We continue our examination of the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article Eight: The Free Will of ManWe affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God's gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an "effectual call" for certain people that is different from a "general call" to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.
In this article the authors are simply reiterating what they have already said in Articles Two (the Sinfulness of Man) and Four (The Grace of God). They emphasize throughout that for them, at least, everything depends of man's freewill response to the gospel Here they stress two points: 1) man has a free will, and 2) there is no such thing as an "effectual call."
"Effectual Calling" is basically the same thing as "Irresistible Grace". The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines "effectual calling" as "the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel" (Question 31). It is this work of the Holy Spirit in conversion that the authors of the traditional Southern Baptist Statement wish to deny.
Jesus, however, saw things differently. There is an incident recorded in the Gospel of John which reveals for us, in a telling way, the psychology of unbelief. Jesus had begun to attract huge crowds because of the miracles which He was performing. John Chapter 6 begins by describing one such miracle, the feeding of the 5,000. (A miracle, by the way, which is recorded in all four gospels.)
That evening He returned to Capernaum on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The next day the crowds began looking for Him and finally caught up with Him. A discussion ensued.
Jesus began by gently rebuking them for their preoccupation with mundane concerns – at this point they were mainly interested in food. He urged them rather to labor "for the food which endures to everlasting life" (v. 27; NKJV), which He Himself would give. What they must do is believe on Him.
This remark met with some skepticism from the crowd, and they asked to see another miracle "that we may see it and believe You" (v. 30). Specifically, they wanted more food, and referred back to God giving their ancestors manna from heaven. Jesus proceeded to make the point that He was the true bread from heaven, the One Who gives eternal life.
He then went on to address the real reason for their skepticism. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me" (v. 37). The implication is that there is a certain group of people that the Father has "given" to Him, and they will respond to the gospel invitation. In other words, there are certain people who are elect or chosen, and these are effectually called.
Jesus went on to elaborate on the concept of eternal life, but the Jews were still not convinced. They had the same problem that many modern skeptics have – they could not see how a human being whose family they knew, could possibly be "the bread which comes down from heaven" (vv. 41,42). Jesus then pointed out what their real problem was. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (v. 44). The Greek word translated "draws" literally means "to drag or draw." Jesus then supported His assertion by quoting Isa. 54:13: "And they shall all be taught by God," and drew out the implication: "Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me" (v. 45). In other words, what we have here is human inability ("No one can come to Me"), divine action ("they shall all be taught by God"), and irresistible grace ("everyone" so taught "comes to Me"). The Jews did not need yet another miracle; they needed the inward working of divine grace.
The discussion continued, but many remained unconvinced. John adds the significant editorial comment: "For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him" (v. 64). John then quotes Jesus as saying, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it had been granted to him by My Father" (v. 65).
The reason for unbelief is not any lack of evidence. It is man's own innate depravity. And that depravity can only be overcome by the work of the Holy Spirit. As much as we might not like it, God does not grant the operation of His grace to everyone. That is His own sovereign choice as He extends mercy to undeserving sinners. No one can "claim" anything from Him. It is all of His grace. We who are saved owe all to Him. Let us bow down and worship and adore.