One of the biggest hurdles I had with reformed theology in general, and Calvinism in particular, revolved around the fact that I wanted to participate in my own salvation. I was 'OK' with my role being minuscule and even secondary, but I wanted a part to play in my redemption and in my being 'born again'. I used to think that this desire was acceptable, intelligent, and even noble. As I look back on the years of wrestling with this concept, I realize that it was pride alone which fueled the need to believe that I was participating in a significant way in my regeneration. But now I can say, "Salvation is from the Lord." And I say it without reservation. However, not too long ago, a chapter like the one on Regeneration by Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Boston: Wm. B. Eerdmans Company, 1984)would have caused no small amount of consternation.
Murray brings this issue to the forefront in an interesting way. He begins by presenting a problem to the reader:
An effectual call, however, must carry along with it the appropriate response on the part of the person called. It is God who calls but it is not God who answers the call; it is the person to whom the call is addressed. And this response must enlist the exercise of the heart and mind and will of the person concerned. It is at this point that we are compelled to ask the question: how can a person who is dead in trespasses and sins, whose mind is enmity against God, and who cannot do that which is well-pleasing to God answer a call to the fellowship of Christ?...And how can a person whose heart is depraved and whose mind is enmity against God embrace him who is the supreme manifestation of the glory of God? (95)
Murray 'rolls up his sleeves' and begins the serious work with the answer to that question: "The answer to this question is that the believing and loving response which the calling requires is a moral and spiritual impossibility on the part of one who is dead in trespasses and sin." (95) Murray, in his style that I am beginning to appreciate more and more, makes his position clear stating, "The fact is that there is a complete incongruity between the glory and virtue to which sinners are called, on the one hand, and the moral and spiritual condition of the called, on the other." (95) Murray furthers the discussion with another question: "How is this incongruity to be resolved and the impossibility overcome?" (95)
The answer to this questions strikes at the heart of the dilemma I struggled with when I wanted to believe that I participated in a primary manner in my own salvation.
It is the glory of the gospel of God's grace that it provides for this incongruity. God's call, since it is effectual, carries with it the operative grace whereby the person called is enabled to answer the call and to embrace Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. God's grace reaches down to the lowest depths of our need and meets all the exigencies of the moral and spiritual impossibility which inheres in our depravity and inability. And that grace is the grace of regeneration. (96)
Murray goes on, adding,
God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation, or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation by him who calls the things that be not as though they were, who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast. This, in a word, is regeneration. (96)
This, in another word, is glorious. What once sounded to me ridiculous and ignorant, now sounds to me like God's wonderful and beautiful, logical and necessary, grace.
Murray goes on to sum up my sentiments nicely:
It has often been said that we are passive in regeneration. This is a true and proper statement. For it is simply the precipitate of what our Lord has taught us here. We may not like it. We mat recoil against it. It may not fit into our way of thinking and it may not accord with the time-worn expressions which are the coin of our evangelism. But if we recoil against it, we do well to remember that this recoil is recoil against Christ. And what shall we answer when we appear before him whose truth we rejected and with whose gospel we tampered? But blessed be God that the gospel of Christ is one of sovereign, efficacious, irresistible regeneration. If it were not the case that in regeneration we are passive, the subjects of an action of which God alone is the agent, there would be no gospel at all. For unless God by sovereign, operative grace had turned our enmity to love and our disbelief to faith we would never yield the response of faith and love. (99-100)