By Ken Hamrick
Imagine how sinners would react if the gospel offered no promise of eternal life to those who believe. If there were no amazing grace, no opportunity for forgiveness, no loving heavenly Father to welcome us into His family, no Savior who gave His life to save us, but only a proclamation that God ought to be worshipped for who He is, and that sin must be punished, would anyone come to God in faith? If only hell awaited—even for believers—would any be willing to pray, “Not my will but Thine be done?” No one would come.
Why does God always provide a promise to go with a call to believe? He does not merely command, “Believe in Me because it’s the right thing to do,” but instead, He implores us to “Be reconciled to God!” The promise that reconciliation can be ours is wrapped up in the call to believe. This is the gospel that He wants preached to all men—“… that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Calvinists teach that the unregenerate man is so averse to God and so unable to do any good that not even God is capable of bringing him to freely surrender in repentant belief without first regenerating him from within. But yet, the gospel’s appeal is not to selfless ones who fully love God already. Rather, the gospel appeals to men by showing how it is in their own best interest to surrender their hearts and lives to God—that heaven and hell hang in the balance, that their sin and misery can be overcome by grace, that the insatiable spiritual hunger within them can be satisfied, and that their conscience can find peace.
Of course, no sinner can realize or comprehend these things on his own, but the question becomes, can the Holy Spirit bring this realization by coming alongside the sinner and speaking to him from without—or is God limited to a coercive regeneration from within? I contend that the conviction, revelation and persuasion of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to the sinner from without, in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel, can be sufficient to enlighten his mind and move his heart to do what is simultaneously the right thing and the thing that is in his own best interest.
When you do God’s will at the expense of your own self-interests, you do the right thing meritoriously. When you do your will at the expense of God’s will, then you sin. But when you do God’s will to the benefit of your own self-interests, you simply do the right thing unmeritoriously.
This prompts many other questions. In this series, “The 3rd Rail,” I plan to address such questions one at a time, and show the common-sense clarity that the middle view offers.