Bible Answer

Can we reject or delay salvation by our own will?

I recently listened to your teaching "The Great Exchange" and I understood you to say that we had to be willing to accept God's Gift, that our acceptance was necessary to the process. I am now confused. Can a person reject or delay salvation by their own will, when God has elected them to it?

First, the Bible teaches that God predestines and elects those who will believe in the Gospel. He gives the gift of faith by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, causing a person to be born again and to confess Christ. This is the clear teaching of scripture, and nothing you heard in The Great Exchange contradicts this truth. In fact, if you have not already heard his recent teaching from John 6 on this point, we encourage you to listen to Lesson 6C to see how these two truths work together in God's economy.

However, there is another essential step in the process by which the Lord delivers salvation to His children: His call. Notice how Paul explains the process in Romans 8:

Rom. 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 
Rom. 8:30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 

Paul lays out the divinely-driven chain of events that results in a person entering into the light of salvation. That chain begins with the Father’s predestining of His elect and it ends with the Father glorifying those who are in Christ. But notice the second step in that process: the call. At the right time, according to the Father’s purpose, a divinely authored call will be made to those the Father purposes to save. 

The call is the moment when an unbeliever is presented with the truth of the Gospel and is commanded to repent and believe so as to be saved. God may choose to deliver His call by a voice or through the written word, by radio or television programs, over the Internet or through the testimony of a family member or friend. The call might be made by a pastor issuing an invitation from the pulpit or from a street preacher handing out Gospel pamphlets. However the call comes, it will only be effective because the Holy Spirit is working to unite the call of the Gospel with faith in the heart of those God elects. 

So when you heard Pastor Armstrong preaching “The Great Exchange,” you heard him delivering the call of the Gospel. That call is always made with an appeal and a command. It urges a response and it explains that the nature of the response is an acceptance of the truth of the message. A person must confess with their mouth and believe in their heart, as Paul says in Romans 10:9, so the call is designed to put the person in a position to act.

Therefore, a proper call makes no attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff in advance of a response nor do we complicate our message unnecessarily with fine points of Christian doctrine. For example, we don’t call people to “repent and believe in the Gospel, but only if you are a member of God’s elect.” Similarly, we don’t say, “God has the plan to save some of you, but the rest of you have no hope. In the end, it’s totally up to God anyway.”  Obviously, these two “calls” are neither effective nor appropriate. 

Instead, we issue a call like those Paul gave. Scripture says Paul reasoned with men in the synagogues and on the streets of Athens. He debated, argued over and over again. He made every effort to convince his detractors of the truth of the Gospel, knowing that some would believe while others would not, according to God’s gracious choice. Consider Paul’s own words about his approach:

2Cor. 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. 

The same Paul who taught God’s predestining and election of all who believe also said that he worked to persuade men to accept the Gospel. Obviously, Paul saw nothing contradictory in persuading men to believe while also acknowledging the truth that only those who God elects will respond affirmatively. 

So, in our Easter message, we urge the audience to believe in the Gospel and receive the free gift of salvation offered in Christ, which is the call salvation. We issue this call confident that this is the Lord’s will that we declare His truth before men, yet we also recognizes that any response that may follow is the result of the Holy Spirit moving hearts in keeping with God’s sovereign plan.