For many people, the sovereignty of God is the first step in having a changed view of God and also of their doctrine. Many people have spoken to me, to testify that the first step in their discovering the joy of the reformed understanding of the gospel was the truth concerning the sovereignty of God. This was true for me also. However, by the grace of God, my discovery of this was related to a new understanding that I had regarding the gift of repentance. It was that repentance is given as gift being given to sinners. I was persuaded of this through my reading of the Scriptures, rather than simply reading a book such as Arthur Pink's "The Sovereignty of God".
As a younger Christian, I was actively involved in outreach to the lost. This desire was fuelled by a genuine desire to see the lost converted, but it also was fuelled by a default Arminian understanding of salvation. I had not come across the word Arminian when I was a new Christian, but Arminianism is the religious understanding of the natural man. This teaches that man can choose salvation or reject it and that man has the final decision on whether he goes to heaven or hell. This is a false understanding of salvation, because if that was true, no one would ever choose Christ and the gospel. After being involved in much good evangelistic outreach and the preaching of the gospel to non-Christians, the fruit that was produced was minimal. I was thankful for the the occasional conversions that happened, but I had to admit to myself that they were the work of God's sovereign grace. In reading Acts, a shaft of light pierced my soul. What was it?
Acts 5:30-31 "The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins".
Acts 11:18 "When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life”.
These verses persuaded me that repentance was a gift from God and not something that man can conjure up for himself. This understanding of the gift of repentance was a key turning point upon which the hinge of the door of Calvinism began to open for me. A true understanding of the gospel, the church, and of God as presented by the reformed church, turned out to be a joyous discovery of spiritual truth. At that time, I thought that I had logically deduced this truth from the Scriptures and my own personal experience in evangelism. This may have been true, but it was the Holy Spirit who was leading me on a journey of discovery.
How about you? How do you understand the gift of repentance? Do you believe that salvation is of God, from beginning to end? If you would like further reading, I recommend Thomas Watson's "The Doctrine of Repentance" or a good commentary on John's Gospel by someone like William Hendriksen.