“no one comes”
I once heard a preacher say that if you are feeling distant or separated from God that it is you that moved, not he. There is a great deal of truth in that statement. Sin is a great divide that separates us, a sinful people, from a Holy God. And the divide was caused by our sin. Yet, praise be to God that a bridge has been provided for us in Jesus Christ!
The debate in Christian circles is not over whether we come, but over what causes us to come. This debate is often called the Calvinistic/Wesleyan or the Calvinistic/Arminian debate, but the roots of the debate go back much further than John Wesley, Jacob Arminius, or John Calvin. The roots of this debate lie with a man named Pelagius and Saint Augustine.
Pelagius denied the doctrine of Original Sin (I guess he never had children). He said that all sin was learned and that we could live a sinless life if we just tried hard enough. Of course, were even one person able to live a perfect life, then there would be no need for the sacrifice of Jesus. Eventually the church pronounced Pelagius and his view heretical, as it denies the need for the atonement.
While Arminius did not deny Original Sin, he did build on Pelagius’ premise that we are capable of coming to faith in Jesus on our own strength, that faith is something we bring to salvation. While Arminius and his followers’ teachings were never well received in their native Netherlands, a young English preacher named John Wesley became enchanted by their teachings.
Ultimately, John Wesley would affirm God’s sovereignty over everything except the human will. He said that God woos us to himself through his “prevenient grace” (grace that goes before), but the ultimate choice was left up to us. In Wesley’s view, Jesus’ death was to atone for the sins of everyone, it was just up unto each individual as to whether they would accept the gift he offers. God regenerates the sinner, but not until the sinner comes to him in faith.
We who are in the Reformed tradition of Calvin and Augustine disagree vehemently with this position. Through sin, death entered into the world (Genesis 3) and we die not only physically, but apart from the spirit, we are dead spiritually (Romans 8:5-8). One who is dead can do nothing to aid his own cause—he is dead, and can only rot and become more corrupted. It is impossible for the spiritually dead to please God in any way (Romans 8:8). Thus faith is not something we are capable of providing; rather, when the Holy Spirit regenerates the believer, He also instills faith into the believer.
Wesley was never comfortable with the ramifications of this theology. For if faith and regeneration were a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, then God must be doing the choosing when it comes to redemption. To this, the Calvinist says a hearty, Amen! The scriptures are filled with references to God’s election of his people. All through history, God chose certain people to bring to himself and others to leave to their sinful ways. If you take the scriptures seriously, you cannot get away from this fact. Christ’s death was fully effective for all of those whose name were written in the Book of Life from before the foundations of the earth (Ephesians 1:3-6). Upon just this issue, Jesus himself says: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will not ever cast out.” (John 6:37)
Friends, we are surrounded by people who teach that faith is something that you generate from within yourself, and because of that, you can lose your salvation if you don’t stand strong enough in the faith. This is not the teaching of scripture. If God does the working in you, he will do the keeping of you until the very end (Romans 8:28-30). Though we need to work hard to live a life for God’s glory, not backsliding into sin, we can take a great deal of encouragement that it is God himself who will ensure that we finish the race.
Loved ones, take heart. God has called, he has awakened your soul, and he has given you faith so that you might come to his son, Jesus. You have been brought out of the darkness and into the light of Christ, and Christ will not turn away any who his father has given him—no never, will he cast you away.