Runner from to a runner to
July 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
I contend that the doctrine of election, properly understood, does not make us into mere puppets who simply do what God has ordained. As I begin to address this I think my own experience in becoming a Christian might be helpful.
My conversion was a dramatic encounter that I resisted over several years with great effort. I had been raised in a believing family but wanted nothing to do with religion. I ran as fast and hard as I could in what I perceived to be the other direction, through high school and in-out-and-back-in college.
It’s a long story, but when I was finally converted to Christ, one thing that was clear was that God barged in where I had wanted him to stay out. In other words, he wanted me when I didn’t want him!
Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying! At the point I actually trusted in Christ I had come to see I was a sinner who needed a Savior—and that Jesus Christ was that Savior. And, without any hesitation, I affirm that I chose to trust in Jesus.
But I realized that if I had gotten my way God would have stayed out of my life and I would have perished without Jesus. Somehow I went from wanting nothing to do with Jesus to wanting everything about him; somewhere along the line I was transformed from a runner from Jesus into a runner to Jesus. Simply put, something happened that violated what I had long understood as my “free will”—causing me to reject unbelief and to choose belief.
But how? Why?
God in his providence had connected me with a Reformed Presbyterian campus minister named Lee Ferguson who was leading me in a study on a book by R.B. Kuiper called The Bible Tells Us So. One afternoon he told me I might find some of the concepts of the next chapter to be different from my tradition and that I should not “freak out” but bring my questions so we could talk. It was about predestination.
Of course, I went straight to my dorm room and read the chapter—and the lights came on. This was how I went from running from Jesus to running to him! This was why God refused to respect my free will and leave me to die in my sin! This was why I turned from being a rebel to a believer! God had ordained my repentance and salvation from before the foundation of the world and would let nothing stand in the way of it coming to pass—not even my dead, stubborn heart!
I don’t think Lee was expecting the response I gave him when we next met. “It makes perfect sense,” I said. “It explains everything—it’s the only thing that makes sense of my conversion.”
Lee helped me dig more deeply into the Scriptures Kuiper used in that chapter, guiding me into the awesome doctrine of the sovereignty of God and the sobering reality of the total depravity of man. From Ephesians 2 I learned that man, in his natural state apart from Christ, is spiritually dead and that this is a universal reality: Paul
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… (Ephesians 2:1-3)
The powerful “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” perfectly described my former condition: body-alive but soul-dead. What is more, in this soul-dead state I made all kinds of choices, “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”
Paul’s words in verses 4 and 5 seemed to reach out and shake me:
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…(Ephesians 2:4, 5).
In plain words of black and white it was crystal clear: Dead men can do nothing—they can only have things done to them.
I was dead in my transgressions, but God made me alive together with Christ; my salvation was a completely passive endeavor: “…God…made us alive….” It suddenly made perfect sense to me that the word grace was mentioned in direct connection to my being made alive in Christ: I was dead and had to be made alive by God. As verse 4 says, it is truly rich mercy and great love that God takes dead rebels and makes them live saints.
The progression of the text was clear: God in his grace passes us from death to life, raises us from death with Christ and gives us faith.
Grace is God’s action in the “whole deal,” from start to finish: “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.” I realized that even my faith was not my “own doing.” How could it have been? I was soul-dead—spiritually dead, unable and, worse, unwilling to respond to the Gospel. It explained exactly how I had suddenly gone from being a runner from God to being a runner to God. God, completely against my wishes, barged in and made me alive in Christ.
The reason I had been a runner from Christ was because I was spiritually dead, naturally and freely running after my own desires. When God, by his grace, violated my free will (yes, I say that intentionally!) and made me alive in Christ, I now had, as Jesus said, “ears to hear” (Luke 8:8). Having been made alive by God in Christ I was now a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
I realized that I did not make myself alive; I did not make myself into a new creation. Jesus’ metaphor in John 3 of being “born again” is particularly apt; just as physical birth is what happens to you, spiritual birth is also what happens to you. It is a completely passive endeavor. Jesus doesn’t say to Nicodemus, “You must birth yourself again,” but “You must be born again” (John 3:7). The entire endeavor was God’s doing—not in response to my faith but because of his rich mercy and great love (Ephesians 2:4).
I realized that I had been born again so that I might believe and not the other way around; my new birth preceded, no, precipitated my faith! Being born again, made into a new creation, made alive in Christ, I could now hear what I could previously not hear: the good news that Jesus was the Savior.
As I read the Scriptures I began to see this truth in both the Old and New Testament. No one ever sees, understands or responds to God until the eyes are opened, the heart is opened and their nature is changed from soul-dead to soul-alive. Then—and only then—are they able to hear and respond to the Gospel. “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.”
If this is true then it is also true that God does not make everyone alive in Christ so that they may then believe.
And so arises the question of fairness.