A few years ago, I received a letter from a delightful believer in our church who is originally from Italy. She worked as an executive with a manufacturing firm that sells goods to the Far East, including Hong Kong and China, but she had given up her career when she married and began raising her children.
This church member is a graduate of the University in Venice, Italy, and she and her United States Air Force officer are stationed in Enid, Oklahoma with their two small boys. This young lady became a believer as an adult and she credits the writings of C.S. Lewis for leading her to an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. She is a vociferous reader, multi-lingual, and quite intelligent.
She emailed me a question about the salvation of her boys, one that I thought worthy of a detailed response. I published this letter and my response a few years ago, but I think it’s worthy of republishing, particularly for those of you who have questions about the salvation of your children.
I’ve been meaning to ask you a question for a long time – it concerns one of the books you gave me, “Chosen for Life” by Sam Storms. I understand what it says, and it makes sense to me; I absolutely believe I was chosen by God vs. choosing God myself, because nothing in my (non-religious) nature and of the circumstances of my life and upbringing justify my search for Him. However: the thought that those whom God has not chosen to be saved won’t be saved is frightening; for as long as it’s up to a human being to change their mind, that can happen, even in the last moments of their lives; but God’s will does not change; and if my own child or my parents have not been chosen, nothing, not prayers, not offering information about Jesus and salvation, will make a difference. This seems very sad, that someone can’t choose God because God has not chosen them.
Granted, we don’t know who the un-chosen are (save for a few notable ecceptions, I imagine: Hitler, Ted Bundy), for God may call someone the split second before their car crashes under a truck. But the fact remains that it’s perfectly possible someone we love may not be chosen, and that’s irrevocable.
How do you come to terms with this?
Thank you for your thoughts.
You write, “This seems very sad, that someone can’t choose God because God has not chosen them.”
It would seem very, very sad to me too – if it were true as you describe it in your letter. You write as if people will one day decide to trust Christ, but they will be unable to be saved because God did not “elect” them. That scenario just can’t happen. It is impossible both biblically and logically. Let me explain.
“Choosing God” is a matter of the heart. Human beings are “free moral agents,” which means we humans are always free to choose whatever it is we desire. Nobody, nothing, not one thing, even God, impinges on that freedom. This “freedom” to choose between moral good and evil is chiefly what it means to be created in “God’s image.” So, it is simply not true that a human being “cannot” choose Christ or become a follower of Christ if he desires it – if he desires Christ, he can choose Christ.
This freedom to choose what you desire is self-evident. For instance, if you were on a diet and you walked by the ice cream store, you would be faced with a choice. “Do I continue my diet or do I turn into the store and buy ice cream?” I can tell you what you will choose – and for that matter what every single other human being will choose when he or she is faced with the same decision – every single time. I’ll do it right now. I will tell you what you will choose the next time you are on a diet and you walk by the ice cream store and this question comes to you: “Do I turn in and eat ice cream, or do I keep on walking and pass it up?” You will choose to do that which is the strongest desire in in your heart.
Human beings always choose what they desire the most. The chooser always follows the heart. If the thought of eating rich, creamy ice cream (and the enjoyment of it) is greater than the desire to lose weight, you will turn in and eat the ice cream every time. Nobody forces you to choose what you choose. This is what it means to be “created in the image of God.” You are a free moral agent and you choose what is your greatest desire. That’s true even when a robber holds a gun to your head and says, “Your wallet or your life!” The robber cannot FORCE you to choose to give your wallet without him shooting you. If you have a great desire to live, you will give up your wallet, but frankly, if your desire to die is greater, you may very well choose to hang on to your wallet. The robber is NOT in control of your choice. You are.
So it is with God. He tells all men everywhere to repent. He commands sinners to “embrace His Son.” And whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord, repents of his sin, and embraces Jesus Christ will be saved. That is a promise!
Yet, the Bible says that all of us like sheep have gone astray. There is nobody who desires the things of God. God’s things are “foolishness” (tasteless) to our natural minds because of selfish, sinful hearts. Therefore, no man naturally chooses God (Romans 3:11) – but that is not God’s fault, it is man’s fault. We made ourselves rebels. We desire our sin. We desire our independence from God. We desire to hang on to the things of this life. We do not desire God. We love our sinful, selfish, idolatrous ways because the desires of our hearts are always sinful, selfish and idolatrous. We see no beauty in Christ, and we will not naturally choose Christ.
Election teaches us that unless God were to choose to give us His grace – to open our eyes of understanding – cause us to see the beauty and glory of Christ – then none of us would ever choose Him. But when His grace truly descends on our hearts and we see Christ’s beauty, then we freely and willingly choose to come to Christ. Nobody forces us – we desire Christ because of God’s active grace in us. We choose Christ because of God’s work in softening our heart (or, in biblical language “turning the heart of stone into a heart of flesh,” or “changing the leper’s spots”). The Bible calls this gracious act of God in changing a sinner’s heart “regeneration,” or “the new birth,” or “the gift of the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit in the heart of a sinner precedes the free choice of that sinner to embrace Christ, for without a change of heart, we would never desire Christ. Therefore, if a sinner chooses Christ, he must give God the credit; but if a sinner rejects Christ, he must take all the blame because of his own sinful heart. A man’s heart is hard by his own choice. God did not initially create man sinful. Man chose that path. We hardened our own hearts. It began with Adam, but every human being since then has loved his sinful state, believing nothing to be wrong. A sinner will only desire Christ when his hardened, blind heart is softened by God’s amazing grace.
A lost man might read what I wrote above and say, “But that is circular reasoning. I don’t know Christ. I don’t desire Him. I don’t want God – but you are saying that I can’t desire Him, I can’t choose Him, I can’t love Him because of my natural sinful heart that loves my sin and hates God – and unless God takes care of that in me, I will be forever in my sin.”
That’s right – in so far as it goes. You, a lost man, can’t choose God because you don’t desire Him, and your lack of desire is your fault. You refusal to choose Christ is simply the natural consequence of your chooser following your sinful desires. But you COULD choose to follow after Christ if you desired to!. You have a mind, a mouth, an intellect, a chooser, a feeler – you are a human being; you are a free moral agent. The problem is simply that the sinful desires of your heart cause you to love your sin and hate the God who created you.
Again, the problem is your sinful desires, and that is YOUR problem. Human beings are the cause of that sin, not God. Adam was the originator of it, and you are willing participant in it. You are freely, willingly and continually choosing to embrace your sin and reject Christ.
Now for the million dollar question for you, the person: “Do you – as a person separated from Christ – do you desire God to give you the Holy Spirit, to cause you to see the beauty of Christ, to enable you to hate your sins and love Christ, to empower you to be the kind of man God created you to be? Do you want God in your life and Christ to be the Lord of your life?”
If you, the lost person, say, “Yes!! I do!! That is precisely what I desire” then we respond to you, “Then ask Christ into your life and He never turns a deaf ear to the sinner who calls to Him.”
But if that lost man says, “NO!! I don’t want Christ. I don’t desire Him in my life.” Then we respond, “Then why in the world are you upset with God. He is leaving you alone. He is doing precisely what you want. He is not giving to you a love for Christ.”
The lost man may respond, “But if I believed what you are saying, then I can’t desire Christ until my sinful, wicked heart is changed so that I can desire Him.” Yes. That’s right. So tell me, do you wish for God to remove the wickedness and sin from your heart, turn it soft toward the things of God, and implan within you the desire for Christ to enable you to choose Him?
If you, a lost person, don’t even desire for God to do the work of removing the wickedness in your life that prevents your from desiring Christ, then why are you blaming God for not giving to you the very thing you REFUSE TO ASK FOR?
But the good news is this. If a lost man, whose heart is hard, and whose mind comprehends his totally inability to see the beauty of Christ, gets on his knees and asks God to remove the wickedness that blinds him, to soften the heart that deceives him about Christ, and to create in him a DESIRE FOR CHRIST – that sinner will be transformed by the power of God, even without voicing ‘the sinner’s prayer.’ There is no formula to this. The Spirit of God moves in power, without constraint and in a variety of ways among His people.
I’d like to give you a final word about your loved ones who do not yet know Christ, and seek to speak to your fears that God may not ever soften their hearts. This is where “the effectual, fervent prayers of a righteous person avails much.” There are some people, particularly loved ones and friends that are blind to Christ. But I believe the Bible teaches that when a child of God prays fervently (which speaks of a burdened heart) for that loved one or family member who is lost, then that lost loved one will effectually and ultimately be saved. The very fact that our Heavenly Father has put the soul of that person as a burden upon our hearts, and the fact that we are praying for that person’s salvation, is all evidence God intends to save. He burdened us to pray for it so we could get in on the rich blessing of seeing a loved one saved, and the reason He doesn’t save that loved one until we fervently and effectually pray is because if He were to save a loved one WITHOUT us praying for it to happen, we might actually think our smooth words, or our great intellect, or our ability to persuade convinced our loved one to choose Christ. Only the Spirit of God has the power to soften a heart and regenerate the sinner.
So, therefore, when sinners are saved – God gets the glory. When sinners die and are condemned – the blame for that condemnation falls on man, not God.
If you say, “But God could regenerate the hearts of every single person that ever lived if He wanted to!”
Yes, He could. And the universalist says he will. But the Bible says He won’t. If you ask me why He doesn’t regenerate the heart of every single fallen human being, I respond like Spurgeon, “What baffles me is not that God has chosen not to redeem every single sinner, but that He has actually chosen to redeem even one.”
Thankfully, He has chosen to redeem “an innumerable company,” a “sea of people,” a vast “kingdom” – including those for whom you pray. I’m not referring to those old Wednesday night prayers that God would save the world (with no particular names of real individuals), but prayers that He would save that person or those people for whom you petition, by name, for God to save. You are His child. You are given the great treasure of pleading with the King to regenerate the hearts of your loved ones. Your heavenly Father will not turn a deaf ear to your petitions.
And, if you are a Christian who has no burden for the lost (but of course I know you do, but now I write for others), then I would urge you to begin praying that God would give you a burden for the lost. Since God is in the business of saving sinners, and since you, His child, are not in the practice of praying for the salvation of specific sinners, then it would seem evident to me that you are not that much involved in your Father’s business.
Thankfully though, I know you are involved in your Father’s business. And those prayers you have been offering up for your kids and family members qualify as having an interest in God’s business of saving sinners. This is why I know your prayers will be answered. God is the one who burdened you with His business in the first place. He always answers the prayers that are prayed that begin in Heaven.
So, when your kids come to the time when they choose Christ, just remember I told you they would, and that the reason they would is because of God – and the evidence I have that He is choosing to save them is the burden their mom has for them.
Hope that helps.