Yesterday I recounted for us the story of Isaiah’s vision in chapter six of his prophetic writings and discussed how this illustrates for us the basic process of salvation for an individual, particularly giving legs to the middle events described in Romans 8.30 (i.e. the effectual call and justification). When I closed it I said that we were left with two important questions, which is where I want to focus today.
The first question I asked was if a person can be confronted with the glory of God and yet not be led to repentance and a saving belief? Is it possible that someone could see God for what he really is and walk away without being saved? I think the first place to approach this from would be specifically from the account of people being confronted with the person of Christ during his incarnation on earth. In John 14.8-9 we see this exchange between Philip and Christ:
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
So, from this exchange, one would seemingly take it to mean that whoever has seen Christ (incarnate in the flesh) has seen the Father. And, if the account in Isaiah, as well as with Moses, are true, then to see the Father would be to see his glory. But what are we told in John 6.66? ”After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Thus, it appears that there were many who saw Christ, and by extension saw the glory of God, and yet were not compelled to follow him in repentance and belief.
Not so fast though. Look what Paul says in his second epistle to the Corinthians:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4.3-6)
We see that there are those who “the god of this world has blinded [their] minds . . . to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So, some have been blinded by Satan, kept from seeing the glory of God. It is these who could walk with Christ, see him in the flesh, and yet still trun away. They saw him but did not see the glory of God because Satan had blinded their minds. And what is the word attached here to those who are blind to God’s glory? ”Unbelievers.” It is “the minds of the unbelievers” which have been blinded from seeing God’s glory, which in turn means that those who are not blind, those who are able to see the glory of God, are believers. There is no room to accomodate an unbeliever who is not blinded, who has been confronted with the glory of God and simply chosen to walk away.
(Note, this would seem to accord with the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace, that all those whom God has chosen he will reveal himself to and they will unerringly follow him in repentance and belief– the human part of our salvation.)
The second question we have arising from our analysis of Isaiah 6 is whether it is possible for one to truly repent and believe who has never been confronted with the glory of God? Before we get into it I want to discuss the practical significance of this question. If one can repent and believe without having been confronted with God’s glory, then it is reasonable to assume that I might convince them to come to salvation myself, wholly apart from the work of God. However, if it turns out that being convicted through an encounter with the Holy God is necessary for true repentance and belief, then no matter what I do, I have no power to save a man apart from the special work of the Spirit in that persons life. This distinction means the world in how we practice evangelism and what we try to attain by it.
That said, let’s look at this. A passage that seems to emphasize what the person does without referencing an encounter with God is Romans 10.9, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is not a stretch to say this shows human action apart from divine intervention. But, on the other side, look back at the 2 Corinthians passage from above and see that it says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” which appears to imply that first God revealed his glory and then the gospel was unveiled (v.3), without which unveiling we would never have truly known to repent and believe.
To settle this matter, I would turn back to John 6, this time in verse 44. Here it says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Again in verse 65, “And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’” This ‘drawing’ or ‘granting’, in light of what we have already said, I would argue must be taken to be God’s confronting us with his glory. God grants that we can come to him by showing off his glory to us, by showing us our own moral repugnance and deservedness of condemnation in contraposition to his holiness. Peter spells this out even more when he says we are “a people for [God's] own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” That marvelous light is his glory, is “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” and is what allows us to demonstrate true repentance and belief that coincide with salvation.
Therefore, we have concluded that no man may truly repent and belief unless he has been confronted with the holiness of God in opposition to his own filth, and that any man who is confronted in such a way will surely be led to repentance and belief. Such is the wonderful God we serve!