A few years ago Gandalf had a Bible study with some of the Muslim guys who work for us. I was concerned at first because I did not want the fact that they worked for our aid organization to influence what they would say to us about their faith. The truth is I would rather go to their homes and discuss God. But Gandalf said that God was moving him to do this so he did it. Four of the guys attended every morning and paid close attention to what was said. One guy always found reasons not to be there- he is still working with us and is a great guy but just as lost as the first day we met him. But the others listened and as they did one of them seemed to be changing. He cleaned up his language and really seemed to soften. He was a truck driver and a pretty rough character really. After a couple of months he seemed to be a completely different guy. I am not just talking about language but about optimism, charity, hope, and kindness. We were all quite excited to see the transformation in him. Then one day he got in an argument with one of the other workers. I don't know what started it but as I came out of the office he declared to Gandalf and to the other workers there, 'I will never believe that Jesus was the Son of God.' After that he began to deteriorate quickly. He began swearing, he was rude, he was dishonest. Six months later I fired him for stealing.
Well, you can see where I am going with this already can't you? And some of you are quite unhappy about it I am sure. So, let's start from the top. First, while this is a powerful story in my mind it does not overthrow the Word. My theology is built on the Word of God not my experience. I can misread my experience but the Word says what it says. Today we are looking at the U and the I of the Tulip. They do in fact go together (for many Calvinist the TULIP as a whole goes together) and I could not think of a way of approaching one without talking about the other.
Unconditional Election is an important Calvinist teaching that has much merit for us to consider. Calvin used this concept to emphasis that Man can not earn his salvation. There is nothing that Man can do to 'force' God to do anything. With this concept in mind most Calvinists go on to say that this means that men and women are saved by the grace of God alone and Man's choosing to accept God's offer of Grace is simply Man's preordained response to God's call. To put it more simply God calls and Man must respond with a yes. Calvinists reasoning at this point explains that if Man responds of his own volition to the call of God then that constitutes a 'work' that Man could boast in. "Yes, it was God's lucky day when I said, 'yes' to His call." Irresistible Grace takes the idea one step further and states that whoever is called must answer yes. The reason for this concept is that God is Sovereign and if Man could potentially say no to Him He not only would not be sovereign but again, all those who were smart enough to say yes would have reason to boast.
I hope that I have explained these concepts fairly- if not thoroughly- and that everyone reading has a good grasp of what is being discussed to this point. I apologize to my Calvinist friends who doubtless feel I have done a poor job but in my defense I was never destined to be a great theologian or deep thinker. What I really want to address now is where Jesus stands in all of this.
First, let me say that God's sovereignty is a literal reality and I respect Calvinist for highlighting it. Too often Christians glibly say that 'He is in control' and then live a life of high octane anxiety that clearly indicates they either do not believe He is in control or do not trust Him to control things 'properly.' I do believe that the Bible paints a picture of a God who knows what is going on and is in control of it. Look at Jesus life in total. He knows he is going to the cross. There are a million variables that could take Jesus life in another direction. What if more of the Pharisees believed Him? What if the people really had made Him a King after He fed the 5000? What if Judas got cold feet and backed out of betraying Him? He knew what would happen from the beginning and it happened as prophesies had foretold over a thousand years beforehand. He is in control today just the same. You can't read the Bible and come to any other conclusion honestly. But... and here is the but. But Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace fail to capture what is happening in the life of Jesus and in the world today.
So, moving past our experience with one grumpy driver who rejected Jesus what does the Bible say about this subject. I think of Jesus experience with the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10. A young man comes to Jesus and Mark records that Jesus 'loved him'. But when the young man hears what he needs to do (the conditions?) he walks away sad. Jesus does not chase after him or cajole him in any way. He lets him go. He invited the boy in and the boy refused. To apply Unconditional Election is to make irrelevant half the verses in the Bible. God gives us through out the Old and New Testaments 'conditions' that we are to meet. Isaiah 55 is one of the greatest OT invitations and in Acts 2 we see Peter inviting people to come again. He gives some pretty good conditions for coming- like repentance and belief- and I just can't read these without thinking that God is honest and upfront in His invitation. I do not believe that He is telling everyone that they are welcome when in fact, He is only calling some. I will get to Limited Atonement in the next post. We are commanded to seek the Lord and Jesus informs us that all who seek will find Him. Unconditional? How's this for a condition?
"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?" Romans 10:14
Those are conditions. In our work we see the truth that in places where the Gospel is boldly proclaimed people respond and in places where it is not there is little fruit. We are to go out to the highways and byways and compel them to come in. I appreciate that salvation is a gift from God, provided at great expense by God and it is only by His grace that I am saved. Our works can not save us but we must say yes to His grace. There are many Biblical examples of those who have rejected His grace. The Bible is full of the conditions that must be met to receive His grace. He was very clear about this.
I do not believe that holding such a view denies God's sovereignty. To use a poor analogy that is sure to break down somewhere, God is a master chess player. He will win the game. He is not surprised at the moves being made but anticipates and is prepared for them. Even now He is moving His pieces into position for the final push to the endgame. We must be out and about sharing the Word and giving the invitation. Many will reject Him but some will receive Him and be transformed into an army that will swell the ranks of His Kingdom until the whole of Heaven is filled with grateful souls giving Him the glory He deserves. I do not go in for the saying, 'Pray like it is all up to God and work like it is all up to you.' It makes a nice point about hard work but it is not good theology. No, pray as if it is all up to God and work for God is coming soon and will require an accounting of the use you have made of the costly Grace He has given you. We can resist His Grace as many have- we must not. We must accept His Grace and offer it in turn to a lost and rebellious world. He has commanded us to go and to love and to share. If we fail to meet this condition the judgment will be terrible indeed.
I just reread all of this and I am not happy with it. The bottom line of what I want to present is that of the character of God as demonstrated in Christ. He is an inviting God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son the Father is inviting the younger AND OLDER sons into the banquet. The invitations are genuine. Saying yes is not an act of self righteous works, it is the response He honestly seeks from all of us because He honestly loves all of us.