"The nature of the Divine goodness is not only to open to those who knock. but also to cause them to knock and ask."-(Augustine)
Probably the most strongly contested point of the five solas of the Reformation among its protestant heirs is the doctrine of sola gratia, grace alone. We are saved by faith alone through grace alone for the glory of God alone is the phrase. Although more attention will be given to justification by faith in future the question is raised: "If we are saved by trusting (having faith) in the finished work of Christ does that not make our faith what really saves us?" To use the imagery Augustine employs in the above quote the question can be stated: "If we are not saved unless we knock on the door is not our choosing to knock what has saved us?" But as Augustine says not only does God in His goodness open to those who knock but it is His goodness that draws men so they will knock. Thus, salvation from beginning to end is wholly due to the grace of God alone.
Man's Fallen State:
To understand this better we need to have a decent handle on what the bible says about the effects of the Adams fall on mankind. We see early on after the fall that man has become altogether detestable to God, "The thoughts and intents of man's heart was only evil continuously" (Gen 6:5) These new heart affections were not in the original man and woman God had created and this statement in Genesis 6 comes before God sends the flood to punish man. We see the state of man's heart again in Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?" The state of man's heart is not a state of neutral indifference it is in a state predisposed think evil and be deceitful. So how does having this fallen state effect man?
In short it effects everything, man's reasoning (Rom 1:21), man's desires (Col 3:5) and the controversial one, the fall has effected man's will. Man's will is a lackey to the desires of the heart and always chooses what the heart most desires, which we have seen is corrupt. Thus, we see statements like:
"as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
"Because the carnal [natural] mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject, to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom 8:7)
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. " (1 Cor 2:14)
In these passages (and many others) it is clear that man in his natural state is at enmity against God, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, and does not seek God. Now people might seek a "god" but the scriptures teach that there is none that seeks after God. The natural man can be very religious, yet it will be on his terms. The god of the natural man will be treated like ice cream where we pick and choose what kind of god we get, "I'll take the golden rule, and omnibenevolence with a side order of reincarnation please." says the natural man. This is because we naturally find the notion of the true God of the bible offensive, due to the impact of the fall ruining our tastebuds so to speak. It is so bad that Romans 8:7 says man is naturally an enemy of God. So when the natural man hears the message of the cross the bible says it is "foolishness" to him, thus it will be rejected. If this is the case how on earth does anybody come to a saving faith?
Grace Which Leads to Delight:
Man in his ruined state desires not the things of God, but rather the empty promises of sin. This really is the evil of all sin, men turn to sin's hollow promises seeking satisfaction, yet it is God alone that can satisfy our longings, thus all sin is against God. So how then does one with a heart that loves sin and is at enmity with God come to a reconciling faith in Christ? Many will say well we need to exercise our free will and choose to come to Jesus. This however overlooks the scripture's teachings on man's ruined state. Man has no desire to be reconciled to God, so will not choose Christ. Rather, we see that God has promised change our hearts to cause us to desire Him:
"And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezek 11:19-20)
God says that He will act on man's sinful heart and basically give a heart transplant, He will remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh that they may walk uprightly. Christ spoke of this as the new birth, Jesus said that unless we are born again we can not enter the Kingdom of God (Jn 3).
question: "How does this new birth come about?"
Most today in rejection of sola gratia will state that we choose to be born again, and many evangelistic tracts have that as one of the "steps to get saved". However being born again is a thing of the Spirit which Paul said the natural man finds foolish, so how can the natural man choose to get born again? "Free will!" is the outcry "We are born again after we choose to place our faith.....really?:
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13)
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him." (1 John 5:1)
Being born of God in John 1 clearly is due to God not any form of human will, it's a gift, a sheer gift from God. In 1 John we see belief in Christ is preceded by being born of God. The words "has been" in the Greek are in a past perfect tense indicating that the being born of God precedes the believing In Christ and loving the Father. Being born again precedes faith because as we have seen the natural man wants nothing to do with God and is quite happy with his idols and sinful pursuits. Being born again acts as a change of taste buds, where Christ and Christianity once seemed boring and stupid now Christ is altogether lovely and desireable. Thus, our faith is in itself a gift of God and faith because it is birthed from the unmerited grace of God is in no way the agent that saves. We are saved by grace and grace alone.
This is the amazing grace that takes the hardest of hearts and turns them into hearts of praise. Men like John Newton who was a lecherous slave trader by God's sovereign grace were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Newton gave up the slave trade and labored for the abolishment of slavery in England. Newton of course penned the hymn "Amazing Grace". The grace I have been describing is what that hymn is about, man being in a ruined God rejecting sin loving state and God out of inexpressible love reaches down into the stony heart and opens the spiritual eyes of the sinner so we can sing "I once was blind but now I see!"
We don't see because we wised up and made a decision taking the proper "steps to get saved", no, we see because God gave us eyes to see and thus we came weeping in repentance and joy to Christ the Saving One. To have it the other way around logically is meritorious, I heard one man supporting the I choose to be born again view crisply state "We choose to save ourselves."
On a side note in reference to my discussions with Emergent Christians, I think the truth that we come to faith by God's sovereign grace alone is reason enough for me of why we do not need to change the gospel's presentation to the spirit of the age. Yes, the gospel presentation is stupid and offensive to Postmoderns but not so much because we are postmodern but because the natural man is at enmity with God! We really think that if we doctor the message up that people will get saved due to our slick marketing and craftiness. Nonsense, salvation comes as a gift of God, He opens sinners eyes postmodern or not.
Sola Gratia puts all glory for man's salvation where it belongs to God alone. God out of grace chose to not destroy mankind but sent His Son to save. God was not oblidged to do any saving at all! Yet out of His boundless grace He has chosen to save. Christ truly is the author and finisher of our faith, for our very faith is a gift! Thus, there can be no boasting on the part of the saint who realizes that it is grace alone that makes him a saint.
"Christian! the only thing that makes you differ from the vilest being that pollutes the earth, or from the darkest fiend that gnaws his chains in hell, is the free grace of God!" - Octavious Winslow