There is a difficult but marvelous truth to be found within the pages of Scripture: You, dear Christian, cannot save anyone. Nor can any sinner save himself. No matter how pithily or poetically one asks Jesus to "come into his heart," no matter how many zeroes are written on the check, no matter how piously the Lord's Table is approached, no matter how many Bible studies one participates in, no matter how many sermons one hears, no matter how many Bibles one owns, no man can bring himself to the point of salvation, nor can any man hold himself responsible for saving another. Salvation is a work of God.
"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). That is, if a man is not born from above, by a work of God alone, he cannot be saved. R.C. Sproul explains further:
No man has the power to raise himself from spiritual death. Divine assistance is necessary. . . .Only the power of God wrought in the heart of a man can regenerate him, granting him repentance of sins and a faith in Jesus Christ that saves.
. . . The question still remains: “Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?” Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent? Some of these words are theological terms that require further explanation.
A monergistic work is a work produced singly, by one person. The prefix mono means one. The word erg refers to a unit of work. Words like energy are built upon this root. A synergistic work is one that involves cooperation between two or more persons or things. The prefix syn means “together with.” I labor this distinction for a reason. The debate between Rome and Luther hung on this single point. At issue was this: Is regeneration a monergistic work of God or a synergistic work that requires cooperation between man and God? . . . After a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step is the work of God and of God alone.
The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)This ought to be a great comfort to the Christian who obediently evangelizes, sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because the response of the sinner is not dependent upon the messenger or the methods he employs. Oh, this does not mean that the Christian should be careless in his proclamation of the saving Gospel—may it never be! The message that is delivered indeed does matter, but if the sinner has been made aware of his fallen state and pointed to the crucified and risen Savior, yet still does not collapse in a puddle of brokenness, humility and repentance before God, that does not mean that the messenger has failed.
Yet God, in His gracious kindness, sees fit to use men as a means of sharing that which can bring another to salvation. It is through the proclamation of the Word that faith is awakened. Whether that Word is shared from a pulpit or in the produce aisle of the grocery store, it is through the hearing of God's own truth that men are saved.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
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Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35–40)Those who are lost, who are drawn by God, will not find themselves reclining, lazily waiting for the Spirit to do His work and to save. No, because the Gospel, though good news, demands a response. What must a man do to be saved? Repent, and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 2:37–38; 16:30–34).
It takes great humility and brokenness of pride to come before the throne of God, acknowledging that you have nothing of your own to offer. Yet it is Christ alone who lived and died as the perfect sacrifice for sin. It is only the righteousness of Christ, imputed to saved sinners, that is worthy to stand before God. The Lord is merciful, from His first work to His last, but most of all in His salvation of those who once stood condemned as His enemies (1 John 4:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 5:6–11). Bow your knee today before this gracious despot, the sovereign, supreme ruler and Lord of all.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Luke 18:13)Further Reading
How Does God Accomplish the New Birth? (Sermon by Pastor Don Green)
John MacArthur on the New Birth
Jesus Christ Is Coming Soon
Even the Demons Believe