Many years ago TV talk show host Phil Donahue interviewed a couple of Hollywood stars, who were evangelical Christians. The subject of why Jesus is the only way to heaven came up, which Donahue thought was preposterous.
Universalists like Donahue can’t conceive how God could limit the way, the truth and the life to the death and resurrection of His Son, who ONLY created the universe (Col. 1:16). It’s like people stand in God’s shoes and decide if they were God, they’d be “fair” and open the door to find a way for Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and anyone else under heaven to enter heaven’s gates at the end of life without believing on Jesus. People have to look elsewhere other than the Bible to come to that conclusion. Christians who want to make God more “broadminded” work hard at concocting a gospel that includes everyone so they won’t appear “narrow-minded” to their friends. Truth is, you’ll have to concoct it because it’s not in the Bible.
Of Wretches and Other Things
As the interview progressed, Donahue encouraged the audience to join with him in singing “Amazing Grace.” When they reached the words “that saved a wretch like me,” Donahue interrupted: “I’m no wretch!” he protested. Later, he condescendingly remarked, “Come on. Don’t you think when all is said and done God’s going to say, “Ah, shucks, everybody come on in.”
God knows all, sees all and understands all from throughout eternity. If He in His omnipotence and omniscience decided He would make one way to Himself (John 14:6), doesn’t He, as God, have the right to do so? I know this whole idea opens up a theological Pandora’s box, but we have to consider how grace is poured out on some and not others. In my view, God chooses us, and we, as a result, choose God. I’ll explain why I feel this way a little later in this article.
Until we understand how wretched we are when considering a holy God, Amazing Grace escapes us. This is why some people, who may be quite good Christians but very self-righteous, miss the heart of the grace of God and wind up pursuing some kind of self-willed course to try to find intimacy with the living God. As one who has tried it all, I know all about striving to please God. Let me say clearly and succinctly – forget it! It is wearying to the soul and a joy-stealer. The truth is you don’t have to do this. That’s why I joined WA (Wretches Anonymous). I’m happy to report this club is happy to be wretches who found the manifold grace of God.
God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense (GRACE)
I realize there are many divergent views of how God operates. People get really angry trying to win an argument over this whole line of thinking. If you’re looking for a religion to adhere to, you could try any of the 4,200! Also consider there are more than 33,000 Christian denominations in the world today, and it is estimated that by the year 2025 there will be some 55,000! Most of these were created over disagreement with certain aspects of Christian doctrine. Frankly, I don’t get it, but it is what it is. There are so many things we don’t understand in the Bible, but as one Christian teacher exhorted, “It’s not what I don’t understand that bothers me, but all the things I DO understand!”
GRACE has been defined as “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” At the cross the Father poured every ounce of His wrath at human sin upon Christ. Every sordid thought, action and deed of every human being for all time was nailed into His Body. He literally became sin so we would have no more debt to pay and to become the righteousness of God in Him:
“For our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [[a]endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness]” (2 Corinthians 5:21 (AMP).
Demon gods behind every bush
Since Lucifer told Eve in the garden: “Eat off this tree and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil,” our world has been confronted with the idea of many gods, from the demon gods of the Old Testament to the New Age gods of today. People want to worship something or someone, be it rock stars or Christian TV stars. I mean if you don’t have one, you can make up your own! LOL!
I was talking to a sweet New Age woman from California (imagine that!) one time about Jesus. She said she couldn’t wrap her arms around the idea that Jesus was God and mentioned that “we’re all gods, you know.” I said, “One thing is certain: He’s God and you ain’t.” I reasoned with her, but as most anyone knows, reasoning doesn’t necessarily reach anyone.
I’m reminded here of an evangelist friend of mine who really knew how to win people to Christ. He was chatting with a well-to-do sophisticated lady who somehow expected my friend to try to convince her to accept Christ.
“Aren’t you going to try to convince me to accept your Jesus?” she asked.
“No, I’m not, my friend countered.”
A little shocked, the woman wanted to know why.
“Because it isn’t my job to convince you, and unless the Holy Spirit of God convicts you,” you will be lost,” David said.
You may think that was a little harsh, but the truth is “unless the Spirit draws someone, he or she can’t come to Christ” (John 6:44). This is why prayer is so important – to demolish strongholds that argue against the truth of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
The “babbler” and the philosophers
The Apostle Paul in attempting to reach everyone with the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord, addressed the philosophers on Mars Hill outside of Rome:
18 And some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him and began to engage in discussion. And some said, What is this babbler with his scrap-heap learning trying to say? Others said, He seems to be an announcer of foreign deities—because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took hold of him and brought him to the [c]Areopagus [Mars Hill meeting place], saying, May we know what this novel (unheard of and unprecedented) teaching is which you are openly declaring?
20 For you set forth some startling things, foreign and strange to our ears; we wish to know therefore just what these things mean—
21 For the Athenians, all of them, and the foreign residents and visitors among them spent all their leisure time in nothing except telling or hearing something newer than the last—
22 So Paul, standing in the center of the Areopagus [Mars Hill meeting place], said: Men of Athens, I perceive in every way [on every hand and with every turn I make] that you are most religious or very reverent to demons.
23 For as I passed along and carefully observed your objects of worship, I came also upon an altar with this inscription, To the unknown god. Now what you are already worshiping as unknown, this I set forth to you.
24 The God Who produced and formed the world and all things in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in handmade shrines.
25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He lacked anything, for it is He Himself Who gives life and breath and all things to all [people].
26 And He made from one [common origin, one source, one blood] all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth, having definitely determined [their] allotted periods of time and the fixed boundaries of their habitation (their settlements, lands, and abodes),
27 So that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him, although He is not far from each one of us.
Whatever gods these Greeks were worshipping, Paul placed them all in one category – demons – except the one cited to “an unknown God” – the one Paul preached to them, Jesus Christ!
Grace almost too good to be true!
Most people, including the majority of Christians, cannot conceive that God’s grace provided through Jesus could be as good as it is. Like my New Age friend, the human brain can’t wrap its arms around this magnificent offering – we feel we have to do something to deserve it. Or if we can receive it as a free gift of salvation, we still remain stuck in the mode that the rest of it requires OUR WORKS/striving to help God out. Paul got so upset with the Galatian Church over this matter that he declared:
“Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!” (Galatians 3:2-4 The Message).
We’re all “crazy” until this message resonates in us!
Are you among the crazies, too? You started with grace and now you’re trying to help God with His plan for your life to perfect it? Save yourself a heap of trouble and begin to ask God to reveal His grace in you. This grace can reach all aspects of your being from speech to believing for finances! Part two of this grace partaking is to bring your performance-oriented life to death on His cross so He can release more grace to you. As long as we think we can combine our works with his grace (see my blog “Oil and Water: Grace and Works” for more of this thinking), He will have to resist you – for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Shut up under sin to learn grace
This is amazing thought about Amazing Grace. God’s Word says that the law was given so that sin might increase! Huh?
“God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant” (Romans 5:20 New Living Translation).
The Father knew people couldn’t keep His laws, so the harder people tried in Old Testament – and in the New – sin increased! Why did God do this? It’s His simple yet unbelievable way of teaching us to live by grace and grace alone. Paul referred to this grace gospel as “my gospel,” the gospel of grace that was revealed to him by the Lord Jesus. As a matter of fact, the Father has “shut up everyone under sin” (there’s no way out of this) so the grace of His Son could be released to us in an ever increasing overflow! There is no glory for man in this – no boasting about “we kept the rules, God,” only glory for the One who paid for this on the cross!
“But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22 ASV).
The promise ONLY by faith. Did you get that?
If you stick works on to this, the Bible is clear that you can’t call it grace!
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6 KJV).
At the beginning of this I shared how I how think the gospel works. After many years of prayerfully meditating on this, and in keeping with the Scriptures, I have concluded as the predestinarians do that God indeed chooses us, but I also like the Armenians’ belief that we choose God, but in my view only if He has chosen us first (this should keep the club-wielding and torch-toting Methodists and Presbyterians after me at bay for a while …smile.) Here are a few Scriptures to chew on for your own mental peace: (Just for the sake of argument there are about 75 verses that allude to our being predestinated by God, and another 50 or so that teach that we have choices.)
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1:11 NIV).
“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
“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).
“And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8 ESV).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV).
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”?(Matt. 6:14-15 KJV).
Jesus said: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”?(Matt. 21:22).
“…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”?(Rom. 10:9).
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain”?(1 Cor 15:2).
You can tell from these few verses that both views are correct. It is NOT one way or the other – it’s both. Some may say, “How can this be reconciled?” It can’t because He’s God and we ain’t!
Be blessed in the increasing knowledge of grace, and may it be to you as it was to Paul:
“But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed” (1 Timothy 1:14 The Voice).
Joseph Beckham is the author of Deeper Water for Thirsty Souls http://amzn.com/1493781286