What We Want to Believe (The Doctrine of Salvation)

What We Want to Believe (The Doctrine of Salvation)

Feb 03, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership


Korn rock star quits heavy metal band after ‘God saved his life’

A founding member of the heavy metal rock band Korn has given up heavy metal music for Jesus. Brian “Head” Welch, guitarist of the Bakersfield-based group for 13 years, quit the platinum-selling group last month, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

During three Sunday services at Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield on Feb. 27, Welch, 34, said life was unsatisfying as a member of the band. “I was begging to die,” Welch told the crowd. “He [God] saved my life. I’m here. I’m breathing.”

Welch said money and fame offered no satisfaction, noting that he battled a methamphetamine addiction for years. Then a friend dragged him to Valley Bible a couple months ago. “Happiness comes from one place, and that’s the Lord,” Welch said.

Here’s an example of God’s dramatic saving work in a man few would have expected to ever turn to Jesus.  If you have grown up in the church you may occasionally find yourself longing for a more dramatic testimony.

One of the goals of today’s message is to help us realize that if you are a Christian, your testimony is supernatural, miraculous and spiritually speaking was absolutely as dramatic as any person you will ever meet.

Today we come to an enormous topic.  We come to the doctrine of salvation.  And the reason that this is such a huge doctrine is because this doctrine extends into eternity past, covers all of known history and extends forward into eternity future.   So I first want to give you a scope of what the doctrine includes and then tell you how we will narrow it for the purpose of our time this morning.  Let me just remind you to write questions down if you have them. 

One of the most helpful ways to think about the doctrine of salvation is to think about how we experience it chronologically.  While I highly doubt God thinks of salvation in these terms, it is still very helpful because it gives us an experiential point of reference.

So here is the broad picture of salvation from election to glorification.  We’ll just call it the order of salvation. If you like to read books written by smart dead people they usually call this the ordo salutis which is Latin for “order of salvation.”  I’m not sure what linguistic enhancement comes from using Latin, but that’s what it means if you ever run across it.

“The Order of Salvation”

  1. Election (Before any human being was created, God sovereignty predestined and chose some to be saved.)
  2. The Gospel Call (Election is a pre-creation decree. Now, fast forward to human existence.  At some point in real experience, the sound waves of the gospel bounced into the ear of this chosen individual or the photons of light bouncing of the page of God’s Word were processed by his brain in what is called the gospel call.  God is calling that person to respond to truth.  That person will not respond unless regeneration happens.)
  3. Regeneration (A word that describes God’s role: God’s Spirit transforms the hardened heart, breathes spiritual life into the soul so that the gospel is received and it germinates in the heart.  This always produces a response in man.  We call man’s response conversion.)
  4. Conversion (This is a word that describes man’s role: Because of what God has done in the heart, the sinner is then ABLE to respond to the gospel in faith and repentance.  This is his point of conversion)
  5. Justification (As a result of faith and repentance the blood of Jesus is applied to his account so that now he is now legally pronounced innocent in God’s court of law. We call that innocent pronouncement, justification.)
  6. Adoption (As a freshly pronounced innocent holy saint, he is granted entrance into God’s family. We call that adoption.)
  7. Sanctification (God’s Spirit begins transforming his heart so that the gap between the sinful flesh and conformity to Christ closes. That progressive transformation into Christ’s likeness is called sanctification.)
  8. Perseverance (God’s Spirit also ensures that this person who was saved is also sanctified and glorified. That rigid, divine grip that God has on our souls is called perseverance.  The same person who is predestined, is also saved, and the same person who is saved is also justified and the same person who is justified is also sanctified and glorified.  God will ensure that this chain is not broken.)
  9. Death (Before a believer’s final glorification this chosen one must die and that is where that painful but necessary rending of flesh and spirit takes place. In death God separates the fallen flesh from the redeemed spirit.)
  10. Glorification (And then that spirit is given a new body that is no longer polluted by the flesh. That new body lives in the presence of our God and Father the Lord Jesus Christ for eternity.)

All of that is contained in Salvation.  So you can see that it is a very large topic.  In fact, most of the Bible hits on it in one form or another.  But today we are just going to touch on numbers 1 and 2 and 3.  And the reason for this choice has to do with what I feel is an understandable misplaced emphasis in salvation. When we talk about salvation, we are way too focused on man’s role in the equation.  God does not get enough credit!

And like I said, this is an understandable problem.  From our perspective it feels like a decision we made (and it is in one sense).  When we talk about salvation, we use language like “I accepted Christ” or “I heard the message of the gospel and repented” and those are completely biblical and completely accurate descriptions of our experience of salvation.  But they are far from complete. 

Let me give you an example.  When someone says to you, “I learned physics.”  You intuitively understand that when he say those words he does not mean that he

  • Independently discover the law of thermodynamics?
  • Independently discover the complex relationship of subatomic particles?
  • independently came up with E=MC^2

No there are bodies of knowledge that have influenced and shaped and formed his understanding of physics.  That is well understood in the phrase, “I learned physics.”

But how about the phrase, “I accepted Christ?”  How well understood is that statement?  I don’t think we have nearly the appreciation we should for the theology behind that statement.  So the goal of today’s message will be to increase our awe and widen our soul’s capacity to thank God for our salvation.   Right now, we all have these small containers that can’t hold very much thankfulness.  And we want theology to increase our container size.  You know that feeling you get when you realize that I have not been as thankful as I should have been for my salvation… that’s the feeling I believe God wants to increase in our hearts today.    

The way the Bible increases our appreciation for our salvation is by removing us from the picture.  Let’s say that you just purchased a home for $150,000.  Let’s say further that your parents chipped in 20 bucks toward that home.  How thankful would you be?  Marginally.  What about if they chipped in 75000, 125000, 165,000?   Your degree of thankfulness is in proportion to how much you are removed from the picture.  And that is exactly what the Bible does when it comes to our salvation.  It removes us and when we are removed it makes room for worship.

So let’s look at the theology behind the phrase, “I accepted Christ.”

What is our pre-Christ condition?

To extend the analogy of the house, house much money did we have to put down?  Last week we looked at the doctrine of man.  One of the points we made was that sin has had a nasty effect on the image of God in us.  In theology the doctrine that describes that nasty effect is often times called the doctrine of total depravity.  It’s worth expanding a bit more than we did last week.  Now I’m not sure that the term “total depravity” is the best word to describe it, because many people rightly balk at that and say that, “Hey, I’m not totally depraved.  I am not as bad as I could be?  I can think of a lot of things that I could do that would make me more depraved than I am right now.”  That is true.  Even Hitler didn’t kill his own mother.  He could have been worse. 

So it is not that we are as bad as we could be, but rather, we are totally effect.  All of our parts have been effected by sin.  It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Every part of our being is affected by sin—our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies. 

To illustrate this, Try to think of a good deed that you have done that wasn’t somehow tainted by what Jonathan Edwards calls enlightened self-interest.    In other words, try to think of a deed you did with a completely pure motive.  R.C. Sproul uses the example of a stage performer. 

“The whole world applauds recording artists when they band together to produce a special album with the proceeds to be used to relieve famine in Ethiopia….  I am not so cynical as to thing that the gesture for Ethiopia by singers was done purely for personal applause or as a publicity stunt.  Surely there were strong motives for compassion and care for starving people.  On the other hand, I am not so naïve as to think that motives were totally without self-interest.  The compassion may far outweigh the self-interest, but no matter how miniscule, there is at least a grain of self-interest mixed in.  There always is, in all of us.  If we deny this I suspect that our very denials are motivated in part by self-interest.”

So this doctrine is called total depravity because our total being has been effect by sin.  But it is called total depravity for another reason and that is because we are totally unable to seek the Lord.  And so some people prefer the use the term total inability.  And I definitely prefer that terminology.  Sin has so effected our being that no human left to his own devices will ever seek after God.

That is precisely the point Paul is trying to make in Romans 3

Romans 3:10-18  as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one….There is no fear of God before their eyes."

So Romans 3 paints a pretty bleak landscape.  Lot of dark grey and black in that painting.  Not much hope.  How am I every going to get to God.  If we turn over to John 6, we are given some hope.  There is at least one way for sinners to get to God.

John 6:65  And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

So John tells us the same thing, that no one can come to Jesus [that affirms what Paul said in Romans 3] but John throws in the word unless…  so there is an exception, no one can come to Jesus, unless it is granted him by the Father.

But we can be more precise than this.  Earlier in this same chapter in verse 44 Jesus makes the statement, John 6:44  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.

So the drawing of the Father is what it is necessary for salvation.  What is meant by the word draw?  In English that word is not very precise.  Do we mean draw as in entice or woo or do we mean draw as in compel.  Compel is much stronger and has a much different implication than woo. 

A lot of people will say that to draw here is to woo.  Jesus woos you into accepting him.  But I think that is a fair unfair way of looking at the text.  Here’s why.

Let me give you a flavor of how this word is used elsewhere.  And as it turns out, every use of this word in the NT is exactly the same.    

James 2:6  But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?

Acts 16:19  19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.

The point is that the Greek word for draw here is much more forceful that woo.  It is to compel.  Unless Jesus does drags us, we have no hope.

So we have defined our pre-Christ condition.  We are unable to seek God.  In order for us to seek God, the Holy Spirit has to do something.  Would you agree with that logic?  If the 8 ball is resting in the center of the pool table, unable to move on its own power, then you can safely conclude, that if the 8 ball moves, something made it move. 

What is our conversion condition?

And that is exactly what happened to us in salvation.  There is an external force that God uses and it begins with the gospel call.  We understand the word call.  We use it all the time in English.  You call a person on the telephone, you call your kids to dinner, you call a meeting to order.  But the Scriptural use of the word call is much stronger sense than that.  When the Bible uses the word call, it is not as if God is calling into the open air hoping someone will respond.  It is a summons.  Or even better to use the highest form of human call, God issues you a subpoenas.   But even a subpoena to court can be ignored.

There is a summons from God that cannot be ignored.  It is sometimes referred to as the effectual call.  It is a subpoena to appear in God’s court not to be indicted but to be forgiven.  To be declared righteous and just.   Free from all judgment forever.  It is the call to forgiveness. 

That call comes to us in the form of his Word.  So you may be reading the Bible or listening to a sermon, and you read and understand and appropriate the fact that God is calling you to repentance.  But there is something that happens simultaneously along with this call.  A true call of God, the effectual call of God is accompanied by regeneration.  We cannot respond to the call of God unless we have experienced spiritual birth.  

1 Peter 1:3-5  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

So, I want to explain very carefully, as simply and succinctly as I know how, what exactly is contained in that short phrase, “God caused us to be born again.”  That is a description of regeneration.  We are going to try and unpack that phrase.

And specifically what I want to address is the relationship between God causing us to be born again and our free will.  How do these two things go together?  Again to use the housing analogy, how much are we putting down on the house?  These two truths seem impossible to harmonize.  I caused the tennis ball to be hit over the net and yet the tennis ball can do whatever it wants.  That sentence doesn’t make any sense. How could God cause me to do something and yet still give me free will?

C.S. Lewis talks about this paradox.  He says, “If you choose to say ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God:  meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two words, ‘God can’.  Nonsense remains nonsense, eve when we talk it about God.”

So, let’s begin by defining free will.   I am going to give two definitions.  The first definition, I think is wrong, but it is very popular.  And the reason I give it is because the contrast between the definitions sheds clarity on the issue.  So here’s the first definition I think the Bible disagrees with.  Free will is the ability to make choices without any prior inclination, prejudice or disposition.   So the main tenant of this definition is, for the will to be free it must act from a position of neutrality without bias.

This initially sounds pretty attractive.  None of us want to be coerced into making decisions.  But, there are two major problems with this definition.  The first problem revolves around motives.  This definition implies that we don’t make choices based on a reason.  If we are entirely neutral, then nothing influences are decisions.  And if a choice just tumbles out of our will without anything motivating it, it would seem that we should not be held responsible for our choices or at least it seems the Bible would place a different emphasis on motives.  But that is clearly not the case as we look in Scripture.  When God evaluates our choices, he is concerned about our motives.  He is concerned about what is influencing our decisions.  That’s why one person can make a choice to give a million dollars to a Christian organization and God will smile will stretch across the heavens and another person can make the exact same choice, but with different motives and God will spit him out of his mouth.  Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

When David chose to stay home from battle and commit adultery with Bathsheba and then kill Uriah, what did God hold him responsible for?  For the motives of his heart which caused him to make the choice.

The second problem with this definition of free will has to do with the fact that upon serious contemplation, it really doesn’t make any sense.  The most famous illustration of this fact is the neutral willed mule.  A farmer places a basket of oats to the mules right and a basket of wheat to the mules left.  If the mule has absolutely no desire to eat oats or wheat, the mule will stand their and starve to death.  Similarly, if the mule has a perfectly equal desire to eat both oats and wheat he will also starve to death also, because he is unable to decide which one to go toward first.  But if he does in fact make a decision, that means that the greater desire has tilted his will and his will moves him into action.  So for these reasons, I don’t think this definition of free will works. You can’t say that our will is the ability to make choices without any prior inclination or disposition.  It seems that your inclinations and dispositions is what makes you decide.

I think a better definition of free will put very simply is the “ability to choose what we want.”  Jonathan Edwards says, “The will always chooses according to the strongest inclination at the moment.”  And that inclination or motivation is something that is inside the mind.  This is why the neutral form of free will doesn’t work.  It’s like saying there is an effect without a cause. 

Let’s give a concrete example of this from my personal life.  I’m trying to get in shape for a triathlon this June.  Now, that involves exercise.  And I don’t really enjoy exercise all that much.  So when I hear my alarm go off in the morning, I am presented with a choice.  Either I can turn off my alarm and sleep for another hour or I can get up and do my workout for that day.  Now what is going to help me make that decision?  Remember that the definition of will is the ability to choose what I want.  And Edwards says that the will always chooses according to the strongest inclination at the moment.  So if I have a very strong desire for more sleep, then that inclination wins and I go back to bed.  If I have a strong desire for fitness and to complete my goal, then that inclination wins and I get up.  Or I might have a strong fear that by not exercising I might get overweight so that fear wins over sleep.  So I think this is the better understanding of the will.

So here is the summary of the definition of the will.  Our choices are determined by our desires.  We make wicked choices because we have wicked desires.  We make good choices because we have good desires.  The will is simply the ability to choose what we want.  And we choose what we want based on the strongest desire at the decision making point. 

Now, where are we going with all this?  Rewind back to 1 Peter 1:3, God caused us to be born again to a living hope.  What does that mean?  Is our will violated in the process?  The answer to this question is No.  It is not.

Fallen man is free to choose whatever he desires, but his desires are only evil.  God, because of his (as the text says) great mercy gave us spiritual rebirth.  In other words, you were born again.  And this is probably the most important question of this entire issue, “what is the primary characteristic of someone who has experienced a spiritual rebirth?”  He desires the Lord.  That is the supernatural element.  That is something that will never take place apart from grace.  Because of the transforming grace in your life, Jesus appears attractive to you and your will chooses him.  Your free will chooses Christ because God has made him appear attractive to you.

Remember we said Sin has so effected our being that no human left to his own devices will ever seek after God. The primary effect sin has on the human body is that it corrupts our values so that when we see God, we don’t see treasure.  We stumble across the billion dollar treasure in the field and keep walking cursing the diamond we stubbed our toe on.  God has to regenerate our eyes.  God has to give us spiritual eyes to see Jesus as valuable gold. 

So God must intervene for us to ever accept him.

And I want to show you that this is not an isolated teaching of Scripture and is some sort of fringe doctrine, but this is central to Scripture.

John 3:3  Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

John 3:5   5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Notice in this passage again, we have a condition in the pivotal word, “unless.”  Here is a precondition for any human being entering into the kingdom of heaven.  Spiritual rebirth needs to take place.

In other words, in order for you to choose Christ, your heart must be changed.  That is what is meant by spiritual rebirth.  It’s not the other way around.  Fallen people don’t choose Christ and then become reborn.  It’s the rebirth that enables you to choose Jesus.  Another way of saying this is that we are born again in order that we might believe, not we believe in order that we might be born again.  Romans 8 says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  All flesh can produce is more flesh.  Something new has to enter in and change the heart.

Similarly Jesus says to the Jews in John 10:26, "You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep." Now that is strange.  That is opposite of what you would expect.  You would expect him to say, "You are not my sheep because you do not believe." Being a sheep is something God decides for us before we believe. It is the basis and enablement of our belief. We believe because we are God's chosen sheep, not vice versa. (See John 8:47; 18:37.)

Since nobody can do anything to bring about his own salvation, anyone who is ever saved is saved by the predetermining election of God.  God predestined before the foundations of the earth who would be his sheep. 

Ephesians 1:3-6  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

There is a lot of sovereign activity in a verse like this!

Some people read this verse and say, “No this is God’s foreknowledge.”  God was able to look down the corridors of time and decided who would be saved and so it is just referencing God’s ability to look into the future.  I don’t think that is the best understanding of the world foreknowledge, but let’s just concede that for a moment.  That still doesn’t help.  Everyone agrees with that.  Of course God can look into the future and know what is going to happen. But the pivotal question is simply this, “by what power are those people in the future believing?  By their own power?”  Once the doctrine of total depravity or better stated, “total inability” is established, all the other pieces must fall into place.  Sinful men, left to themselves will never choose God.  So if you are a child of God, God did something to save you.

This doctrine should cause us to worship.  When we stand back and realize that we had nothing to do with our salvation, that God predestined us before the foundations of the world, that spiritually speaking we were dead corpses at the bottom of the ocean and God saved us by raising us from the dead, it truly should effect your emotions.  If you nod your head in affirmation at this point but do not feel emotions stirred within you, then you don’t understand the doctrine.  Truly you don’t.  I’m not saying that my wobbly attempt at articulating it should cause that response, but I am saying, when God enables you to see it, his Spirit will produce in you the response of emotional joy.  Pure joy.