A Journey into the truth

by Mike Ratliff

Before God opened my Heart to the truth about the doctrines of grace, I always assumed that I was saved because I decided to commit myself to Christ and accept Him as Lord and savior. Along with that, I also assumed that God rewarded that decision by saving me by the new birth. In other words, I was Born Again because I chose to believe. I mean, after all, don’t we have to choose to be saved? Don’t we preach that sinners must take that first step? If we take the first step then the savior will take the rest, etc. I believed that was how Christians became Christians for most of my life.

About 20 years ago, I was teaching a Sunday school class made up of 9th and 10th grade boys. I cannot remember what the lesson was about, but for some reason we were discussing salvation. I started with the fall of Adam and how that imputed unrighteousness to humankind. Then I shared the verses from Romans about Man’s utter helplessness in coming to salvation. This led to a discussion of the processes each of has to go through in order to be saved. One of my wiseacre boys asked the following question, “If we are helpless to save ourselves then how can we take the first step?” I had never been asked that before. I stumbled around it for a few minutes and said that that first step was not what saved us; it was our acceptance of Jesus as Lord and savior that saved us. I could tell they did not buy it. I even came up with the following doozie, “God does it this way so He can be glorified.” They stared at me as if I had worms crawling out of my ears. My next statement did not make sense even to me. I said, “When we obey God on our own initiative like that, then He is glorified.” Even my own conscience was yelling, “baloney” to me.

In other words, I had come to believe that we, being dead in our sins, still can choose to believe God with no help from Him. I also believed that God was glorified when we obeyed him that way. I admit that the last statement was what really bothered me. I could not continue to accept that in peace. It bothered me until that wonderful day last year when God opened my Heart to the truth of His sovereignty, our responsibility, and the true nature of salvation.

My acceptance of the doctrines of grace was not immediate. I actually stumbled into studying them. I was writing a chapter in my third book, All for His Glory, about praying in the Spirit. I did some research on the internet. One of my search results hit on an article written by John Bunyan titled Praying in the Spirit. On the same page was his entire bibliography. That was when I remembered that he had written Pilgrims Progress in the 17th century. I bookmarked the link then continued my research. About this same time, a friend of mine in Church kept bringing up Pilgrims Progress in our discussions about Walking in the Spirit. I felt drawn to it. I went back to the bookmarked link and started reading. I was struck by Bunyan’s description of the main character’s salvation. It did not resemble our systematic approach to it at all. There was no sinner’s prayer. There was no decision to believe, at least not in the way we did it. Instead, the character “Christian” simply became convicted of his sin and lost condition to the point that, at the direction of an evangelist, he journeyed to the narrow gate to seek salvation. When he entered by the narrow gate he was then prepared to go to the cross by a series of instructions. Then he walked up to the cross. He looked at Jesus hanging there. As he beheld Him, his heart was reborn. Then the burden of his sin fell away into a deep pit.

As I contemplated that, I became curious about the Puritans’ understanding of salvation. I started researching the Puritans, which led to more research of the Protestant Reformation. It was during this phase that I found a great deal of material on two opposing views of salvation called Calvinism and Arminianism. I read the history of both and the different comparisons between their beliefs. I became stunned. As a Southern Baptist, I found that my actual doctrinal position consisted of one of the 5 points of Calvinism with four from the 5 points of Arminianism. This really shook me up. How could this be?

Here is an article similar to the one I read that day: http://www.mikeratliff.com/compare.htm. (If you go to read it, hit your browser's back button to return here.)

Over the next several weeks, I researched this continually. It seemed that every couple of days I would accept one more of the 5 points of Calvinism as I rejected its Arminian counterpart. After a few weeks, I was down to one holdout. I still could not grasp how a believer was saved if they did not choose and act. I had been taught for decades that salvation came to those who acted so I kept looking for how the Reformers led people to Christ. In other words, I was hung up on Irresistible Grace vs. Resistible Grace.

Then God led me to the following article: http://www.mikeratliff.com/calvinism.htm. (If you go to read it, hit your browser's back button to return here.)

As I read it, I found that my heart was burning within me. God used the ample use of scripture in that article along with its wonderful expository style to open my heart to the truth. God is sovereign. Our salvation is His work in us. He is the author and finisher of our faith. From that moment on, I have been an adherent to the doctrines of grace. I bought and read every book I could find on the subject such as, Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul, The Doctrines Grace by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards, and The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink. These godly men led me to the scriptures and reinforced within me the need for its proper Biblical exegesis.

The strength of the doctrines of grace is in the exegesis. That means the only way anyone can challenge these doctrines is to take scripture out of context and attempt to read into them what the detractors wanted them to say. No amount of this eisegesis can stand. No one has ever been able to defeat the doctrines of grace because they are the true exposition of Sacred Scripture. Calvinism did not come from Calvin. It came from the Bible. I would really like to go back in time to that Sunday School class, so I could answer those boys questions now…

PS. Let me make one last thing clear. Yes, when sinners are regenerated so they can believe they must still excercise the faith God gives them to repent and believe. At that point, God justifies them according to His will.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff