by Mike Ratliff
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)
Relativism has enslaved this post-modern 21st Century. The push to equalize everything continues unabated even though it has become apparent to continue down this path is bordering on insanity. Unfortunately, evangelical Christianity has succumbed to the madness as well.
During the Protestant Reformation, all who could read received a wonderful gift from God. Inexpensive Bibles in their own language became readily available with the invention of the printing press. The revival that burned across Europe and later to the American colonies resulted from the newly found deep Bible knowledge among theologians, pastors, and the disciples in the pews. They devoured their Bibles. God gave them a hunger for His Word and a thirst for righteousness. The preaching of the gospel was in full force from the pulpit. There was no attempt to water it down to make it easier for people to accept. That made no sense to them since they knew conversion of Christians came by the grace of God through faith not by any person's works. They proclaimed the sovereignty of God. They did not attempt to cover up the fact that God is holy and just and His wrath burns against all sin.
Just a few weeks ago, I heard a comment from a pastor of a well-known Mega-Church proudly proclaiming that he had not preached about sin in over three years. What sort of Christianity could that be? I am sure most of that church's converts came there to achieve some sort of self-gratification instead of seeking a savior. They may call that Christianity, but God says otherwise.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (Revelation 3:14-22)
The Church at Laodicea resembles a large part of the post-Modern Western Church. Today's version is self-focused. It has no fire for the true gospel. In fact, it seems to exist solely to provide a surrogate religious experience in place of devotion to the glory of God alone. When the gospel is given it is so watered down it is more of an invitation to join the group to find fulfillment rather than a proclamation of Jesus Christ as our only savior from the penalty of our sins.
Some of the semi-Pelagian and Arminian Churches do proclaim the gospel, but their emphasis is still on what Man does to be saved rather than what God does to save sinners. Many may say, "So what?" However, the problem is in their perception of the miracle of salvation. The Calvinist knows salvation is a complete miracle that is undeserved. He or she knows salvation is a gift from God not a work Man does.
Some of the confusion about this comes from a misunderstanding of how God calls sinners to repentance. There are two gospel calls. The first is the general call that comes from preachers and gospel presenters. The lost resist this call all the time. The second is the effectual call direct from God that no one can resist. The Calvinist understands that the general call is the presentation of the gospel to all people on the planet. This comes from preaching and presenting the gospel to the lost. The unregenerate can and do reject this call because it is not the effectual call from the Holy Spirit. The Arminian and semi-Pelagian say this is proof people must to decide or choose to believe. This confusion causes them to use techniques that utilize the general call as if it is the effectual call. When people walk the aisle in response to an invitation at the end of a church service, those churches see them as genuinely saved when actually what they are witnessing is, more often than not, a response to the general call of the gospel. God has not yet made the call effectual to that person. This causes big problems. These converts are the ones that do not stick. They quickly fall away or remain in the visible church as tares.
And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Mark 4:2-9)
The seed that fell on the rocky ground and in the thorns describes those who respond to the general call of the gospel only. On the other hand, the seed that fell into the good soil describes those whose heart God has prepared by striving with them. When they hear the gospel presented God makes the call effectual. These are the ones whom God regenerates and saves. Some of those who respond to the general call of the gospel only are those tares we discussed in the last chapter. Some who respond to the general call God will regenerate later as He extends His effectual grace to them in His own timing. I was one of those. The problem is the misrepresentation of the gospel. With an emphasis on decision-only salvation, those who respond to the general call are told they are truly saved if they say a sinner's prayer according to a specific pattern. This only adds to the confusion.
Unfortunately, many elect do come to salvation in the wrong church. A church environment geared to the lowest common denominator surrounds these believers. Bible knowledge is not very deep. False doctrines deceive many. There is a huge emphasis on unbiblical things or fringe issues. This focus does nothing but distract these believers from living for God's glory alone. The result is Soul-led spiritual mediocrity.
When I was a college student, I absolutely hated to get any grade less than an "A." I was an adult who went back to college after being in the military. I was very serious about my grades. However, most of the students in my classes were young and right out of high school. Their emphasis was on having no studying to do on weekends. That was the only time I had to study so I always wanted tests on Mondays. They wanted no tests on Mondays. When I had an accounting test in the middle of the week I struggled, but if it was on Monday I usually aced it. When I complained to one of the students next to me when we got our midweek tests, back and I had a "B" he did not understand why that upset me. A "B" was fine with him.
I am convinced most pew-sitting believers in the Western Church are like that classmate of mine concerning their spirituality. Their emphasis is self-gratification with a minimum amount of focus going God's way. A large percentage of these Soul-led believers are not genuine. They responded to the general call of the gospel, but they believe they are genuine because they said that sinner's prayer. The truly saved believer is a new creation. He or she believed as God regenerated their heart so they could do so. After regeneration, they are reborn.
The spiritually mediocre churches count all "decisions" as genuine. Their church rolls are usually two to three times their weekly attendance. Some of their converts are genuine; however, statistics prove their brand of the gospel produces only spiritual mediocrity at best. They preach, "Come to Jesus so He can make your life better!" Many do come, but when they realize being Christian does not automatically make anyone's life better they reject it all and leave.
Genuine salvation follows a certain order. God is not haphazard about anything. God always follows the order He has ordained for the salvation of each of His elect. The Latin name for this long chain of God's actions and our responses that He uses to accomplish our salvation is "Ordo Salutis." Even though we think of this order as a chain, some of the steps happen instantaneously together with other steps. We find this order in Romans 8:29-30.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
The first link in this chain is "foreknowledge." This word is a compound word made up of "fore," meaning beforehand, and "knowledge." The Arminian says this word means God looked into the future and saw who would believe so he "foreknew" whom to elect. That understanding comes from reading this passage in English. The Greek word translated, "foreknew," in v29 is has a very different focus than "foreknowledge about some people's future actions." It does not refer to what God knows about human's actions. Foreknowledge refers to God fixing His love and attention upon a certain group of people. This focus is speaking of God electing those He foreknew and loved. Foreknowledge is not speaking about foreknowing humans' actions thereby being passive. If it is passive as the Arminians say then all it would see in the future is rejection. However, praise God, His foreknowledge set apart those whom God saves because of His perfect love for them.
The second link in the chain is "predestination." Many hate that word. However, the Bible is full of references to it so we must grasp its true meaning. It is also a compound word made up of "pre," meaning "beforehand," and "destiny" or "destination." It is a very straightforward concept. The word means to determine someone's destiny beforehand. Predestination is the next logical step for God to take after foreknowledge. First, He loves the elect then He determines their "destiny." What is the elect's destiny? Look at Romans 8:29. The elect's destiny is conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. That can only happen through a great work done by the Lord because none of us could bring that about.
The third link in the chain is "effectual calling." We have looked at this quite a bit already. Did you notice that the "general call" is not one of the links in the chain? It does not accomplish the work of salvation. However, the effectual call does. The effectual call issues the direct call to repent and believe as it provides the ability and willingness to do so. This is a call to the spiritually dead to respond and become spiritually alive.
"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)
The Greek word translated "draw" in v44 above is used in James 2:6 as well. Here is that verse.
But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? (James 2:6)
The word we are looking for in this verse is "drag." In Greek this word means, "to draw" as drawing water from a well or making the object of the verb do something by imposing the will of the one doing the action upon it. In other words, in John 6:44, it does not mean God woos people to believe, but rather, He drags them to believe by imposing His will upon them. Think about it. The lost are dead in their trespasses in sins. (Ephesians 2:1) They are spiritually dead. They are living within a coffin made up of their sins. They are alive in the flesh, but spiritually dead. They cannot do anything to save themselves. Therefore, the "drawing" of those to Jesus by God is the effectual calling the Holy Spirit does to regenerate the hearts of those whom God saves.
The fourth link in the chain is "regeneration." This is the result of the effectual call. It is what produces the new birth. This brings the spiritually dead to life. It is God replacing the new believer's heart of stone with a heart of flesh. It is God bringing the new believer from spiritual darkness into His light. It is the transformation of the new believer's character into a new creation in Christ. (John 5:24; Ezekiel 11:19; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17) Regeneration comes before saving faith. God puts His new life in those He chooses to save. If this does not happen, there is no belief. The new birth through regeneration occurs before saving faith.
The fifth link in the chain is "repentance and faith." The new birth brings instant self-realization of the reality of the sinner's lost condition. Along with that, each repenting sinner sees his or her sin the way God does. They now hate what they used to love. This hate produces repentance, turning from sin as they turn to Christ for salvation. Repentance and faith are the responsibility of the believer. God gives us the faith to believe, but He does not repent or believe for us. The new believer is able to do this only because of the prior work of God regenerating his or her heart. Repentance and faith happen together, at once. Without both, there is no salvation.
The sixth link in this chain is "justification." This is God's work alone. It is God, acting as judge, declaring new believers to be in right standing before Him. He bases this judgment on what Jesus Christ has done by taking their place by His death on the cross. All believers are sinners saved by grace. There is no merit or basis for God justifying any of them.
The seventh link in this chain is "adoption." After justification, God declares the new believer to be a new member in His spiritual family. This judicial act declares that the new member of the family has all of the blessings and benefits that go with it. This means all believers can come boldly to the throne of grace and they are joint heirs with Christ. (Galatians 4:6-7; Hebrews 4:16)
The eighth link in this chain is "sanctification." All of the previous links in this chain except "repentance and faith" are God's work alone. None is cooperative rather each one is Monergistic. God does them with no participation from the believer. However, sanctification is a cooperative effort by God working with the new nature of the believer synergistically. This means God designs and implements the believer's maturation path while the believer must continue to work out their salivation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12-13) God works hard in the believer and the believer must respond by working. We have looked at this many times. This is the process of walking the Walk by Faith.
The ninth and final link in this chain is "glorification." Do you remember the second link in chain? God predestines all elect to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Romans 8:29) In Romans 8:30 Paul uses the past tense for this word. This is declaring that our destination is sure. (Philippians 1:4) We have this wonderful promise from God to those who have been saved by Grace through faith. It is all from God.
None of the regenerate simply made "decisions for Christ." Instead, God foreknew them, predestined them, called them, regenerated them, drew them to believe and repent, justified them, adopted them, sanctified them, and glorified them. The difference between the believers who are discipled within this process and those in the "decision" method will be how they respond to sanctification processes God brings into their lives. If the believer is discipled biblically, their response to sanctification will be cooperation while those who believe they decided for Christ will struggle. They are far more likely to strand themselves in mediocrity than will the properly discipled believer.
The curse of mediocrity is spiritual immaturity and unbelief. Genuine believers mired in unbelief have never learned to cooperate with God in the sanctification process. They rebel and become angry with God. Their hearts become hard. God rescued me from that hellhole. If I can be drawn out of Soul-led mediocrity, anyone can. If you know anyone still struggling mightily with any of the things discussed in this chapter, you must pray for God to reveal the truth to their hearts. If you are Spirit-led, praise the Lord because you are cooperating fully with the Lord in your sanctification process. The alternative is Soul-led mediocrity and who wants that?
I almost hesitate to breach this next subject, but the Spirit says I must. I am a Southern Baptist; however, God has radically matured my understanding of doctrine over the last several months. I used to teach many things I would not dare to do so now. I used to counsel people at altar calls or "invitations" as the Baptists call them. I helped counsel youth who came forward at revivals we held in our church. However, I am convinced a large majority of those who came forward were responding to the general call of the gospel only so they were not genuine conversions. I prayed with them all as I lead them in the sinner's prayer. Undoubtedly, a few I have witnessed to were authentic, but those were the few who were responding to God's effectual call such as my dying uncle. Since it is God who saves His elect, in His timing, of what value is the alter call or invitation we have at the end of our worship services? The regenerate believers are born of the Spirit by repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the effectual call of God. The altar call will not assist in this at all. The unregenerate non-believers who respond to the general call cannot believe until God makes the call effectual so the altar call cannot meet their need either. I fear the altar call only confuses the issue and creates many tares in the visible church if it is used to simply get "Decisions for Christ."
My Grandfather Ratliff was a Baptist preacher. I do not remember hearing him preach because he was retired by the time I was old enough to remember. However, my dad told me he preached with fire and brimstone. I would like to have heard him. One Sunday when I was in my mid-teens, we had a replacement preacher fill in for ours who was out of town for some reason. This preacher was of my Grandfather's generation. He was a large man with snow-white hair and a big booming voice. The sermon was very convicting to me because I knew I was lost at that time, but I was running away from God as fast as I could go. At the end of his sermon I was expecting the usual "invitation" with "Just as I am" sung repeatedly as I would fight the urge to go forward by hanging onto the pew in front of me. Instead, he simply prayed a very quick prayer for all unbelievers who heard the gospel that day to come under the conviction of the effectual call of God. Then he simply said, "You are dismissed." As we drove home, my dad said it was just as if my Grandfather had come back from the grave to preach that day. That was exactly how he used to do it. My mother told me that Mr. Ratliff, my Grandfather, baptized multitudes of people who believed after hearing him preach. She told me that people come up to her all the time remarking that they or their parents or grandparents came to faith in Christ through Mr. Ratliff's preaching. Now, how did all those people believe if there was no altar call or invitation? The obvious answer is that salvation is not a decision. It is a holy and complete work of God.
Prior to Charles Finney in the early part of the 19th century, the method used in this matter was to pray for the Holy Spirit to move into the Hearts of the unregenerate elect with His effectual call then simply believe he was actively doing His work. Those who believed would then come privately to the pastor or to an elder for counseling and prayer. No one could make a public profession of faith until he or she understood what a weighty thing it was to make that oath before God. The elders and pastor would observe them for a length of time to see if regeneration had actually occurred. These new converts had to be able to make a credible profession of faith that included a correct conception of the gospel message. This conception coupled with a good report concerning his or her manner of life as consistent with a true profession was the evidence of one walking in newness of life. If the new believer passed these tests and their regenerated life was observable then they would make their profession of faith public. Baptism followed quickly.
I have been baptized three times. When I was in the 4th grade, the church my family attended had a weeklong revival. All of my friends in my Sunday school class went forward at the invitation on the last night of the "crusade." So, guess what I did. Yes, I went down to the front just as they did. Why did I do that? I was not drawn at all. I did not want to be left out. No one counseled me at all. No one prayed with me. No one shared the gospel with me. I filled out a card. A week later, I was baptized along with several others of all ages. Now, was I a believer? Not at all! Nothing had happened. I had done something religious that is all. When I grew into my teens, I matured enough to intellectually understand the gospel message and with that, I knew I was lost. All through that period, I fought the general call of the gospel. When I got old enough to stay away from church, I did.
I went to college and fought off all sorts of invitations to go to church or the Baptist Student Union with some friends. Then I went into the Navy. In 1975, I started attending a Charismatic church in Washington D.C. called Christ's Church. The young adult group I was in held a hayride on Halloween that year. I went and I remember vividly that cold night around that bonfire feeling a tug at my heart. I sneaked away to be by myself. I looked up at the moon and stars and told God I was ready to surrender. That is all I did. No regeneration happened. I still had little or no self-control. I was not changed at all. However, I told some people in my group what I had done. They arranged for me to be baptized. So, a week later on Sunday morning I was baptized again. A few months later, I was completely back into my old lifestyle of rebellion. I quit going to church.
In 1984, I was married with two small children. The bank I worked for in Oklahoma City was bought out by large bank in Tulsa. They moved us to Tulsa. I was the Data Operations Analyst. While we were living in Broken Arrow, we started attending a Baptist Church in Tulsa whose pastor was a friend from my High School graduating class. We joined that church. I do not remember anyone asking me any penetrating questions about the veracity of my salvation. Several months later in January 1986, I went to church with my family on a very cold Sunday morning. We took the kids to their classes then Ina and I went to Sunday school. Our class met in the choir room so our chairs were on three different levels. The teacher stood at the bottom looking up at us. I found my seat and sat down.
The moment I sat down, I came under a very deep conviction that I was lost. All I could think was, "I am lost!" All through that class, I heard nothing but my conscience telling me I was lost. In church that day I heard nothing but "I am lost!" I heard no sermon. After church, we went home and had lunch. The rest of the day all I could hear was, "I am lost!" As the hour approached for our return to church for evening worship, I surrendered. I knew I was a sinner and I turned from it as I turned to Jesus. The "I am lost!" was replaced with, "I am saved!" We went back to church that evening. As I was sitting in my pew all I heard was, "I am saved!" I have no idea what the sermon was about. I do remember getting very impatient with the preacher. I wanted him to end it so I could take care of business. With the start of the invitation, I started down the aisle. As I approached the front, I was filled with immense joy. I knew I was saved. My pastor met me. I told him, "I wasn't sure I was saved when we joined the church, but I know I am now!" He had me pray with my Sunday school teacher. I prayed no sinner's prayer. I prayed this, "Lord thank you for saving me I am yours!" That was it. I was radically changed. God regenerated me instantaneously as I turned to Christ for salvation earlier that afternoon. The altar call functioned in that instance as the beginning of my public profession of faith. I was baptized a week later.
God's effectual call that radically saved me was not a dependant of an invitation or altar call. I had no choice about it either. I knew I was lost and I was a sinner. When I turned to Jesus in repentance I was saved, but that happened because God foreknew me, predestined me, called me, regenerated me, gave me the faith to believe, justified me, adopted me and sanctified me. He will glorify me in His timing. This would have happened whether there was an altar call or not. I was ready to believe from the moment I came under conviction. If someone had witnessed to me personally after I came under that conviction, I would have believed right then.
The handling of altar calls and invitations should be judicious. What I mean is, we need some sort of process that allows new believers to make their public professions of belief without emphasizing the responses to the general call of the gospel. We need to determine a way to eliminate that confusion causing mess. We do no one any favors if we encourage people to believe an aisle walk followed by a sinner's prayer saves anyone. It is God and God alone who saves people with His effectual call. The preaching of this gospel needs to replace the "decisions for Christ" Arminian gospel. Think what the Western Church would be like if we had no tares and all professing believers were genuine, maturing Spirit-led Christians.
The Western Church has mired itself in mediocrity because of rampant spiritual immaturity. This lack of maturity comes from a complete misunderstanding of the gospel. Since our enemy is a liar and murderer who cannot stand for God to be glorified, it should be obvious who is behind this. However, we have believed him. We must repent. We must pray for the truth of the gospel to become prevalent in the Church again. Let us pray for a new Great Awakening empowered by the authentic gospel preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. The curse of mediocrity will be hard upon us until God raises up those who will take the stand to be God's instruments of change and renewal as we repent. All for His Glory!
There is a good discussion on the validity of "Invitations" here
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.