, and even that acceptance is a Gift of Love from God!!! But, like any Gift, it can be refused. We have a choice.


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