Often I feel the need to preface a declaration with a disclaimer, and this post is no exception. I know there are many Christians, better, wiser, than me by far, who love the Messiah who will disagree with me, some perhaps vehemently, regarding the soon-to-follow thoughts. I know, too, that this is ground that has been tread by countless others, and my voice is but one of a myriad, but I want to speak to this subject. Thus it goes…
Here is a typical statement, one I have heard dozens of times, that I believe frames the perception of the nature of salvation of the vast majority of American Christendom:
“If you and I did not have free will, we would not be able to choose to love God. What kind of world would we have if everyone was programmed to love or hate without a choice? God gave us free will so we could choose to love him!”
Another common refrain is that God does not want mere robots to worship Him. If it is His choice, then our ‘choice’ is coerced and thus meaningless. I completely understand that perception, where it comes from, and I used to hold to it.
The problem with this well-intentioned human wisdom is that it does not hold up to robust Biblical scrutiny, that it perhaps does not take the fallen nature of humanity seriously enough, that it glosses over the utterly rebellious nature of the human heart and our innate inability to choose the God of scripture. Read, for one example, Romans 3:11. Let me orbit around this idea of where love for God comes from. Again and absolutely without any ambiguity whatsoever, I do not deny that there are many who disagree with or misunderstand my assertions of God’s sovereign role in salvation who love God. I do affirm, gently, that they misunderstand the perspective of someone who affirms this authentic love for God can, and in the final analysis, must be birthed by the sovereign triune God’s free will in salvation.
First, here are some thoughts on free will:
- Does the fatherless and motherless child choose who will adopt them? Is adoption not the Biblical affirmation of a Christian’s relationship to the Father? (Romans 8:15)
- Did Lazarus choose to be called from the grave by Christ? Do the dead reanimate themselves? Are we not, in our unregenerate state, referred to in Biblical text as being spiritually dead, everyone of us? (Ephesians 2:1) (Colossians 2:13)
- Consider the Christian description and metaphor of salvation as being born again. (John 3:3) Consider this: Did I choose to be physically born? Did I have anything to do with that decision? (John 3:8) (Romans 9:16)
I think that the American church sometimes inadvertently reduces the work of regeneration to a transaction with God that depends to some degree on something we do, even if that work is described as merely making a choice. It is almost as if, in the free-will scheme, I sit in negotiation with God and God slides this offer across the table to me. I pick up the offer and look at it. It is an almost unbelievably good offer, but in the end, Christ’s ability to save is ultimately limited by my inferred ability to ‘choose’ God, to accept that offer. The offer, Christ’s ability to save, is impotent without my input. What sometimes happens is that our certainty of salvation is attached to something we do or perform, even if that work only constitutes 0.00001 percent of the work performed. The results are that we may end up wrestling with doubts about the veracity and ability of our ‘work’. Was I sincere enough? Did I believe hard enough? Is my faith great enough to save? Why am I still struggling with sin if I raised my hand or walked the aisle? Inversely, we may also place our faith in our ‘work’ in such a way that we bank so much on a fleeting, momentary response to an emotionally manipulative call to salvation that we may actually be ‘inoculated’ and hardened to the Gospel. We may also end up taking pride in our ability choose Christ when others do not choose (Ephesians 2:8-9). Think, too, about Acts 13:48.
In searching for some media to give examples of what I refer to, I find this typical example of decisional regeneration in action. I recall being in the audience:
In the end, the evangelical methods used are born out of our view of our role in salvation. If we are trying to coerce a response to an offer that depends on our inferred ability to choose, we may end up marketing the Gospel in the way the world markets products to consumers. I could say more to this, but I have spoken to it ad nausea, among other places, here, here, here, here, and here. The biblical call of repent and believe in Christ is often replaced with non-biblical rhetoric, of offers to try Christ, to accept Christ, to invite Christ. To my ears, these calls, if the language used is actually taken seriously, brings us to the conclusion that Jesus appears to be Someone who needs to be evaluated, and if He meets our needs and qualifications, we ‘accept’ Him. This may not necessarily be the language of someone driven to their knees in despair over their sin and in desperate need of a Saviour.
Here is the crux of the matter. Perhaps we may affirm that love for God is born by a growing understanding of the cost of the Cross and our inability to do anything to add to our salvation.. It is born by the realization that we are utterly and completely helpless to save ourselves, that even our ability to believe is an unmerited gift of the triune God. It is born out of the realization that God owes His creation nothing, that if He never gave us a Saviour, He would still be a holy, righteous, and just God. Indeed, one-third of the angels rebelled and God never offered them clemency, redemption. I love my Saviour, though so imperfectly, because He gave me life – when I was spiritually a walking dead man with no ability to choose God- at the price of His life, that He defeated death as evidenced by the empty tomb. There is nothing good in me that He should condescend to breath life into me.
I could speak so much more to all this, but time to bring pause to the days blogging. Perhaps more on this later….