Monday, July 26, 2010

Q&A: divine calling

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Can you just decide to become a Christian, like deciding to go to this school or that, or take this job or not, or does it first take a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, and that work is what so pulls a person to fully trust and be reborn? I've heard quoted - no man can come to Christ unless the Holy Spirit has first come to him. Why is the man centered decision the emphasis? Is it biblical? --Brittany Pruitt

A: Brittany, your great question gets to the heart of conversion. How does a person enter into salvation and a relationship with God. For many years, I used the phrases "Accept Jesus into your heart" or "Come to Christ." To be fair, I don't think these phrases are heretical for they express the human experience of salvation. Twenty seven years ago, it seemed to me that I was making a choice to step from unbelief to belief. Moreover, the Bible is filled with commands in regards to salvation: Confess, believe, repent and choose. So, there is a human element to the transaction from death to life.

However, the Bible starts with God. And, in the work of life transformation, God moves first. In John 6:44, Jesus states "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." God speaks, people hear and believe. Similarly, in Acts 16:14, when Lydia heard the truth, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message."

This work of God is known as "effectual calling." That is, God moves in the heart of an individual--a heart otherwise stone-cold with sin--and begins the work of transformation. Paul writes that "Those whom [God] predestined He also called; and those whom He called he also justified" [Romans 8:30]. So, God's calling precedes the work of justification and is "effectual" [see John 6:33] in bringing people to faith.

For this reason, I choose to use the word "respond" when I talk about the Gospel today. I did not choose God; He chose me. And, any movement that I express toward God is a faith response to the voice of the Good Shepherd calling my name. While I may not completely understand it at the moment of salvation, the whole work of the whole Gospel is really the whole work of God. None of me; All of Him.

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