It’s been a nice day outside, and I’m sitting out on the back deck watching robins hop along the roof of the house across the yard from me. I thought this would be a good place to bring all my thoughts together as I wait for a pot pie to cook in the microwave.
Lately, I’ve had a lot on my mind when it comes to the doctrines of grace. I grew up firmly convinced that people were able to come to God on their own for salvation. I guess I believed this by default; I found out, when challenged, that the Bible teaches the opposite. I fought tooth and nail against Romans 9 before grudgingly admitting that maybe God knows what He’s doing better than I do. And finally, the doctrines I once despised ended up becoming precious to me.
Why is God’s complete sovereignty in salvation so important to me? I think a lot of it has to do with boredom. Frankly, I was used to a boring god who needs pizazz and clever marketing campaigns to sucker people into church. That god is almost impossible for me to worship. Happily, I don’t have to, because he’s not real. The true God is fearsome and awe-inspiring, and He’s a lot easier to worship. That’s the kind of God that appears in Calvinistic doctrine, and this doctrine resonates with me because I crave a God whom I can fear. I can’t love a God that I don’t fear.
The thing is, I assent to all of the vaunted “five points” of Calvinism, but I don’t think I’ve really learned to think like a Calvinist. It’s easy to give intellectual assent to a point of doctrine, but it’s much harder to let it soak into your soul so that it becomes the lens through which you view the world. For too long, I’ve allowed this theology to be a collection of beliefs tacked on top of a worldview which doesn’t really differ much from the culture around me. This new-wine-in-old-wineskins tension tears me up inside. It doesn’t work. I need to start thinking like a Calvinist.
And in a sense, just about every genuine Christian does already…at least in our prayers. Any Christian worth his salt has prayed for the salvation of those who have not yet believed in Jesus Christ. “Father, please save my friend Harvey.” When a Calvinist prays these words, it’s very clear what he means; he is asking God to draw Harvey to Himself with irresistible grace, to open the man’s eyes so he will certainly and gladly choose to follow Christ. When an Arminian prays these words, I’m not exactly sure what he’s asking God to do. If the final say on Harvey’s salvation rests on Harvey, well…this is a useless prayer because God’s hands are tied. Let’s face it—Calvinist prayers are much better than Arminian prayers.
Aside from praying, though, I don’t really think like a Calvinist. This is especially true when it comes to evangelism. I’ve heard it said that we should hold to Calvinist doctrine but evangelize like Arminians. I think that’s what I’ve been doing, and it doesn’t really work. When I’ve shared the gospel with people, they usually haven’t responded much at all. I get discouraged about it; the Word of God no longer seems “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). I just can’t seem to get it into my head that God can save anyone He wants. If someone is His elect, he or she will be saved—period. If I could only start thinking like that, I would be much bolder in sharing the gospel with others because God could save any person if He so chooses. George Whitefield, one of the greatest evangelists of all time, remarked that “this makes me to preach with comfort, because I know salvation does not depend on man’s free will, but the Lord makes willing in the day of his power, and can make use of me to bring some of his elect home, when and where he pleases.”
One truth that is sinking into me is the depravity of the human heart. Sin that I never even used to notice bothers me a lot now. I wasted most of my Saturday watching endless TV like a lazy slob instead of spending time with the Lord and getting work done. A couple of years ago, that would have been par for the course; now, I feel awful when I sin like that. In fact, I feel like a much more wicked person overall than I was a few years back. Everyone tells me that the opposite is true, but when all the hidden filth of the heart—what John Owen called “a standing sink of abominations”—is exposed by a growing knowledge of God’s will…well, the feeling isn’t good. But it is a good feeling to have because it’s the truth.
Unfortunately, I just don’t get the love of God. I tend to think He’s like me, only better—He’s got a longer fuse, but eventually His love will run out and then I’m on my own. So it’s refreshing to read in the Bible that God is more than a cosmic superman. While preparing to teach ABF on Sunday morning (which I should have done on Saturday), I read 1 Samuel 12:22: “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” That was an instant pick-me-up, because all of a sudden I remembered that God didn’t choose and love His people because they’re more intelligent or skilled or more righteous. He didn’t elect me for salvation because He saw a spark of potential in me that wasn’t in someone else. No! God’s reasons for choosing us are His alone to know; all we know is that it brings Him glory. In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Henry observed that “the fixedness of God’s choice is owing to the freeness of it.” God chose me freely, not based on something in me. Thus, He will not abandon me simply because I’m a screw-up and a sinner.
God’s unconditional election of me is really good news.
So that’s all I have to say for now. My pot pie is getting cold. I guess if you want this put into better words than I can write, listen to the hymn “The Love of Christ is Rich and Free” by William Gadsby. You can find it on Sandra McCracken’s hymns album The Builder and the Architect (or listen free on its website). It’s a beautiful song praising God’s unconditional love.
(P.S. You should really buy The Builder and the Architect because it’s incredibly good.)