by Mike Ratliff
27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke (5:27-32 ESV)
I had someone ask me not long ago how our salvation could be totally by Grace alone through faith alone, totally God’s work alone if it involved our repentance. My response to him was that the repentance part was our response to our Lord’s call, ἀκολούθει μοι, “Follow me.” However, the washing of regeneration, the gift of faith had been given as part of this effectual call. That is why we turned as Levi did, leaving everything, rising, and following our Lord. There are two calls of the gospel, the general call and the effectual call. The general call goes to everyone so there is no excuse. The effectual call, as the one above to Levi, which the Pharisees and the scribes objected to, always leads to repentance and goes only to God’s elect.
1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV)
5 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐὰν μὴ μετανοήσητε, πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε. (Luke 13:5 GNT)
5 Not (οὐχι) ́, I say (λέγω) to you (ὑμῖν), but (ἀλλ᾿) except (ἐὰν μὴ) you might change mind (μετανοήσητε), all (πάντες) likewise (ὁμοίως) you will destroy (ἀπολεῖσθε.) (Luke 13:5 word-for-word translation from Greek to English)
Think of what our Lord was telling these people. If people cannot μετανοήσητε or repent then they will be lost. Who can repent? No one can do it. No one can keep the Law of God. In this passage, our Lord makes it very clear that all men are lost in their sins from birth. There are no exceptions. Some Galileans had been captured in the Temple as they were making sacrifices. They were probably wanted for being zealots. In any case, Pilate had them killed. To the Jews, this was blasphemous, but it also marked these men as particularly bad sinners. Jesus’ point is that, yes, they were sinners, but so were the ones telling him the story. They were guilty before God because of their sin. Those people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them were no worse sinners than them either. All people need a Saviour, an advocate before God unless they can repent and totally keep the Law of God. Who has kept the Law of God? Only one, Jesus Christ perfectly kept the Law of God. This is why He is the perfect sacrifice of God as our propitiation. He took our place as God poured out His wrath on our sin.
Now, this salvation is redemption of God’s elect. Who are they? I do not know. They are the ones that God calls and they believe the gospel and are saved as Levi was. Have you heard the gospel and believed that Jesus died on the Cross for your sins and that there is absolutely nothing you could do to save your self? If this is true then have you turned from trying to save yourself to Christ for salvation?
This last part is that repentance, which is only possible by those being called by God. Those who do this are changed forever. They are new creations. They are no longer slaves to sin. They are not perfect, but they are now in the Kingdom of God and are in God’s family by His grace through the faith He has given them.
When our Lord says. “Repent, follow me,” then be assured, the Holy Spirit is there giving the elect all they need to do what is commanded. Those who followed Him before His crucifixion were saved by believing in Him to save them from their sins just as all of us since His crucifixion believe in His finished work.
My Brethren, before my understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation became more clear as I studied these things, passages such as this one seems so out of place in light of the gentle, all loving, kind, Jesus being sold by the churches I was part of. A good friend sent me the following excerpt from Phil Johnson, Executive Director of GTY.
My trek from Arminianism to Calvinism took more than ten years. Every time one of my arguments against Calvinist doctrines would fall, I would be forced to embrace some doctrine that I had heretofore been desperately trying to argue against.
But I never had any sense of defeat. It was more like I was resolving nagging conflicts in my own mind. Because I kept discovering that the truths at the heart of Calvinism truly are the doctrines of grace—principles that I had always affirmed: God is sovereign, Christ died for me, God loved me before I loved Him, He sought me and drew me and initiated my reconciliation while I was still His enemy. Those are allbiblical truths, and I believed them even when I was a gung-ho Arminian.
So embracing Calvinism was natural—and inevitable—because all I was doing was ridding my mind of wrong ideas and faulty assumptions about human free will and other notions like that, which are not even taught in the Bible—so that I could wholeheartedly affirm what I really believed anyway: That God is God, and He does all His good pleasure, and no one can make Him do otherwise, and He is in control and in charge no matter how much noise evildoers try to make.
And not only is He in charge, He is working all things out for my good and His glory.
That’s Calvinism. And if you believe those things, you have affirmed the heart of Calvinist doctrine, even if you call yourself an Arminian. Those are the basic truths of Calvinism, and if you already believe those things, you are functioning with Calvinist presuppositions.
There’s more. If you are an authentic Christian, you know in your heart of hearts that you weren’t born again because you were morally superior to your unbelieving neighbors. You were worthy of God’s wrath just like them (Ephesians 2:1-3). According to Ephesians 2:4-6, it was God who quickened you and showed you a special mercy—and that is why you are a believer. You already know that in your heart. You don’t really believe you summoned faith and came to Christ in your own power and by your own unaided free will. You don’t actually believe you are morally superior to unbelievers. You therefore must see, somewhere in your soul, that God has given you special grace that He has not shown everyone.
You also believe God is absolutely sovereign over all things. I know you do, because you lean on the promise of Romans 8:28. And that promise would mean nothing if God were not in control of every detail of everything that happens. If He is not in control of all things, how could He work all things together for good?
Furthermore, you pray for the lost, which means in your heart, you believe God is sovereign over their salvation. If you didn’t really believe He was sovereign in saving sinners, you’d quit praying for the lost and start doing everything you could to buttonhole people into the kingdom by hook or by crook, instead. But you know that would be folly.
And you pray about other things, too, don’t you? You pray that God will change this person’s heart, or alter the circumstances of that problem. That’s pure Calvinism. When we go to God in prayer, we’re expressing faith in His sovereignty over the circumstances of our lives.
You believe God operates sovereignly in the administration of all His providence. You say things like, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15)—because you believe that God works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), and nothing happens apart from his will.
Nothing is more biblical than these doctrines that are commonly labeled Calvinism. In a way, it is a shame they have been given an extrabiblical name. Because these truths are the very essence of what Scripture teaches. – Phil Johnson
My Brethren, let’s stop playing games with the gospel. This is not about who is right or who is wrong. It is not about who has the right proof texts or who is the best debaters or whatever. It is about none of that. Nor is it about religiosity. Go back to the top of this post and reread Luke 5:27-32. Jesus came to a publican, a sinner, named Levi where he was and simply said, “follow me”, ἀκολούθει μοι, and Levi did because the Holy Spirit was right there working in his heart. I could have quoted Ephesians 2:1-10 and Titus 3:5 to back that up, and if you doubt what I have shared here then I suggest that you do that by clicking those links. In any case, the point is this, God is sovereign over all things and that includes our salvation.
Soli Deo Gloria!