June 17, 2017

Who is responsible?

If a company calls me to work for them, and I say yes and go to work, who can claim the credit? Can they pat themselves on the back for hiring me? Or is it a feather in my hat for saying yes?

The Bible teaches the sovereignty of God in salvation yet also the responsibility of human beings. Can I take any credit for saying yes? This passage says I cannot . . .

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1–10)

The gospel of grace raises this question: what is there left for man to do? Some say that once we hear it, it is up to us to say yes. Others would say we cannot even say yes without the gift of faith, the grace of God at work in our hearts. They might quote verses like this:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13)

In other words, we do the work but we cannot do it unless God does His work in us.
Others might say that the decision is ours and ours alone. Will we choose to do the will of God or not? There are verses that say, “Choose this day whom you will serve . . . “

When I read these seemingly opposite statements, my first tendency is to pick sides, or to choose God’s sovereignty over my responsibility. The devotional writer clearly sinners are saved by grace. I agree. I could do nothing to save myself. Any effort that is mine alone is sin because sin is simply insisting on going my own way:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

To do the will of God, I must do it God’s way. For that, I need Jesus Christ as Savior and the Holy Spirit as my helper. This is also biblically clear, yet can a Christian truthfully say, “I decided to follow Jesus” or must we say, “Jesus called me, gave me the desire to follow Him, and changed my heart — and with that, my will fell into line”?

Making the choice without God being involved can lead to self-glory and a focus on human volition and will-power, easily falling into the description of sin in Isaiah 53:6. It does not need to, but there is a danger. My sinful self would love to take the tiniest bit credit for being a child of God.

However, saying God choose me has a danger too. It can produce a smug attitude, a “I am one of the chosen ones” just as it did with the people of Israel. I’ve heard Christians say, “I must be special because God picked me” which is teetering on the sinfulness of pride.

Both views show me the grace of God and my need for Him? No matter what side of that teeter-totter I believe, there is a danger of twisting it and making it all about me instead of all about God. I can even become smug that I have made it all about God.

Jesus, by our polarization of how the gospel works, we simply reveal why we need You. My sinfulness will do almost anything to make life all about me. I want the glory and praise for whatever good that I do. I’ve even blamed You at times for my failures. How shameful. I need You — that even the simplest things of life are for Your glory, not mine, just as Your Word says:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

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