An excerpt from the forthcoming book PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace:
“There is no doctrine more hated by worldlings,” nineteenth-century Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon once pointed out, “as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of [God’s] sovereignty.” Ever since sin plunged the cosmos into darkness, humanity has worked to bury God’s sovereignty beneath an ever-multiplying multitude of weak and graceless counterfeits (Romans 1:23). “Human nature is, so to speak, a workshop that’s continually crafting idols,” a theologian named John Calvin observed in the sixteenth century.
The precise shape of these counterfeits may shift from one generation to the next, but the patterns of idolatry are as ancient as sin and as current as the last commercial you watched. Sometimes, the idols happen to be images of created beings, but not usually. Idols are found far more frequently in less obvious locations–in the balance of our bank account, in the praises of our peers, in the delusion of a deity we can control by earning his favor.
What may come as a surprise is that the popularity of this graceless deity and his system of works-for-merit isn’t limited to people who sleep in on Sunday mornings. Even among people whose social-media profiles clearly list “Christian” as their faith commitment, the distinction between the living God and the counterfeit isn’t always clear.
A popular television preacher professes on his website that “a personal relationship with Jesus” is humanity’s only hope. And yet, despite this tip of the hat to Jesus, it’s the butler-and-therapist deity that dominates this same preacher’s messages. As he tells it, God’s goal is to improve our lives by releasing “more of his favor”–-but, until we do our part, God can’t do much of anything at all. “God is waiting on you,” he proclaims. “You don’t get the grace unless you step out. You have to make the first move.” From this preacher’s perspective, whether or not you receive God’s grace depends on your performance. God doesn’t do his part until “you do everything you can do” and he “sees your resolve.”
It’s a wildly popular message with a critical problem.
It’s a lie.
The grace of the sovereign God has never waited on any human being to make the first move. Forbidden fruit was still fresh on our first parents’ lips when God stepped into the Garden of Eden and lavished undeserved favor on his broken world. At the very moment when Adam and Eve deserved only death, God clothed them with the skin of a beast and promised a Son whose triumph would grind the serpent’s skull into the ground (Genesis 3:15, 21).
God’s reason for giving grace to the first two human beings wasn’t because he glimpsed good intentions buried somewhere inside them. When God found them, they were clutching clumps of leaves against their groins and blaming everyone but themselves for their failure. God’s sovereign grace blossomed in that new-fallen garden for the same reason grace fills people’s lives today: Not due to any human deed or desire but because of God’s merciful plan–-a plan that began before time and requires no contribution from any of us (Romans 9:11-16; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9).
What is PROOF? Find out here.