Tedium drives me nuts. Arrogant Christians are a bore. Knee-jerk, reactionary emotionalism is saddening. Hostility over the truths of Scripture between those who genuinely love the Lord is one of the most damaging ironies of our day. Brothers and sisters, at the risk of alienating both sides of the debate about God’s sovereignty I humbly submit my viewpoint which will likely provoke Calvinists to sigh in pity for me and non-Calvinists to fear that my position on the issue is dangerous. By the way, please read all the way through and do not miss the last two paragraphs. Both of these aforementioned groups contain people who think they have this enormous, mind-boggling issue tidily wrapped up and to all of those who think this way I write “Humble yourself. Arrogance and ignorance are a lethal combination.”
The same Apostle Paul who urged, beseeched and begged people to accept Jesus Christ and His message also lifted his hands to God’s throne to praise Him for sovereignly superintending the salvation of sinners. Paul stresses the element of human responsibility both in sharing the Gospel and receiving the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 5:20 when he writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Paul so believed in the urgency of calling people to make a personal, purposeful commitment to Jesus Christ that he spent his entire life as a believer pouring everything he was into the mission of Gospel advancement. He was the architect of the most informative passages of God’s sovereign grace while he also simultaneously lived out his life as the greatest example of human exertion in bringing the unsaved to an opportunity to be born again. We never see or hear him once dismiss someone as unworthy to hear the Gospel under the assumption that they are not among the elect. How can anyone know something like that? Repentant faith in Christ is what validates sovereign election and that proof cannot manifest itself until and unless the Gospel is first shared with a person. Paul does not give a single word to presumably reveal the secret of who will be saved and who will not. He shows us clearly that we are to use everything within us to call all people unto a commitment of their lives to Jesus Christ because they will be gloriously saved when they do so. Nothing less is ever revealed by the apostle -Paul simply lived, breathed and eventually bled out the Great Commission because he knew that each and every individual is accountable to God for his or her belief.
Now this same man who spent his life seeking to rescue sinners from condemnation also magnifies the glorious saving and sovereign grace of God in Ephesians 1:3-11 where he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to his purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” How can anyone read those verses and not come away with at least an inkling that something beyond their comprehension and ability was attached to their personal salvation? I am alarmed at how often some Christians flippantly dismiss passages like these as if they did not mean what they actually say. These verses humble us to learn that God was working for us before there ever was an us on earth. We may not perfectly fathom how all this fits with man’s accountability to choose Christ (which every person must do to inherit eternal life), but do these words not at least cause you to slow down and hush up from that impulse to dismiss these truths our of hand? Your being comfortable with it is not required for it to be true. My experience tells me that people who are not confident in the goodness of God are the quickest to toss truths about His sovereignty into the theological wastebasket. Could we be so bold, after reading verses like these, to pray to God, “I don’t believe You had any part in my believing beyond giving me the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and sending a messenger my way with the Truth. It was all on me after that, Lord.” Yet this is exactly what we say if we dismiss out of hand God’s sovereign grace in salvation. We must believe that it boils down to us having enough wisdom in ourselves to say Yes to Christ while others remain foolish and say No to Him. We are presumably saved primarily by our wisdom in making the right choice which presumably came independently of God’s invisible working on our hearts. It is here that we unknowingly take the credit. This is an awful position in which to stand on the issue. It is bigger than our ability to explain and it is time for some to learn to live with that.
Forgive me for not being smart enough, deep enough, Spirit-filled enough or brilliant enough to communicate how these two truths from God’s Word can be sufficiently reconciled in our minds so that I might quip, “Ahhh, yes. I understand this perfectly. I have figured it out. It all makes sense now.” Folks, I plan to spend the rest of my ministry preaching both sides of this core issue. I will do so because they are both there for the preaching: God’s sovereingty and man’s call to choose Christ. God has given us these truths and they really do not need to be reconciled because (as has been said by another) friends do not need to be reconciled. These are not opposing truths but, rather, complimentary truths. Just because we cannot perfectly explain them does not mean that they cannot be explained. I believe that the One who gave them can explain them, and that He will do so when our glorified intellects can soak it all in – what an embarrassing moment that could be for anyone who thinks they have it summed up down here. Until then, the proud finger-pointing and accusations sully the cause of our King. Christians need to prayerfully remain committed to both the glorious sovereignty of God and the clear accountability of man. If you lose the first then you rob God of some level of glory. If you abandon the second then you become a fatalist, disengaged from the privilege of fulfilling the Great Commission and unfaithful in calling people to repentant, personal faith in Jesus Christ. I am not the man who will solve the ongoing debate but I do hope to soften it where I can. Accept it: you do not fully grasp the inscrutable God of eternity. Why do you struggle so badly to admit this and live in happy surrender that God remains bigger than you can fathom?
Here is a short passage that has greatly helped me when I have been backed into a corner by others, demanding an explanation of how I can be comfortable proclaiming the full sovereignty of God and the complete responsibility of man. I simply tell them that I cannot adequately explain it all and then I tell them that God is okay with that because He has previously said to us all,
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
He has never called us to perfectly understand Him or His ways. He expects us to know His holy character, believe what He has communicated and to trust Him in obedience. I can do that. So can you. I am not a Calvinist and I am sorry if that displeases you. I am not an Arminian (or any other label slapped upon one who is a not a Calvinist) and if that simple confession makes you think that I am, by default, a Calvinist then I forgive you for being wrong about me. Frankly, the labels that exist are insufficient to proclaim what I believe about God and His sovereignty. Many times i have sat across the table from true Calvinists and, after detailing what I believe, have heard them agree that I would be a misfit in their ranks. More than once have I encountered an angry non-Calvinist who is infuriated that I preach the truth about God’s rule over the hearts of man. Frankly, the Calvinists are polite and the non-Calvinists are not always that contained. I suppose the Calvinists trust that God will sovereignly bring me into the fold and the non-Calvinists view me as stubbornly committed to error and they are upset that I won’t change my mind 🙂 In summary, I believe my Bible and am working through it regularly in dependence upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify my understanding and communication of God and His glorious ways. I sense the deep pleasure of the Lord when I am ready to calmly, prayerfully examine His word in my desire to grow further in Christlikeness. I also sense His pleasure in that I do not have to join either one of these foolish agendas and add another finger in the epidemic pointing-sessions between the two groups that continue to bore the rest of us to death. Put up your swords, Calvinists. Sheathe your weaponry, non-Calvinists (whatever you may call yourselves). Be a Christian for Jesus’ sake! (I mean that literally) Squabbling and strategizing on how to silence the other side of the aisle is shameful and confusing to the unsaved. If nothing else, let us all hush and refuse to be the ones who cause greater division in this area. God knows what He is all about and there will certainly be no I-Told-You-So’s from any of us in His glorious presence.
I’m opting out of the never-ending debate and going to continue to preach God’s word as it is written. Sometimes I will sound like a Calvinist because sometimes the Scriptures emphasize God’s sovereignty. Other times I will come off as a hyper-Evangelist because there is clear precedent in Scripture to magnify the open offer for all to believe on Jesus. Charles Simeon made the same commitment in the early 1800’s and never gained the popularity of those who knew him then. Charles Simeon sacrificed popularity for integrity and I doubt he regrets that decision today. There are scores of us who are frustrated with call to choose a side on the issue. As for me and my house, we will exalt the Lord and allow others to disagree with us when they must. I will answer to Christ for me and you will answer for you. I have a feeling that somewhere in eternity, God will sit us down and clarify all the mysteries that we do not understand fully today. I hope to honor Him until that moment comes. Until then, let us cultivate the art of kindness and humility and our testimony for Jesus will be much more palatable to everyone.
…man, I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time and it sure does feel good to get that off my hopeful chest.