A Paradox, God and Me
Why are you a Christian when your friend is not?
This is the question I raised on our recent Bible study course. Many people hear the Christian message but evidently not all accept it, so why is it that one receives it and another refuses it?
In answering this question we soon discover the challenge of balancing the teaching of the Bible concerning God’s action and human responsibility in many different areas, not only salvation. That is to say, if God is ruling over all things (which he does), how am I free to make choices (which I am). So, on the one hand, the Bible states that “God chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:4-5), yet on the other hand Jesus criticised the Jewish leaders saying ‘you refuse to come to me that you may have life’ (John 5:40). Similarly, in Exodus 11:10 we see read that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart” and the result was that “Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go out of his country.” Divine action and human action working in parallel; God determines all things, and yet we, as human beings, are free to make certain choices and are held responsible for those choices. This is a paradox, (or more accurately an ‘antinomy’) where two statements seem to be contradictory but are in fact both true.
So, to return to the question in hand, although I remember making a choice to follow Jesus, I can also look back and see how in fact God was actively pursuing me. The C19th church leader Charles Spurgeon tells a similar story:
“One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God … thought struck me 'How did you come to be a Christian?' I sought the Lord. 'But how did you come to seek the Lord?' The truth flashed through my mind in a moment - I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, 'How came I to pray?' I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. 'How came I to read the Scriptures?' I did read them but what led me to do so? Then, I in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the author of my faith and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, 'I ascribe my change wholly to God.'”
The realisation of this truth has huge consequences for us as Christians. Even if you remember making the choice to follow Jesus, if you keep going back through the causes you must either conclude it began with some ‘goodness’ in you that resulted in you pursuing God, or it began with some goodness in God that resulted in him pursuing you – and the Bible is clear where the goodness behind our salvation ultimately lies, namely in God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). This then inevitably results in gratitude, worship and, perhaps surprisingly, outreach. Rather than putting our confidence in the inclination of some people towards God (an inclination which the Bible says no-one has), or in our ability (which is limited at best) to persuade people of the truthfulness of the gospel, we gladly call people to follow Jesus confident that God will take the initiative and draw people to himself.
So, why not ask yourself the question and go through the causes that led to you becoming a Christian? And as you realise that ultimately God was behind it all, let it result in thankfulness, worship, and prayer that God would do this same work in others.