I happened to notice a friend share his testimony online with an atheist, and in his dialogue he included the following statement:
“Once you decide who created this all, I feel it only respectful to figure out what this being wants – and how I can please him/her. I chose Christ.”
It’s natural for me to see these things because a lot of my friends believe in decision theology, which is common among evangelicals. The magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is called “Decision” because they teach decision theology. It is quite prevalent and is believed by some fine people, including a lot of my friends.
If you believe in decision theology, I want to biblically show you two things.
- We didn’t choose God, we were chosen by God. Man has no part in his own salvation.
- We were not chosen by God because He wants something. We were chosen exclusively because He loves us.
Consider these verses;
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16 ESV
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44 ESV
“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:4 ESV
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 ESV
Before God draws us, we are spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1 starts with,
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.”
Dead people don’t make choices. It is more like when Jesus came and raised up Lazarus from the dead, saying, “Lazarus, come forth.” It wasn’t, “Lazarus, do you want to choose to be raised from the dead?”. Just consider how silly it would be to insert a decision moment before resurrection….
When Paul wrote Romans 3:10-11, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’,” he meant exactly what he said. He didn’t mean “those other people don’t seek for God.” He means, “no one,” including those of us who now believe because of God’s gracious choice.
So, why did God save us, which is the second part of my premise? In the same passage, at Ephesians 2:4, we read, “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.”
Why? “Because of the great love with which He loved us.” No other reason. It was not so we would do something for God.
The fact we have been saved by grace is strongly reiterated in Ephesians 2:8-9, “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.”
This includes the work of making a decision.
It may feel like we’ve made a decision, but we have already believed and already been saved before we make the decision we perceive we’ve made.
Now, when we are saved we do begin functioning somewhat normally and somewhat according to God’s original design, as Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We never in this life, while we carry the sinfulness inherent in our flesh, do this perfectly according to God’s design, but we do begin and through God’s grace grow in it.
Why is this important?
For a number of reasons….
First of all, when we present our faith as a matter of our choice, we’re just not telling the same story the Scriptures tell of our being chosen by God before the foundation of the world. We have no authority to change the message and the people who taught us this had no authority change it either.
Second, this takes justification out of the realm of human choices, and recognizes it as God’s infallible and eternal choice. If it is my choice, it is prone to error, and failure, and change. God’s choice on the other hand does not change.
Third, it also takes away boasting. We convey an air of superiority when we say we have made such a “good choice,” that our choices are better than those others have made. We didn’t choose Him, He chose us and granted us repentance unto the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). This should give us greater humility and thankfulness, because there was nothing in ourselves that caused God to choose us. As Ephesians 2:4 said above, the only “because” is “because of the great love with which he loved us.”
Fourth, it changes how we approach mission. We no longer have to try to cajole, manipulate, or convince people to make a decision. We present the Word of God to them and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Usually we do this because God the Holy Spirit is already at work in them and they are asking questions.
It changes how we view mission outcomes. When a person is saved, it is because God has “granted them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). We can rejoice in that, but we can take no credit for our ability to convince them. We didn’t convince them, the Holy Spirit did through the Word.
If they don’t believe, we also can take no blame or fear that our witness was not good enough, or we “messed up.”
When a person is saved, it is God’s choice. When a person is not saved, it is that person’s choice, because God desires that all will come to repentance;
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 ESV
This is paradoxical, but is more honest with the Scriptures overall than the Calvinist belief that if God chooses some for salvation, he must choose hell for those who are not saved.
Fifth, this is what separates Christianity from all other religions. In other religions, the followers serve their god, and if they do a good enough job, maybe they get to heaven. In Christianity, God chose us, serving us as a good father serves his own children. The same way a human father serves his children, not expecting things back from them.
How is this difference helpful when it comes to sharing our witness with an atheist?
Well, first off we aren’t condemning him for his choices, or basing our witness on the notion that our choices are better than his. We can come to him as equals, people whose choices also caused them to deserve condemnation, but who have received salvation despite our choices.
We can come to him recognizing that making a choice for Jesus in the flesh is totally impossible for all of us apart from the miracle of God’s granting us belief. Therefore a lifelong atheist is not a “harder case” than anyone else.
We can also show him that whatever choices he has made in the past have no bearing on the possibility he can be saved, because our choices have nothing to do with our salvation. Our salvation is an act of God akin to a miraculous healing. As Jesus pointed out, a healing is a forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins is salvation.
Mainly, it helps us to know our role. To give the Word, which is a means of grace that the Spirit can use to work faith in anyone who can receive it. What follows is the Spirit’s doing, creating faith in the person who hears it. God created the world with His Word, and certainly creates faith with it as well, and with as little cooperation!