John 1:12-13 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
In our last post we began considering article V of the Baptist Faith and Message on the subject of God's Sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation. Today we plan to conclude what is an introduction to the Southern Baptist position on these two subjects. God's Sovereign Election should not be cause for pain, but rather praise of God. Studying the nearly 100 Biblical passages that speak on the subject of Sovereign election should be cause for humility, rather than haughtiness. In like manner, we must also include man's free-moral agency, or human responsibility in the realm of human salvation. As true as it is that no one wills to be saved apart from God's willingness to save; yet we also equally affirm that none can be saved unless they exercise faith and repentance in response to the Gospel. This tension is with us and mustn't be erased nor relieved, since scripture affirms both without erasing one on account of the other nor attempting to harmonize both. The above opening text in John 1:12-13 puts side by side these two realities of human responsibility in salvation (verse 12) and God's Sovereign purposes in such salvation (verse 13). With those opening thoughts, lets continue on in our introduction to these subjects.
Some further reflections on what Southern Baptists teach regarding God's Sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation
Southern Baptists have historically held to both the so-called "God-side" of salvation (election, foreknowledge, predestination) and the "man-ward" side of the same subject (believe, repent, response). Like a pair of tennis shoes with shoe laces running through them, tying the shoes requires me taking two strings in my hands to tie them. Yet, it is ultimately one lace that runs through eyelets of the shoe.
The one lace of course is God's Sovereign will in salvation, which runs from beginning to end. God is to be credited for our salvation and the ultimate reasons why any Christian perseveres in their sanctification. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 notes in the same article quoted above:
"All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end."
Viewing Biblical Salvation Through Both Lenses Of God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility
So does the Southern Baptist statement above match with what we find in scripture? Short answer: yes. We can only do a thumbnail sketch, since over 100 passages speak on God's elective purposes of grace and the human responsibility to believe and be saved. Both truths are needed in order for us to have the proper perception of Biblical salvation, much like a good pair of 3-D glasses.
The first lens is that of human responsibility. We know that the Bible teaches the necessity to believe and repent in order to be saved.
God plainly says in Ezekiel 33:11 that He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but actually urges them to turn from their choice of rejecting Him. This first lens of human responsibility steers us from committing the error of thinking that God sends people to Hell. God does not send anyone to hell. Man does. This insight matches with what we read in 2 Peter 3:9, namely that God is not desiring or willing that anyone would perish, but all come to repentance.
In as much as the Apostles Peter and Paul taught that God is Sovereign in salvation and that no salvation could begin without His election, foreknowledge and predestination, Peter is quick to make sure we are also using that other lens of human responsibility. Peter presents this same salvation through that second lens - the lens of human responsibility to salvation by such words as "to obtain" (1:4) and "faith" (1:5, 7 and 9).
Closing Thoughts: A Voice Of Southern Baptist History Weighs in on Biblical Salvation
As the late pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Dr. W.A Criswell stated about these two truths in a sermon he preached, "God Hath Chosen You":
"Truth is a big, great, mighty mountain, and you can’t see to the top of it. The highest-most pinnacle is shrouded in mists and in clouds and in thick darkness. No man can see all of it. The most a man can see in the great mountain of truth is just one side – one side at a time. A man is so limited in his mind that he cannot even see two great truths together and make them fit."
Dr. Criswell was a champion of Biblical preaching and was a voice for his generation. He goes on further in his remarks:
"For example, there is no man that has ever lived that could make fit together these two truths, though you can talk about them one at a time: the sovereignty of God, and the free moral agency of the man. You can look at one at a time, one side at a time, but you can’t see them both together. You can’t even see all the truth if you were in an airplane and had an air view of it."
Criswell then closes:
"So when we come to look at the mountain of truth – at God’s work and God Himself, who is light and life and truth – it behooves us to be very humble."
Humility and awe are the twin pillars that must be in the heart whenever we approach the Bible's teaching on salvation.