by Mike Ratliff
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:39)
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)
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:63-65)
Humankind is plagued with selective rationalization. It seems we are all suffering under varying levels of self-deception. The Bible clearly shows that the fall of Man into the original sin corrupted our race resulting in all descendants of Adam being born with a depraved nature. This nature is completely self-oriented. All decisions made by an unregenerate heart are for self-gratification. Each person is a god. That means each person is an autonomous judge of what is right and wrong in every circumstance that touches him or her. There is no inclination to seek salvation from God. (Romans 3) There is no interest in seeking His grace. However, being desperate for fulfillment, each person must worship someone or something in a vain attempt to attain fulfillment from glory. Since the glory of anyone or anything other than God is next to nothing this pursuit does not really fulfill. Therefore, people have to pursue more and more attempts at fulfillment that do not really fulfill at all.
However, God is merciful and gracious. He has provided a way of salvation for Man from the penalty of his or her sins through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. His perfect life and sacrifice as a propitiation for our sins provides the way for sinful Man to become justified before God. God has revealed this way to Man through scripture. The problem is sinful Man has nothing inherent within which enables him or her to desire or seek this offer of salvation. The solution is salvation by grace through faith. We have looked at this several times in earlier chapters. The point I am attempting to make here is this; even knowing all of this is true, some "theologians" will not give up their false teachings that state sinful man does have the ability to seek salvation and believe without the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. Why do they do this? They are utilizing selective rationalization.
I was driving home from church a few weeks ago listening to my favorite Christian radio station here in the Kansas City area. As I turned on my radio, I heard a preacher I like to listen to sometimes so I was paying attention. He was talking about an experience he had very early in his ministry. He described a fellow who heard him share the gospel many times, but never became a believer. Then the man died. The preacher then said something that struck me to my core. He said when a person like that dies without Christ it is our fault. We have failed in some way. The Holy Spirit did His work in my heart revealing to me the fallacy of that statement. Yes, it is a tragedy when anyone dies in his or her sins, but the Bible clearly teaches that not everyone believes. The responsibility to believe is with each person who hears the gospel. The ones who are believers must share the gospel freely and pray for each person to believe unto salvation, but the responsibility to believe is theirs. In fact, the work of regeneration in their hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit not our words of persuasion. That is why the preaching of the gospel must be in the power of the Holy Spirit. That means correctly and for God's glory. Those who teach otherwise make the false assumption men and women do all of the work of salvation in cooperation with God. That is unbiblical and any serious study of scripture will reveal that truth. Therefore, I will repeat my question. Why do they teach their false gospel when they know the Bible teaches otherwise?
Selective rationalization comes into play when fallible, finite Man attempts to come to grips with a set of facts pertaining to God that appear to violate his or her conception of reality based on human common sense. The Word of God clearly spells out these facts; however, those truths seem to defy Man's ability to rationalize. Therefore, those who attempt to understand this process have two choices. Either they accept the process by faith or they apply selective rationalization to it. Here is an example I read earlier today. The writer was a seminary professor. In his younger days, he was a pastor in a major city in the Midwest. During that time, early in the 20th Century, he was part of a weekly seminar made up of local pastors. Some of the members were older while others were just getting started. In one meeting, they started a discussion about the Total Depravity or Total Inability of Man. Interestingly, some of the men there stood firm that they did not accept that doctrine, but they still held that salvation was still totally through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. The writer of the article was a Reformed pastor who was not part of that confusion. In opposition to the former group one of the more vocal younger pastors made quite a point of stating salvation would come to anyone who simply decided for Christ any time they chose. One of the older men in the group challenged him to write a paper on his stance and share it at the next meeting. They adjourned. At the next meeting, the vocal young pastor did indeed produce a paper that contained his doctrine. When it was his turn to share, he read it verbatim. The writer of the article stated John Calvin himself could not have done a better job of presenting the doctrines of grace. When he finished he stated again he still believed that any person could decide for Christ any time they chose. One the older pastors then asked him if he believed in the Total Depravity of Man doctrine since that was included in his paper. He stated he did. Then the older pastor stated he could not have it both ways. Either Man is Totally Depraved and cannot seek God at all without the help of the Holy Spirit or Man is good and can seek God any time he wants. There was no ability to mix the two doctrines. He was stating that selective rationalization is an invalid form of logic, but many theologians are guilty of doing that very thing.
I had a discussion with a friend the other day. I made a comment that I was Calvinist. He said he was too. I started to share my concept of salvation and he started to object. He said men came to Christ by exercising their free will by choosing to do so. Our part is to reason with them so they will decide for Christ. This is a form of selective rationalization. We state the five points of the doctrines of grace with all of the love and faith we have, but when we talk about how people come to Christ, we reveal how mixed up we are by saying things such as my friend said. I have found it is even stranger when we compare our own salvation with those "potential" converts who have not yet believed. When we look at those unconverted people, we say they must decide for Christ, but when we examine out own salvation we say it was a complete work of God. Isn't this selective rationalization as well?
What do we really believe? The first point in the doctrines of grace states unregenerate Man is Totally Depraved (John 6:44) and is unable to seek salvation from God because he or she has a corrupt nature. Man's will is part of that nature. Whatever that will chooses eventually leads to sin. However, Man is still responsible before God for his or her sin. Total Inability does not cancel Complete Responsibility. This is what throws us off. Our finite minds have a problem conceptualizing God being gracious and merciful, but then requiring obedience from sinful Man even though there is no ability in Man to obey. That is where the next point of the doctrines of grace comes in.
The second point of the doctrines of grace is Unconditional Election (Romans 9:11-16). This states God elected everyone who are His before the foundation of the world. What criteria did He use? He consulted His own will and acted according to His sovereignty. Again, we must accept this by faith. The problem we create for ourselves is misinterpreting the impact of this doctrine on the regenerate, Born Again believers. Since everyone whom God elected is going to come to grace in God's timing, why should we evangelize? Do you see the stupidity of selective rationalization? We must evangelize because God commands us to do so. God chose preaching as the method and means of getting the gospel to the lost. We have no right to limit who hears the gospel. We have no idea who the elect are, but God does. The gospel must go to every person on Earth.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:44-48)
This passage shows the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit in salvation, the election by God, and the preaching of the gospel. All three elements are required for salvation. This is not persuasion by the words of men. This is the result of preaching the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. At the divine appointment, a time set by God, the elect who hear the truth this way will believe because the Holy Spirit does His regenerative work in their hearts first.
The third point of the doctrines of grace is Particular Redemption or Definite Atonement. This point states that Christ died on the cross to save the elect only. It refers to the scope of God's design for Man's redemption. It tells us why Jesus had to die on the cross the way He did. This point also contains the truth that the Atonement Jesus attained for Man on the cross is sufficient for all Men, but effective only for those who believe. The Atonement was actual propitiation for the sin of Man not potential or conditional propitiation.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
This verse tells us whom Jesus died on the cross to save. Who was it? He came to save His people from their sins. Who are His people? This is referring to all who will believe.
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 8:30)
This verse tells us who responds to the gospel. God elected or predestined whom He chose according to His will. He called those whom He elected. This is the effectual calling of by the Holy Spirit during His regenerative work in the heart at the exact moment of salvation. The new believer exercises the faith the Holy Spirit gives him or her by believing God. God then justifies the new believer. This is an accounting term. This is the referring to God declaring the sin debt for that believer paid in full. This is the act of God declaring the new believer righteous. He does this because He is actually looking at the righteousness of Jesus Christ whose blood covers the sins of the new believer. Glorification awaits all believers in Heaven. However, positionally, all believers are glorified.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30)
This passage reveals the truth that those who are in Christ are His sheep. His sheep here His voice and follow Him. They have eternal life that they cannot lose. How did they come to be the Lord's sheep? The Father gave them to Him. That means He elected and chose them.
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:9-12)
For whom does the Lord pray? He is praying only for those whom the Father has elected. All believers from the beginning to the end of the Church are in this group. I admit I had a difficult time accepting this point as well as the next point we are going to look at, Irresistible Grace. The reason I had a problem with them is I was still exercising selective rationalization. I was trying to apply my own standards to God. Actually, that is exactly what we do when we err. Selective rationalization is the process through which we produce error as we attempt to understand God and His ways via our common sense. Remember, as we look at these points in the doctrines of grace we must prayfully seek to see the truth but not apply what we feel is fair or right in our own eyes. Our reasoning abilities are flawed. If we look at the object of the resultant glory in each point then things will open up. As we seek His glory in all things, we have no trouble grasping these wonderful doctrines because that is an act of faith. Acts of faith are empowered by the grace of God.
The fourth point in the doctrines of grace that we will look at next is Irresistible Grace. This describes our inability to resist the effectual calling of God to us to come to Him for salvation. I struggled with this one for a while because of selective rationalization. As we present the gospel to a lost person, he or she can effectively resist the spoken or read words. I have seen people reject the gospel like that many times. I did it myself many times. However, some seem to beg for it. They are so ready for salvation right now it can be scary. I was like that. The day I was saved, I heard no words of grace from preachers or anyone else. I submitted to the working of the Holy Spirit in my heart to believe. I could not say no. This is the inward call of God that the regenerate cannot resist.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Who did the work in these verses? God did it all. Did the people who were receiving all this have any say so in it? When God says it is time for salvation, it is time.
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 8:30)
We used this verse earlier. No one can resist the calling of God. I saw an interesting diagram the other day showing why this is so. Look at the list below.
- God's will
- Man's will
- Satan's will
Now, which is stronger Man's will or God's will? God's will is stronger than Man's will. Which is stronger God's will or Satan's will? God's will is stronger than Satan's will. Which is stronger Man's will or Satan's will? Satan's will is stronger than Man's will. Therefore, God knows he cannot leave the decision to believe in Man's hands because we would always cave in to Satan's will. We could not resist him. Therefore, God blesses us by eliminating this possibility. He uses His Irresistible Grace to overpower Satan's will and supplant our will. The effectual call that we cannot resist is a wonderful blessing. It is not God taking away our right to choose. Can we resist God? Yes, we all can and do that at times. However, according to God's timing, His grace prevails over that resistance for those whom He has elected and chosen.
The last point in the doctrines of grace is Perseverance of the Saints. This one is precious to me. I was raised a Southern Baptist. We hold to this doctrine. I have always believed this. However, until I studied the doctrines of grace I did not really know why. Those who oppose this doctrine have to do so if they maintain salvation is by the decision of Man. However, if we understand our salvation is the work of God then we have no problem grasping this truth.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:1-6)
God's grace is truly amazing. I know I do not deserve grace. I deserve justice. Praise the Lord He gives me grace instead. That means I am His and He has begun His good work in me and will complete it. What a wonderful blessing! However, if we see those who claim to be believers, but who live completely apart from God then we must doubt the validity of their salvation. Any who claim to be saved, but later fall away never were His to begin with. These disingenuous believers responded to the general call of the gospel, but they never experienced the effectual call directly from God because they were not one of the elect.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)
That verse makes it very clear. When people teach that believers can lose their salvation they are utilizing selective rationalization. They are actually saying Man's will is more powerful than the sovereignty of God. This type of reasoning has its roots in Man's humanistic view of God and His ways. It is not biblical.
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 8:30-39)
As you have undoubtedly discerned, Romans 8 is a powerful statement of the doctrines of grace. Why would anyone want to believe God would not be able to preserve those He elected, saved, and justified? Of course, we know that those who do hold to those false teachings are viewing salvation through humanistic eyes. They see the doctrines of grace as a deterrent to motivating people to be good and productive for God. The Calvinist sees this walk as obedience to the Lord empowered by His grace. We do not decide how we are going to serve Him. He chooses us and gives us the work to do as He gives us the ability to do it.
We must mortify, by faith, our tendency to understand our common salvation with selective rationalization. All it does change salvation to a humanistic act that does not glorify God. Man's purpose in creation is to live for God's glory. When we reject the clear teaching of the Bible by going after humanistic doctrines, we are actually glorifying Man. I do not believe those who do this actually think that is what they are doing. They do it because their hearts are hard in these areas. Their approach to understanding doctrine is to filter it through their own flawed rationalizations. The correct way for us to attempt to grasp God's truths is by prayerfully studying the Word of God. When we rely on the teaching of the Holy Spirit, we will not be deceived. However, when we rely on common sense we make a huge mistake because that is where selective rationalization lives.
When we are Spirit-led, we are humble. When we are humble, we will not have a high view of our own abilities in scriptural interpretation. Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth. When we do this, we defeat selective rationalization by the truth. God builds up our faith and we believe Him instead of what our common sense is trying to tell us. We must never forget the following truth.
And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:23-26 Emphasis Mine)
Whom God saves is not up to our understanding. How God saves is not up to our understanding. We must ask God for wisdom then apply it to our lives. We must walk by faith not by sight. When we do this, we will see the doctrines of grace as the gospel taught in sacred scripture. Selective rationalization is for the immature, the deceived, and the lost. We must walk in the light by walking the Walk by Faith. By living and walking in faith, we will have no trouble seeing the fallacy of humanistic doctrines. However, spiritual immaturity still plagues the majority of the Western Church. That tragic condition is the natural descendant of false doctrine.
What should we do? We must get our own house in order first. We must seek for the Lord to purify our consciences then teach us the truth from His Word. We must learn to walk the Walk by Faith and live for His glory in all parts of our lives. We must pray continually for the Church through all of this. We must pray for wisdom for ourselves. We must pray for broken hearts in those who need the truth. We must ask God to remove those from leadership in our churches if they will not repent. We must be loving and full of the Holy Spirit. We must pray for godly leaders, preachers, and teachers who walk by faith. Be ready for resistance and persecution as you take your stand for the truth. Take heart, what looks impossible to us is more than possible for God.
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.