"If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright." (Martin Luther)
"Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven" (C. H. Spurgeon)
Now, I understand that these are not quotes from Scripture. They are quotes from mere men. But I do believe they represent a Biblical fact, and if these men are right then ponder how many who use the name "Christian", who go to church every week, who do all the "right things", who read all the "right books", are sitting under the wrath of God! Think of how many are self-deceived at this very moment! It is not for us to guess who is saved and unsaved, but it is our duty to proclaim the truth, and this truth must be proclaimed. If any man believes that by his own act he has caused himself to be saved, then he does not know Jesus the Savior. Harsh words, I know!
Of course, there are many out there who are true Christians and ignorant of the deeper levels of issues such as free will, merit, and the like. These simply know that the Savior has saved them and in His blood alone they hide. These words are not spoken to them, though perhaps as an exhortation to take every opportunity to learn of the grace of God in Christ Jesus which has elected, redeemed, drawn, justified, and glorified us.
These words are to those who, under the fog of false religion, do claim to belong to Christ yet essentially ascribe their salvation to an act of their own. Rather than pointing to the Gift of Christ, their plea is "I have done this, therefore I am safe". They may speak of Christ, of faith, of justification, but these are empty if the person rests upon his own doing -whether it be the "act of faith", a "decision", or a dedication of oneself to Christ. These are hollow shells to rest upon, and in the day of judgment they will crumble like broken eggshells.
What, then, are we to believe? Aren't we justified by faith, and faith is our act? Being justified by faith, in Biblical terms, is shorthand for saying we are justified by Christ whom we embrace through faith. To go even further, the reality is that faith is actually a gift of God -His embrace of us! Our broken will is repaired and Christ is seen for the first time as the glorious Savior we need, and the inevitable result is that we cling to Him for dear life. So, it is one thing to believe that all you need for life (righteousness, reconcilliation, atonement for sin) lies in the Person and work of Christ (and very true). It is quite a different thing -a mirage of works-righteousness- to believe that Christ has done His part and now, by the power of our own free will, we do that small part which causes us to be saved. Again, there is a large difference between seeing your life as being in the Bread and eating as a starving beggar and seeing your life as being contained in your act of eating. The gulf is too wide to even see across.
I pray that someone reading these tough words will search the Scriptures. I pray they will take another look at John 3 and John 6, where it speaks of being born of the Spirit and how "that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit". I pray that they will see where Christ says that the "flesh avails nothing!" and think about these things. I pray that eyes would be opened via the Spirit working through God's Word and that the idol of self and self-salvation would be destroyed.