Salvation is strangely both ‘all about me’ and at the same time ‘not about me at all.’
In some aspects, it is or has to become intensely personal.
In order to be saved, things have to get personal. God, who is real, needs to become real to me. I need to understand that I have sinned and I need to embrace Christ as my Saviour from sin.
Then, in order to get the comfort of salvation, things have to be personal. If Christ is my Saviour then I am forgiven and accepted and loved and cared for and will be brought safely through to the end – all the blessings of redemption belong to me for my benefit and encouragement.
But in other ways, this “I” is the least important of all.
Election – In a past eternity, God elected some and not others to eternal life. He did this out of his mere good pleasure. Although it’s important to know that each one of them is precious and loved individually, yet none of them had any say in their own election and they weren’t elected on the basis of any characteristics of their own. Neither their good qualities nor their pitiableness nor their desperate need played any part in the Father’s choice – his reasons were all in himself, not in them.
Regeneration – At some point in time, God acts on the soul to bring that person from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is as impossible for someone to regenerate themselves as it is for someone to give birth to themselves. The initiative is his, not theirs.
Justification – Justification is an act of God which completely bypasses our involvement. Goodwin says you’re more capable of ordering a conjunction of the planets than of arranging your own justification. The counter-imputations of sin and righteousness happen in a realm utterly beyond our ability to influence – the sentence of God the Father on the basis of the merits of the Son in human nature.
Sanctification – Faith and repentance, the twin first acts of the newly regenerated soul, are my acts but his gift. Dying more and more to sin and living more and more to righteousness do of course involve my faculties and my effort, but the motivation, the empowerment, and the model are outside of myself. And growth in grace in general is much less about what we do and achieve, and more about what we suffer or (for a less emotionally loaded term) what we are given to experience and undergo. We are shaped, we are changed, we are developed and taught, much more by what happens to us than by what we achieve. And it’s an infallible principle that the bigger self is, the less holy we are. Those of the Lord’s people who are the most sanctified are the ones whose own will is less wilful, who are the most ready to accept and learn from God’s Word and providence instead of resisting and wanting things their own way, who are increasingly dependent on and decreasingly independent of their Saviour. We would be more holy if we were more absorbed with the greatness and goodness of God, than of ourselves: it’s not about us.
The salvation of millions of individual people, each one loved and redeemed individually, is essentially of the Lord. Each individual saved sinner can say, I get the benefit – but each one confesses, it’s not on my initiative, I don’t contribute anything, and I don’t get the glory.