FAQ: If Jesus died for everyone, why doesn’t everyone go to heaven?

heavenOne of the most significant objections to Christianity is the idea that ‘only Christians go to heaven’. Not only does this come across as incredibly intolerant, it’s also horrifying for all those who have not come to place their faith in Jesus to save them.

Many have asked why God can’t just take everyone to heaven the moment they die. And in response they’re often told that a Holy God can’t reconcile with sinful human beings unless a payment is made for sin.

Now this might explain the need for Jesus to die on the cross, but it still doesn’t explain why everyone can’t just go to heaven: Doesn’t God love everyone? Doesn’t the Bible teach that He wants all people to be saved? Didn’t Jesus die to pay for everyone’s sins? If so, why can’t everyone just go to heaven?

Here are three things to consider…

1. THE BIBLE IS CLEAR THAT FAITH IS A REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION

John 3:16-17 says… 
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” 

2. THE BIBLE DOESN’T EXPLAIN WHY FAITH IS A REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION

Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t really say why faith is a requirement. And this can be very frustrating. But just because we don’t understand why something happens, doesn’t mean it’s not true. We experience this in science all the time.

Take Gravitational Force for example…

Gravity Formula

Scientists know that the Gravitational Force between two objects increases as the size of the masses increases. They also know that the Gravitational Force decreases as the distance between the masses increases. They’re even able to use the above formula to calculate the exact strength of the force in newtons.

But there are still many questions that remain: Why is Gravitational Force related to the amount of mass? Why does it decrease as the masses move further apart? Why is it so consistent? Why isn’t it affected by temperature, or volume, or density, or the type of matter? And why are we able to be so precise? It’s one thing to be able to notice a trend, it’s another thing entirely to be able to develop a formula that’s so precise we can use it to put a man on the moon.

Just because something is difficult to understand, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

3. HERE ARE SOME POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS

A) Passover
In the Book of Exodus, we read the story of the Passover. God told the Israelites to cover their door posts with the blood of a lamb. When the Angel of Death saw the blood, He knew to ‘passover’ that particular house. It’s interesting though that it wasn’t enough for the blood to be shed. It had to be personally applied to each family’s door post.

In the same way, Jesus’ blood was shed for all humanity, but it has to be personally applied to each person’s life. This happens when we place our faith in Jesus to save us. His blood saves us from death.

B) Gift
Just because someone has bought us a gift, doesn’t mean we have actually received it.

In the same way, just because Jesus has bought us the gift of eternal life, doesn’t mean we have actually received it. We must receive it by faith.

C) Ransom
Just because the ransom has been paid, doesn’t mean the child has come home.

In the same way, just because Jesus laid his life down as a ransom for us, doesn’t mean we have come home to live with our heavenly Father.

D) Bridge
Just because the bridge has been built, doesn’t mean we’ve walked across it.

In the same way, just because the bridge between God and humanity has been built, doesn’t mean we’ve walked across it.

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FAQ: Jesus teaches that there will be rewards in heaven. Doesn’t this contradict grace?

Tresaure chestThe Bible clearly teaches that Christians will be rewarded in heaven for the good works they do on earth. While this seems to make sense to some, others of us find this confusing.

HERE’S THE CONCERN…
When someone finally gets hold of the fact that God accepts them because of His grace and not their good works, they find themselves doing good works because they have already been given something, not because they want to get something. 

> They do not love in order to get God to love them. They love because God first loved them.
> They do not serve in order to get God to serve them. They serve because God first served them.
> They do not forgive in order to get God to forgive them. They forgive because God first forgave them.

So when Jesus teaches that there will be rewards in heaven for doing good works on earth, many of us are confused.

Are we meant to love others because God first loved us, or because we want to get rewards in heaven? Or is there more than one reason to love? How does this all work?

Here’s some things to consider…

#1. THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE BUT WE WILL BE REWARDED BECAUSE OF OUR WORKS

The Apostle Paul spoke about believers who will be in heaven because of their faith in Jesus, but will miss out on rewards in heaven because they did not give their life to doing good works: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Bruce Wilkinson summarized it like this: “Our eternal destination is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth”.

#2. THE BIBLE SEEMS TO INDICATE THAT THE REWARDS WE RECEIVE ARE NOT ABOUT GETTING SOMETHING, BUT ABOUT BEING ENTRUSTED WITH SOMETHING

Although the Bible is not clear in spelling out exactly what eternal rewards look like, it gives a strong indication that they are not what we might expect. Consider the following…

A) The greatest reward is an opportunity to serve Jesus
When a person becomes a Christian, their desires begin to change. Although they still have a sinful nature which loves sin and craves sin, they also have the Holy Spirit who gives them a desire to serve God. With this in mind, what would be the greatest reward God could give a Christian? Surely the greatest reward would be to fulfil the Christian’s greatest desire, and the Christian’s greatest desire is to be with Jesus and serve Him.

B) If we are faithful with little, we will be entrusted with more
In the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) and the “Parable of the 10 Minas” (Luke 19:11-27), Jesus makes is clear that if we are faithful with the small opportunities we’re given to serve Him, then He will entrust us with greater opportunities to serve Him. It isn’t entirely clear whether those greater opportunities will come in this life, the life to come, or both. But given that Christians will be serving God in heaven, it it certainly seems reasonable to assume that those who were trustworthy on earth will be given greater responsibility in heaven.

C) Some will be rewarded with an opportunity to rule
Bruce Wilkinson explains: “Exactly how much opportunity will faithful stewards receive in heaven? So much that in the upside-down kingdom of heaven, the highest word for serving is ruling. We can trace this surprising reversal to the Garden of Eden. Remember that at Creation God made both woman and man for a particular task— to serve Him on earth by stewarding His creation. Jesus confirmed this purpose when He told His disciples that their reward in heaven for serving Him here would be to sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19: 28)… Ruling is also the reward for serving we see in Jesus’ parables of faithful stewards. Did you notice? In the mina parable, the highest reward for service was to “have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19: 17). And in the Parable of the Talents, the reward is similar—“ I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25: 21, 23)”.[1]

Therefore the eternal rewards we receive may have nothing to do with getting something for ourselves, and all to do with what we can do for God and others. 

[1] Wilkinson, Bruce (2012-04-04). A Life God Rewards: Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever (Breakthrough Series) (p. 74). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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FAQ: Why avoid sin and do good works if it doesn’t affect where we spend eternity?

sincity3

Christianity teaches that a person gets to heaven not by avoiding sin or doing good works, but by trusting solely in Jesus to save them.

And although the Bible describes this as ‘good news’, many fear that this message is far too risky. Why would anyone want to avoid sin and do good works if it doesn’t affect where they spend eternity?

But just because eternity is not on the line, doesn’t mean there’s no good reasons to avoid sin and do good works.

CONSIDER WHAT ALL GOOD PARENTS DO

Suppose a couple decided that the best way to get their children to behave is to threaten to kick them out of the family if they don’t perform. No one would think that this is a good idea. No one would argue that this is the best way to help their children become all that they want them to be. And yet, when it comes to viewing how our Heavenly Father works, some find it difficult to comprehend how He can get us to ‘behave’ if the threat of being kicked out of the family of God isn’t hanging over our heads.

Just as a loving mother and father use many different means to motivate, equip and help their children become all that they want them to be, our Heavenly Father also uses many different means to motivate, equip and help us become all that He wants us to be. It’s just that none of them include threatening to send us to hell.

10 REASONS WHY CHRISTIANS FIND THEMSELVES WANTING TO AVOID SIN AND DO GOOD WORKS
(in no particular order) 

1. GRATITUDE
Martin Luther said: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace”.

2. INTIMACY
Because we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father, we find ourselves wanting to please Him, in the same way a child wants to please their earthly parents. And although our Heavenly Father will never kick us out of the family for doing the wrong thing or being rebellious, our unwillingness to submit to Him certainly affects the level of intimacy that we might experience.

3. DISCIPLINE
Hebrews 12:5-11 says: “‘The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son’. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness“.

4. REWARDS
Bruce Wilkinson says: “Our eternal destination is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth”. The Apostle Paul spoke about believers who will be in heaven because of their faith in Jesus, but will miss out on rewards in heaven because they did not give their life to doing good works: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

5. EVANGELISM
Loving each other and doing good works won’t lead people to Jesus, but it can lead people towards Jesus. Jesus said: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). He said: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.

6. PURPOSE
Jesus longs for us to experience the joy of being part of something bigger than ourselves. The Apostle Paul says that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus’ vision for our lives is so much greater than anything humanly possible. He wants us to “produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown” (Mark 4:20).

7. REPENTANCE
Part of becoming a Christian involves ‘repenting’. To ‘repent’ simply means ‘to change one’s mind’. So a Christian is someone who has changed their mind about sin. Rather than see sin as something to be celebrated and embraced, the Christian agrees with God that it’s destructive and hurtful. It damages our relationship with God and others.

8. OWNERSHIP
Over and over again the Bible tell us that Christians belong to God. The Apostle Paul said: You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). When we become a Christian, God takes full responsibility for our lives. And part of taking on that responsibility means leading and empowering us to become all that He wants us to be. We submit to God. Not just because He loves us and cares for us. But because He is our God and He has a right to us.

9. FREEDOM
The Bible teaches that Jesus wants us to be free of our addiction to sin. The Apostle Paul said: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

10. HOLY SPIRIT
Even if every other attempt to get Christians to avoid sin and do good works failed, they would still be inclined to become the kind of person God wants them to be. This is because God has given them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wages war against a Christian’s sinful nature (which loves sin and craves sin), while at the same time motivating them and empowering them to do good works. These works are called fruit of the Spirit. It’s impossible for the God of the universe to come and live inside someone and have them stay the same. Something is going to change.

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FAQ: What if a person claims to be a Christian but is not living like a Christian?

Suppose Jack claims to have become a Christian at the age of 16, and for some time his walk with God was fairly consistent. He seemed to really want to love God, love others, tell people about Jesus, be actively involved in church, care for the poor, etc.

But at the age of 23, Jack’s Christian life becomes very rocky. He still claims to be a Christian, but he no longer obeys God consistently, he drops out of church, stops telling people about Jesus, and cares less and less about the things that God cares about. Some Christians would describe Jack as ‘backsliding’. This period of ‘backsliding’ might be for weeks, months or even years.

Jack

Because these situations are not all that uncommon, typically the question is asked: “If Jack was to die, where would he spend eternity?”

Will Jack make it to heaven?   

People asking this question are usually not trying to imply that Jack has to earn his way to heaven. They firmly believe that Jack is saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But they also believe that if a person was really a Christian, then they wouldn’t live the kind of life that Jack is living.

Some wonder if Jack has lost his salvation? Others wonder if he was ever saved to begin with?

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately the situation is not as clear cut as we might like. There are actually two possibilities…

Possibility #1 – Jack is definitely a Christian who will go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack really did become a Christian. He came to a place where he realized that he was a sinner under the judgement of God, unable to change himself or save himself. He cast his entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands, trusting Him to save him. As a result, Jesus did two things for Jack…

A. CROSS
Jesus paid for all of Jack’s past, present, future, deliberate and accidental sin by His death on the cross.

B. HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus gave Jack the Holy Spirit who came into his life to wage war against his sinful nature and change him from the inside out.

Jack 2

Once Jack became a Christian at 16, he began to walk with God. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in Jack’s life to make him more like Jesus.

But at the age of 23, something changed. It might have been that Jack got led astray by the wrong people. Or perhaps his girlfriend died in a car accident and Jack became angry with God. Or maybe Jack just got busy at work and overtime he got distracted.

Regardless though, if Jack is really a Christian, then his eternity is secure because Jesus has paid for his sin in full.

Possibility #2 – Jack is not a Christian and he will not go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack thought he became a Christian because he did two things…

A. COMMITMENT
Jack made a commitment to try and obey God’s commands. He figured that if he could obey, or at least try and obey, that God would accept him into heaven.

B. CULTURE
Jack started to conform to the church culture. He talked the talk. He behaved the right way. He even got into church leadership.

Jack 3

Because Jack made a commitment at the age of 16 to try and obey, he did everything he could not to put a step wrong. Outwardly it looked like Jack had a close relationship with God. But the truth is that Jack was terrified of God. He had no sense of peace. He felt constant pressure to perform. He was always worried that God might take away his salvation if he failed to keep his commitment.

So at the age of 23, Jack had finally reached a point where he could no longer stand it and he walked away. He wasn’t necessarily angry with God. He wasn’t even necessarily upset with the church. He just couldn’t keep walking closely with God if heaven and hell hung in the balance every time he sinned.

So unfortunately Jack would not go to heaven, not because he sinned too much, but because he never trusted in the finished work of Jesus on His behalf.

How do we know the difference?

In comparing Possibility #1 to Possibility #2, there are various things that could be looked at. Here’s a couple…

hypocrite1


A. IS JACK TRUSTING IN JESUS’ FINISHED WORK ON HIS BEHALF, OR IS HE TRUSTING IN HIS COMMITMENT TO OBEY JESUS? 
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “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”.

Our salvation rests on what Jesus has DONE, not on what we have to DO. A true Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone! 

B. HAS JACK RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT? 
Galatians 5:16-17 says: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other”.

Here we find that if Jack is truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit will be waging war against his sinful nature. Sometimes Jack will be led by the Spirit, and he will love God and love others and hate sin. Other times Jack will be led by his sinful nature, and he will love sin and crave sin.

This means two things. Firstly, over time, we should be able to see fruit of the Spirit in Jack’s life. Secondly, when Jack does sin, or begins to ‘backslide’ as some Christians call it, the Holy Spirit will be at work in his life calling him to confess his sin and walk with God.

The key is not to expect an absence of sin or even an absence of sinful desires (for Jack still has a sinful nature that loves sin and craves sin), but rather to look for evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in Jack’s life. 

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F.A.Q: Why do I need to ask for forgiveness if God has already forgiven me?

confessionA CHRISTIAN CAN’T BE CONDEMNED FOR THEIR SIN

According to the Bible, once a person becomes a Christian,  because Jesus was condemned on their behalf, they can no longer be condemned for their sin:

Romans 8:1
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Romans 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…not counting people’s sins against them”.

So if Jesus copped the punishment for a Christian’s past, present & future sin, deliberate & accidental sin, confessed & unconfessed sin, what is the point of confession?

A CHRISTIAN IS AFFECTED BY SIN

Just because a Christian can’t be condemned for their sin, doesn’t mean they can’t be affected by sin. There are several reasons for a Christian to continually confess their sin:

1. INTIMACY WITH GOD
Consider the relationship between a father and his child. When the child disobeys his father, he doesn’t get kicked out of the family. The relationship stays intact. The child still belongs to the father. But the quality of their intimacy will be affected. Until the child apologizes to the father for his wrongdoing, there will be tension in their relationship.

In the same way, the Bible teaches that when disobey our Father in Heaven, we don’t get kicked out of the God’s family. The eternal relationship stays intact. We still belong to our Heavenly Father. But the quality of our intimacy will be affected. Until we apologize to our Heavenly Father for our wrongdoing, there will be tension in our relationship.

2. ANSWERS TO PRAYER
The Bible seems to indicate that if we fail to confess sin, it will affect God’s decision to answer our prayers:
> “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18).
> “Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
> “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).

3. GOD’S POWER BEING UNLEASHED IN OUR LIVES
The Bible tells us to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be controlled or empowered or driven by the Holy Spirit. This happens when we confess our sin to God, acknowledging that we have been trying to control our own lives, and asking Him to take over.

4. PERSONAL WELL-BEING
After failing to confess for a prolonged period of time, David eventually comes to realize how personally destructive unconfessed sin can be. In Psalm 32:3-5 he says: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'”.

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FAQ: What if I have doubts?

doubtMany people feel like they can’t become a Christian until they are 100% sure that Christianity is true. This is completely understandable. Becoming a Christian is the most significant, life-altering decision a person will ever make.

But does a person have to be 100% sure that Christianity is true in order to become a Christian?

FIRSTLY, WE DO NOT HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT THE ENTIRE BIBLE IS TRUE, WE JUST NEED TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN

We do not have to believe in Adam & Eve, Noah & the Ark or Moses & the Burning Bush in order to become a Christian. Consider the following…

A) The Early Christians were not 100% sure of the entire Bible because the entire Bible wasn’t even written yet.
Andy Stanley makes the point that “there was no Bible as we know it for the first three hundred years of Christianity. People were becoming followers of Christ before the Gospels were even written” (Deep & Wide, p 246).

B) Most Christians alive today have not even read the entire Bible, so how can they be 100% sure that it’s true?

C) We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not the Bible.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9).

SECONDLY, ALTHOUGH WE HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN, WE DO NOT HAVE TO BE 100% SURE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN.

Certainly the Bible is clear that we need to believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul said: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But we do not have to be 100% sure that Jesus died and rose again. Consider the following…

A) We do not have the luxury of waiting until we are 100% sure
A lot of people think that becoming a Christian is like crossing a busy road. We look both ways and we don’t cross until we are 100% sure that it is safe to cross. Although this scenario seems correct, it assumes that we have an endless amount of time on our hands.

But unfortunately the decision to become a Christian is not without time constraints. All of us will die one day. We only have a limited amount of time to decided whether or not we will place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

Perhaps a better analogy is to think of becoming a Christian like jumping out of the way of a big truck. Suppose we find ourselves in the middle of the road. We look up and see the truck coming straight towards us. We are forced to make a decision. Do we jump out of the way, assuming the truck will continue straight along its path? Or do we stay where we are, assuming the truck will swerve around us? We will never be 100% sure of either. In fact, we may be 51% sure of one, and 49% sure of the other. But we have to make a decision, so we make our decision based on probability.

In the same way, all of us have death coming straight towards us. Do we jump into the arms of Jesus, trusting Him to save us? Or do stay where we are and face death on our own? We may be 51% sure that Jesus rose from the dead, and 49% sure that He didn’t. But one way or the other, we need to make a decision.

B) We do not need to be 100% sure
Suppose a young child has never been on an elevator. One day, she walks into a very tall building. She notices people walking into the elevator, the steel doors close, and they never come out. As you can imagine, this could be quite frightening. After some time, the child decides to take a step of faith and jumps into the elevator. She hears the big steel doors close behind her. She notices that everyone has turned around, and is now facing the front. She then begins to feel this weird sensation in her stomach as the elevator begins to ascend. After some time, she starts to get freaked out by the fact that nobody is talking to each other, and there is some weird music playing in the background.

But no matter how anxious the child becomes. No matter how significant her doubts, no matter how much she may regret her decision, the fact is, she will get off on the 10th floor just like everyone else.

Her doubts are only significant if they stop her from getting on the elevator in the first place.

In the same way, a person can become a Christian and still have significant doubts. What matters is that they are willing to jump on board. Certainly, their experience as a Christian may be plagued with doubt. They may be much more likely to question whether or not they’ve made the right decision than a Christian who has less questions and doubts. But they will still be taken to heaven. Jesus will still be with them on the journey.

We don’t need to be 100% sure that Jesus died & rose again. We just need to be sure enough to place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

THIRDLY, ONCE WE COME TO BELIEVE IN JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION, WE CAN THEN BELIEVE IN THE REST OF THE BIBLE.

Andy Stanley says: “I’ll tell you why I believe Adam and Eve were actual people. Jesus did. I’m a simple man. If somebody predicts his own death and resurrection and then pulls it off, I’m with him. I don’t really care what he says, I’m with the guy who rose from the dead. I would like to do that someday myself. And he said those who believe, even though they die, they will live. So I go with what Jesus said” (Deep & Wide, p255).

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FAQ: Does God choose us or do we choose God?

Amongst Christians there is confusion and debate about how people come to faith in Jesus.

Some believe that we go searching for God. Others believe that God goes searching for us. Many believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Here are some things to consider…

1. MANY CHRISTIANS WOUD DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS EITHER A ‘CALVINIST’ OR AN ‘ARMINIAN’. 

Calvinism vs Arminianism Table

Calvinism places the emphasis on God’s sovereign choice. It is often summarized by using the acronym ‘TULIP’…

T – TOTAL DEPRAVITY – We are so totally depraved that we are even unable to seek God.
U – UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION – God’s decision to elect us to be His children is not conditional upon anything He sees in us.
L – LIMITED ATONEMENT – Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of a limited number of people (i.e. those whom God elects)
I – IRRESISTABLE GRACE – God’s grace is so powerful it is impossible to resist when He chooses us
P – PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS – The people God chooses to be His children (also called His saints) will remain His children because God will give them the ability to persevere in the faith.

Arminianism places the emphasis on our decision to choose God…

TOTAL DEPRAVITY – We are so totally depraved that we are even unable to seek God.
PREVENIENT GRACE – The grace given by God that precedes the act of the sinner placing their faith in Jesus. This grace is given to all people and it allows them to see their need for Jesus to save them. 
ATONEMENT FOR ALL – Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of all people
RESISTABLE GRACE – God’s grace can be resisted by our free-will
SECURITY IN CHRIST – Our relationship with God is secure as long as we continue to have faith in Christ

2. BOTH CALVINISTS AND ARMINIANS BELIEVE IN ‘TOTAL DEPRAVITY’ 

The doctrine of ‘Total Depravity’ states that we are so depraved, we have become blind to the depth of our sin and our desperate need for a saviour. As a result, we would never go searching for God. God has to come searching for us.

This doctrine is taught in various places in the Bible…

ROMANS 3:10-12
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

1 CORINTHIANS 2:14
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit”

2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-4
“Our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”

JOHN 6:44
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day”

It is also held by both ‘Calvinists’ and ‘Arminians’…

JOHN CALVIN
“Our nature is not only destitute of all good, but is so fertile in all evils that it cannot remain inactive. Everything in man, the understanding and will, the soul and body, is polluted”.

JACOBUS ARMINIUS
“The Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace”

The main difference between the different views, is not whether or not ‘Total Depravity’ exists, but rather how God deals with ‘Total Depravity’, and how ‘free’ we are to accept or reject Jesus once God has dealt with our ‘Total Depravity’.

3. HOW DOES GOD DEAL WITH TOTAL DEPRAVITY? + HOW FREE ARE WE TO ACCEPT OR REJECT JESUS?

Consider the following diagrams…

Here we find that our sin has created a huge gulf between us and God…

General 1

Because God desperately wanted to be in a relationship with us, He sent His Son Jesus into the world in order to bridge the gap. So that anyone who places their faith in Jesus as their Saviour enters into an eternal relationship with God.

General 2

But because of ‘Total Depravity’, we do not see the depth of our sin and our need for a saviour. It’s as if some kind of mist has made us spiritually blind.

General 3

SO HOW DOES GOD REMOVE THE MIST? AND WHAT HAPPENS ONCE THE MIST IS REMOVED?

Here are five different views:

1. CALVINISM

God only removes the mist for some. The Bible refers to these people as the ‘Elect’.

Calvinism 1

Once the mist is removed, the ‘Elect’ automatically enter into a relationship with God. They do not have the free-will to reject God.

Calvinism 2

Those who were not chosen by God remain blind to the depth of their sin and their need for a saviour. They do not enter into a relationship with God.

2. ARMINIANISM

God removes the mist for all people.

Arminianism 1

Once the mist is removed, people have a choice as to whether they will accept God or reject God.

Arminianism 2

3. GOD CHOOSES BASED ON FOREKNOWLEDGE

Since God knows our hearts and He also knows the future, He already knows who would choose to become a Christian if they were given the opportunity. So God chooses to remove the mist for those He knows will accept Him.

Foreknowledge 1

Once the mist is removed, those people obviously decide to become Christians.

Foreknowledge 2

Those who don’t want to become Christians remain blind to the depth of their sin and their need for a saviour.

One way to think about this is to consider what might happen if a survey was conducted to determine the love interests of university students. Suppose a confidential questionnaire is filled out. One of the questions asks for specific names of people that the students would be willing to date. This data is then stored on computer. Now if one of the students was to hack into that computer and get access to the data, they would be able to find out who would be willing to date them. They then decide to only ask out people who they know will say yes.

4. GOD INVITES ALL, BUT HEADHUNTS SOME

God removes the mist for all people.

Headhunt 1

Once the mist is removed, some use their free-will to choose God. Some use their free-will to reject God. But some are chosen by God to come no matter what.

Headhunt 2

In some ways, this is similar to what might happen in a workplace environment. Suppose there is a new branch opening up, and the boss invites all employees to be part of a start-up team. The employees have a choice as to whether they will stay or go. But there might be a few particular employees that the boss decides just have to go no matter what. He needs them in the team and they don’t get a choice in the matter.

Some cite the Apostle Paul as an example of this. Paul was actively rejecting Jesus, but then God chose Paul to be an Apostle, almost against his will.

5. FREE WILL TO TURN AWAY, BUT NOT TURN TO GOD

God only removes the mist for some. The Bible refers to these people as the ‘Elect’.

Lutheran 1

Of those who can now see, some will choose to come to God. Some will choose to reject God.

Lutheran 2

This is similar to what happens to Will Smith’s character ‘Jay’ in the movie ‘Men in Black’. At the beginning of the movie Jay is a police officer. ‘MIB’, a secret organization dedicated to putting alien criminals in prison, decide to reveal themselves to Jay and ask him to join. Jay then has to decide if he will choose to join MIB.

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