Acts 13:46-48 – 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
These verses contain in themselves a fascinating pairing of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom. Often people will ask questions about God’s sovereignty in our salvation that basically amount to questions of the fairness of what God does. Specifically, there is a false assumption out there that God chooses to save some, but prevents others from being saved.
Such a view is not true, but only by half. God does choose to save some. Did he not, none would be saved. However, those he does not choose to save are not somehow prevented by God from salvation. Instead, they, by their own will, nature, and desire oppose God and his plan of salvation. Or, as a friend of mine recently wrote to me, “For those God does not choose to save, he chooses to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own free sinful choices—most notably their choice to “suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.”
What I am saying here is clearly depicted in the verses above. Notice the two groups. One group is lost and the other is saved. What language does the Bible use to describe the lost? To them, Paul says regarding their response to the gospel, “you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.” Thus, in the language of Paul, the lost person is fully responsible for his lostness. Each lost person should believe. Each is commanded to believe. But, when Paul presented the gospel, those who were not saved thrust aside the gospel, shoving it away like a child who pushes away a bite of something healthy. They simply do not want it.
On the other hand, how does the scripture speak of those who were saved? Luke, the author of Acts, writes, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice that those who believed were also those “appointed to eternal life.” Those who were saved were already, beforehand, appointed to receive eternal life from God. There was a prior action of God that was followed up by the people believing. This depicts God’s sovereignty at work, as God appointed those men for salvation and then they believed.
What does this tell me? What it tells me is that, if any person is not saved, they are not saved by God because they do not want the gospel. It also tells me that, if anyone is saved by God, they are saved because God did it, appointing them to eternal life before they believed. This gives God total credit for and glory for anyone’s salvation. It also places the responsibility clearly on the shoulders of the one who rejects Christ for rejecting him.
Why am I saved? I am not saved for wanting God. Ephesians 2:1-3 and Romans 3:10-ff tell me that I did not want God at all in my sinful state. I am saved because God, in his own wisdom and for his own purposes, chose to appoint me for eternal life and change my heart so that I would believe. Yes, I chose to believe, but only because it was granted me to believe by God (John 6:65). Thus I take no credit for my salvation, as it all is a work of God from beginning to end.
But, were I not saved, I would have no grounds for blaming God or accusing him of unrighteousness. Were I lost, I would be doing exactly what Paul accused the lost men of Acts 13:46 of doing. I would have chosen, by my will, to thrust away the gospel and turn away myself from the only thing that could save me. And, were I to remain lost, that would only be God giving me that which I, in my heart, wanted.
Does God violate man’s free will in this process? Yes, when a man is saved. But he does so in such a way as to change our evil desires to a desire for him. Therefore, when we believe, we feel that we believe and we also know that we could not continue in our unbelief. When we are saved, we know that something has changed in our hearts that makes us realize that God is wonderful and we want to serve him. People often speak of “a light coming on” or everything suddenly “becoming clear.” This is the wonderful, powerful, sovereign hand of God breaking into our hearts and making them alive whereas they were dead before (cf. Ephesians 2:1-9).
So, how does this impact my life. First, it reminds me that my salvation is a total gift from God. He did it, he deserves the credit, and he gets all the glory. Second, it encourages me to share the gospel, as I know that God can and does break into the dead hearts of sinners to make them alive. Third, it reminds me of the justice of God, because those who do not come to know God do not want to come to know him, and God responds to them with perfect justice. And finally, it causes me to thank God, because I deserved his perfect justice, I wanted nothing to do with him; but he broke into my heart, changed me at the point of my desires, and showed me the ultimate of mercies in Christ.