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Friday, December 21, 2018


In 1521 Martin Luther was called before the Holy Roman Emperor to defend his writings and teachings. His works lay before him for anyone to see. "Are these your works?" they demanded. They were. "Will you recant?" Luther begged for a night to consider and it was granted. The next day, he gave his response. "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason ... my conscience is captive to the Word of God. ... To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me." Now, we moderns picture the man, standing firm, defying the authorities, bold and brassy. Accounts, however, say that he was more mousy than brassy. They asked him to speak up. Luther wasn't unaware of the gravity of the situation nor the danger he faced. In his loudest whisper, he barely stood his ground. He said why. "My conscience is captive to the Word of God." What else could he do?

I was raised "standard". I grew up with the same standard theology that most others have. We all know, thanks the the fame of Billy Graham types, that Christ did 99.99% of what was required to save me and I only have that last 0.01% to do -- faith and repentance. I only have to receive (we normally call it "accept") Christ. Marvel upon marvels, grace upon grace, now I'm saved. That's what I grew up with.

And then I hit a biblical wall. (I know ... the normal phrase is "brick wall", but it really is a biblical one in this case.) I came up against clear, consistent Scripture that made it impossible for me to continue in the position that I had been. From Genesis to Revelation there is a constant picture of the nature of Man. From Adam and the Fall (Gen 3:16-19) to Noah and the Flood (Gen 8:21) we are sinners. "The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." We are born in sin (Psa 51:5), telling lies from the womb (Psa 58:3). It turns out that we're not just sinful; we're broken. We have deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). We have been blinded (2 Cor 4:4). We aren't just naughty; we are by nature hostile to God (Rom 8:7). It's not just bad choices; it is inability (1 Cor 2:14). We aren't merely sin sick; we're dead (Eph 2:1-3). I wanted to believe that we had the full capability to traverse that last 0.01%, that easy step, but the distance is, biblically, too vast. It would be a complete violation of the nature of Man. It would require action on the part of the dead on information given to those who cannot understand to accomplish that which we hate -- an impossibility. I would like to have wormed my way around that biblical brick wall, but I couldn't. There were no responses, no explanations, no biblical answers to these biblical claims regarding our condition. Face it; I'm stuck. So I respond in my loudest whisper, "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason ... my conscience is captive to the Word of God. ... To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me."

At this point the outlook looks so grim that it appears hopeless. Does Scripture offer hope? I know that our popular theology does, but does Scripture? Our popular theology tells us to "choose to believe." That makes no sense. Worse, Scripture indicates we're sinners at the core and beyond the capability to alter that. Does Scripture give a response? Indeed it does.

Jesus explained to the Jews why they didn't believe. "You do not believe," He said, "because you are not among My sheep" (John 10:26). Who are Jesus sheep? We would typically answer, "Those who believe." But Jesus turned it around. They didn't believe because they weren't His sheep. Thus, it is necessary to be His sheep before they could believe. Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice" (John 10:16). That would be sheep who were not yet believing but certainly would. Jesus explained why cynics and even some of His disciples didn't believe. "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65). Coming is granted by the Father. God grants faith (Phil 1:29). God grants repentance (2 Tim 2:25). God appoints who will believe (Acts 13:48). God opens hearts (Acts 16:14).

I know. This isn't the best known approach. There are lots people I know, love, admire, and respect -- people I regard as genuine, sincere, Bible-believing Christians -- who don't see it this way. But, like Luther said, "I cannot do otherwise; God help me."

In this version, then, Christ did not do 99.99% of what it takes to save me and I do the last 0.01%. He does it all. He came, He died, He rose. He exchanges my sin for His righteousness. He grants faith and repentance. He regenerates; He makes the spiritually dead spiritually alive. He empowers and sanctifies. I do exercise faith and repentance, but He enables it. He does it all; I have nothing in which to boast. Not even my faith or repentance. Paul says, "By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (1 Cor 1:30-31). That's what I believe. I am held captive by what I see in Scripture and, God help me, I don't know where else to stand.


Marshal Art said...

If Christ "grants" repentance, then why would He encourage us to repent? (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Luke 13:3, 5)

Stan said...

The question I'm plagued with is if God grants repentance, what makes us think He doesn't?

To me, the Scriptures seem to clearly say that God grants faith and repentance. To put it another way (I work in university circles), I get a grant from God of faith and repentance. It's now in my hands. I need to use it. So, keeping in mind that Scripture says He grants both faith and repentance (which requires that I don't just ignore it), I can only assume that, having been granted them, now I need to use them, to exercise them. I need to repent the repentance He has granted. He gave it to me; now I do it.

Craig said...

What I’ve been struck by is Luther’s humility and willingness to submit to scripture. It’s almost like he was hoping that someone would produce scripture that proved him wrong.

In this specific instance, I see nothing in scripture that allows for anything less than salvation 100% from God. Further, I don’t see any way to get past the multiple times where Jesus speaks of those who are His sheep, even though they don’t know it yet, or aren’t born yet. It’s why I believe that the sheep/goats parable is one of the most abused teachings of Jesus.

The thought that we contribute anything is simply our attempt to put the focus on us, not God.

Stan said...

I guess "We exercise the faith and repentance" isn't clear enough for some people to demonstrate that God doesn't save us against our wills. He simply gives us the will to be saved.