A week ago I wrote a post called Testing Day. I don’t think it was published for more than an hour before my daddy texted me and asked, “Did I pick ‘C’ or did ‘C’ pick me?” I could almost see his good natured grin.
He raises a valid question, though. In the context of Testing Day, I was referring to choosing Christ as the answer to the tests we encounter throughout the day. This sort of presupposes the person is already in a relationship with Christ.
But before we can respond to a question by answering “Christ,” we have to be with Christ – which is where Daddy’s question comes in: Do we choose Christ or does Christ choose us?
Theologians have debated for centuries about this chicken and egg question. Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Church of Christ, Bible churches – every single denomination (or non-denomination) seems intent on pinning down exactly who chose whom and when this choosing happened.
In some ways, it matters. What we believe about the sovereignty of God, about his power – and ours – determines a lot about how we experience the Christian life and the assurance we carry that salvation was truly effective.
But it is such a human question, really. It betrays how finite we really are. Problems arise when we ask the question with an angered intensity, however we try to conceal it. The fact that we can tear each other down over our views of how and when grace is applied is evidence of theological vanity more than theological value.
I would not dare to suggest theology is unimportant. But good theology should draw us to worship rather than war.
Theology – literally, the study of God – inevitably reveals the truth about man. It shows my lack and great need in contrast to his abundance and great supply. As I sit before truth, my head hangs in shame even as that same truth lifts my heart with hope. Encountering the truth about God should inspire humility, awe, compassion, and gratitude more than arrogance, anger, contempt, and condemnation. It should drive us to multiply, not divide.
Seriously, I received a newsletter from a local church which spent pages stating the dangers of believing in predestination and a sentence proclaiming the gospel of Christ.
This stands in stark contrast to Philippians 1:15-18 where Paul says,
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
People were actively preaching the gospel so that Paul’s trouble would increase, and he says “I rejoice” because whatever their reasons for doing it, Christ was being proclaimed. Paul’s response was consistent with Joseph’s “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20) and Isaiah’s “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Paul trusted God to use both poor motives and pure motives to accomplish his purposes. Paul refused to get caught up in exploring the motives.
Maybe we need to spend a little more time focusing on our need for and access to Christ than on how we get him.
People need Jesus whether he chooses us or whether we choose him. Whether you believe you cannot choose Christ without his changing your heart first or whether you think your heart is changed by choosing Christ, we can all agree that heart change is the question and Christ is the only answer.
By all means, study the scriptures, be convinced in your own heart of the wonder of salvation whether “he offers you a gift, but you have to open it” or “he changes your heart so that you can choose him.” Because at the end of the day, salvation doesn’t hinge on our understanding of when and how it happens, but whether or not we trust Christ alone for our salvation.
And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether our brothers and sisters agree about the timing of regeneration, but that we are brothers and sisters.