When we speak of salvation, we need to be careful to speak with the Bible’s own language. After all, the Scriptures are inspired by God and perfect in every way. Our own surmises, not so much.
In Acts 13, Paul has preached the gospel in Antioch to a group of gentiles who are saved. But look at the biblical language for that salvation.
Acts 13:48 – 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.
Note the ordering, as it has important ramifications for our understanding of God’s sovereignty in our salvation. The text could just as easily have said that, as many as believed were appointed to eternal life. But this is not the text. The word of God says that those who had been appointed to eternal life believed.
IF your understanding of how a person is saved is based primarily on the individual person, this text will rub up against it in an uncomfortable way. But, if you grasp that God and his divine will is at the center of how people are saved, the text will make sense to you. Is the appointing of a person to eternal life based on their faith, or is the faith of a person a result of their having been appointed by God to eternal life?
Let’s look at a couple of other places where Scripture speaks in a similar way just to see that this is not some sort of anomaly in Acts that is merely confusing in its wording.
John 8:47 – Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Notice why Jesus said the people do not believe? They do not believe because they are not of God. The Savior does not say that they do not belong to God because they do not believe. Instead, he says they do not believe because they do not belong to God.
John 10:26 – but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
In John 10, when Jesus speaks of the people as sheep and him as the good shepherd, he points out that the religious teachers around him do not believe because they are not his sheep. HE does not say that they are not his sheep because of their lack of faith. Their lack of faith is the result of not being his sheep.
What do we see then? In Acts, the appointed believe. IN John, the ones who do not believe do not believe because they do not belong to God. The language of Scripture shows us the sovereign will of God is the determining factor that brings anyone to salvation. A person believes if they are appointed to do so by God. A person who does not believe does not believe because of his own sin. The unbeliever shows that he was not appointed by God for salvation, but God has allowed him to continue in accord with his desires.
What do you take from this? Christian, if you believe, know that this is a gift given to you by God. Give God all the glory for your salvation. Your faith is a result of God’s sovereign work. God did not choose to save you after you showed him you would believe.
But, Christian, if this makes you uncomfortable, remember that no person is forced to sin by God. Neither does God force these folks away from him. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30). People do not repent because they do not want to. God is not in any way treating the unrepentant in an unjust way. If God owes us anything, he owes us his judgment for our rebellion against him.
All human beings are naturally opposed to God in our sinfulness. There are some that God has chosen, out of a desire to show his love and grace, and he has appointed them to eternal life. It is those he gives the gift of saving faith. Thus, if you are saved, it is a result of God’s sovereign election, a depiction of God’s great mercy and kindness, and a gift that you did nothing at all to earn. Give God praise and thanks, as this is truly grace upon grace.