While driving back to work after lunch one recent afternoon I happened to hear a commercial on a Christian radio station that supposedly endorsed an evangelical gospel message. However, the message fell woefully short of its purposed end and actually accomplished the opposite of what it intended. This blurb clarified in my mind why the free will view of salvation is so damaging to the church.
The ad began like this: A cheerful lady’s voice rang out that people should love God as much as he loves us. After all, God has done everything within his power to make possible a relationship with him. Again, she encouraged listener’s to just love God because he loves us.
What? That was it? I couldn’t believe my ears. She did not bother to communicate the good news of the hope of salvation. She did just the opposite. She gave listeners an imperative that no person can possibly keep. When she says to love God she is invoking the cornerstone commandment of the entire moral law; the commandment that Jesus called the first and greatest.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength‘ ( Mk 12:30).
This, coupled with the commandment to love our neighbors as our selves, comprise the heart of the moral law, or the Ten Commandments. Loving our neighbor itself hinges upon our love for God. She asked her audience to obey the one commandment by which the fulfillment of all others hinge.
Ok, not a problem. Love’s not a hard thing. I’ve loved lots of people, critters and things in my life. I can do this! Let’s examine Christ’s commandment a little closer. First of all, Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. There, the Lord God asks – no – he commands his people to love him with all their heart, soul and might. Jesus says it a little differently by including ‘mind’. The point is, God has commanded that we love him with our entire being. It is a valid commandment because God is absolutely worthy of such total devotion by the very beings created in his image and endowed with traits that reflect his goodness. This should manifest itself in total obedience, holiness, reverence, praise and thanksgiving always in all things we do. Every little action, word or thought should be for the end of God’s glory. Anything less is to fall short of the mark that God has established. But isn’t that the very definition of sin?
Hey, we’re all sinners, right? Sinning daily, as humankind is wont to do, we show clearly what lies underneath. That is, we don’t love God. Even those of us who are in Christ, having been washed by the blood, transformed by the renewing of the mind, don’t fully and completely love the Lord our God. Every time we sin, at those very moments we are choosing to love ourselves more than Almighty God. Thus we fall short of loving him with all our being.
Unintentionally, this commercial sets up all who hear the message and desire to abide by its imperative to become hypocrites. They may receive this message joyfully because they want to be loved and desire the reward of heaven. However, the commandment acts as a towering craggy peak that cannot be scaled. No person has the mountain climbing equipment necessary to conquer this Mt Everest of true morality. We can’t even manage to get a proper foothold. By nature man is hostile toward God – the exact opposite of loving him with all the heart. What was presented in the ad is not the gospel but the law.
Now, I firmly believe in preaching the gospel in a proper context. We are to give grace to the humble of heart but to the proud we must first present the law. The law acts as a mirror to show sinners that they are lawbreakers who are under God’s curse and abide in his wrath. They must be brought low by the impossible demands of the moral law so that they will despair of all hope in themselves and their own righteousness. The law must dismantle the stronghold of human pride and self reliance, bringing the sinner to his knees in heartfelt repentance, crying out to the Lord, ‘Save me from your wrath!”
The ad made absolutely no appeal to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it only offered us the most difficult of all commandments to obey, without any reference to the need of God’s unmerited favor to sinners through Christ’s shed blood. Just love God, that’s all you need to do! as if it were just another task on a daily to-do list . I once heard someone in our church give a testimony about coming to Christ as a child and encouraged everyone in the congregation to ‘get saved’ because it was the easiest thing you could ever do. The commercial also asserts that God has done all he can do to save us, but it is now up to us to close the deal.
This stands in stark contrast to Christ’s words to his disciples after he engaged a rich young ruler who went away sad because Jesus asked him to sell all he had and come follow him. The young man walked away because he had great wealth that he could not bear to part with. Jesus made the radical statement that is difficult for the rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. He brought the point home with an illustration that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven because his love for money and possessions is greater than his love for God. Christ’s disciples were astounded. They asked “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With man this is impossible,” (See Luke 19-16-26).
As I proposed in the beginning of this post, this devastating line of thinking grows out of a synergistic, semi-Pelagian free-will theology that reduces the glory of God’s saving grace down to a mere human decision. This view propounds that at any time, whenever we feel like making the commitment, we can get saved and make ourselves into Christians. The inherent error of such a view is two-fold:
1. A high view of man and his ability
2. A low view of God’s power in his saving grace.
Synergism promotes a power inherent in every human being which simply is not present. We are only free to serve our sinful desires because we are a slave to the power of sin.
More significantly, man fails to view salvation for what it is – an absolute miracle wrought by the monergistic power of a sovereign God. By definition a miracle is an extraordinary event that appears to violate the very laws of nature and can only be attributed to a supernatural source. God, turning a cold stone heart, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and creating a new heart that yearns for God and his holiness can be nothing but a miracle, a supernatural act by a gracious God acting out of love for his creation.
Telling people to love God because God loves us without telling them to repent, for God has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world through Jesus Christ, is fatal to the human soul. Such an empty proclamation will not lead one person to a true saving faith. The gate is narrow that leads down the path of life. To enter in we must be stripped bare and come through on our hands and knees, crying out ‘have mercy on me a sinner’.
After Jesus told his disciples salvation is impossible with men he concluded, “but with God all things are possible” (19:26). Our redemption is secured by an all-powerful God who creates life where there is none. The act of raising Lazarus from the grave with the command, “Lazarus, come out” was a miracle, a supernatural act. When God commands us by name to come out of our grave of spiritual death and corruption into the newness of life in Christ, that too is a miracle, a supernatural act of grace. First, we behold the absolute power of God and his gracious mercy toward us, then, and only then, can we begin to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Christians live the entirety of their life growing in this love through the process of holy sanctification. Not until we reign with the Lord in glory will we truly love God completely with our whole being.