Monday, February 10, 2014

The Problem of "If We Ask" Salvation

Theologian, we have a problem...

In a recent Internet conversation with a fellow Christian of another order, I was confronted with the following statement:
"Being saved by grace is a gift from God that He gives freely to all, if we ask Him." (Anonymous)
This belief is by far, by FAR, the most common belief regarding eternal salvation among professing evangelicals today. So universally accepted is this statement that to oppose it places one outside the camp of Christianity in the eyes of a great many professing Christians. Matters of popularity notwithstanding, what is the proper response to such a statement in light of the testimony of the scriptures?

It is absolutely, categorically, undeniable that this fellow Christian's statement regarding eternal salvation CANNOT be reconciled with the bible’s statements describing the condition of man as a result of the fall. If we fail to understand man’s condition as a result of the fall, then it is virtually inevitable that our understanding of the biblical doctrine of salvation will be likewise distorted. So it is of critical importance that we have a very clear understanding of the bible’s testimony regarding man in his fallen state.

Total Depravity Makes Seeking Impossible and All Asking is Seeking

In reference to man in his natural or fallen state Paul says, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” (Romans 3:11) This precept makes it impossible for fallen man to meet the condition of “asking” God in order to obtain eternal salvation. In so doing it nullifies any doctrine that requires man to “ask” in order to obtain the gift of eternal life. Why is that so? Because it is absolutely undeniable that one must have some spiritual understanding in order to have any reason to “ask.” Moreover, “asking” is undeniably an act of seeking God, and as such it is outside the realm of possibility for man in his natural or fallen state according to Paul. King David put it this way, “The wicked through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” (Psalm 10:4) So you see that man in his unregenerate state will not and cannot seek God and thus he cannot “ask” God to save him. In other words, man left to his fallen state is utterly incapable of doing anything spiritual whatsoever because he is enmity with God. (Romans 8:7) This truth is commonly referred to as Total Depravity.

How To Solve This Dilemma? Immediate Holy Spirit Regeneration

If the story ended there, we would all be lost because in our natural (fallen) state we are incapable of asking, seeking, knocking, or any other spiritual act of reaching out to God. Yet the bible’s testimony is that there are some who seek God, some who call out to God, some who love God, etc. (Psalm 119:10, Matthew 8:25, I Kings 3:3) It follows that such men are not mere natural or unregenerate men, else they would be incapable of such acts. So what makes the difference in such men? The Lord taught, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and in so doing he taught that it is the new birth, God’s immediate, quickening act of imparting eternal life to his people, that must take place BEFORE someone could ever have either the capacity or the inclination to seek God.

Are You Shocked By This?  So Was Nicodemus

If this seems shocking to you, as a practitioner of popular Christendom, don’t be too alarmed. It was likewise shocking to Nicodemus who was a practitioner of the popular religion of his day. This teaching was utterly contrary to what Nicodemus had been taught as well. This was in no small part because the Lord's teaching insisted that eternal salvation was not dependent upon acts performed by man, but instead was solely dependent upon the sovereign will, mercy and choice of God. (Romans 9:16, Ephesians 1:4-5) Jesus taught Nicodemus that it is an act of God in regeneration that imparts eternal life and that apart from this life-giving act of God’s mercy, man lacks the spiritual capacity to perceive spiritual truth. The ramifications are many, but one of them is that any doctrine of salvation that claims that “any man can do” something in order to be given eternal life is completely at odds with the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ himself who taught "with men this is impossible." (Matthew 19:26)


To suggest that one must ask in order to obtain the gift of eternal life is to require an act of seeking in direct contradiction to the bible’s statement that an unregenerate man cannot seek God. (Romans 3:11) The resolution to this dilemma is found in sovereign regeneration and in the confidence that God has given the Lord Jesus Christ power over all flesh that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father has given unto him. (John 17:2) That is where you find peace and assurance in your salvation - by understanding that faith is an evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), and that those things not seen include the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ that was performed on your behalf when you were "without strength" and "ungodly" long before you ever had the slightest inclination to seek God (Romans 5:6).

We should think far less of our capacity of seeking, 

and far more of the Good Shepherd's capacity of finding.


  1. So how do you suggest soul winning? What do I preach to others to lead them to christ?

  2. It is a fair question, one that we get asked quite a bit. I would start by pointing out that Primitive Baptists believe that so far as the matter of eternal salvation is concerned, there is but one soul winner, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. We believe he did absolutely everything required to save his people from their sins by his work alone plus absolutely nothing else. The gospel is the story of his accomplishment that teaches those who have the ears to hear that, "Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." (I Corinthians 15:3-4)

    So if in our evangelistic efforts we are to "win souls" - by which I mean deliver them from their state of ignorance regarding the news of their salvation - we must teach them the truth of their redemption in Christ (Hebrews 9:12) and teach them to walk in obedient discipleship as a logical ramification of their belief in this truth (Acts 2:40).

    So we should be preaching the truth of the finished, effectual work of Christ on behalf of his people. (John 10:11, Matt 1:21) It should be accompanied by the assurance that those who believe this proclamation are among his sheep and that they have eternal life (John 6:47) and shall never perish (John 10:28). We should be exhorting men to join with the Lord's church through baptism and to live in accordance with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ in obedient discipleship.

    A more complete explanation of the gospel is available in the October, 2012 archive of entitled "What is the Gospel?"

    Thank you for your question. May God bless our studies and understanding.