There is one key truth that is not adequately conveyed by the illustration we have used thus far. Entrance to “Paradise” is by invitation only.
Just as God’s authority is expressed in the anointing upon someone He has sent, the invitation, or call, to leave the world for God’s Kingdom is extended by the same anointing to prepared hearts.
The first invitation of the Church age was issued by the mouth of Peter on the day of Pentecost. Peter, endued with power from on high (Lk. 24:49), gave bold testimony concerning the Christ whose death the Jews had so recently instigated.
In reality the invitation was precipitated by the hearers themselves, mightily convicted of their need. Their response was, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37.
There was no begging. There was no psychological manipulation. There was no, “Pretty please, won’t you accept Jesus?” There was simply the living presence of Christ expressed in the anointing upon Peter and in the conviction deep in the hearts of the hearers. There is no substitute for this.
Although the word “faith” is not specifically mentioned in the passage it is the only adequate description of their response to Peter’s anointed message. The effect produced went far beyond a mere mental agreement with the ideas Peter expressed: they were moved in their hearts to decisive and positive action. “Faith without works is dead.” James 2:20.
It was the faith produced in them by means of God’s Spirit using the living word that moved them to ask what they should do. Rom. 10:17. Peter’s answer was to give them the appropriate way that their faith (given them by God — Eph. 2:8) should be expressed.
The first thing was to repent. Repentance is a total change of mind, will and direction. It involves a God-given sorrow for the way you have been going and a whole-hearted turning from it to serve Christ. It is not a matter of adding Jesus to your life: it is a matter of giving up your life in this world and all that that may entail in order to have Him. It is exactly as Jesus described in Matt. 13:45-46 concerning the merchant who sold all that he had in order to possess the pearl of great price.
Think of Paul who was brought by God to the place where he counted all the accomplishments and virtues of his life as a sincere, zealous religious man as manure in order to have Christ. Phil 3:4-14. Only a work of the Spirit of God can produce such a result.
Repentance is nothing less than a miracle of God’s grace that produces a radical redirection of one’s heart. It is totally unlike most religious conversion which merely dresses up the natural man in a robe of self-righteous religious profession while leaving his heart of hearts unchanged.
The other thing Peter gave his hearers to do was to be baptized. Baptism was an outward public way to express both faith and repentance. It signified death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). They were thereby laying down their former lives in death in order to possess the life of Christ.
Baptism meant not only the end of their former lives and rising up to union with Christ: it also meant union with Christ’s body, the church, partly in heaven, yes, but especially to those on earth who were joined to Christ and each other through the bond of a common Spirit. I Cor. 12:12-13. I Cor. 6:17.
Baptism is not an ordinance you can observe all by yourself. It involves submission to an authorized representative of Christ and His body. In reality, Christ Himself, by means of the Body He indwells, administers true baptism. He is the baptizer.
Approximately 3000 people that day experienced the things God had promised as a result of repentance and baptism: their sins were forgiven and they received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38. Truly, a nation was born in a day! Isaiah 66:8. Matt. 21:42-43. I Peter 2:9.
These 3000, and many more in the days following, were not merely added to “Jesus in the sky”: they were added to the church. Acts 2:47. Consider the situation. When the church was launched, the Lord chose the occasion of a major Jewish feast, the feast of Pentecost. Jews who lived in many other nations were gathered in the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:6-11). The disciples, being good Jews, were likewise in the temple for the occasion (Luke 24:53).
The impact of the noisy and visible coming of the Spirit upon the disciples, the miracle of tongues and the gospel message itself was so great that the converts didn’t even return home! The greatest and purest expression of the church the world has yet seen occurred during these days. Acts 2:44-47. In spite of the unusual circumstances God’s love was so real that no one went without, either materially or spiritually.
The spiritual needs were met through the “Apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). An apostle is a “sent one.” “Doctrine” simply means “teaching.” The Lord Jesus, having fulfilled His promise to return in Spirit form (John 14:18), continued to spiritually feed, teach, help and govern His people through those He had prepared and anointed. Their anointing and the consequent authority were widely recognized and respected. Acts 5:12-16.
Peter, on the day of Pentecost, referred to the promise as being “unto you, and unto your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:39. What we have been describing is the call of God and its results. No one enters the kingdom of God who is not called. Eph. 1:18, 4:1, Col. 3:15, Phil. 3:14, II Thess. 1:11, II Tim. 1:9, Heb. 3:1, I Cor. 1:2, 24-29.
The call of God to a human heart through the gospel is an invitation to embrace Christ and all that that involves. It is an invitation to turn your back on the world and become a citizen of heavenly kingdom. Col. 1:13. It means leaving your natural family for God’s family. Luke 14:26, Mark 3:31-35, Eph. 3:15.
One word describes both faith and repentance and their results: surrender. Coming to Christ is simply surrender. We surrender the rule of our own lives to His Lordship. We surrender family, friends, plans, ambitions and ideas, religious or otherwise. We surrender all self-effort to make ourselves acceptable to God. In short, our lives are no longer our own, to do with as we please, but they belong to Him, purchased by His own blood (I Cor. 6:19-20).
He becomes our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). Everything required to perfectly fulfill the purpose for which we are called is provided for us in Christ. We are complete in Him (Col. 2:10). We can cooperate with His work, but we cannot add to it.
A common expression for conversion is “coming to Christ,” as in “so and so has come to Christ.” I fear that in our day this expression, as with so many others, has become so watered-down and varied in its usage as to be meaningless. In most cases what is referred to is merely a religious conversion that involves Christ in name only.
Preachers love to quote the last half of John 6:37 in their invitations: “... him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Their sermons and invitations are skillfully designed to bring about “decisions.” People, moved in their emotions, are encouraged — and sometimes tricked — to “walk the aisle,” and to “accept Jesus.” They are then told they are saved.
The emphasis is so much upon man that one would think that it is within any sinner’s power to come to Christ. When it comes to “soul-winning” and gospel outreach, people are told that if they don’t do their part — as defined by the one doing the telling — people will go to hell as a result of their failure.
This is a monstrous lie. I recently saw part of a religious broadcast where contributions were being solicited for its support. The fund-raiser came right out and told listeners that if they didn’t respond, while they themselves might go to heaven, thousands of others would be lost and go to hell as a result!
What about the first half of John 6:37? It says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” Verse 39 says, “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”
Salvation is God’s business. Everyone He gives the Son will come. None of those will be turned away or lost.
Consider verse 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.”
Not only will every one the Father draws come and be received, no one can come unless He does draw them! Are we dependent on the sovereign grace of God or not!
Consider the sinner’s position. He is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 1:2). He does not understand or seek God (Rom. 3:11). He does not even fear God (Rom. 3:18). He is an enemy of God in his mind by wicked works (Col. 1:21). These characteristics apply equally to non-religious and religious sinners. The condition of the latter is simply covered over by outward religion. Matt. 23:25-28.
Salvation is nothing short of raising the dead — those spiritually dead to God and His kingdom. The sinner is God’s enemy in his mind. All of his supposed knowledge and ideas are contrary to the knowledge of God. In truth, he knows nothing about God.
Salvation is not only not by the will of the flesh or the will of man (John 1:13), it is directly contrary to man’s natural will. Left to himself, man would reject God every time.
A man must be arrested and conquered if he is to be saved. Phil. 3:12. No mere sermon, however eloquent, can accomplish that (I Cor. 2:4-5). No psychological manipulation to get decisions will produce sons of God. Only God’s power can take a hell-bound sinner, conquer his will, change his mind, and raise him from the dead to life eternal.
And God’s power is not something at our disposal to use as we will. It rests upon vessels of His choosing and even they must learn to move in God and act as He acts.
God moved upon Abraham, a chosen vessel, and miraculously brought forth Isaac, the son of promise, a type of God’s elect. Rom. 9:6-9. Yet this same Abraham moved in himself to bring forth Ishmael who could never inherit the promise. Gal. 4:22-31. Only those that God miraculously brings forth through the anointed word and by an arresting conviction in their hearts can be saved.
The raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11) is a perfect picture of the salvation of a sinner. Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. He was certainly beyond any possible human help. He was as unaware of the natural world as is the sinner of the reality of God’s kingdom.
The vessel used of God to speak the word of life was His own Son who had become man (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus knew how to perfectly cooperate and yield Himself to the Father to carry out His will. He could minister to multitudes or He could go to the pool at Bethesda and heal just one man out of hundreds in need. John 5:1-9. He had learned to wait on the Father and do only what He was shown to do. John 5:19-20.
Jesus was equipped in accordance with His calling. He had the Spirit without measure and was therefore able to the same degree to speak the words of God. John 3:34. The words He spoke were spirit and life. John 6:63.
Jesus moved in perfect harmony with the will of the Father in delaying his journey to Bethany. It is evident that the Father had already revealed what was to take place (John 11:11) and Jesus thus was able to act in faith to accomplish His Father’s will.
Jesus, Himself full of faith, encouraged faith in an unbelieving Martha (vs. 40), setting forth an important spiritual principle: “... if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God ....”
What took place on that day glorified God. There was no other motive involved. It resulted in a belief in many (verse 45). However, in order for God’s glory to be revealed in the first place, someone must exercise God-given faith beforehand. Thus, although there are vessels involved in giving expression to the faith of God, the initiative is God’s from beginning to end.
This is true in salvation. Isaiah 66:8 prophesied of the day of Pentecost when a nation was born at once and when “as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” While God is sovereign in the matter of salvation, He nonetheless chooses to involve the faith of others. This is because the sinner himself is as helpless as is a natural baby when he is born. It is the mother who puts forth the effort. And even she does not control the time. She merely cooperates with the process of nature.
When the time came for Lazarus to be raised, Jesus spoke only three words: “Lazarus, come forth.” When one is moving in harmony with God a lot of words are not required.
Two things in particular need to be noted. The first is that Jesus’ words were personal, directed to a particular individual. He didn’t go to the cemetery and issue a general call to see how many people would come forth.
Even though the gospel may in fact be preached in a general setting, yet the unseen activity of the Holy Spirit is to call forth sinners by name. God always works to fulfill His will and plan and to call every one of His elect at their appointed time. His word is focused on the accomplishing of His work. Isaiah 55:10-11.
The second thing to note is that Jesus’ words were not a request, but a command. He did not beg or plead with Lazarus. Lazarus’ will had nothing to do with it. He was dead.
The issue of man’s will is a confusing one. There are many in religion who emphasize the idea that man has a free will. It is as though a man is free to evaluate what Jesus and the devil each has to offer, to consider the matter, and then, when he’s good and ready, to choose one or the other.
This is a doctrine of devils (I Tim. 4:1). Man’s will is not free: it is bound by sin. Rom. 7:19-21. The choice presented is a phony one. It is a choice between the devil in the world and the devil in religion. It presents “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4), a false Jesus who comes as a kind of salesman trying to sell men on adopting some brand of religion that will make them acceptable to God.
It is true that men exercise their natural wills in earthly matters but this takes place entirely within the earthly realm. It has nothing whatever to do with God’s kingdom which is another realm altogether.
Consider Nicodemus (John 3). He was a sincere adherent of a religion that held the scriptures in high regard. And he was more than a mere follower: he was a “master” (verse 10) or a “teacher.” It was his place to instruct others about God. Yet when Jesus began to speak of being born again — or, more literally, born from above — it became quickly obvious that Nicodemus was totally ignorant. All of his “knowledge” was confined to this earthly, flesh realm. He knew nothing of the spirit, of “heavenly things” (verse 12). His “knowledge” came from man and not God.
Jesus said (verse 6), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh ....” The first birth brings forth men with natural life totally confined to a realm ruled by sin and death. The natural man neither possesses knowledge beyond this realm, nor can he through his own power gain such knowledge. And even if he could somehow gain this knowledge his will is powerless to act. He is dead! Dead to God and dead to God’s kingdom.
He is like a blind man confined to a room without windows and doors. To him, the room is all there is. He gains such “knowledge” as he possesses by groping in the darkness and learning from other gropers. Each blind groper forms his own perceptions and ideas about what is true and tends to be drawn to those whose ideas are similar to his own. Under such conditions it is not surprising that the many ideas that arise are at considerable variance with each other. The inhabitants of this “room” possess a nature that loves what God hates and hates what God loves. They are as addicted to sin as is an alcoholic who is helpless before the bottle — even more so. The alcoholic may learn to live without the bottle but no sinner can escape the power of sin on his own. Sin may take many forms and may be relatively concealed from the eyes of men, but it rules nevertheless.
Add to this the fact that also confined to this room are an innumerable horde of wicked spirits whose job it is to deceive the blind human inhabitants and you have a pretty hopeless picture — hopeless, that is, without Divine intervention. This is the realm into which all men, including you and me, are born as a result of the first birth.
The new birth is a birth “from above.” Even as natural babies have no control over the birth process, so it is with the birth from above. When the Heavenly Father, the Father of spirits (Heb.12:9), begets children, He does not fail in the attempt. He is not held hostage by the corrupted will of man. All that the Father gives will come (John 6:37).
James 1:18 sums this up nicely: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
God does the begetting. This action is based, not on our will, not on our merit, not on our effort, but on “his own will.” Jesus told his disciples, “ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Paul in II Thess. 2:13 said, “... God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” God did His choosing long before we arrived on the scene. He “knew” His own before the world began (I Peter 1:2, II Tim. 1:9). This “knowing” of His own is far more than mere intellectual awareness that certain people would be born. He certainly was aware of everyone that would ever be born and knew them in that sense. Yet Jesus will say to many on that day, “... I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:23)
Do you really suppose that Jesus is unaware of the very existence of these people? Of course not! Being known of God conveys the idea of a choice on God’s part, of a relationship He has with those He “knows” that sets them apart from those He does not know. II Tim. 2:19 says, “... the Lord knoweth them that are His.” This is the seal of the foundation of God! This is the foundation men need — especially in this hour.
The result of God’s begetting is “... that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation ...” (II Cor. 5:17).
What God is doing is bringing forth a new creation that will replace this old corrupted one. The first stage of this, following the resurrection of His Son (I Cor. 15:23), is to bring forth sons of an incorruptible seed with an incorruptible life (I Pet. 1:23) capable of taking their place in the new creation free from the power of sin and death!
Just as the first creation was brought forth by God’s will, so it is with the new one. (Heb. 11:3, II Pet. 3:5). God begets sons “with the word of truth.” Lest there be any doubt, Peter identifies this word: “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” I Peter 1:25.
When God brought forth the first creation He committed His word to His Son. His Son uttered the actual words involved, such as, “Let there be light.” Gen. 1:3, John1:1-3, Heb. 1:2, Col. 1:16-17.
The word of God is, by its very nature, quick (or living) and powerful (Heb. 4:12). All of the power needed to bring forth everything that we can see in this present creation was contained in the words themselves. It is by the same word, given through chosen ministers, that sons are begotten today.
That is what is missing in religion. God is not the present tense author of the word being preached. Would Lazarus have come forth had someone of their own will and without God’s Spirit uttered the command? Of course not!
There is no special magic in the mere words, “Lazarus, come forth.” Neither is there any magic in the scriptures. Though the Bible is the written Word of God, it has no self-contained power to raise the spiritually dead to eternal life. If it did, any old reprobate could bring forth children of God by merely reading it aloud to others! Children of God can only come forth when God is present and actively breathing His own life into the word being preached.
The scriptures plainly tell us that salvation is by grace. Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 3:24. Grace is favor shown, not because the recipient has earned it or deserves it in anyway, but because the Giver chooses to give it. However, it is more than a mere description of God’s attitude toward us. It is a force, a kind of Divine energy, that acts upon our hearts.
Grace opens spiritually blinded eyes to the realm beyond this “room.” It confronts and conquers the “strong man” (Mark 3:27), the adamic nature energized by Satan. It energizes the will to respond to the gospel.
The choice on the part of the sinner is the choice of one who is surprised and cornered by an overwhelmingly superior adversary — surrender! When the time comes for a particular son to be born, God is able, by His Spirit, to so work with his heart that he will come forth, as did Lazarus.
The gospel is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). It is God’s command, compelling and directed to particular sinners, to cast away all religious self-effort to be righteous, to give up their life, to surrender at the feet of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, henceforth to belong to Him and to His body.
Men certainly must believe but an emphasis upon that fact that does not reckon on the sovereign grace of God is worse than putting the cart before the horse — it is a cart without a horse! Luke records the results of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Acts 13:48. Note that he didn’t say that they had so many “decisions” or “professions of faith.” He simply said, “... as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
Cut that out of your Bible if you want to but unless we act as an extension and an expression of God’s will and power in what we do, however outwardly impressive it may be, our effort is totally wasted.
Jesus referred in Matt. 7:23 to the religious work of many as “iniquity.” The Greek word there means “lawlessness.” Someone who is lawless does as he pleases without regard to constituted authority. He is a rebel. A religious rebel is one who does not act under the direction and leadership of Christ. Christ is not the author of his work.
Religious rebels use Christ’s name to lend credence to their work and to deceive many naive undiscerning souls into supporting them and their great plans. They are like someone who sets out to be a soldier yet never joins the army or submits to its leadership. Still, claiming, and even believing, that they have a special commission from the top general, they gather supporters as they are able — and some are very able — and rush about with much effort supposedly carrying out the plans of the general.
Either Christ is very, very confused or most religious workers are zealously charging about, motivated by something other than the will of Christ. It’s very easy to say, “Amen,” and believe that this applies to others. However, at best, even God’s true elect have been influenced and corrupted in varying degrees by religion. God is in this hour bringing forth such truth as is needed to dispel religious darkness and to prepare His remnant church for Christ’s coming and the end of the age.