L.R. Shelton, Sr.
In our first study on the great text, John 3:16, we showed to you the sovereignty of God’s love. God is love; therefore, He does not love by rule or by law. He is a law unto Himself. Therefore, GOD LOVES WHOMSOEVER HE WILL, and has mercy on whomsoever He will. Let’s never get away from the great fact of the sovereignty of God, which is the basic foundation teaching of the entire Bible.
Our subject today in our second study of John 3:16 is, “THE BONDAGE OF THE SINNER’S WILL. “ Now let’s read John 3:16 again, “For God so loved the world (the world of believers), that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Let’s read this same text from the Amplified New Testament. Listen closely,
I read this version to you to bring to your attention what the word, “BELIEVE,” means. It is not a faith or belief in a fact, or a feeling, or an experience, or a dream, or some emotion, or some set of rules or doctrines. It is not even a belief in the Scriptures or the Bible: it is a belief or faith in Him, Christ. And so the word, “believe,” means to trust or cling to or rely on, and the object is a Person, and that Person is Christ. The reason so many go astray on this great gem of God’s Word is because they fail to realize that THE OBJECT OF OUR FAITH IS A PERSON — that is, CHRIST.
Now let’s look at that word, “WHOSOEVER.” It means anyone. So it could be read like this, “Anyone who trusts in Christ, or clings to Christ, or relies on Christ, never perishes, is never lost, never comes to destruction, but has eternal life.” It does not say here, “Whosoever will,” but, “Anyone who believes in Christ, “ or relies on Christ or clings to Christ. It doesn’t say, “Whosoever believes in feelings, or feels like he is saved.” It doesn’t say, “Whosoever believes in an experience, or has an experience.” It doesn’t say, “Whosoever believes in certain doctrines.” It doesn’t say, “Whosoever believes in the church, or is a member of the church, or is baptized, or keeps the sabbath, or lives the best he can.” The Scripture states a positive, definite, absolute fact, and that is, that anyone who trusts in or relies on or clings to Christ is saved.
SALVATION IS BELIEVING OR CLINGING TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND HIM ALONE. As some old divine has said, “If there is one hair’s breadth of works in any form in your so-called salvation, you are not saved.” Therefore, salvation is of the Lord (Jon.2:9). Now you face this question, my friend, Are you clinging only to Christ? Are you relying only on Christ? Now why is it that you do not trust Christ. You can trust a feeling, or believe a feeling because it’s tangible. You can believe an experience of some type that you have had because that is a living reality. You can believe in a fact that Christ is a historical character — you may believe that He is the Son of God, but you have never come to cling to Him and to rely upon Him wholly and completely as your Lord and your Saviour. You can believe some promise as a historical fact; you can believe the Bible is the Word of God based upon what others have told you, but that is not salvation. Salvation is believing Christ and Him alone. Any sinner who clings to Christ, relies upon Christ, cannot go to hell. NEVER!
Now the reason that you do not believe Christ is because you cannot. Now that may startle you, but listen: YOU CANNOT BELIEVE CHRIST, and the reason you cannot is that YOUR WILL IS HELD IN BONDAGE by the power of your depraved affections which control your will. As we said, the first thing that we find in this great text is that God is sovereign in His love; the reason for it is because He is God, and because man is totally depraved. Man is enmity against God; he is not subject to the law of God, and cannot be, according to Rom.8:7. Christ explains this great fact in John 3:19, after He has said in the 18th verse that man is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name only. He says that the basis of this judgment or indictment, or the ground for this sentence of death, lies in this fact, that the Light, Christ, is come into the world, and you love darkness (or sin) rather than (or more than) Light (Christ), for your deeds (or works) are evil.
We might go further and say you don’t even love the Light (Christ); there is no love in your heart for Christ — never has been, never will be, until God plants it there by His Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Christ goes on to say in the 20th verse of John 3 that every sinner hates, or loathes, or detests Christ, and will not come unto Christ, lest his whole inner life be exposed and he be convicted of his wrongdoings. By nature YOU WON’T COME to Christ. You don’t want Christ. BY NATURE YOU HATE CHRIST. By nature you are going away from Christ. These are facts that every sinner has to face.
Now the question arises, “WHY WON’T MAN COME TO CHRIST? Why won’t man trust Christ?” The soul of every individual is possessed with three great powers — first, THE INTELLECT, or the power of seeing or knowing; second, THE POWER OF AFFECTION OR FEELING; and, third, THE POWER OF VOLITION, OR THE WILL. Then when we study fallen man closely, we find that the will of every man by nature is not independent, but is dependent upon his affections and his intellect. Therefore, man is a free agent, but does not have a free will. Man is responsible, but does not have the power to choose independent of his affections or his fallen nature. We might say that man is free, but his will is not free. Man has a liberty or a freedom from coercion, but he does not have the power from within to make the choice. SO THERE IS A VAST DISTINCTION BETWEEN MAN AS A FREE AGENT AND MAN HAVING A FREE WILL.
Man is a free agent because he does as he pleases, always as he pleases, and only as he pleases, and is therefore responsible. But on the other hand, man has not a free will because all the faculties of man’s inner being are so interwoven and bound together that his judgment moves his desires, and his desires move his will. The reason he does not will to come to Christ is because his judgment is twisted, his understanding is darkened, and his mind is blinded; therefore he does not know the facts in the case. Now since his judgments and desires and affections are depraved, he does not want to know the facts in the case, and left to himself, he never will . No man can believe on Christ until he knows Him. Then BY MAN’S OWN INTELLECT, OR KNOWLEDGE, HE CAN NEVER KNOW GOD AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. By wisdom the world knows not God. Apart from the grace of God you cannot find Christ.
As we said, man does as he pleases, but his will binds him and carries him downward, and man cannot reverse his fallen nature. Man cannot renew his own will. Man cannot change his own heart; neither can man regenerate or make anew his old fallen nature. So man is free as far as the outside forces are concerned, but his will is bound by his old nature, which is enmity toward God and he cannot please God. Therefore, man is free to sin, but is free from holiness, and man is helpless in his state of sin. Therefore man will not come to God because it is not in him to will to come to God. His whole fallen nature is turned into a direction away from God, and man cannot come to God, because his heart is darkened and deceived. Man can no more turn to God than a dead man can rise from the grave. SO GOD, AND GOD ALONE, BY HIS SOVEREIGN GRACE CAN CALL DEAD SINNERS TO LIFE, put a new nature in them, and release their depraved wills from the power of their old fallen nature and turn them toward Christ. So we have to come to the one conclusion that MAN’S WILL IS IN BONDAGE, and even though he is a free moral agent he has no free will
Now let’s come back to our text, “WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM.” “WHOSOEVER, is completely dependent upon the S0VEREIGN GRACE of God to believe in Christ. As we said, before you can believe in an individual, you must know him. Before you can trust Christ and rely upon Him, or cling to Him, you must know Him. Therefore, it brings us back to this one great fact — that fallen man in his natural state, apart from the power of God, cannot know Christ, because, in the first place, HE IS A DEAD SINNER — dead in trespasses and in sins. How can a dead sinner know Christ in himself? Then, in the second place he is ALIENATED OR SEPARATED FROM THE LIFE THAT IS IN GOD. Then the individual who has no spiritual life in Him does not know Christ and has no desire to know Christ.
Then, in the third place, MAN’S ENTIRE BEING IS DEPRAVED; therefore, he has no righteousness, no understanding or knowledge of God; he does not seek after God. He is going away from God; he has no natural goodness. The way of peace he has not known, and there is no fear of God before his eyes. His mouth is full of cursing; his throat is an open sepulchre; his heart is deceitful, incurably wicked; his righteousness is as filthy rags. He is in open rebellion against God; there is no love of God in his heart. He is without strength, and therefore he has no power to come to the Son except the Father draw him. His carnal mind is enmity against God. He has no power to do good. Therefore, he wills not to repent, and within himself he cannot come to Christ. So we see that the bondage of the sinner’s will is definitely set forth in the Scriptures, and that it is one of the great doctrines of the Scriptures. It is also one of the great doctrines of God’s Word that is set forth in a very positive way.
Now let’s see how THE NECESSITY OF REGENERATION IMPLIES THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL. An individual is born into the world without his own volition; in like manner he is born into the kingdom of God without his volition. If we say this statement is not true, we deny the new birth. Free will has nothing to do with the new birth. The Scripture says,
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” (II Cor. 5:17).
This carries us back to the first creation. Man had nothing to do with God creating man; therefore, the new creation is of God. Now the Scripture calls this new creation by such expressions as, “Christ in you,” or “born of the Spirit, “ or “quickened by the Spirit,” or “passed from death unto life.” Call it whatever you may — it is the Lord God of Heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit taking a poor fallen sinner and making a new man out of him. This He does by the Word of God.
This brings us back to our text, “WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM.” We know from the Scriptures that faith is a gift of God, and an individual always takes a gift from the outside. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph.2:8). “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Gal .3:23). So faith is the stream or channel of divine life and is a gift from the Lord God of Heaven. The Scripture says in Psa.110:3,
“Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. “ So it is the resurrection power of the LORD GOD OF HEAVEN exercised by His sovereign will that raises a dead sinner to life in Christ. It is only when God makes a new creation out of that individual that he has the power to believe or cling to, or to rely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone, as His Lord and Saviour. So then we can say without fear of contradiction, based entirely upon God’s eternal Word, that “whosoever believeth in him” is conditioned entirely upon the basis of God’s sovereign love. Therefore, as man has no power to make a choice, God has to make the choice. So you see, FREE WILL HAS NO PLACE IN REGENERATION, AS MAN HAS NO FREE WILL. Now brother, that cuts right down across the grain, doesn’t it?
Let’s take an illustration found in the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, where we find the vision of dry bones. The Scripture says, “they were very dry” with no flesh on them. The Lord God asked Ezekiel the question, “Son of man, CAN THESE DRY BONES LIVE?” Free-willers would have cried out , “Surely they can live,” but listen to old Ezekiel, “O LORD GOD, THOU KNOWEST.” Then said the Lord God unto these dry bones.
“Behold, I WILL CAUSE breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.”
The trouble is, free-willers do not hear the Word of God. Free-willers cannot and will not hear the Word of God.
Now let me give you another illustration — the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus represents a sinner dead in trespasses and sins. His sister said, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he has been dead four days” (John 11:29).
Free-willers say,” He can raise himself from the dead, “but it was only when the Lord Jesus Christ cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” that Lazarus came forth. It is ONLY WHEN GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS to that sinner’s heart and says, “Live!” that he comes forth from the grave of corruption and is made a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Let me ask you these questions, Can a blind man make himself see? Can a deaf man unstop his ears and cause himself to hear? Can a dumb man loose his tongue and make his lips to speak? Free-willers say he can, but the Word of God says it is only by the power of God — that SALVATION IS OF THE LORD.
Let me go a step further and make this statement, that every doctrine of God’s Word hangs upon and confirms the total depravity of fallen man, and as I have often said, “IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONDITION OF FALLEN MAN, YOU DO NOT AND CANNOT RIGHTLY UNDERSTAND ANY OTHER DOCTRINE OF GOD’S WORD.” Let me further ask you, “What is election but God choosing because we cannot choose?” What is the new birth but God making alive the dead sinner who cannot even stir? What is perseverance but God carrying on the work that He has begun in the heart of “whosoever believeth in Him”?
Now, do you see, my friend, how multitudes of people have taken this great gem of the Scriptures and dragged it in the dust of free-willism until they have destroyed the meaning of it and made it a laughingstock to the world and prejudiced the minds of people against it? If you will view closely the picture that we have given you of fallen man, you will see it is sheer nonsense to stand before an individual and tell him to believe in Christ, when he has no knowledge of himself and no knowledge of Christ. SALVATION IS BASED FIRST UPON THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN. A sinner comes to know himself and how blinded he is, how stupid he is, how ignorant he is, only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit in his heart and life, making him a new creature in Christ. The Holy Spirit cannot and will not bring him to a saving knowledge of Christ until first he has brought him to a certain and definite knowledge of himself. When the Holy Spirit has brought that sinner to a definite knowledge of himself, and he has come to see what a sinner he is (which can only be done by the power of God), THEN AND ONLY THEN CAN THE HOLY SPIRIT SHOW HIM WHO CHRIST IS. Then that individual, who has come to the definite knowledge of himself as a lost, ruined, ill-deserving sinner and who has no righteousness or goodness of his own, sees that, left to himself, he could not come to Christ.
So we see that it is the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart of a sinner to give him that knowledge of his utter helplessness, his right view of sin and its power, the knowledge of his unbelief, the knowledge that he is a son of Satan and is held captive by Satan. Then He sees that free will can do him no good. This is where the sinner cries out, “Lord, I can’t believe; help Thou my unbelief.” The sinner’s one cry is, “Lord, don’t leave me; don’t forsake me. Save me, Lord, or I perish. Give me faith to lay hold of You.” He realizes his weakness; he realizes his utter helplessness. The Holy Spirit slowly but surely tears him loose and separates him completely from all creature faith; He takes all other gods from before him and leaves him standing, as it were, before a sovereign God — guilty, condemned to die, unable to believe, with only one plea: “Christ died, and He died for me.”
It is also the work of the Holy Spirit to show him that Christ died for such a sinner as he is, and that God’s sovereign love elected him as an object of mercy, and put a cry in his heart after Christ. It is this prayer that God put in his heart that God answers. Then comes to his heart and mind that great command,
“WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH.” There the sinner stands with all hope gone, but it is there that the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to that sinner’s heart. By faith the Holy Spirit places in that sinner’s heart, according to Acts 18:27, faith to believe Christ. Then he becomes one of “whosoever that believeth in him.”
THE OLD PURITAN PRESS
These messages were delivered over the VOICE OF TRUTH broadcast
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