Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Is God A Gentleman? Why A Proper View of God and Man Matters

John Calvin begins his signature work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, with "Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." Proper wisdom comes from the right understanding of Who God is and who we are as humans. In fact, getting these two topics wrong results in living our lives incorrectly. A.W. Tozer was right in stating, "I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God." As a pastor I am constantly reminded of the importance of teaching the truth of Scripture concerning Who God is and the nature of man. It becomes more and more evident to me the need for this as I converse with people and hear their common faulty views of God and man. Just this weekend I was listening to a popular "Christian" radio station where a man called in and mentioned how "God is a gentleman" in regards to our salvation. The idea is that God waits for us to come to Him and does not impose Himself upon us. Unfortunately, far too many people hold to such a teaching, not realizing that it misportrays God and misunderstands the nature of man after the Fall. So what is the proper view of God and man according to Scripture in regards to man's salvation? Can we rightfully say that He is a gentleman according to what His Word says about Him?

The Proper View of God
The idea that "God is a gentleman" conveys the picture that God paces back and forth in heaven, hoping, waiting, and longing for sinners to come to Him. He knocks on the door of man's heart, standing outside and wanting to hear the knob turn. However, such a view does not match the description that God gives of Himself in His own Word. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not the story of man's search for God but rather God's search for rebellious man. He is not a God who waits for sinners to come to their senses and turn to Him but One who relentlessly pursues sinners, turning their hearts to Him. Consider the following examples we find in Scripture:

-God did not wait for Adam to come to Him after the Fall but approached him first (Genesis 3:8-9). Had He waited, Adam may never have went to Him but continued to attempt to hide from Him in shame. To this day, all of Adam's offspring are born running and hiding from God in similar shame.

-For Noah to have found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8) and to be described as a righteous man, blameless in his generation (v. 9), God first must have approached Him and done a work in his life for him to place his faith in the coming redemptive seed promised after the Fall (Genesis 3:15). We know this because Noah would have been included in God's statement on the universality of the wickedness of man in Genesis 6:5. Noah, after all, was a [hu]man. And God imposes on Noah's life to build an ark in order to save him and his family (v. 13).

-God did not wait for Abram to "come to his senses" and leave the gods of his fathers (Joshua 24:2) to go to Him but instead He went to the Patriarch, commanded him to obey Him, and then told him of His plan for him (Genesis 12:1-4; Joshua 24:3). The same is true for Abraham's children. God chose Isaac over Ishmael and approached him (Genesis 26:1-5; Romans 9:7-9). He chose Jacob over Esau and came to him to share His promise and plan for him (Genesis 25:23; 28:10-17; 32:22-32; 35:9-15; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:10-13). There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that these men would have turned to God apart from His first coming to them and directing them to Him.

-Jesus handpicked those who would follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-51). Even the one who was intended to betray Him (Mark 3:19). These men were busy minding their own business and tending to their own affairs when Jesus imposed on them to leave their comfortable lives and forsake everything to follow Him.

-Jesus certainly was no gentleman when He stopped Paul in his tracks on the way to Damascus, blinding him and changing not only the literal direction he was heading but also the direction of his heart (Acts 9:1-9).

-Notice that God is described as piercing the heart of those who heard Peter's sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:37). The Greek form of the word for pierce indicates something that happened to the listeners from outside of them, not something that they did to themselves. (The verb is in the passive voice.) They received this piercing of their hearts. They did not do it themselves.

-And Luke is careful to specify that God added to the number of converts to the church and not that people added themselves as God sat back observing in the shadows with His fingers crossed (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 11:24).

-Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this can be found with the conversion of Lydia. Luke tells us specifically that the Lord opened Lydia's heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). Not that Lydia invited Jesus into her heart by the specific words of some prayer. The certain implication here is that had God not opened her heart, she never would have responded to Paul's presentation of the gospel message. In fact, with just these examples alone (and much more could be given), we see that God always takes the initiative. He is not a gentleman in the case of waiting for sinners that He saves by grace. His action determined their response. It is understanding the proper view of man that it makes sense why God cannot be a gentleman concerning our salvation. Why He has to relentlessly pursue sinners in order for them to forsake themselves and throw themselves upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus and rest upon Him alone to save them.

The Proper View of Man
The very reason that God has to take the initiative with man is due to man not being able to come to God on his own as a result of the curse of the Fall. As Jesus puts it plainly, No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). Without God's drawing of a person, he or she is not able to come to Christ. So if God would wait on man, none would ever come to Him. And man cannot come to God because he is unwilling to do so (John 5:40). He will not come because he does not desire to. Man is unwilling to come to God in Christ because he loves his sin and therefore hates God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). Why does man not come to the light? Because he loves the darkness instead. If you placed before me a bowl of strawberry ice cream and a bowl of chocolate ice cream and asked me to choose between the two, I will always choose strawberry ice cream. The reason for this is that I love the taste of strawberry ice cream and I absolutely despise chocolate ice cream. The only way to get me to choose chocolate ice cream over strawberry would be to change my tastes and desires. Chocolate ice cream would have to taste a whole lot better to me and strawberry ice cream would have to become repulsive. Likewise, the only way a sinner can view God as wonderful and sin as repulsive which goes against their very nature would be for God to change their desires. This is what Scripture describes to occur in the new birth which is a work of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 1:12-13; 3:1-8). As Paul Washer puts it, the issue with man is not their "free will" but their "ill will." A "will" heading in the wrong direction towards sin instead of God. If God does not do the work of the new birth in one's heart, their will does not change and thus they continue to defy God instead of glorify God with their sinful and morally bent wills.

Why This Matters
Should you still be reading this you may be wondering why this matters. What is the big deal about referring to God as a gentleman in regards to our salvation? Why stay up so late to address this issue? It bothers me for two primary reasons. First, it robs God of His glory. If God deserves the credit for 100% of our salvation and we only recognize 90% or 95% of it being His work, then we rob Him of 10% or 5% of His glory. We take some of the "amazing" out of grace if any part of our salvation is up to us. Since Salvation belongs to the LORD as Jonah pointed out (Jonah 3:9), then seeing God as waiting for us to actively come to Him instead of seeing Him as relentlessly pursuing us and turning out hearts towards Him minimizes the glory He deserves for His work and provides for us something to boast in. William Temple said it well, "The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary." Everything else we contribute regarding our salvation stems from God. It is His gracious work in our lives. I want to make sure that we seriously mean soli Deo gloria, Latin for to the glory of God alone. Second, viewing God as a gentleman in relation to the salvation of men can lead to some faulty evangelistic practices. Charles Finney is a clear example of this. If you think that man has the ability in and of himself to come to a God who sits back and waits on him, you will try everything possible to manipulate a person's will and move them to come to Christ. You will try every method imaginable to motivate them, whether that would be dimming the lights or playing "Just As I Am" for the eighteenth time. However, if you recognize that man cannot come to God but God must come to man to change their heart and desires, and that He has chosen to do this through the preaching of the gospel message, your focus will not be on the person you are evangelizing to as much as it will be on the message itself. You will seek to communicate the message clearly and as accurately as possible, seeing it to be the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). You will spend more time handling the message and praying for the Lord not to be a gentleman but to pierce the person's heart and draw them to Christ. Your evangelism thus would be more effective.

I'm personally thankful that God is not a gentleman. Otherwise I never would have been saved. Let's make sure to study God's Word to understand both Him and ourselves rightly.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

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