We continue our examination of the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article Four: The Grace of GodWe affirm that grace is God's gracious decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.
We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.
Article Four is yet another instance in which the Statement seems to affirm one thing and then proceed to deny it practically the same breath. The authors begin by defining "grace" in the passive sense of generosity in making certain benefits available, a typically Arminian way of looking at salvation. But then it adds the curious phrase about freely offering the gospel "in the power of the Holy Spirit." But then the Statement goes on, however, to deny that grace "cannot be resisted." Apparently whatever the "power of the Holy Spirit" is, it is not so strong that it cannot be successfully resisted. God, it seems, is powerless to save if the sinner really does not want to be saved. This brings us right to the heart of the controversy over Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Irresistible Grace" is the "I" in "TULIP." According to the Synod of Dort, when persons are converted, God "calls them effectually in time, confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son." When the gospel is preached God "powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit," "opens the closed and softens the hardened heart," and "infuses new qualities into the will." The Synod then went on to identify this action of the Holy Spirit with the new birth, which, "is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel," or "by moral suasion." Rather, regeneration is a "supernatural work, most powerful . . . so that in all whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe." (Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Articles 10-12).
What is in question here is what exactly it is that the Holy Spirit does to bring a sinner to Christ. As we have previously seen ("Total Depravity"), because of the hardness of his heart the unconverted sinner is spiritually blind. How then can he believe? The gospel is "foolishness" to him. The mere outward preaching of the word is insufficient to change his heart and bring him to Christ. He must first be inwardly renewed, and that can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
According to Scripture, what the Holy Spirit does in converting a sinner is this: He convicts him of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 6:8-11), and grants him repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18), and faith (Phil. 1:29). Thus the new birth is the result of something that the Holy Spirit does (John 1:12,13; 3:5-8). Thus Paul could summarize the gospel ministry by saying, "neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase" (I Cor. 3:5-7; NKJV).
This, in turn, has profound implications for the way in which we approach the work of the ministry. If it is actually God Who produces the results, who "gives the increase," then the work must be done in conscious dependence upon Him. This is why Paul said, "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:4,5). This, in turn, means that we must wait upon God to send the blessing. Jesus specifically told His disciples to "tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power on high" (Lu. 24:49), and later told them, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes the ministry effective. It works by enlightening minds and changing hearts. Irresistible grace makes the difference!
The modern church has tried every method and technique imaginable to promote church growth. Yet it has failed to produced permanent and lasting results. Lives are not changed by marketing and sociology. They are transformed by the power of God. The desperate need of the hour is for a fresh anointing of the Spirit, and that will only come upon a church that is humble and penitent, a church that recognizes and acknowledges its dependence upon God.