During the discourse of his sermon yesterday, my pastor referred to a passage on unbelief, Luke 16:14-31 which is the account of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man and Lazarus are both dead and in the afterlife; Lazarus being on the paradise/Abraham’s bosom side (pre-cross destination of believers), and the rich man being in Hades (the holding place of unbelievers until the final judgement when they will enter the lake of fire). The rich man wants Lazarus to go back to earth and warn his brothers about Hades and the torments that await them if they die in unbelief. Lazarus replies: “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'” Did you catch that? Jesus is telling this story before He died on the cross and rose from the dead. He warns here through this account, that someone in unbelief won’t even be convinced by someone rising from the dead, if they refused to believe the prior testimony of Moses and the prophets.
Today, when we read the accounts from the Old Testament of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we’re often puzzled by their unbelief. They had tangible evidence of God’s existence and power: the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red sea, manna from heaven, the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire to lead them, among others. We read that and think, “how could they not believe?!” My pastor posited that perhaps the folks back then would say, “if only we had God’s instructions all written down in one book that we could follow…” Touché. Pastor then went on to remark, referring to the rich man/Lazarus account, that unbelief doesn’t need one more miracle. That is profound.
This got me thinking about the mechanics of salvation. Like I’ve already pointed out, why did the Israelites continually walk in unbelief even when they had numerous visible manifestations of God’s existence and power? Why did so many during the time of Jesus earthly ministry not believe, when He was continually working miracles among them? It is true, what my pastor said: unbelief doesn’t need one more miracle, because every miracle prior to that apparently didn’t do the trick.
Why do some believe, while others do not? Why is God’s existence obvious to some, while others are blind to it? If you are informed that everyone is headed to hell due to their sin problem, and the only remedy is placing one’s trust in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in our stead to atone for our sins, the only logical choice is to believe in Jesus, trusting in Him for your salvation. And yet myriads refuse this offer. Why?
Every genuine believer would agree that salvation is a gift from God, not a work of ourselves. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation is a gift, a work of God. Many Christians who agree with this still insist that it is people who choose whether or not to be saved. That position is error. It does not hold up under the weight of scripture, nor does it explain why so many elect not to choose to be saved, defying logic and human drive for self-preservation. The Biblical explanation, the truth, is laid out in Ephesians 1:4-6 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
We have this clearly spelled out again in Romans 8:29-30 “ For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This passage is commonly known as the golden chain of salvation because it gives us the ordo salutis, the order of salvation:
- Election – God’s choice of people to save. This choice occurred before the foundation of the world.
- Predestination – God’s The work of God to ordain to salvation those who have been elected to it.
- Calling – The preaching of the gospel message.
- Regeneration – The change in the person produced by God.
- Faith – The trust an individual has in the work of God on the cross.
- Repentance – Turning from sin.
- Justification – The imputation of righteousness to the individual thus making him righteous according to the law.
- Sanctification – God’s work in the individual to make him more like Christ.
- Perseverance – God’s work in the individual results in the person continually believing throughout his life.
- Glorification – Resurrection to glory with God. (Credit: CARM)
We do not choose to believe in and of ourselves. We believe because God chose us and gave us the gifts of faith, belief, and repentance. Where folks get mixed up in this is that they object to election due to the general offer of salvation. God does promise to save any who come to Him and believe. That is true. But no one will unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). Our fallen, finite minds protest “but how can God hold them accountable for unbelief if they can’t believe unless He enables them to?” Our minds cannot reconcile this, but God does reconcile it perfectly in His own mind, so we trust Him. If you struggle with this, I urge you to go back to the basics: Is God perfect? Is He just? Is He truth? Is He trustworthy? Can He be trusted to do what is right? The answer to all of those questions is YES. Therefore, we let these truths remain in tension, trusting that God always does the right thing; He makes no mistakes.
So, that is why one more miracle never changes unbelief. Miracles, arguments, and evidence never convince a unregenerate mind. Only God does that, through His election, predestination, calling and regeneration. He gives the ability to believe. Miracles simply affirm and encourage what we believers already know to be true, because of His grace. If God has saved you, praise Him today! What a wonderful and undeserved gift! If you are not saved, fall on the only one who is mighty to save: Jesus the Christ!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Here are some articles for further study:
Is faith a gift? sermon by John MacArthur
God’s gift of faith article by Ligonier Ministries