Of Corruption and Conversion
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Rom. 8:1-14).
We are continuing to look at what are sometimes called The Doctrines of Grace, as they are expressed in five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. So far, we’ve looked at unconditional election and limited atonement. We first considered unconditional election which simply means that before the world was made, God, foreseeing the fall of humanity into sin, in grace and love choose to save some of sinful humanity from the consequences of their sins, and he did this without any consideration of merit on their part or even on the basis of foreseen faith. Every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ comes to us because God sovereignly and unconditionally chose us to be saved.
We next considered limited atonement (an unfortunate phrase, I’ll grant) which is simply the recognition that the Holy Trinity is undivided in its purpose, that the will of God in election must be the same will and purpose behind the cross. It tells us that Christ came to save all whom the Father gave to him and not one of them will be lost. It tells us that Jesus is a successful Savior. The atonement is limited, therefore, not in its efficacy or power or value, but in the purpose of God.
Today, we will be looking two more of the points: the T and the I in TULIP, total depravity and irresistible grace. In the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), which is the first place these five doctrines are put together like this, they do the same thing, dealing with the corruption of man and conversion to Christ together. I think this is a good way to proceed, so we will follow their example. For you cannot really understand how far grace must go to save us if you don’t understand how far we have fallen in sin.
One more thing before we get started here. We have to be careful to maintain Biblical balance. It is important to understand that these five doctrines don’t define the center of the Christian faith; they don’t define what it means to be a Christian. They are important truths, and they are Biblical truths, and they are necessarily defended, but they are not the sun in the solar system of Biblical theology. I would say
that they are gates in the perimeter of Christian truth.1 The gates must be defended at all costs, but the gates don’t define the center. But they are important entry points to the center.
What do I mean by this? Well, let me put it this way: the glory of God is at the center of all things. The person and work of Christ is at the center of all things. These truths that we are dealing with help to safeguard the Biblical realities surrounding how this God saves sinners in Christ. When you don’t look at salvation through the lens given us in TULIP, you will end up going wrong somewhere along the way, inevitably robbing God of glory that belongs to him. So we value these doctrines, not for their own sake, but for the reason that they help us to know God better and to appreciate how he saves us in Christ. God is at the center; these doctrines are simply gates in the theological wall that surrounds the center of God in Christ.
One of the practical consequences of holding this with a proper balance is that it allows us to recognize as fellow believers those folks who may reject one or more of these doctrines. It helps us to understand that a person can be a Christian and yet be fuzzy on the details of the doctrines of grace. The important thing is: do they love and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Do they rely upon him for their salvation? It is important to remember that you are not saved by the doctrine of sovereign grace; you are saved by the God of the doctrine of sovereign grace. We must maintain this distinction. That doesn’t make these doctrines any the less necessary to know and believe and love and defend. But it does mean that we don’t put them in the place of Christ himself. To do that would be to put one of the planets in the place of the sun.
My outline today is a rather simple one. I want to consider first, what the Bible has to teach about human corruption and conversion or total depravity and irresistible grace (explanation). Then, and this is my primary aim in this message, I want to consider ways these truths relate in very practical ways to our lives (application).
Explanation: What does the Bible have to say about this?
We’ve chosen to look at Romans 8:1-14 today as the starting point of our consideration of these vital and important truths. In these verses, the apostle Paul contrasts the flesh and the Spirit, and what it means to be “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit,” as well as the consequences of being in either of these spheres. To be in the flesh is a summary way of describing the corruption of human nature as a result of sin. On the other hand, to be in the Spirit is a summary description of what it means to have spiritual life in Christ, what it means to be a Christian. What I think the apostle makes very clear here is that (1) the corruption of human nature is so bad that left to ourselves we cannot please God in any meaningful or saving way, and (2) the Spirit of God not only puts us in a savable condition (that we may or may not reject) but that he really does effectually translate us from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God. We will therefore look at the problem of human corruption and then the power of Spiritual conversion.
The Problem of Human Corruption
Just how bad are we? First of all, notice again this distinction between being in the flesh and in the Spirit. To be “in the flesh” is to be unregenerated by the Spirit of God. To be in the flesh is to be under the control or power of the sinful nature. By calling the sinful nature flesh, Paul is not saying that our physical bodies are bad, but he is recognizing that the sinful condition we find ourselves in is something that is part of our nature, and it is expressed in and through our bodies. To be in the flesh (or carnally minded) is to mind (or to set the affections on) the things of the flesh (5), to be in a state of spiritual death leading to physical and eternal death (6), to be at enmity with God (7), and to be so totally opposed to him in our hearts and minds that we are in a very real sense unable to obey God’s law or to please him (7-8).
Then we need to notice what the apostle says in verse 3: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” The law here is God’s law, his commandments which we are bound to obey. What could the law not do? It was weak and could not make it so “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (4). I know that some folks take the fulfillment of the law in us to mean Christ fulfilling the law for us by his perfect obedience on our behalf. But that is not what the apostle actually says. He doesn’t say the law is fulfilled for us but in us. Moreover Paul goes on to talk about spiritual transformation in the following verses, and so I take the fulfillment of the law in us to mean real and spiritual obedience to God’s commandments.
What then does Paul mean when he says the law could not bring about the fulfillment of the law in us? He is simply saying that the law of God by itself cannot produce obedience. The law of God informs our obedience, but it cannot empower our obedience. Commandments can tell you what to do but they can’t make you do it. In fact, because of the flesh it goes in the opposite direction. The Bible makes it clear that God’s law actually tends to provoke us to sin. This is what the apostle Paul himself says in the previous chapter: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:5- 6). He goes on to say: “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (8-11).
Paul is saying that this reality called sin is in us and this is what renders the law so impotent. The sin in us, the sinful nature which the apostle calls “flesh,” is opposed to obedience to God. “It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (7-8). This is what we mean when we talk about total depravity. This doesn’t mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be, but it does mean that every faculty of the human is corrupted through sin. It means that our minds, affections, and wills are bent against God. We can still be “good” in the sense of being a good citizen. Those who are still “in the flesh” can still be good neighbors, husbands and wives, employers and employees, and so on. But their fundamental bent is still against God. They are enemies of God. God is not on the throne of their hearts; self is on the throne of the heart. In such a condition, no matter how much they may please the people around them, they are still against God and being against God they cannot be in a state of salvation.
This depravity renders a person incapable of obeying God’s law in a way that pleases God. They will not do “good” out of faith in God or from a heart that is submissive to God as God. They will not come to Christ in faith and repentance, they will not receive the gospel, they will not submit to the righteousness of God in Christ. And this “will not” is so strong, so intractable, that it is called in the Scriptures “cannot.” As our Lord himself put it in John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
By the way, this doesn’t mean we aren’t accountable for our sins, nor does this moral inability render our sins less sinful. In fact, I would argue that it makes our sinfulness all the more reprehensible. Just as the holiness of God is infinitely admirable from the fact that he necessarily does what is right, so also the unholiness of man is infinitely abominable from the fact that he necessarily does what is evil. Part of what makes this inexcusable is that we do not sin from any want of physical or mental faculties, but we take the very faculties of mind, heart, and will that God has given to us to glorify him with, and then use them against him. God does not cause us to sin; we sin willfully and cheerfully. God is not to blame; we are, and we alone.
The reality of human corruption tells us that we cannot save ourselves. We are not neutral in any sense; nor is any faculty of the human soul neutral. We are hostile to God. We are dead in trespasses and in sins (Eph. 2:1). If we will be saved, it must be God who does it. We turn now, then, to consider . . .
The Power of Spiritual Conversion
What the law could not do, God did, sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemning sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4). If our will was untarnished by sin, we would have been able to take God’s law and obey it perfectly. But that is not the case. The law cannot save us and the reason why it cannot save us is because sin has left us spiritually impotent and dead.
But God did what the law could not do. Because of what Christ did on the cross, because he condemned sin in the flesh by taking the punishment of sin upon himself and redeeming us from sin in all its aspects, God sends the Spirit to apply the merits of Christ to the elect. As a result of the life-giving Spirit (2), people are changed and converted. They are not just put in a savable condition. They are not put in a place where they apart from God’s work in the heart are able to savingly repent of their sins and believe on Christ. Rather, God so works in their hearts that they do repent and they do trust in Christ for salvation.
You see that in our text. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of life who really does set us free from the law of sin and death (2). How can this happen if we are at enmity against God and cannot obey him or please him? It happens not because of anything in us but because God does a saving work in a person’s heart. This doesn’t say that the Spirit of life puts us in a neutral position where we are able to decide for or against the Lord. Instead he takes dead people and makes them alive. He takes us from the sphere of “flesh” and moves us to the sphere of “Spirit.”
You see, there aren’t more than two categories here. You are either in the flesh or in the Spirit. There’s no in-between. If you are in the flesh, you cannot please God. Certainly to trust in Christ and repent of your sins would be pleasing to God. You cannot do this if you are in the flesh; you will not because you are at enmity with God. How then can you go from one state to the other? Not because of “free will;” you do so because God sends his Spirit into our hearts, renovating them and changing them.
This is something the prophets prophesied would happen to the people of God. Ezekiel, for instance, wrote this: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:25-27). This is what our Lord was referring to when he told Nicodemus of the need for a new
birth, a birth of the Spirit of God, new life that would not just appeal to the heart but actually reforms and renovates and changes the heart so that we willingly walk in God’s ways and keep them and do them.
This is what Paul is referring to when he talks about the conversion of the Corinthian Christians. He reminds them that it wasn’t their wisdom, their insight, their religiosity, that brought them into the faith. It was the power of God that did so. In fact, this whole passage is worth while quoting: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:20-31). The apostle does not put the difference between faith and unbelief to the working of the will but or to the intelligence of the individual, but to the power of God’s grace.
This power of God to convert a rebel from rebellion to faith and repentance comes effectually because God’s purpose from eternity for his elect cannot be defeated. And Christ’s atonement by which he condemned sin in all its aspects for the elect will not be defeated. The Spirit regenerates and calls the elect to faith in Christ and he does so effectually in accordance with the will of the Father and the will of the Son. What we mean by “Irresistible Grace” is that God through the Spirit draws the elect irresistibly to faith in Christ – not because he drags them kicking and screaming, but because he has given them a new heart so that they willingly now come to Christ in repentant and obedient faith.
Does Irresistible Grace mean the unconverted have an excuse to remain in sin and unbelief?
Before I get to application, I do want to address a potential misunderstanding. Some argue that if it is true that the Spirit of God must do his work in us before we can come to faith in Christ (and it is!), well then, that means that the unregenerate, the lost, the unconverted are not responsible to repent of their sins or to believe in Christ. And we are told that this in turn means that we shouldn’t call unbelievers to faith in Christ. But this is not right. This is Hyper-Calvinism, and it is not Biblical. As we’ve already seen, our lostness and sinfulness does not deprive us of our accountability before God. Sin is still sin, even if you are in a state of spiritual death. It is sin to not repent of your sins. It is sin to reject Christ as King and Savior. If you continue to reject the gospel, you are adding to your sins, and you will render an account of this before the Judge of the Universe (cf. Acts 13:46-47). The doctrine of irresistible grace obviously doesn’t imply that it’s okay to stay in a state of unbelief. It is sinful to remain in unbelief! It is sinful to choose to not repent of your sins. This is why our Lord said that the Holy Spirit would convict men of sin, and the sin to which he then points is the sin of not believing in him (Jn. 16:9). It is why Paul says that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 16:30). Rather, the doctrine of irresistible grace simply reminds us that only God can ultimately and decisively turn us from our state of sin to obedient faith. In other words, if it were not for God’s sovereign grace, we would remain in our sin and perish in our sin.
Further, those who have not been effectually called by the Spirit to faith in Christ cannot blame God. The fact is that no one fails to come to Christ because they really want to believe in him, but God won’t let them. That’s not what happens. People reject Christ because they love darkness rather than light (Jn. 3:18-21). Our inability is not from external causes; it is entirely from within. It is an inability entirely rooted in our sinful desires and our wayward will. On the other hand, our Lord himself says that everyone who comes to him will never be cast out (6:37). The door of the gospel is open. The promise is true: all who come to Jesus will be saved. The fact of the matter is that we have no excuse. No one will be able to blame God for their rejection of the gospel.
Application: What are the practical implications of this doctrine for life?
These are not just doctrines to defend. They are primarily doctrines to live out. And they do make a difference. So I am going to suggest at least three implications of this doctrine for our lives, and I want to put this in terms of what kind of person these truths ought to make us. In particular, these truths ought to cause us to be a humble people, a holy people, and a heralding people.
A Humble People
This reality should make humble. You hear that in verse 12, when the apostle, applying all that went before says, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” Now it is true that Paul says explicitly only what we are not debtors to – we are not debtors to the flesh. But the implication here is obvious, that we are positively debtors to the Spirit of God who is the one responsible for giving us spiritual life and delivering us from being “in the flesh” to being “in the Spirit.” And the fact that we are debtors to the Spirit is rooted in the fact that we owe everything to God for our salvation. We owe him everything; he owes us nothing. Salvation is of the Lord.
The last thing the doctrines of sovereign grace ought to do is to make us a proud and condescending people. But I’ve seen that happen. It often happens like this: a person sees the doctrines of grace and the error of those who reject it. They then begin to see it all over Scripture and just how obvious it is. And they then begin to wonder how in the world anyone could doubt or deny these truths. Over time, they begin to despise the “Arminians,” and speak down to anyone who can’t see the sovereignty of God in salvation.
However, if that is true of us, let this doctrine convict us and help us to repent. The logic of these truths is that we are spiritually blind and hardened against any and all spiritual truths unless God by his grace opens our eyes and softens our hearts. The doctrines of grace don’t provide ammunition for boasting; they undermine boasting! As the apostle puts it, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9); “that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:29). And if we ever get to the place where we begin to look down on people out of spiritual pride and boast because we follow a better preacher than “that guy,” we need to reread 1 Cor. 1-4, and then to really hear Paul’s question to us: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
In another place the apostle put it this way: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). The faith that we have is a faith that God gave us. The gifts that we have are gifts of grace. Beware lest we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We are beggars in need of grace. We are simply beggars telling other beggars where to find the bread of life.
Now being humble doesn’t mean apologizing for these doctrines. It doesn’t mean being ashamed of them. It doesn’t mean hiding them and never talking about them unless you just have to. It doesn’t mean lacking conviction or courage. It doesn’t even mean being nice to everyone. But it does mean that these truths which point to our utter and absolute dependence upon God’s grace from beginning to end ought to make us humble. This is heavenly wisdom, not to make us people of strife, but this is “wisdom that is from above” and which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (Jam. 3:17).
Brethren, let us be a humble people. For God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). God will not bless those who refuse to see how they owe everything to his grace. He blesses the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3). He will not bless those who take his gifts and then act as if they are originated in themselves. We are simply “stewards of the manifold grace of God” and we are to do all things “as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:10-11). Let the Giver get the glory.
A Holy People
When the apostle says that we are not debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh, he is saying that the way we ought to apply the truth that God’s grace changes lives is to live a changed life. We are not to live after the flesh; we are not to give in to its desires. As he goes on in the next verse, we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh, the sin in our lives (Rom. 8:13). In other places the apostle is very specific about what this means. Thank God, the Bible is not vague with respect to sin. For example, in Galatians 5 he lists the works of the flesh – these things we are to put to death – as “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21, ESV).
And I think it’s important that we feel the full weight of the command to “mortify” or “put to death” the deeds of the body. We are not to be okay with the sin in our lives. We are not to tolerate it like a low- grade fever. We are not to put up with it. We are to put it to death.
How do we do this? Well, first of all, we are to seek to put an end to sin on the level of desires and affections. You will never gain the ascendency in the fight against sin if you do not start here. On the other hand, the war is lost on the level of the heart long before it is lost on the level of our actions. We must guard the heart (Prov. 4:23; Mt. 15:18-20). We must turn ourselves against the pleasure of sin; we must turn ourselves to the joy of the Lord. We must recognize the ultimately destructive nature of sins and temporary nature of its rewards. We must see the hook Satan is hiding behind the bait of sin. On the other hand, we must recognize that at God’s right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).
Secondly, we must guard the inlets to the heart. I’m talking about your eyes and ears here. It is stupid to think that you will wage war against sin successfully if you fail to take care about what you are seeing and what you are hearing. We are to make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof (Rom. 13:14). You cannot set wicked things before your eyes and escape untarnished. Psalm 101:2-3 says, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” How do you walk before the Lord with a perfect heart? You do so by setting no wicked thing before your eyes.
Third, we must be willing to be held accountable by others. I don’t think it’s for no reason that the apostle puts everything in the plural here. We are debtors, etc. There is plurality because the Christian life is lived out in the context of the church. We need to live out the reality of Heb. 3:12-13: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Are you accountable to other brothers and sisters in the Lord? Don’t think that you don’t need that. If King David, a man after God’s own heart, fell into grievous sin, don’t think that you are immune. We need each other.
Fourth, we must understand what is at stake. Notice what the apostle says here. He says that “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” He no more means physical death by “ye shall die” than he means physical life by “ye shall live.” He is talking about eternal death (cf. Rom. 6:23). Now he is not saying that we get into heaven by holiness. But he is saying that those who are going to heaven will be holy, and that those who do not fight against the sin in their lives are not born again. Those who are led by the Spirit (14) are led by him to mortify sin in the life.
The apostle is clearly motivating us by helping us to understand what is at stake here. As the puritan John Owen famously put it (in an exposition of this verse), “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Holiness is not optional.
Finally, we must remember the encouragement of grace. We fight sin, not in our own strength but in the strength God provides. How do we put sin to death? We do so “through the Spirit.” We need this encouragement because sometimes we can convince ourselves that this or that particular sin we are fighting is too strong for us. And the fact of the matter is that it is! But it is not too strong for the Lord. As Elder Bradley reminded us a few Sundays ago, we work out our own salvation because it is God who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). We need to remember that the power that rescued us from the power of sin and raised us up from a spiritual death is the same power that dwells in us daily through the Holy Spirit: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). If we belong to Christ, his Spirit dwells in us to empower us and sanctify us. Let us therefore “walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
A Heralding People
The book of Romans is very much about heralding the gospel to the ends of the earth. The apostle wrote earlier in this letter that “we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name” (1:5). He went on to say, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (14-16). For Paul, the doctrine of the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners didn’t mean no evangelism. Quite the opposite; he understood that the preaching of the gospel was the primary means in the hands of the Spirit of God to bring people to faith in Christ. Indeed, it is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.”
It was the conviction of God’s sovereignty in salvation that led Paul to share the gospel with others and gave him the courage to do this even when it was difficult. Listen to how he puts to Timothy: “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:8-10). Paul knew there was an elect, and that God’s word was not bound, and therefore he was willing to endure whatever it took so that “they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
Let us therefore not be ashamed of the gospel. Let us willingly and with courage and conviction share it as the Lord gives us opportunity. I have to confess to you that I have not been as faithful at this as I should have been. But I can also tell you that some of the most invigorating moments of my life have been those moments when I’ve had the privilege to share the gospel with an unbeliever. Sow the seed and let God do the rest. It’s not your responsibility to get them saved; it’s just your responsibility to share the word of God.
Finally, the net effect of this and all the doctrines of grace ought to be to cause us to be people who are thankful to the Lord for saving them and to trust him not only for their own salvation but for the salvation of others as well. And they way both faith and gratitude will often be expressed is in prayer. If you believe in God’s sovereign grace in salvation, it’s not going to make you fatalistic and uncaring; it will make you a praying person. It will cause you to get on your knees and look to the Lord to change the hearts of your unbelieving family and friends.
Do you consider yourself an unbeliever this morning? If you have not embraced Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, it means that you are in rebellion against him. There is no neutral ground here: those who are not for him are against him. If you are not in the Spirit, you are in the flesh. To be carnally minded is death. There is therefore only one thing to do: you must repent of your sins against him, you must repent of the fact that you have not given him the allegiance of your heart, and you must put your trust in him. The net effect of the truths that we have been teaching here this morning ought to make you fall on your face before Almighty God and to ask him to do this, to receive you and to change you. You have every encouragement to do so, for the promise is that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). May you come to Christ today, even right now!
1 Thanks to Mark Weaver for suggesting this helpful analogy!