The more I read the bible, the more I see God's sovereign hand in all things - including salvation.
This morning I began to read through the book of John. I was not looking for anything in particular when I ran across verses 12 and 13 of chapter one. These verses say:
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." NKJV
Verse 12 tells us that anyone who receives God by believing in His name has the right to become a child of God. What an amazing right this is! To become a child of God is the best adoption any of us could imagine.
Verse 13 makes it even more amazing. In verse 13 we are told that anyone who receives God has been spiritually born because it was the will of God for this to happen. Take note of the fact that John makes it explicit that this did not happen because of the will of man. It is because of God's will that anyone is born spiritually.
What is going on here? The ordering of what is happening is the key. First, God wills that a person be born spiritually (born again as discussed in John chapter 3). Second, a person who has been spiritually born receives God by believing in his name. Third, that person has the right to become a child of God.
It is clear based on this passage that God initiates salvation (being born spiritually) by His sovereign will. Again, John states that this is according to the will of God, not of man. When a person is born spiritually, he is then able to respond in faith (believing in God). When a person responds to God in faith, he is saved (becoming a child of God).
My experience is that many American Christians are uncomfortable with the idea that it is God who is sovereign over salvation and not man. I could understand this if God was not perfect, loving, gracious, and merciful to infinite degrees. However, since He is these things, why do so many people struggle with God's sovereignty?
My conclusion is that for some people, the issue is a lack of understanding both God's infinite holiness and our utter corruption and spiritual death. If we admit that humans are dead spiritually prior to salvation, then it must be that God alone is the one who can and does make them come alive spiritually.
We are saved by the will of God.