How do you explain a total change of heart? How do you explain a personality transplant? How can you explain being passive to the message of the gospel for most of your life, and then, the same gospel message of indifference you’ve heard a thousand times breaks you and it becomes life or death. That same message that was once just a boring church service becomes your lifes mission? Is this change something we do ourselves? I mean, is it possible in our human state to have the ability to just regenerate our own hearts by just deciding we chose to follow Jesus? Have you ever just sat in church and wondered why it is that some people are just on fire for the Lord, while others, many of whom have been in church forever, appear almost untouched by the Gospel?
Have you ever thought about these questions? The topic of salvation and how exactly God saves is the most controversial doctrine in the church today. It has been known to divide friendships, families, and even split churches. And let me say, for we as the body of Christ to ever divide over the mystery of salvation is not only childish but also heart breaking to God. If the words Calvinism, Arminianism, predestination, the extent of God’s sovereignty or the elect is mentioned from the pulpit….as they say in the old South, “Them’s fightin words.” I don’t consider myself a Calvinist or an arminianist. What I am is a follower of Jesus Christ. And regardless of if I like what his word says, or if it makes me uncomfortable, if God said it, then there is no argument.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11.
We can get all the doctorate degrees in Divinity and study scripture twelve hours a day and still we will never understand all the ways of God. Why would God hide the reasoning behind his ways from us? Because he wants us to trust him, and that is where faith comes in. If you are a parent, think about your relationship with your own children. Every parent has had this situation where the child continuously asks ‘why’ regarding something you’ve told them. After about the fourth, ‘why’, I generally say to my boys, “Because I said so.” I’m basically saying to them, “You may not understand my ways, but you don’t have to.” All I want them to do is trust me because everything I do is done with their best interest at heart.
But God does reveal some things to us. God does give us examples of how he works throughout scripture. Is salvation a 50/50 work that God requires mans help because he cannot do it alone? Does God prod our hearts only to leave the decision to accept him or deny him up to us? Unlike a high school boy asking a girl out and waiting in anticipation for her answer, God doesn’t need our acceptance. Regardless what theological title it has been given by man, I believe scripture attests over and over that regeneration and salvation is a 100% work of God. No one would argue that salvation is a supernatural occurence. One would also have to agree that the only supernatural being is God.
Humanity as a whole so badly wants to take credit, even if it’s in the smallest way, for everything good that happens. We innately want that pat on the back. Thats why this doctrine is so offensive to man. It is offensive to our inner most being not to be able to give ourselves some credit for a decision made to follow Jesus. In some small way, we want to be able to say, “Thanks for saving me Jesus, arent you proud of me for choosing to follow you?” Does this line of thinking strike anyone else as extremely arrogant on our behalf?
So here’s a question to sum it all up….Does God choose and accept us as his children, or do we choose and accept God as our Father? Sounds like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Well let’s go straight to the source and see what the Lord Jesus said on this matter.
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…”John 15:16.
What exactly did Jesus mean when he said this? Well, I believe he means we did not choose or accept him, but he chose us! But in order for this to be true, that would mean we had nothing to do with our salvation! Some shudder at the thought. That would mean that I didn’t just have a change of heart, but God literally changed my heart! So where in scripture is this proof of God saying he changes the heart of the wicked and not man? Buckle up…here we go…….
Think about a time when you were given a present without asking for it. Maybe your birthday. Lets say your father gives you a present you were not expecting. You receive this present from your dad and are so happy. Was it your decision for your father to give you a gift? No, it was your father’s decision to give you this gift. He didn’t have to give it to you, and it wasnt your decision for him to give you the gift.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” 1 John 1:13
Thats what the above verse is saying. If we combine John 15:16 with 1 John 1:13, it may read something like this. “God decides to give the gift of salvation to certain people of his choosing, having nothing to do with their decision.”
Still holding on to desperately wanting to claim some merit for your salvation? Lets look briefly at the conversion of a lady named Lydia in Acts 16.
“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
Paul was preaching the word of God to a crowd. Think of modern day, Sunday morning church. Everyone is listening, but only some are hearing the gospel. The verse gives the impression that Lydia was a rich woman, because someone who was a dealer in purple cloth in that day was like someone who dealt in Prada or Armani today. The verse also says that she was a worshipper of God. So Lydia went to church! She sat on the front pew! She attended all the bake sales. But at the end of the day, she never knew God, she only knew a religious routine.
I can relate to Lydia in my own life. I was brought up under the teaching of the gospel from a very young age. But church was just church. It was routine and what I thought good little boys were suppose to do. Most of the time I was counting the minutes down to when the service would be over. The words in scripture just bored me.
Flash forward to my early thirties when God changed me. When he rescued me. When he saved me. My heart changed. Suddenly the very same passages of scripture that just weeks before had bored me now I hungered for. I became broken over my indifference to God. Church became not about a checklist or what God could do for me, but all the sudden, it became about what I could do for my God.
Look back at the passage in Acts. Its said of Lydia, “She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” She was just an average church goer until something changed. What changed? Did she decide to follow Jesus on her own? The scripture says, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the message of the gospel.” God did the work of salvation, not Lydia.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.
Our salvation is a gift from God! We have no part in it and have no reason to boast saying, “I accepted Jesus as my savior.” Scripture refers to the grace of God as a gift! We receive gifts from other people, we don’t give gifts to ourselves. If you do give gifts to yourself, thats a whole different blog.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14.
We have nothing to boast or pat ourselves on the back about! Jesus is the giver. Jesus is the redeemer! Jesus is the Savior! Not us.
‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:25-28.
This is a picture of God regenerating the nation of Israel after their rebellion towards him. In the regeneration process described above in Ezekiel, I notice alot of the word, “I”. It seems to me that God is the one who gives us a new heart….because thats what he said. It seems to me that God gives us that new spirit…because thats what he said. It is very apparent that no one is saved by their own will, but only of the will and grace given to those he choses by the Lord Jesus.
God is soverign and in control of all things. Heres proof in the pudding so to speak. Think about this….Do you think Jesus mother Mary had a choice when God said she would bare God’s son? Do you think if she wanted, she could have said no to God? Do you think when Jesus came before the apostle Paul so radically and chose to use him to bring others to himself….do you think Paul could have said no? I don’t picture Jesus appearing in front of Paul and praying that Paul would please follow him! It was part of Gods plan! He chose Paul. He chose Mary. John Piper once said that God has even already predetermined the path of the dust particles that float in the air. As much of power and control hunger people we are, we have no control, and no power given to us that God has not already ordained!
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate at his crucifixion?
‘He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:9-11.
Everything we have in our lives has been given to us by God to ultimately serve his purposes. Even power to the unbelieving work together for the good of God.
So why is it that some people receive the message of the gospel to heart while others just go through the motions? I don’t have all the answers. But what I do have is Gods word. And for those that have received the gift of salvation in Christ, doesnt that just magnify your gratitude towards him that much more to think that you didn’t choose Jesus to be on your team, but that the God of the universe single-handedly choose you before you were even created? Regeneration is not a work of man, so that none may boast. It is a work of God alone so that our boasting is never in what we have done, but only in the cross.