I recently received the following e-mail from someone who is a member at Westside. They asked a great question! While I acknowledge the mystery of this topic and that there is an apparent tension (tug-o-war?) in dealing with this issue (I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on the answer), let me share the question and then my thoughts and some Scripture.
Pastor Matt, You have made a point in a couple of sermons recently I was hoping you could give me some clarification on. You first mentioned it in “Follow Jesus – Others Are Watching” and then again today. Could you please clarify what you mean by our actions as believers being a hindrance to God’s calling of others to salvation? Thanks!
There is MUCH that could be said about the call of God to salvation but let me share a few that are relevant to this discussion:
- God begins the work of salvation and we only respond to it (see John 6:44).
- God guarantees that the work He starts will definitely be completed (see Philippians 1:3-6).
- Yet, in some mysterious way, every person is ultimately responsible for their own decision to believe in and submit to Jesus. Anyone that ends up in Hell will not be there because God did or did not choose them – they will end up there because they chose not to believe in Jesus (see John 3:18).
So, with God’s sovereign (absolute) control over His creation, is it possible for someone to thwart God’s plan to save a sinner? Is it possible for someone who God is calling to salvation (who is not yet saved) to “fall from grace” and spend eternity in Hell? Readily acknowledging that this is a mystery, let me share my thoughts and some Scripture that I base them upon.
In my recent sermon, “Follow Jesus – Others Are Watching,” I elaborated on the truth of Hebrews 13:14-15ff. (To view the sermon, click here.)
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…” (Hebrews 13:14-15)
If the “holiness” in Hebrews 13:14 that we are told to “strive for” is required to see the Lord, then this is preaching a works-based salvation. If we have to work for holiness to get to Heaven, that flies in the face of all of the talk about grace in the New Testament (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
So, what does that verse mean? In my sermon, I said that I believed it talked about the necessity placed upon us to pursue holiness so that OTHERS could see the Lord. When we say that we are saved and live the life of holiness that God has called us to (in spite of our daily need to fall on our knees and ask for God’s cleansing from sin), we demonstrate for a watching world that Jesus really does make a difference – they will see Jesus in us.
Further, the very next verse (Hebrews 13:15) warns that some could “fail to obtain the grace of God.” In the context, this seems to state that in pursuing holiness, we demonstrate for a lost world that Jesus makes a difference and the people that God is calling to Himself will come to Him … and not fall away. (We’re not talking about losing salvation here. That is a biblical impossibility. We’re talking about people who are being drawn to the Lord coming to a point before they are saved where they fall away from the grace God is holding out to them.)
“I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Let me take you to just one more place in Scripture where we realize that our walk with Jesus isn’t simply a personal thing. People are watching and some may reject Christ because they may see us and erroneously believe that Jesus doesn’t make a true difference in the life of a “believer.”
Listen as the Apostle Paul writes to the professing Christians in Rome. Listen as he rebukes them for living in a way that contradicts their message. And then listen as he concludes with how the lost world responds…
“You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” (Romans 2:21-24)
(Even though this is directed at Jews who were relying upon the Law but were breaking it, the message is transferable to us.) In other words, when we say that Jesus has saved us and that He has called us to holiness, our actions had better match our words or the lost world will mock the notion that there is a God and that He makes any difference in the lives of those who follow Him.
In conclusion, will we sin. Absolutely! In this same letter to Rome, Paul acknowledged that he was often frustrated at his inability to fully follow Jesus (see Romans 7). He desired to live in the truth of Romans 8, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to live in full surrender to the Lord and enjoy Him more.
For the purposes of the point I am making, a lost world is watching. If we fail to show that Jesus makes a difference, why would they give their lives to Him?
“You’re the only Jesus
some will ever see
And you’re the only words of life,
some will ever read
So let them see in you
the One in whom
is all they’ll ever need
‘Cause you’re the only Jesus,
some will ever see.”
– The Imperials