If I heard him say it once, I heard him say it one hundred times. “He made the unwilling, willing! Halleluiah.” And he said it just like that! These words came from the mouth of an old mentor, S. Lewis Johnson, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and for many years pastor of Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas. He is with His Lord now, but He has left a lifelong mark upon this writer’s life for which I am forever grateful.
Dr. Donald Barnhouse used the book of Galatians to help me – as a babe in Christ – learn to stand on my own spiritual feet, really learn to fly freely. It was years later that Dr. Johnson – along with others – picked up that mantle for me. And it was also quite a few years later while driving on a freeway outside of Atlanta that I learned that Dr. Barnhouse had in fact, years earlier, explained the gospel of God’s grace to Lewis Johnson. I almost had a wreck trying to remove the tears from my eyes. I could not help but say audibly to myself, “God, you are The Great Genius of history.” I have used this line many times since then, and it is safe to say that I will use it again.
In math, to find the answer to a particular equation, the right formula must be applied. Let’s think back to God’s formula for sin. Why? Because it is so easy to get lost wandering in the weeds of words. The more words there are for some, the easier it is to lose their way. Remember, God’s underlying formula for sin is that we all sinned and died in Adam (Rom. 5:12). “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” goes much deeper and wider than we at first realize. We do not become sinners when or if we sin; we sin because we are already sinners, born in sin, born dead in sin. Thus, we are all, every nation, tribe, tongue, every citizen of planet earth, a sinner before God before we ever personally choose to sin against Him. This is true because we were all there in the garden in Adam at the moment he sinned. Some call this “original sin.” We are sinners because we are inextricably (means it cannot be broken) connected to the corrupt seed of our first parents, the first Adam and his wife Eve.
Our initial act of personal sin, far from taking a bite from a piece of forbidden fruit, may have been throwing our bottle across the room in a temper tantrum, or jumping up and down in our crib, or shaking and writhing on the floor holding our breath and screaming our heads off – simply because we did not get our way. We will all do something similar to this because we are born in Adam (like me stealing the candy bar). We are all bathed in Adam’s sinful shadow (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:1).
I recognize that all do not believe in original sin. But what are some of the ramifications if the sin formula spoken above is true to God’s word? Then we are all born into the slave market of sin. The only way out is death – physical and spiritual. Our final destiny – if the Holy Spirit does not invade this world of darkness and bring to us the gospel – will be to go physically back to the dust of the grave, meet with millions of other sinners at God’s Great White Throne Judgment, face our Maker, and then be cast bodily, soul, and spirit into hell forever and ever (Rev. 20:11-15). And all are, in fact, being spiritually blinded to all of this (2 Cor. 4:3-4). This does not sound encouraging in the least bit.
There is absolutely nothing we can do to free ourselves from this prison, and many add that we can’t even pray for the slaves. Wait! What? Why? Because it is thought by some that if sinners are not first willing to be saved, then not even God can save them. If we are not willing to repent, then God cannot give this repentance! God must not intervene! The choice must be freely and firstly ours to make and ours alone. Not even the odor of anything unfair can be laid at God’s feet. And He cannot intervene for some if not for all. This would mean that God is not righteous and not just. This places the choice to trust Christ or reject him solely at the feet of the slave – the spiritually dead slave.
There are questions hanging silently in the background that will not go away. How can we move to the point of being willing to be saved if we are truly dead in sin? How can we decide to repent – change our minds about our sin and God’s goodness, and turn to Him – if we are dead in sin? I guess the question must be asked “just how dead is dead?”
How can the dead do anything? Remember Jesus’ words to a young wanna-be disciple who asked Jesus to first let him go and bury his father and then he would follow Jesus (he was no doubt the heir of his father’s estate). This young man did not get the response from the Savior that he expected. Jesus told him “Let the dead bury their own dead. As for you, you follow Me” (Matt. 8:18-22). Ouch!
Yet we are told to pray for the lost; pray for their salvation; ask God to save them; ask God to release them from the bondage of their slavery. How can He if sinners are dead and cannot become willing. Can God change their willingness and His throne remain solidly absolutely righteous and just? Is this a forever contradiction? No! Is there an answer? Yes! Please hang with me!