Friday, February 4, 2011

To Choose or Not To Choose

Is believing in God a choice? Do we make a decision for Him, and through that decision bring about God's grace through our work of deciding? Most Christians would say yes, although with out making faith a work, because obviously the Bible teaches that "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast." -Ephesians 2:8-9. So we must establish what classifies as a good work? Is it helping our neighbor, obeying our parents, or diligently serving God? These are examples that people can cling onto and say, "Look I'm a good person and so God will honor that fact because I do so many good works." These are in fact good works that please, but don't justify us before Him. So the question is: if in fact man can come to God on his own and make a decision to believe in him, and to use the modern phrase, "Make Jesus my personal Lord and Savior", does that classify as a work? Initially a person who holds to this construct would say "No its not a work, I decide to believe in Him and He bestows on me the benefits of that belief." Doesn't that language make it seem as though you have done something to bring about God's grace? I would have to conclude that that is the case.

So what if I were to say that the Biblical position is that we are corrupted by sin to the point where we can't understand God, let alone believe in Him. To most Christians this would be heretical because "God doesn't force us to be Christians, He wants sincere love coming from His people and that can't take place if God forces us to believe." But doesn't Paul set a perfect example for us? A man who was against the Christian world and oversaw Christian's deaths and even approved of them. He persecuted the Church and was feared by Christians and yet he came to believe in the One True God(Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). So another question is raised. Didn't Paul have a choice? Christ was someone Paul was familiar with, its not as though he had never heard the name Jesus. So that option existed for Paul, yet he didn't make the choice, Christ had to intervene in order that Paul might stop his persecutions and become the man that God would have him be. He turned into the most influential writer of the New Testament. And people say he chose Christ after persecuting Him, I don't think so.

1Corinthians 2:14 "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

This verse from Paul to the church in Corinth suggests that before we have the Spirit we are blind to the things that concern God. We can't accept them or do anything in our flesh to believe or worship correctly or pray correctly or do good works correctly or love correctly. So how then do we make a decision for God if before we have the Spirit we regard the things from Him as foolishness. This verse tells us that we need God's Spirit in order to believe in Him. Some might say that God prompts us in certain ways or gives us an initial push, but we must respond to it. So their theology starts to be chipped away, because before we made the choice to believe and bring about God's grace but now He prompts us first and then we believe. But is that correct? Does God first prompt us and then we respond by believing or is God's work more significant then that?

Phillipians 2:13 “...for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

From the epistle to the Philippians it would seem that God's work is the most significant thing in our coming to faith. Everything good that we produce in our life as a Christian is ultimately God's working not ours. That is why no man can boast. This is true even for our conversion. And what a comforting truth that is. I know that when I look to the cross for hope it is because God is enabling me to hope in it. If I kneel down to pray I thank God that my desire is to do so. And when I trust that Christ died for my sins I know it could have only happened in one fashion which is God bestowing that faith on me. I don't need to be concerned if my “decision” was good enough because God gave me the faith that allows me to cling to the promise of Christ. So what role do we play?

Romans 3:9-12 "What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'"

Those verses from the Old Testament, which Paul is quoting, continue for a few more to explain man's condition in the flesh after the fall. Paul tells us that we are not any better and continues on to say that there is no one righteous, not even one! More then that there is no one who seeks God, who is the only one that can declare us righteous. The condition of man after the fall is nothing but sin and evil.

So how then, in this condition, do we come to the knowledge of God. Does he just pick and choose at random who will be saved and who will not? That wouldn't fit with Scripture because in Ezekiel 33:11 God says "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live..." So then how do people come to faith?

Romans 10:17 “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

God's means of bringing people to the knowledge of Him is his Word which the Holy Spirit works through to bring us to faith. If the Spirit is successful then we believe and the Christian fight begins, if we resist and harden our hearts then we are still spiritually dead. And some might say “That doesn't make sense. God wants us to choose Him.” But you must let your reason be subservient to the Scripture. Your reason might not let this fit together like a puzzle, but yet that is what the Scripture reveals.

 Understanding this point brings us to a conclusion. We shouldn't look to ourselves to determine the validity of faith, but rather be present where the Spirit is actively working to strengthen faith and keep us steadfast, walking in the righteousness of the Triune God who produces faith and preserves us in it.

1 comment:

  1. "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is)not your own doing;it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." - Ephesians 2:1-9. We are saved by grace. Period. God chooses to save us from our sinfulness not because of anything we have done or will do in the future but because He loves us. We were dead in our trespasses, which means we could not do anything. No one seeks God on their own because dead people can't do anything. It was Christ who made us alive and free from sin. Christ does all the work not us. Yet even with this we are responsible to believe. However faith is never what saves us. The grace of God saves us, faith is simply the means of our salvation not the reason for our salvation. We do not get to boast someday before God that we are in heaven for anything done on our part. It is simply God's mercy and love that frees us from our sinful state and gives us the faith to believe. The dichotomy between God's sovereignty and our own faith and belief is a great mystery of God that we may never fully understand yet we know this, it is all because of Christ that we are saved not ourselves. It is God's gift that give us salvation, because of his grace.

    Great post Marcus. Keep it up.