To be sure, eternal salvation (as offered through Christ) is by grace and through faith, so that no one has any reason to boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith for eternal pardon and reconciliation to God is NOT a work; faith is not a merit for “earning” righteousness in God’s eyes (Romans 4:1-8). Yet, clearly salvation comes to those who are set apart by the work of the Spirit and through their own belief in the truth (2 Thess. 2:13).
So, why do some believe on Christ but others don’t? The question is a little like “What about Those who Have not Heard?” However, it differs in quality. The true nub of the matter is best posed as: ‘Are those who have believed intrinsically better than those who never believed? Are believers capable of faith, whereas others are not?”
In short, the answer is no…. No one is better, smarter, or more apt to believe than another. All have sinned and come short of God’s glory…. None are righteous (Rom. 3:10, 23). Then, why do some not believe? Jesus Himself answered the question in the famous “you must be born again” chapter of the Bible, John 3.
…men love (prefer) darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. (John 3:19, parenthesis mine for clarity)
This is a statement pregnant with truth. We must do some unpacking.
Intent of God in the Gospel:
Before we can unpack the statement of Christ about why some reject Him, let’s establish God’s motive for sending his darling Son to us sinners.
God so loved the world… (John 3:16).
Love for the whole world was the motive of God; and, in opposition to Reformed tradition, the “world” cannot be both the anti-God system of Satan (i.e. cosmos), out of which the elect are called, and at the same time also be the elect themselves (Chafer). [Please see All the Sins of All Mankind]
I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:9-10, brackets mine)
In this passage, one reads Christ’s contrast of himself to those who were false messiahs (ex. Honi the Circle Maker). In contrast to false messiahs, Christ the true Messiah cares for the sheep. He wants them not just to have life but to have abundant life, as Jesus counts abundance. Thus, the intended effect of our Lord’s sacrifice is that anyone (v.9) who enters through him (the Door) should have abundant life.
The Dynamic Flux of the Soul:
All theologians see that believers experience dynamic flux of the soul but will ultimately persevere. There is a real struggle of grace against sin, for which God gives more grace so that believers may overcome in the finished work of Christ (James 4). The flesh (on the desires level) wars against the believer’s spirit, tempting a believer to give in so that he cannot do the things he (a child of God) would (Gal. 5:17). Furthermore, the enemy of our souls walks about (stalking) in “his” fallen world like a roaring lion, seeking what Christian he may devour (1 Peter. 5:8). When the devil finds someone to attack and launches an offensive, God calls it an “evil day,” according to Ephesians 6. But, we have armor and each other’s prayers and Christ’s prayers.
Before salvation, it is both similar and different to the Christian experience. Unsaved souls also are not static regarding evil, but they don’t have any protection against the enemy; and they don’t have the Holy Spirit within. One must not think of “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) as a state of spiritual dormancy. The lost soul either is ever growing nearer to or shrinking farther away from the Light. There is no spiritual neutrality, not for believers nor for those who are categorically lost. The sinner may indeed be very active in sinning grossly (ex. outright satanic worship, “abominations”), whereas other sinners are active in the beautiful side of evil (“little white”). Still other sinners content themselves to be “moral minus God.” But, with all certainty, each choice to sin or to remain ‘in sin’ causes a little more of the soul to experience the forms of death, and it shrivels a tad more from Life and Light.
The Lost Light Followers
On the other hand, and though all are naturally dead in regards to sins and trespasses, some do not plummet the depths of depravity as do others. Though they are not yet saved, they respond time and again with thankfulness to, with intrigue for and even with hunger for more of the light that they have been given (Acts 10).
Jesus defined disciples differently than most denominations, and he treated them differently too. First, he labeled someone a disciple, even if they had not yet believed in him as Lord and God. It took Peter 2.5 years to confess Jesus as the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), and it took Thomas much longer… until he could shove his hand into the resurrected Christ’s wounds (John 20:25). Now, there is a great difference between a following disciple and a believing disciple. One is born again. The other is not. Yet, it seemed Jesus was patient enough to wait for them all, and he was even more patient and forgiving to the believing ones who stumbled (John 21).
For proof that the souls of the lost are in constant dynamic flux, consider that Christ said to the wise but lost man, “you are not far from the kingdom” (Mark 12:34). Those who are following the Light they have (but have not yet believed) see the sun and feel the rain and smell the flowers, and joy rises in their heart. The see the good in life and decide to let it have more power over them than those who see only darkness. They follow these beauties and reason until they learn to trace their Source to the Maker, while others do not render thanks at all. Those who struggle to see anything worthy of thanks in life have lost their joy, and that was Satan’s plan all along. If he can rob joy through trials, abuses, hardships, false senses of identity and security, promoting love for wealth or self love, then he wins.
The Growth of Contrariness
The contrary sort, through their own repeated choices to go against conscience, follow darkness or down, down, down. It might just look like complacency. Or, they might be dead set on their “own way.”
Assuming, as Jesus does in John 3:19 that they hear the gospel message, they reject the help of God & his imploring words: “behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Let us not pretend that God’s invitation comes only once or by only one means (Job 33:14). He uses all of life, relationships and nature to show his nearness (Acts 17:27). But rejecting him often (Prov. 29:1), some are ever so slowly and then all at once delivered over to a mind that is itself shut off completely from God–even vehemently opposed to any thought of him (Ps. 10:4). In the Providence of a kind Creator, they would see only manipulative control. In kindly spoken words of guidance, they hear only condemning and frightful roars. In carefully reasoned and beneficial prohibitions, they would see offensive and restrictive oppression. In invitations to be united with him, they would see only the potential for loss (Romans 1-2).
I would like to say that these can be rescued, and in rare cases I believe they are. Only God knows when someone’s sins are complete (Gen. 15:16; 1 Thess. 2:16). At that point, and only then, they become (as it were) confirmed in their wickedness; and it is God’s pattern to use them as negative examples to prove his severity against evil (Rom. 9:17). The would-be Friend becomes the Angry God.
Wicked deeds cause the soul to not love (prefer) light… The further one chooses to go down (due to trials and temptations and despite God’s blessings) instead of running to God, the further his soul is bound by wickedness which is expressed in a preferred affection for remaining in darkness. Only time, encounters with the Light (Gospel/truth), intercessors’ prayer, and the person’s own small steps toward light can make the difference. God’s greatest gifts to us are time and blessings of goodness that lead us to repentance. God is restraining evil for the benefit of mankind. The worst time in the history of the earth will be when God removes his Spirit from the world (2 Thess. 4).
Time to repent is the greatest gift God can give us besides his Son, because he is willing to suffer long but not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Unfortunately, the longer one lives, there is no guarantee of repentance and faith in Christ. The longer one lives in this fallen world without Christ, the more hardships one experiences–promoting the lie that if there is a God, then he is bad. Also, as one grows older, he can grow more cunning in the ways of sin (depending on his active practice at it); and the more one sins without repentance, the more blindness and confusion one acquires. As Solomon the Wise writes, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the evil days come and you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.'”
When Jesus said, “men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” he was trying to tell us the plain truth. The matter is not that believers are somehow better or more capable for making a once-in-a-life-time decision. That is simplistic thinking about the way God uses life and the gospel. While the moment of repentance from sin and faith in Christ is certainly punctual; there were before that moment a thousand small positive responses to God’s wooing them with goodness, beauty, reason and foundational truths (Ps. 69:16; Rom. 2:4). General revelation always leads one to special revelation. It is just that those who believe stayed closer to the light and moved toward it incrementally until they finally believed on Christ.
Paths of Gold: Praying the Way to Christ for Lost Friends and Family by Terry Gooding