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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FAQ: Can I lose my salvation?

There are three main positions that people take on this issue…

POSITION #1 – YOU CAN LOSE YOUR SALVATION BY NOT BEING FAITHFUL

Some people would argue that we can lose our salvation if we fail to walk closely with God. Sometimes Christians refer to this as ‘backsliding’. People who hold this position would argue that if we continue to ‘backslide’ and embrace a life of sin, then we will eventually destroy our relationship with God and we will no longer be saved.

POSITION #2 – YOU CAN ONLY LOSE YOUR SALVATION IF YOU STOP HAVING FAITH

Others would argue that we can never ‘backslide’ our way out of heaven. They believe that we were saved by grace, through faith, and that we remain saved by grace, through faith. As a result, it is impossible to ‘sin our way out of heaven’, just as it was impossible to ‘do enough good works to get into heaven’.

However, just as it was necessary to place our faith in Jesus in order to be saved, they believe that it’s necessary to keep our faith in Jesus in order to remain saved. We don’t have to walk closely with Jesus in order to remain saved, but we do need to keep our faith in Jesus in order to remain saved.

POSITION #3 – YOU CAN NEVER LOSE YOUR SALVATION

Many others believe that we cannot lose our salvation under any circumstance.

We cannot ‘backslide’ our way out of heaven’. They, like those who hold to ‘Position #2’, believe that it’s impossible to ‘sin our way out of heaven’, just as it was impossible to ‘do enough good works to get into heaven’.

Nor can we lose our salvation by losing our faith. They argue that it is actually impossible for a true Christian to ever lose their faith. That faith is a gift from God. And that God has promised to continue to work in and through our lives until we get to heaven. If a person once claimed to be a Christian, but now no longer has faith in Jesus, they would argue that they were never really a Christian in the first place.

SUMMARY

Can you lose your salvation table

‘Position #1’ is clearly not correct because it contradicts the message of grace…
It relies on what we continue to do, rather than Jesus’ finished work on the cross. People who hold to this view have most likely never trusted in Jesus to save them.

‘Position #2’ and ‘Position #3’ are both possibilities…
Similarities:
(a) Both can argued from the Bible.
(b) Both have to deal with certain ‘difficult Bible passages’ in order to maintain their case.
(c) Both can point to respected Christian leaders who hold to their view.
(d) Both believe that our salvation is secure because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, not because of our ability to stay close to Jesus
(e) Both believe that those who remain saved continue to have faith in Jesus.

Difference:
The main difference is that according to ‘Position #2’, it is possible to disown Jesus and completely stop believing, whereas according to ‘Position #3’, a true Christian can never disown Jesus and stop believing because faith is a gift from God, and God has promised to continue His work in us until we get to heaven.

ILLUSTRATION
One way to think about this is to consider a mother carrying her baby as she walks across a busy street…

Position #1 says:  If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will let go of the child.

Position #2 says: If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will continue to hold onto the child. But it is possible for the child to kick and scream enough till eventually he pries his way out of his mother’s arms.

Position #3 says: If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will continue to hold onto the child. And no amount of kicking and screaming will make it possible for the child to pry himself out of his mother’s arms.

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FAQ: Does the Bible teach that homosexuals will go to hell?

Regardless of whether or not you believe the Bible is true, it is worth investigating what it actually says about homosexuality. There are many issues that could be addressed, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on just two questions:

QUESTION #1
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL?

ANSWER #1
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL…

The Old Testament, which is predominantly about God’s plan for the Israelites, describes homosexuality as sinful. Leviticus 18:22 says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”. A similar command is repeated in Leviticus 20:13, which says, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable”.

Now the question is, do these commands still apply today?

The New Testament, which was written to Christians, also describes homosexuality as sinful. Romans 1:26-27 says: “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error”.

So both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that Homosexuality is sinful.

BUT IT ALSO TEACHES THAT MANY OTHER ACTIONS ARE JUST AS SINFUL…

The Romans passage continues by saying: “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (Romans 1:28-30).

Here we find that homosexuality is listed alongside many other sins, including several which would be considered quite socially acceptable within Christian communities.

This occurs again in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 which says: “The law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

So although homosexuality is clearly being described as sinful, it is not described as being more sinful than any other particular sin.

QUESTION #2
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT ALL HOMOSEXUALS GO TO HELL?

ANSWER #2
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALS, ALONG WITH MANY OTHER SINNERS, WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD…churchkisssign

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”. This is obviously disturbing for homosexuals. But it is just as disturbing for everyone else.

We are all guilty of adultery. Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery” (Matthew 5:28). We are guilty of greed. It’s almost impossible to live in the west and not struggle with materialism. We are all guilty of slander. We engage in it every time we turn on the news and hear gossip or some kind of slanderous remark about a celebrity or a politician.

So based on this passage, no one will inherit the kingdom of God.

UNLESS THEY PLACE THEIR FAITH IN JESUS…

The First Corinthians passage goes onto say: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Here we discover that this passage is not about condemning us all to hell. Rather it is explaining that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will no longer be judged according to their sin.

When a person becomes a Christian, they are ‘washed’. They are ‘sanctified’, which simply means that they are ‘set apart as God’s people’. They are ‘justified’, which means that they are ‘declared righteous’, even though they are not righteous.

So the Bible doesn’t teach that all homosexuals go to hell, any more than it teaches that all sinners go to hell. Rather it teaches that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will be washed, sanctified, justified, and inherit the kingdom of God.

THE SIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY DOESN’T PROHIBIT PEOPLE FROM COMING TO JESUS. SIN IS THE REASON THAT PEOPLE COME TO JESUS

“You don’t go to Hell for being a homosexual… heterosexuality doesn’t get you to heaven. So, how in the world could homosexuality send you to Hell?… What sends you to Hell is self-righteousness – thinking that you can be your own savior and lord. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection with Christ because you realize you’re a sinner and you need intervention from outside” – Timothy Keller

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FAQ: Do we have to wait until we die to find out if we’re going to heaven?

The Problem…

Many of us assume that we can’t be sure. As a result, we end up living in fear of God. We never experience His love and intimacy because we’re not sure if He’s going to condemn us to hell. We do good works, but they can all too easily be motivated by a desire to go to heaven rather than a grateful heart.

The good news is that we can be sure.

We can be sure now because God wants us to be sure now…

When Jesus was on the cross, he hung between two criminals. One of them acknowledged his sin, and then placed his life and eternity into Jesus’ hands by saying: “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus turned back and said: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus didn’t grant the criminal eternal life and then keep it a secret. Rather He made sure the criminal knew for sure that he had a place in heaven before he died. 

The Apostle John concludes one of his letters by saying: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Again we see that God doesn’t just want us to have eternal life, He wants us to ‘know’ that we have eternal life.

We can be sure now because eternal life starts now…

Jesus made it clear that eternal life is not something we receive when we die, it’s something we receive the moment we become a Christian: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). 

Perhaps the best way to think about this is to consider the crossover between our physical life and our spiritual life. Just as we enter into this physical life through a physical birth, the Bible teaches that we enter into eternal life through a spiritual birth. This spiritual birth takes place when a person becomes a Christian.

In this moment, the person crosses over from eternal death to eternal life. Though their physical life will come to an end, their life with God will live on for all of eternity.

Eternal Life Starts now

Conclusion

We can be sure now because God wants us to be sure now, and because eternal life starts now.

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ILLUSTRATION: Adam vs Jesus

Adam vs JesusMany of us believe that where we spend eternity will be determined by how we live our lives. But the Bible teaches that where we spend eternity is actually determined by how someone else lived their life.

One way to think about this is to picture two lines of people. The first line – the line we are born into – has Adam at the front. The second line – the line that we move into when we become a Christian – has Jesus at the front. Now suppose both these lines are standing before God. How does he determine who gets into heaven?

The Bible teaches that God will judge us based on who is at the front of our line. If we stay in Adam’s line, God will judge us by Adam’s one act of disobedience (eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). If we stay in Jesus’ line, God will judge us by Jesus’ one act of obedience (dying on the cross to pay for our sin).

Neither our good works nor our sin matter at all. All that gets looked at is Adam’s one act of disobedience, and Jesus’ one act of obedience. We either stay in Adam’s line, and get judged according to what Adam has done. Or we place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands and move into His line, and get judged according to what Jesus has done.

“Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).

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FAQ: Can we live a life of deliberate sin and still go to heaven?

tumblr_m2f7eczPF11qaol32The Problem…

If it’s possible to live a life of deliberate sin and still go to heaven, then some Christians might choose to take advantage of God’s grace and devote their life to intentionally sinning every day.

If it’s not possible to live a life of deliberate sin and still go to heaven, then some Christians might spend their life wondering if they are going to hell because of their ongoing struggle with sin.

Why we can live a life of deliberate sin….

1. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, can we live a year of deliberate sin, or a month of deliberate sin, or a week of deliberate sin, or a moment of deliberate sin? Where do we draw the line? And what happens if we have a bad week or a bad month or even a bad year?

2. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, does this mean that Jesus only paid for accidental sin? If so, is it even possible to commit an accidental sin? Isn’t all sin to some extent deliberate?

3. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, what do we do with sins of omission? The Bible teaches that sin includes both sins of commission (i.e. doing wrong things) and sins of omission (i.e. failing to do right things). A day spent avoiding doing wrong things is not necessarily a day without sin.

4. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, why did Jesus expect us to sin daily? In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says: “Give us today our daily bread”. So we know that this is a prayer that Jesus expects us to pray daily. He then says: “Forgive us our sins”. So no matter how much we may try not to sin, Jesus fully expects that we will need to confess our sin daily.

5. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, how do we make sure we don’t start thinking that we deserve heaven because of our willingness to avoid sin? The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace “so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:9). If our willingness to avoid sin affects where we spend eternity, we would have grounds to boast because we would feel that we are better than those who don’t avoid sin.

6. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, why does the Bible teach that some Christians will get to heaven and have nothing to show for their life, but will still be saved? “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 3:12-15).

7. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, how could the Bible teach that we receive eternal life at the point of salvation? If the level of our sin affected where we ended up, our eternal destination could only be determined at the end of our life.

8. If we can’t live a life of deliberate sin, what do we do about the fact that our sinful nature continues to crave sin? “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:18-20)

What God does to motivate us not to sin. 

The Bible teaches that there are lots of reasons why Christians won’t want to live a life of deliberate sin. It’s just that none of these determine our eternal destination.

1. God motivates us not to sin by giving us the the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s job is to wage war against our sinful nature. There is no way a person can receive the Holy Spirit and stay the same.

2. God motivates us not to sin by reminding us of what He has done for us. We love because Jesus first loved us. We serve because Jesus served us. We forgive because Jesus forgave us. We live for God because Jesus died for us.

3. God motivates us not to sin by reminding us that sin is destructive. When a person becomes a Christian they ‘repent’. Repent means to change our mind. We know longer see sin as something to be embraced. We realize that it is destructive and that it destroys our relationships and our lives.

4. God motivates us not to sin by reminding us that He’s willing to discipline us. The Bible teaches that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Proverbs 3:12). If we continue to embrace sin without any hint of repentance, God will discipline us so that we will get our lives back on track.

5. God motivates us not to sin by reminding us that there are rewards in heaven. The Bible teaches that where we spend eternity is determined by how we respond to Jesus. But our experience in eternity is determined by how faithful we were with the opportunities to serve God.

Conclusion

So in theory a Christian can live a life of deliberate sin because Jesus paid for all our deliberate sin. But in practice, there are many reasons why a Christian will find themselves not wanting to live a life of deliberate sin.

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ILLUSTRATION: The Knight and the Princess

desktop_princess_dragon_knight_by_sarah_the_ninja_101-d37y8mkSuppose a princess has been locked up in a castle from the moment she was born. She’s being held captive there by an evil dragon. One day a knight in shining armor comes along. He risks his life to slay the dragon, and then offers to rescue the princess.

Now we’d naturally assume that the princess will jump at the chance to be rescued, but this is not necessarily the case. In order for the knight to rescue her, the princess needs to leave her old life in the castle behind, she needs to jump on the back of the horse, and she needs to entrust her entire life and future into the knight’s hands.

The same is true for us when it comes to Jesus.

We’ve been locked up in a prison of guilt and condemnation from the moment we were born. We’ve been held there by Satan, the most evil dragon of all. One day, our knight in shining armor, Jesus, comes along. He doesn’t just risk his life to slay Satan, He actually dies. Three days later He comes back to life and conquers death, conquers sin and conquers Satan. He does all of this in order to rescue us.

Now again, we would naturally assume that we will jump at the chance to be rescued. But in order to be rescued, we need to leave the prison of guilt and condemnation behind, we need to jump on the back of the horse and we need to entrust our entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

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