I love the book of Acts. This morning I was reading the account of the conversion of Lydia. It is a beautiful example of God’s sovereign and singular work in salvation:
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
Isn’t that a beautiful scene to picture in your mind? It is just one sentence, one verse, and yet it is so moving. When you contemplate the supernatural miracle that happened, it is truly amazing that it can be contained in one tiny sentence. I have noticed that much of the Scripture is written very succinctly, relaying great truths in the least amount of words possible. If we are not careful, and are reading too quickly, we can blow right by important details, overlooking plain and obvious truth.
Many in the church today (believers who have read this verse many times) believe that God leaves the decision of salvation up to the individual. Their position is that Jesus paid the price; the door is open, but people have to chose of their own volition to walk through it or not. But what does the Bible actually say? Read through the verse above again. Who do we discern was the active agent in Lydia’s conversion? Did Lydia decide of her own volition? No. She was listening, and the Lord opened her heart to respond. The Lord, not Lydia. It is right there in plain sight.
Here are some other verses that give that same, straight-forward truth. It is not hidden, not secret. It is all over scripture:
44 “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).
65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65)
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, (Ephesians 1:4-5)
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 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; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)
I recommend reading John chapter 6 and Romans chapters 8 & 9 in their entirety, on the issue of God’s sovereignty in salvation. It is crystal clear.
Where folks get confused is over the command to believe and the genuine general offer to all of salvation. Yes, God commands everyone to believe. However, just because He commands it, does not mean we are capable. The scriptures are clear; no one believes unless God enables him first to believe. God has all sorts of standards that we fall short of, but that does not mean we are not culpable.
Additionally, God genuinely offers salvation to any who come. He is genuine in His offer and in His longing for all to be saved. “But that is not just or fair!” one may argue, “how can it be fair to hold people accountable for a decision they are not able to make without God’s help?” If you find yourself objecting and asking these questions, I suggest to take a step back. Do you agree that God is just, without sin, unable to lie, loving, truthful? Yes, He is. Does He always do the right thing? Yes, He does. Taking into consideration those truths about God’s nature and attributes, you then place those objections under, or subservient to, those truths.
If God is all of those things, then it is not unjust. He is not cruel. It is a wonder that He saves anyone! If He does not intervene and open an individuals heart, giving them the gifts of faith, repentance, and belief, is He unjust in allowing them to go the way they are already headed of their own choice?*** No. We all deserve hell. That is what makes His election of His own an amazing display of mercy! By electing individuals to salvation, God gets all of the glory. It is not by our works, but by His grace. Having a right understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation humbles the believers heart, resulting in awe and praise! It is by design.
***To those who will object, saying “you just said people cannot choose! Now you are saying that they choose to go to hell?” People are able to make choices, but those choices are restricted to their natures. Every person born is born with a sin-nature and as such cannot chose righteousness. Therefore, all those left in their sinful conditions are choosing to reject God. He is not the author of sin.
Here are some links to resources by men more able than I, to answer any objections to sovereign election, in case I was not clear:
Unconditional Election by Ligonier
How can God be sovereign and man still be free? by Monergism
Is the doctrine of election Biblical? by John MacArthur
What is Free Will? video by R.C. Sproul
Soli Deo Gloria!