12 – How Should I Then Live?

Perhaps the way to end this journey is with a brief recap of where we have been and a review of the most crucial ideas to take along from here.

As we can see, this is a very complicated issue, indeed. There are thinking, Godly Christians who have seen this whole problem from many different perspectives. When we try to peer into the lens of eternity, we are always bound to come up short.

I find it interesting how Christian theologians can differ so greatly on their views of faith, election, salvation and the sovereignty of God, and then, from a practical perspective, find so much in common. All men are sinners. God came as Christ and died to save sinners. And whoever believes on His name will be saved. We are saved, not by what we do, but because of whom we trust to have already done it for us.

Both sides recognize that man is depraved, that his sins are committed because they spring from a nature that is sinful and that is corrupted by the fall. Everything that mankind does, apart from salvation, is ultimately motivated by the self-serving nature of a lost man.

The difference in theology between the Calvinist and the Arminian starts to show when we try to determine whether “saving faith” is a requirement to be saved, or is itself a part of the gift of salvation. And yet it seems a lot of this difference comes from the complexity of having to wrestle with all of what it means to be saved. If we think of salvation merely in terms of the man’s final state being in heaven or hell, then saving faith is something that the lost man has because God has built this potential into the human heart. But even so, when a lost man does believe on Christ for salvation it is, at best, merely a self-serving act. And the lost man’s faith can function only if God first sovereignly and selectively chooses to awaken that lost man’s heart from within, and deals with the forces of darkness that have blinded him from without, so he can then respond from the eternity in his heart.

However, if we look at salvation from God’s perspective—as a sovereign act of transformation where He supernaturally imparts the Spirit of God, and we are now seeking to be holy worshippers, simply for His pleasure and for His purposes—then this kind of faith can only manifest as a result of being born again. This is a part of God’s gift of salvation: the joy of worshipping God for God’s sake.

And as a practical note, even if some may want to argue that a lost man could seek for God, it is true that the vast majority in this world do not. For all practical purposes, then, unless God sovereignly chooses to remove the veil of sin and demonic influence, and lifts men up, so to speak, they will not come. They will be unable to recognize the truth of the Christian message, much less actually embrace it even if they could recognize it to be true. We pray because we recognize that all men will be lost if God does not intervene. And so, we all become Calvinists on our knees.

I believe God’s desire is to save all men. Yet in His sovereignty, He enables only some to respond to the call to salvation. In eternity future, the past will reveal that the atonement was fully effectual, but only for the elect. But who the elect will have been from eternity past will only work itself out over the process of time, by a true interaction with the saints of God throughout the course of history.

And this is the key to it all: it is the church who, in the end, will have had a significant affect upon God’s choosing to bring some of those helplessly lost to salvation. The church’s evangelistic efforts, and, even more importantly, intercessory prayer, will have had a significant influence on God’s heart to intervene in the world and an impact on the final population of heaven. I believe with all of my heart in a genuine cause and effect in the heavenly realms because of the prayers of the saints. God is looking for people to stand in the gap for those helplessly lost. He is waiting for the saints to intercede for the lost with expectant hearts, waiting to show Himself strong, waiting to reach down and impart His grace as a response to the prayers of His saints, and as a means of displaying His manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers in heavenly places.

And as you walk with your God and you sense the growing passion in your heart to see your friends and loved ones come to Jesus, know that it was His passion first. Perhaps God’s very purpose for you here and now is that you will become the means by which He births this passion for the ones you love into a glorious new reality. Decide, then, to learn how to boldly approach the throne of grace and to humbly seek the moving of His hand. And learn to wait on Him in faithful, expectant prayer until He completes in reality what He has begun in your heart.

Practically speaking, I have always considered myself a Calvinist. Lost men do not seek God for God’s sake. Those who come to Christ do so only because He sovereignly moves to cause them to want to come. And yet I have always been disappointed with what I understood the strict Calvinist’s concept of God to be. He is a sculptor working with a piece of granite. Within the confines of the granite is a statue. He knows before He starts exactly where the perimeter of this final sculpture lies. And so He chisels away. Once He reaches the point that is the outer surface of the final statue, He works meticulously to bring it out of the granite. All the granite to get to this statue is waste. It is carved away, because its only purpose is to be removed so the statue can be revealed to declare the glory and skill of the Artist. The problem is that to the Calvinist, the elect alone are precious. But like it or not, the unfortunate side of this argument is that those who are chipped away were never loved. They were destined from before the foundation of the world to be nothing more than recipients of God’s wrath.

For this reason I believe that Calvinism as it is typically presented misses so much. I believe a better picture of God’s workings with man is illustrated as an artist working on a piece of granite with a sculpture buried inside. And yet, although the artist knows he will bring forth this creation, its exact and final form has not yet been determined when he starts. As the artist chips away at the granite, he reaches the perimeter of the statue. And as he exposes this perimeter, he breathes on it the breath of life. And so it becomes a living sculpture. As it is being freed from within the granite, it becomes more and more alive, and so it has the potential to breathe, to stretch, and to grow. The artist continues to work to free it from the granite case. But his desire is for this living sculpture to choose, indeed, to live full and free of its own will. His greatest joy is found in watching the sculpture respond to his shaping hands and want to enjoy living. His will is that it shall live. His desire is that it shall want to live passionately and majestically—that it shall embrace more and more of the granite that surrounds it, wanting the artist to transform it to its own likeness, that it will delight in this embracing, that the sculpture will ask the artist always to enlarge it and always to make it more grand and beautiful than it now is. This creation finds the joy of reaching the heart of its creator as it says to him, “When you have finished forming me, I want to look just like you.”

What an awesome God that He not only saves us, but desires to conform us to His image so that we can participate with Him in the salvation of others, not merely in a theoretical or nominal way, but in a way which has a true cause and effect in determining who will be with us in our eternal home in paradise. And what a motivation to seek the face of a holy God in intercession. What a warning against complacency and a hope for evangelism to be real. What an awesome relationship with God. What a responsibility on the part of the believer!

I previously quoted J. I. Packer, who said, “The supposition seems to be that you cannot evangelize effectively unless you are prepared to pretend while you are doing it that the doctrine of divine sovereignty is not true.”39 Packer feels we can rest in the sovereignty of God in our evangelistic efforts because, although none seek God, God has nonetheless chosen some and has chosen to bring them to himself by means of our evangelism. So our efforts will not be futile because God will draw those He has already chosen in eternity past. Yes, it will be done through the means of our prayers and evangelism. But the Calvinist believes that even if we don’t evangelize, the elect will still, throughout the course of time, come to saving faith in Christ by some other means that God will instead choose to use. They are, after all, elect.

And yet, for the Calvinist, those not chosen from eternity past will be passed by, whether we pray or not. They, after all, are not elect. I don’t see this in the Scriptures. It is true that we don’t have to pretend God is not sovereign, but we must recognize that God sometimes chooses in His sovereignty to limit Himself in the ways He works in the world. I believe God has made it clear that He does sometimes choose to intervene in the lives of some who are helplessly lost in sin and darkness, and bring them to salvation specifically and only because we pray. While the lost can do nothing to save themselves, we need to recognize that the church can affect God’s heart to set His love upon some He perhaps otherwise would not. It was the great Arminian preacher, Oswald J. Smith, who said, “Conversion is the operation of the Holy Spirit, and prayer is the power that secures that operation. Souls are not saved by man but by God, and since He works in answer to prayer we have no choice but to follow the Divine plan. Prayer moves the Arm that moves the world.”40 And it was the great Calvinist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon who said, “Groanings which cannot be uttered are often prayers which cannot be refused.”41

What if God does sometimes choose to save through limitations He has voluntarily taken upon himself, in order to allow us the delight of being part of a process that could be fully within His exclusive and sovereign right? That does not make Him any less sovereign, does it? Didn’t Jesus Himself do this when He came to earth? Why should we see it as an affront to God’s sovereignty to say that He sometimes chooses to wait for us to pray before He acts? Or that if He waits for us to do so, but we do not, that He chooses to limit Himself to acting differently, or not at all? We must see this and recognize our solemn responsibility before God. Remember that He held Ezekiel responsible if he did not preach, and as a result, people who otherwise would have turned instead died in their sin.

In our time, the universal call upon the church is to pray. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it…praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:2-3). “First of all, then I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). “[Jesus told them…] that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

God chooses to work in the world through the prayers of His church. In spite of the fact that He could quite effectively reach down and draw all men individually to himself, He chooses not to do so. He limits Himself to reaching only those who are also reached by His church. If this is so, we must take quite seriously our responsibility to seek the face of God. We must draw near to Him in prayer, to hear from Him what the burden of His heart is—who it is in our world that He would like to draw to Himself. We must pursue the Spirit of God until He transforms us into a people who will be truly burdened for those lost around us. Then we must call upon the Father to intervene in the lives of the lost—and if He should choose, to do so through us—in a way pleasing to Himself, to save them. And our prayer can affect God’s workings to save some who, without our intercession, might not otherwise be saved. We must see our intercession as part of the larger overall struggle and object lesson as spoken of in the book of Ephesians and believe that our prayer and Spirit-led evangelism can indeed make a difference in eternity…that in a very real way, God can work through us to lessen the gap between His will and His desire.

It is much like the young man who went for a run along the seashore one morning and stumbled upon an elderly gentleman busying himself with what seemed to be a hopeless task. The high tide had washed countless numbers of starfish up on the beach. And now that the tide was receding, the defenseless creatures were stranded upon the sand, soon to die from exposure to the sun if not quickly returned to their life-sustaining habitat. Seeing the old man rescuing the despairing creatures, one by one, and throwing them into the sea, the runner thought it wise to try to help the old man see the futility of his efforts and thereby save himself some useless fatigue and grief, as inevitable as it was in the end.

“Old man,” said the young fellow. “What are you doing?”
“Throwing these starfish back into the tide.”
“But there are so many starfish here upon the beach. You’ll never save

them all. What you’re trying to do won’t really make a difference now, will it?”

The old man stopped and pondered the young fellow’s comment for a moment. He picked up another starfish. Looking at it with a warm smile, he cast it into the sea, replying simply, “It will make a difference for this one.”

May we all seek the face of God, so as to enable the bringing of souls— lost, but precious—to the Savior.

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