“It was all God.” I hear people say that usually in reference to some ministry success or the victory in a person’s own life. I think I generally get the implication of what the person is saying, but the analytical part of my brain starts to tug on my inner theologian’s robe. I start going down the rabbit trail of “Where does the work of the disciple start and where does the work of God end?” If it indeed was, “all God,” then why was any human a part of it at all?
For example, if I go out to a FCA club at Innes Middle school and share the gospel along with personal stories, illustrations and all the while establish trust with the students and some of the students decide to profess their faith in Jesus; could I rightly take credit for their apparent conversion? We know that is not the case since Jesus said
“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and and at the last day I will raise them up (John 6:44, NLT).”
Clearly, God’s participation in an individual’s “coming to Jesus” is necessary. But should I say, “It was all God?” Well, we also know that is not entirely accurate for Paul says in regards to people coming to Jesus,
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent (Romans 10:14-15, NLT)?”
Much more could be said about this partnership of God’s sovereignty and human will and action. I am not saying anything that has not already been written in volumes of books.Suffice it to say I think we would do well to remember that, at least on one level, a person has a will to accept or reject Christ. Not only so, but the disciple of Christ faces daily decisions on whether or not to follow Christ. Leaning too heavily on the perspective of “It’s all God” could improperly cause us to be sloppy in our own efforts, both in evangelism and in our daily devotion to Christ.
We might end up highlighting the grace and sovereignty of God that we disregard the thousands of calls in the Bible to “choose this day,” “live by the spirit, and “reckon yourself dead.” All of those are , again at least on the surface, human choices. Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”
I like to talk about the Christian life by pitting two ways of movement against one another: A train ride and a rowboat. In a train, a passenger needs only to get on one of the cars and plop themself down in a seat. They are not in control of the direction, speed or destination of the trip. It might even be proper to give credit solely to other agents. “It was all the train and the conductor.”
Contrast that with what happens in a rowboat. The direction, speed and destination are very much more in control of the paddler. The writer of the book of Hebrews seems to use this language when he talks about our required effort for holding to the truth of Christ. “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it (Hebrews 2:1, NLT).” Lest we say, “It was all me” in this metaphor, we ought to realize that this boat has a sail that is moved by the Spirit’s wind. How we align our sails to the movement of the winds will propel us in the Lord’s will. Will we set our sails accordingly to the spirit’s promptings or will we leave the sail unfurled as we drift in the under current of the waters? Will we purposefully paddle in the direction we have been called by Christ or will we act as a mere passenger on a pleasure cruise, glancing at our “ticket to heaven.”
The fear in writing concisely about this is that someone may read this and interpret this to say that we must earn our salvation. Please do not hear me saying that. Paul again cuts that possibility off when he says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).” My hope, rather, is to spur any readers and myself on to realize that the Christian life takes work; daily, hourly, hard, sometimes painful, sometimes scary work. My goal is that when (not if) we find ourselves believing the lie that we are merely a passenger on a train, we would wake up and adjust our sail and start rowing again.
“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:12b-13).”