Our women’s doctrine study is working through the book, “Easy Chairs, Hard Words: Conversations on the Liberties of God.” It’s a unique treatise of the doctrines of grace in that it is set in a fictional setting as a conversation between a young man with questions and an older pastor. Instead of working through the usual TULIP acronym, the conversation starts where it seems it might more naturally begin in the mind of a sincere evangelical unfamiliar with historical orthodoxy. On the logical heels of the “free-will” philosophy (by that I mean the idea that man possesses the ability to choose Christ from his natural state) the question deserves to be begged, “Can a christian, who has secured his own salvation by his one good choice, in turn, by a bad choice (either in mind or action), lose that same salvation?” The question naturally leads to either watering down holiness to an attainable level or dreading the condemnation that an honest look at the heart quickly reveals is the only possible outcome.
And yet, the student of the Scripture sees that Jesus does not lose any of his sheep and that our God is faithful to complete the good work he began in our hearts. And so there are sparks of hope for the fearful and soothing truths for the broken sinner in plain sight which keep him in the fight of faith. But what if he backed up further to ask a different question altogether. He could ask, “How can it be that the stone dead heart of a willful sinner has the desire to make the wisest of all decisions to lay down his self-believed autonomy in order to submit his life to a savior and Lord?”
Across the scope of the Scriptures, he would find that it cannot be so. And here would he begin to find not only a little hope to hold on to, but swim in an ocean of self-forgetfulness, assurance, and worship of the God who has turned his heart from stone to flesh . He could pour out adoration and thanksgiving to Him who has set on him the desire to be holy, saved, and owned and secured the fulfillment of that desire with His own Son’s blood.
I know that true Bible-believing Christians are not willfully seeking to rob God of his glory (that would a contradiction). The tension is usually pushed aside into the category of mystery or unimportant confusion. But it is important. God deserves the maximum amount of glory and he initiates real freedom. In nearly all our prayers, we ask for perseverance and for his name to be glorified. Why would we make such bold petitions of one who does not give it? Consider the following words from Augustine (writing in 426 A.D. lest you think this is some new notion). The dead guys are usually better at telling it like it is. Pretty sobering words.
But why is that perseverance asked for from God if it is not given by God? Is that, too, a mocking petition, when that is asked from Him which it is known that He does not give, but, though He gives it not, is in man’s power; just as that giving of thanks is a mockery, if thanks are given to God for that which He did not give nor do? But what I have said there, I say also here again: “Be not deceived,” says the apostle, “God is not mocked.” O man, God is a witness not only of your words, but also of your thoughts. If you ask anything in truth and faith of one who is so rich, believe that you receive from Him from whom you ask, what you ask. Abstain from honouring Him with your lips and extolling yourself over Him in your heart, by believing that you have from yourself what you are pretending to beseech from Him. -Augustin, Bishop of Hippo