I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains… – Philemon 1:10
Often we hear people say that salvation is a work of God. Is this true? Of course it is. But when people take it so far to say that salvation is a work of God alone, then they have gone into error. Salvation is most definitely not a work of God alone. If it was then the scripture would say, “We are NOT fellow workers together with God.” But the scriptures say the opposite:
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. – 1 Cor 3:9
I must admit that the title of this blog is a bit deceitful. I suspect that some people might interpret it to say that salvation is the work of man alone. But that isn’t what I intend to say. Salvation is not a work of man alone, nor is it a work of God alone. Salvation is the work of God and man working together.
On some level, it would be absurd for any Bible-Believing person to deny this. Just a simple understanding of the Bible reveals that God always chooses to use humans in His work. Certainly God could have appeared to Pharaoh and demanded that he let His people go, but He didn’t. He chose to use Moses. Certainly God could have built the ark Himself, but He chose Noah to do it. God could have killed Goliath Himself, but He empowered David to do it. All throughout history up until this present day God has chosen to work together with people to accomplish His plain. This is absolutely undeniable.
I would expect that everyone who believes the Bible would agree with this on some level. They may disagree on how this is done, but I can’t see how anyone would disagree with this in general.
Yet despite this obvious truth, I often hear people say that salvation is a work of God alone. And that is just not true.
Paul certainly did not think it to be true. In writing to Philemon, he says concerning Onesimus: “I have begotten [him] in my chains.”
I think we all know what Paul meant when he said this. He certainly didn’t get married and have a baby in prison. No, he preached the gospel to Onesimus and led him to Christ. But he didn’t use language like most people use today. He didn’t say, ‘the Lord saved him.’ No, he said, ‘I have begotten him.’
What are we to make of this? Is Paul taking credit for what God did? Isn’t it God who saves? Of course it is. And, of course, Paul knew that and Philemon knew that. As a matter of fact, Philemon didn’t need to know that God saved Onesimus. Everyone who is saved is saved by God. That’s a given. That’s information that Philemon didn’t need. What Philemon did not know was that Paul was the human instrument that God used to save Onesimus. And that’s what Paul was revealing. Paul played a part in the salvation of Onesimus.
Let me be bold enough to say this: NO ONE is saved without man playing a part.
Can you think of an incident in which a person was saved apart from the work of another man? The vast majority of those who are saved are saved as a result of a preacher (someone sharing the gospel). In some cases people are saved reading the Bible alone, but, remember, the Bible was written down on paper by men. And perhaps there may be an extremely rare case or two when Jesus appeared to someone in a vision or dream in some remote region of the world that led to their salvation. This could be possible, but remember, Jesus, though God, is also a Man.
Do you remember what the Scripture says?
How can they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? – Romans 10:14-15
In that verse, Paul laid out the absolute necessity of a preacher in regards to the salvation of men.
Now I may have kept most of you up until this point, but I suspect I may lose some of you now:
God cannot (wisely) save people without man’s cooperation.
Man’s cooperation with God is essential to the work of saving souls. In His wisdom, God has chosen, for better or for worse, to depend upon sinful man to accomplish His work. When God cannot find a man to cooperate with Him, His work is left undone. This is clear to the observant mind and clearly revealed in scripture:
I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation… – Ezekiel 22:25
Did God really seek for a man to stand in the gap? Was He being sincere? Would He have spared the land if He had found such a man? Unless He is lying, He’s being sincere. Theoretically, if God could have found a man that would have cooperated with Him, that man would have saved all of Israel. Of course, this ultimately points to Jesus, as the One who would come stand in the gap and save all Israel, but that doesn’t take away from the truth of that word for that time.
All the New Testament saints understood this truth. It is precisely why those who were scattered ‘went everywhere preaching the Word.’ And Paul was very bold to declare his part in the salvation of those that where under his preaching. He said things like, ‘I have begotten you through the gospel’ (1 Cor 4:15) and to Philemon: ‘you owe me even your own self besides’ (Phl 1:19). And James credits man with the work of salvation when he says, “Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)
Now I could just as easily write another blog declaring that salvation is the work of God, because it is. It’s a work of God and a work of man. That’s exactly what the scripture says: ‘fellow workers together with God.’
We understand this concerning natural things. No man can truly take credit for making his garden grow, for example. Man doesn’t make the sun shine or the rain fall, nor does he have any idea how the seed sprouts and bears fruit. All of that is the work of God. However, man still has his part. He has to till the land, plant the seed, and tend the garden. He might even have to water the garden if there is no rain. And then, when the fruit is ripe, he has to harvest it. God and man must work together or the world would starve.
In like manner, every one who is saved is saved by the work of God and the work of man, working together. God provides the Word, but man must preach it. God draws and convicts, but man must pray. God provides forgiveness, but man must declare how one receives it.
God has His part and man has his part.
What concerns me, however, is that so many focus solely on God’s part. Why would we do that? Can we do God’s part? Is God going to fail to do His part? Of course, not. So many get so focused on God’s work in salvation that they forget about their work in the salvation of the world. Some people fail to pray because they say, “salvation is the work of God.” Some people are slack in their studies because they say, “salvation is God’s work alone.” MANY people get lazy in ministry work because they say, “salvation is a work of God, what I do matters little.”
Is that what the great apostle said? No, he said, “I labor more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor 15:10).
Are you a grace person? Is it causing you to labor more or less? If it is causing you to labor less, then you don’t have the grace of the gospel. You have a false grace. According to Paul, grace moves one to labor ‘more abundantly than they all.’
What we do matters.
That statement is scary, my friend. It’s very tempting to throw everything over upon the sovereignty of God. This is not only wrong, but dangerous. In ALL things, what YOU do matters. I know that a lot of people don’t like that. They don’t like to think that their words and deeds could bring about great harm, but they can.
I remember being in a service once where a young man described a dream that he had. He said that he dreamed that he was paralyzed from the neck down. As he laid on the bed, he tried to move his arms, but they wouldn’t move, he tried to move his legs, but nothing. In exasperation, he cried out to God. God spoke to him in that moment and said, “Neither can I often get my body to do my will.”
Do you remember what the scripture says? He is the head, we are His body. Often His body has been crippled by no fault of His own. Has God ever moved upon you to do something in which you failed to obey? Multiply that times millions of believers throughout the world that have done the same thing. How much good we could have done that has remained undone! Did we have to disobey? No. What if we did obey? Would the world look differently than it does now? Without a doubt. Would more souls be in the kingdom? Without a doubt. Instead, many of us stand with blood upon our hands. May God be merciful to us.
“When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” – Ezekiel 33:8
How much blood is upon the hands of those who are called the sons of God? Probably much more than we realize. This is scary. This causes me to tremble. Lord, help us to be faithful watchmen.
The work of saving souls is man’s work. God has laid it upon us to do this work. He will work with us, as He has promised (Mat 28:19-20, Mark 16:20). Paul understood this. He wasn’t trying to take credit for what God had done. He simply acknowledged his part in the work. His part is essential, so much so that knew the judgment that would come upon him if he did not do as he was called:
if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! – 1 Corinthians 9:16
We also are called to preach the gospel. Some of us may not preach in front of crowds, but we are called nonetheless. We are called to share with our friends and neighbors, to let our light shine in all the world. We also should think as Paul and say, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”
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