Conversion: An Act of Free Grace, or Free Will?

20131023-193034.jpgBy Leif L.

Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:18 KJV

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3 NKJV

Begotten … Of His own will.
Begotten … According to His abundant mercy

I recently wrote a few articles regarding the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening. The presentation of the gospel at that time was different than it had been through most of the Christian church. The age of humanism, spawned by 17th century philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbs who insisted on the value of the individual above all else, was made to have its mark on the presentation of the gospel. The self-determination of modern humanism created a society that considered it their God-given right whether they wanted to be in heaven or not, and that really God had no business in this, because we are completely free, unfettered creatures, fully capable of handling such decisions ourselves.

What was preached is that the new birth was a human choice, and that everyone had the innate ability to make this decision on their own. Conversion was simply a matter of “me making a decision for Christ”. Salvation was reduced to simply “accepting Jesus as my personal Saviour”, as if Jesus were no more than our personal butler, who existed to fulfil our demands, and was pretty well impotent without our consent or command.

Charles Finney was both the prime example of this type of evangelism, as well as the systematic theologian to defend it. For him, getting people saved was a pragmatic matter, one of natural ability and not supernatural intervention. The new birth was no longer a miracle from above, but an act which humankind could control.

After 200 years, we have travelled so far down the stream of this type of approach to the gospel, that vast numbers of Christians are not even aware that there is an alternate view, let alone one which has a far more biblical and God-centred basis. For to accept this truth, that we are begotten by God’s will as an act of free grace, rather than by the human will at the time of our convenience, is completely outside the envelope of our present-day human consciousness, where man is very big, and God is very small.

After all, no longer does God put in place kings and depose them, but we have the power to elect leaders and put them out of office. Our electoral vote has the final say in selecting earthly authority, why should we not have the same power, the same inalienable right, when we come to spiritual things?

I think what is at stake is our concept of the sovereignty of God. I will continue on this thought in the future.

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