A Close Look at “Sola Gratia” (Part5)

December 4, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are continuing in our study of the sola gratia or grace alone. This is a doctrine that teaches that salvation of sinners is solely by God’s grace. Man has no contribution or cooperation in salvation. Salvation is of the Lord alone and so all glory and praise is to be given to Him alone.   One of our objectives in our study of sola gratia is to put amazing back into grace. We learned that if we are to have a deeper appreciation of God’s grace, we must have a fresh understanding of man’s total depravity, total inability, real guilt and God’s sovereign freedom.   In our most recent studies, we’ve been learning about God’s sovereign freedom by looking at the sovereign work of God the Father and God the Son in the salvation of sinners. We have seen that this saving work is purely of grace or by God’s unmerited favor. God could have left us alone in our sinfulness and helplessness and guilt and He would have been just in doing so. God is in no way obligated to save any human sinner just as He was in no way obligated to save any fallen angel. God would have been absolutely just and righteous if He left all sinners to go to hell. But then the Bible tells us that God, in accordance to His pleasure and sovereign will chose to manifest His grace to sinners. This is the only reason why any person is saved.   Let’s have some review of our last two studies pertaining to God’s sovereign freedom.   First, we saw the role of the God the Father which is election. According to Ephesians 1:4-6, God the Father chose the objects of His love even before the creation of the world:   4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.   Second, we learned about the role of God the Son, the atonement. It was not enough for God the Father just to elect sinners to be saved. That would not be enough to save them. In his grace, He may have chosen many of undeserving rebels for salvation but that did not automatically mean that their sins have been forgiven and that they have become God’s children. It would be a violation of God’s just character not to deal with their sin. This is the reason why God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the world. When the Lord Jesus became man and lived here on earth, He lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father. The Lord did this not just for Himself but for the sinners. The Lord lived a perfect life on our behalf. The perfect life that we could never do, Christ did for us. This is the reason why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness...” Paul also says in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”   We see here the grace of God the Son because it was while were still sinners and helpless that He made atonement. He did not wait for us to call upon Him before He lived a perfect life and took God’s punishment for us. Paul says in Romans 5:6,8,10:   6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . 10 . . . when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son   Paul also says in Romans 5:15-16:   15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.   Notice that the gift followed many trespasses. This is Paul’s way of emphasizing the grace of God. It was absolutely free. The gift did not follow just a few trespasses, the implication of which is that some deserved to be saved. This would make God’s grace less wonderful.   In those acts of the Father and the Son we see God’s amazing grace. As we’ve seen, even before the creation of the world, the Father sovereignly elected many sinners to be saved. Even while they were yet powerless and enemies of God, the Son sovereignly lived a perfectly life and took our sins and punishment when He died on the cross for sinners. The Father’s election and the Son’s atonement, however, do not automatically save sinners. There is still a need for the work of the Holy Spirit in what theologians refer to as effectual calling.  

The role of God the Holy Spirit: Effectual Calling.

Effectual call is the work of the Holy Spirit which effectively moves men to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior. This call is irresistible because the Holy Spirit changes the heart of the sinner making it perfectly willing to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation and to yield obedience to the will of God. Without this gracious work of the Spirit causing the sinner to come to Christ, he cannot be saved.   Allow me to explain this biblical truth by first relating to you a parable and then I will show you a Scriptural explanation.  

The parable Law of Pardon made ineffective

Once upon a time, in a land called Unbelievable, lived a people who had a law that was unlike anything you have ever imagined. This law was about the granting of pardon to criminals.   Once a year, one criminal may be given pardon and allowed to live freely in society once again. There are however three conditions that should be met: One, the king must expressly choose only one criminal as an act of his sovereign will. Two, a king’s son who has lived a perfectly obedient life must be willing to take the place of the criminal and take his punishment of death. Three, the criminal must humbly ask for the king’s pardon, sincerely recognize the sacrifice that the king’s son did on his behalf and must express deep appreciation for what they did for his deliverance.   You will say that this is an incredible law, but that is how it is in Unbelievable land.   For thousands of years since the existence of Unbelievable land no king has ever bothered to make this law of pardon work until the reign of King Jahveh. King Jahveh was the most just, kind and wise king who ever lived. He also had a son who was the most obedient and righteous son who ever lived.   During King Jahveh’s reign the worst 100 criminals of all time also lived. All of these criminals were such a menace to society. Each one of them has raped at least 10 girls, brutally murdered no less than 10 boys, stolen millions of dollars worth of gold, rebelled against the government, and many other unbelievable crimes. You get the idea that none of them would ever deserve to be shown compassion or pardon. These criminals were also so depraved that they didn’t if they were caught and placed in prison. All of them hated society and they’d rather stay inside the prison till death than live as free men in a land of beauty, peace and comfort. You might say that’s incredible, but that’s really the way these criminals were in the Unbelievable land.   One day, because of the wise plan of king Jahveh, all these 100 criminals were caught. To make sure that they no longer threatened the peace in Unbelievable land, he constructed a special prison that had 100 cells—one cell to lock up one criminal. For their due penalty, each of these criminals would be punished by beheading.   Now you would not believe what happened, but it did. To the surprise of all the citizens of his kingdom, King Jahveh announced on his 100th birthday that he has chosen to pardon one of the hundred criminals. No one could question the decision of the king because he was the wisest and the most righteous of all people of all time. And to the greater amazement of the people, his only son agreed to take the place of the criminal by taking upon himself the penalty of death. And so on that very day, the birthday of the king, his son was beheaded.   When the criminal was told of the gracious act that has been done to him, that he has been chosen by the king to be pardoned and that the king’s son gave his life to take his place, you would not believe his response. The criminal rejected the offer of the king and preferred to stay in prison till he died. No one could do anything about it because, as I said a while ago, the third condition for any criminal to be set free was that he must humbly ask for the king’s pardon and gratefully recognize the sacrifice of the king’s son on his behalf—but this criminal did not want to do that and so he remained in jail till the day of his death. And so that’s the incredible story of what happened in the land called Unbelievable.   Let me explain to you the meaning of this parable. King Jahveh is God the Father. Out of his pleasure and sovereign will, He chose one of the hundred undeserving criminals to be pardoned. The king’s son is the Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself for the sins of the criminal. He lived in perfect obedience for the sinner and died to take his place. But then, even if the Father and the Son graciously acted for the deliverance of the sinner, there was still something missing. The sinner’s nature had to be changed. Just as there was a third condition for the criminal to be set free, there is a third condition for a sinner to be saved. He must be willing to be reconciled to God. He must believe in Christ. But that is the problem of the sinner. According to Scriptures, the sinner is totally depraved and completely unable to come to God on his own to be saved. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. God the Father graciously elects sinners, God the Son takes our place by living a perfect life and by dying for our sins in atonement, and finally, God the Holy Spirit calls the sinner effectively. By this cooperative work of the three persons of the Trinity, are sinners saved.  

Now let’s turn to Scripture to see the work of the God the Holy Spirit in effectual calling.

Let me begin this way. Salvation is the need of all sinners. The Bible describes salvation in different terms. It is to be delivered from hell, to be justified, to be reconciled, to be adopted into God’s kingdom, to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, to be indwelt by the Spirit of God, or to experience regeneration. Let me focus on regeneration.   In the Bible, regeneration is called being born again (1Pe 1:3,23), born from above (Jn 3:3,7), born of God (Jn 1:12-13; 1Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18), born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5-6,8). Sometimes it is called putting on the new self (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10), or experiencing change of heart (Heb 10:16). Sometimes it is called experiencing crucifixion of the sinful nature (Ro 6:6; Gal 5:24), or circumcision of the heart (Dt 30:6; Ro 2:29; Col 2:11). Sometimes regeneration is called becoming a new creation in Christ (2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15). Sometimes it is called experiencing spiritual cleansing (Jn 13:10; 15:3; Ac 15:9; 1Co 6:11; 1Pe 1:22) or the washing of rebirth and renewal by Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5) or experiencing spiritual illumination (Ac 26:18; 1Co 2:12, 14-16; Eph 5:14). Sometimes it is called being spiritually alive (Ro 6:8-11; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), passing from death to life (Jn 5:24,25; 1Jn 3:14) or being raised with Christ (Col 2:12).   One common term used for regeneration is receiving eternal life. You will read this most especially in the writings of John (Jn 3:15,16,36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:40; 6:54; 10:10; 1Jn 3:15; 5:11,13). If you do not have eternal life you are not regenerated. If you do not have eternal life, you are not born-again you are not born from above, you have no spiritual birth. How could you be born without life?   How do you receive eternal life? According to the Gospel of John you have to believe in Christ in order to receive eternal life. Jn 3:14-16 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jn 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. Jn 6:40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Jn 6:53-58 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." Jn 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Jn 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.   The question now is this? If a person can only be saved (i.e., regenerated or receive eternal life) by believing in Christ, then how can any sinner who is described in Scriptures as being totally depraved and totally unable to save himself, believe?   Paul says in Ro 8:7,8: “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” He also says in 1Co 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”   In that condition, how can a fallen sinner believe? The answer is God must do something in him. Unless God enables a totally depraved sinner he cannot believe in Christ for salvation. Jn 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. … Jn 6:65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."   This enablement is called by some theologians as efficacious grace or special grace or effectual calling.   Ro 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 1Co 1:23,24 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.   Here are some definitions of effectual calling: Effectual calling is the work of the Holy Spirit which effectively moves men to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior. It is irresistible by changing the heart it makes man perfectly willing to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation and to yield obedience to the will of God. Effectual calling is the instantaneous work of God empowering the human will and inclining the human heart to faith in Christ. It is the effective invitation of God whereby He woos the person through the power of the Holy Spirit and renders the individual willing to respond to the gospel. In the case of the elect (and only the elect), God works intensively through a special calling so that they do respond in repentance and faith. The special calling is simply an intensive and effectual working by the Holy Spirit which renders the conversion of the individual both possible and certain.   Part of this effectual call is God giving the gift of faith and repentance to the elect.   Gift of Repentance Ac 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Ac 11:18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."  
Gift of Faith
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God Php 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, Ac 16:14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.   This is our only hope. God the Father elects, God the Son atones for our sins, and the Holy Spirit effectually calls. Without these gracious and sovereign workings of the Triune God, there is no hope for any sinner to be saved.  

Paul’s Testimony

One of the best proofs of this doctrine is the experience of the apostle Paul. Acts 8:1 tells us that when Stephen, the first Christian martyr was being murdered by the Jews Paul (Saul was his Hebrew name) was there, giving approval to his death. From the time of Stephen’s death, according to Acts 8:3, Paul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.   Read the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-9. [Give comments] Notice what was given to Paul. He says the grace of our Lord was poured out on him abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.   [Close with a personal testimony of my sister.]   This is his only hope and this is also our only hope. What an amazing grace. If the Lord left Paul alone, he had no hope. He was surely on his way to hell. But God the Father chose him, Jesus Christ paid for his sins, and the Holy Spirit moved upon His life to believe in Christ.