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What does God do before people are saved?

The Bible reveals the incapability of sinful man to turn to God on his own.

Eph. 2:1-3 – “And you … who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”

Rom. 3:10-12 – “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.’”

Q: If sinful man is spiritually dead and does not seek God on his own, how will he ever repent and believe?
A: God must intervene and extends His grace to each sinner.

Eph. 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

While this is true, we still wonder how God does it. Arminians believe in prevenient grace. This can be defined as God’s grace given to men to overcomes their incapability to respond due to their spiritual deadness. It is said that when this grace is extended to sinful man, he then has the ability to choose whether to repent and believe. Calvinists believe that sinful man is totally depraved and is incapable of responding unless God first regenerates him. Without this regeneration, it is said that sinful man will never repent and believe.

Some of this is difficult to understand. However, it would be helpful to look at biblical examples of people who were saved in the New Testament to see what God did before they believed. Thankfully, we have an entire book that gives such examples—The Book of Acts. What does it say about each person, the grace given to them, and the result?

Acts 2:41Jewish peopleSign, preachingbelieved
Acts 5:14Jewish peopleSignsbelieved
Acts 6:7Jewish priestsDeacons chosendisciples, faith
Acts 8:6,12SamaritansSigns, preachingbelieved, baptized
Acts 8:13SimonSigns, preachingbelieved, baptized
Acts 8:37Ethiopian eunuchBible, preachingbelieved, baptized
Acts 9:6SaulSign, voiceobeyed
Acts 9:35Lydda & SharonSignturned to the Lord
Acts 9:42JoppaSignBelieved
Acts 10:44GentilesPreachingHoly Spirit
Acts 11:24GentilesPreachingadded to the Lord
Acts 13:12ProconsulSign, preachingbelieved
Acts 13:43Jews & proselytesPreachingfollowed
Acts 13:48GentilesPreaching, appointedbelieved
Acts 14:1Jews & GentilesPreachingbelieved
Acts 14:21-23GentilesPreachingbelieved
Acts 16:14-15LydiaPreaching, heart openedlistened, baptized
Acts 16:32-34Jailer’s familySign, preachingbelieved, baptized
Acts 17:4Jews & GentilesPreachingpersuaded
Acts 17:12JewsPreachingbelieved
Acts 17:34GentilesPreachingbelieved
Acts 18:8Crispus & housePreachingbelieved, baptized
Acts 19:5John’s disciplesExplanationbaptized
Acts 19:18Jews & GentilesSign, preachingbelieved

What these Bible passages reveal is that God used signs (miracles) to get people’s attention. We also see that He primarily used Bible preaching (Rom. 10:17) to convince sinners of their need. Bud amidst these two primary means in the early days, we see God working behind the scenes by appointing believers (Acts 13:48) and opening hearts (Acts 16:14-15). While we will need to address these things at a later time, it should make it clear that God is actively involved in the salvation of people. He intervened in the past and we can be sure that He still does today.