A Question I Was Asked:

Can We Repent and Save Ourselves - Without the Holy Spirit?

"Can a man or woman repent without the help of the Holy Spirit?, I mean, does one have that ability: Is it the working of the Holy Spirit? Or is it of us?

I am thinking of the verses which say, 'Our righteousness is like filthy rags', and, 'Oh wretched man that I am who shall deliver me' and so on. Is it of me or is it of Him?"

My Reply:

The short answer is that it is 'of God' - we could not approach God but for His election extending to us. By 'approach Him' I mean that we could not - of ourselves - suddenly start taking a deep interest in Holy Scripture and come to see that our own 'doing good' is no better than filthy rags in His sight, and come to feel deep repentance, accepting Jesus as our personal Saviour. For those things to happen, and then for us to remain on course, even perhaps say 25 years later provides pretty conclusive evidence that we have been the subjects of divine election and calling and the Holy Spirit has been heavily involved in the whole process.

But there are a few who seem to go through life getting various 'enthusiasms': one moment it is computers and the internet, then it is Jesus, then it is this marvellous girl whom they have just met; you add it all together and they were really no more enthusiastic about Jesus than they were about those other things, neither did their 'Jesus enthusiasm' last any longer! This is why any wise minister will not immediately baptize those who approach him with bubbly enthusiasm to 'get saved.' Sometimes people like that start to worry and will say things like, 'My pastor says he probably won't baptize me for about 10 months, but what happens if I should die?' The answer is, if you are called, then you are called and you will be saved; baptism cannot save anybody anyway! But our Lord would still like us to go through that process.

Now I think I have digressed a little here so I need to get back to the main point:

The New Testament clearly teaches that men and women cannot reach the place of true and genuine repentance without the work of the Holy Spirit convicting them. First of all, regarding our need for repentance consult Mark 6:12; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20. Regarding our personal conviction and calling see John 6:28-29,44; John 16:7-15; Ephesians 1:4-14.

Yes, in a sense it is still our choice, yet the Scriptures are plain that divine election is also needed. God calls and we respond. This does not mean that our personal choice is irrelevant; this is certainly a difficut thing to explain: we could not make the personal choice without God, but the Scriptures repeatedly show that, notwithstanding that, our personal choice to appropriate Christ remains important!

Robin A. Brace, 2007.