Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Call of Salvation

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

Though this simple verse may seem, at first, to exclude some from the call of salvation, when we look deeper we see that these words of Jesus actually offer hope to every human being who has ever walked the face of this earth. In Romans 3:23 Paul says that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory. We have all done something that is contrary to the law of God, and we all deserve his wrath.

Psalm 53:3 says it even more bluntly; “They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” We are not capable, in and of ourselves, of doing anything good in God’s eyes. Anything “good” that we do carries with it the stench of former sin. Our good works are tainted, therefore, they can never be accepted by God. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteousness is polluted by sin; it is absolutely despicable in God’s sight.

But what is sin?, we may ask. How do we know what is right and what is wrong? Who determines what is sin and what is not? The answer is quite simple; sin is anything that is contrary to the nature and character of God. In Isaiah 45 God says, “I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right” (v.19). The Lord God himself determines what is right according to his character. God is holy (Lev. 19:2), God is just (Deut. 32:4), God is patient (Psalm 103:8), God is merciful (Ex. 34:6), God is truthful and faithful (Titus 1:2), God knows all things (1 John 3:20), and he can never change (Mal. 3:6). Why is lying a sin? Because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Why is stealing a sin? Because God cannot steal; everything belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1). The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, but what does this matter, what are the consequences?

The Bible clearly states what will happen to us because we have sinned. Romans 6:23 says that, “The wages of sin is death.” Because we have sinned we deserve death, and that is what we will get. Because God is perfectly holy (Lev. 19:2) he cannot tolerate sin. “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty… Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him” (Nahum 1:3, 6). As sinners we cannot stand before a holy and just God and survive. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Nevertheless there is hope.

While the first part of Romans 6:23 states that, “the wages of sin is death,” the second half goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Eternal life, salvation from eternal damnation and eternal death, is a gift. God offers us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and eternal life with him; it is undeserved, unwarranted, and yet he holds it out to us. All that we have to do is reach out and accept it.

This is where the call of salvation comes in. John 6:44 says, “No one can come unto me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” And again in John’s Gospel it says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (6:65). We cannot accept the gift of salvation; we cannot reach out and take it unless the Father draws us to him. Why? Because our desires are tainted with sin. We do not have the ability to desire the things of God, therefore we cannot desire salvation. The Father must draw us, he must change our desires.

Modern theologians call this act of God the Father drawing us to him, and the transforming of our desires, regeneration. Only through regeneration can we reach out and accept the gift of salvation. We are not granted salvation because we desired salvation, we are granted it because the Father desired for us to be his children, and was gracious to change our desires so that we might freely accept him, or reject him. Again, John explains that children of God are born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

This regeneration is not salvation in itself, it is simply the act of God that grants us the ability to choose to accept his salvation. For some of us we cannot remember the moment when our desires changed, and we were ready to receive the salvation offered to us. Nevertheless, there was such a moment. For many the moment that we are regenerated is almost the same instant that we reach out, grasping for Christ’s salvation. In his Systematic Theology Wayne Grudem says this about regeneration, “… when we say that it (regeneration) comes “before” saving faith, it is important to remember that they usually come so close together that it will ordinarily seem to us that they are happening at the same time. As God addresses the effective call of the gospel to us, he regenerates us and we respond in faith and repentance to this call.” (pp. 702)

When we receive the call to salvation we must respond in the manner of Romans 10:9-10. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” When we are called to salvation may we respond with confession and with belief, for when we do we are promised to receive the gift that God so graciously holds out before us.

So, we see that the call to salvation is the most important of all, because without it our innately sinful desires are not transformed, and acceptance of God’s great gift is not possible. When we have accepted and received the gift of salvation we can respond to the many calls of Christ that are made to all of his followers, and to each individual believer.

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