You are heir to a heavenly fortune, the sole beneficiary of an infinite spiritual trust fund, a proverbial goldmine of sacred abundance beyond all common measure or human comprehension. But until you choose to exercise your rightful inheritance of this blessed gift, it will remain unclaimed and forever beyond your reach.” – Anthon St. Maarten
I have grown to loathe what the American political process has become. Endless quibbling, ruthless character assignations, and the lies… my word… the lies. If it were possible, I do believe some of the founders of this once great nation would burst forth from their graves and rebuke the Gypsies, tramps and thieves who are squatting in the various citadels of American Government. I am often embarrassed for my country, and I apologize to the world that this once dazzling beacon of hope and bastion of freedom has become a drifting ship of fools nearly void (at least at the moment) of genuine effective leadership. Sometimes it feels like we are all living a repetitive loop from that old Stealers Wheel classic, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” That’s why, like the ancient Patriarch Abraham, my eyes are ever looking forward to that city with solid foundations of which God himself is both architect and builder.” (Hebrews 11:10)
Similar to politics, religion is also often troubled by foolishness and inconsistency. Much evil has been perpetrated and/or justified in the name of God. But is that the fault of the Almighty? Or is it just the tragic acts of spiritually blind and ill-advised humans? I dare say, God is NOT the problem. Au contraire mon ami, He offers one universal solution – His Amazing Grace. It is the gift worth choosing. Stay tuned.
The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the entire mess of life with one word: GRACE.” – Max Lucado
Does the Master Spirit, the Creator of all things, the Almighty God have a plan to save all of mankind from obliteration, or does He choose some for redemption and predestine others for damnation. Can anyone receive restoration from the Liberator Jesus, or only the chosen few? A subject of considerable debate among Christian theologians appears to center on whether or not our faith in God is a matter of personal choice (free will) or a calling and thus a gift bestowed arbitrarily (a sovereign act of the Almighty).
Let’s talk about it.
Faith as a Choice
Some people say that faith in God is entirely a matter of personal choice (a sole act of the human “free will”). They quote scriptures like Deuteronomy 30:19-20 where Moses called upon the people of ancient Israel to make a choice. He admonished the wayward Israelites to choose life over death and blessings over curses by making a decision to love and obey Jehovah:
19“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 20 You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Later, after the leadership of Israel passes to Joshua from Moses, notice how Joshua continues to urge the indecisive people of Israel:
15“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord (we serve Jehovah).” (Joshua 24:15 – NLT)
Based on this dress-down, it certainly would appear that faith is indeed a choice. Joshua compels the people to “choose today whom you will serve.” And, he makes it quite clear that his family has chosen to serve Jehovah.
In the Newer Testament the Liberator Jesus said it this way,
4“Take care to live in me, and let me live in you. For a branch can’t produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me.” (John 15:4 NLT)
So again, it appears we have a choice. If we choose to follow Jesus (live in Him), He remains in an on-going and indwelling relationship within us. In fact, we are told that this cooperative connection is a prerequisite for a living a fruitful life.
Faith as a Gift
Flip over the coin and there you’ll find those people who would say that we do not choose to follow God. They reason that we are already chosen by His sovereign will. For them, our rescue from eternal damnation is strictly a matter of election and therefore a sovereign gift. God chooses us and we have nothing to do with the process. They quote scriptures like Deuteronomy 7:6,
6“For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.”
Or, they might quote the ancient prophetic writer Isaiah who was an oracle to the people of Israel:
1“But now listen, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. 2 This is what the Lord Who made you, Who put you together before you were born, Who will help you, says, ‘Do not be afraid, O Jacob My servant, and you Jeshurun (Israel) whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 44:1-2 – NLV)
And then there are these words from the lips of the Liberator Jesus:
16“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” (John 15:16 – NLV)
So, did the Israelites choose God or did God choose the Israelites? And in this, the Newer Testament era, do we choose God or does He choose us?
Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people choose to withdraw from the gift of God.” – Augustine
FAITH: Choice and Gift
After considering all of these verses (and many, many others), it would appear that faith in God is both a gift and a choice. I know what you might be thinking, “isn’t that a contradiction?” Not necessarily; a bit perplexing, perhaps, but not conflicting.
Let me explain. Have you ever been in love? Did you choose to fall in love? Did you say to yourself, “Tonight I think I’ll go out somewhere and fall in love?” Sure enough, someone just comes up to you and says, “Hello” (Cue the music and sweet little birds chirping) and, SHAZAM – You fall madly and hopelessly in love!”
Sorry, it does not work like that; you do not choose to fall in love. Be it the right day, wrong day, good timing or bad – It just happens. Some say, it’s all in the chemistry. Think of falling in love as an unexpected gift.
But there is also choice involved in love relationships. We make a choice to pursue the spontaneous spark of “falling in love” to its logical conclusion – a meaningful relationship. The conjugal union does not just happen to you. A lifetime of exclusive love and devotion to another person is the result of a decision (choice).
It’s not the law of religion nor the principles of morality that define our highways and pathways to God; only by the Grace of God are we led and drawn, to God. It is His grace that conquers a multitude of flaws and in that grace, there is only favor. Favor is not achieved; favor is received by choice.” – C. JoyBell C.
And so the great debate: Is our redemption the result of the sovereignty of God alone or do we exercise our own free will and choose to follow Him? What if the answer is BOTH? Could faith in God involve both a gift and a choice?
Faith is a gift because God choose us before we choose Him. As recipients of this gift of amazing grace (again, His sovereignty), we lose all bragging rights. The New Testament writer Paul said,
8”God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 – NLT)
Since we did nothing to deserve it, we cannot sing our own praises. There remains but one reaction – gratefulness – as we awaken to the consciousness that an eternal life of joy and peace await us in another world when the illusion of time is no more.
Faith is a choice because we alone are accountable for our individual and unique relationship with God. Hypocritical Christians, corrupt clergy or a bad church experience is no excuse to walk away. Jesus said, “Live in me.” Accepting what Jesus offers you is an on-going personal responsibility. Our choice to follow Him is reaffirmed daily.
So, to believe in God involves absolute trust. Our faith (absolute trust) is both a choice and a gift. Failure to understand that faith is a choice will lead to self-righteousness. But, if we forget that faith in God begins as a gift, we will live in fear; trying to earn the Divine blessings instead of joyously accepting what God freely gives to us when we believe.
And that brings me back to God’s universal solution – His Amazing Grace. In the words of the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725-1807):
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the vail, a life of joy and peace.
Today, by His Amazing Grace, God freely offers you forgiveness and redemption, regardless of any wickedness committed in your life. The Creator of all things is full of compassion. In fact, there is no end to His mercy.
So I say, AMEN to the God who has chosen me to be His own for eternity.
And I say, AMEN to Jesus the great Liberator whom I choose to follow all of my days.
What about you? Will you say AMEN? The key to a prosperous life is found in both the Gift and the Choice.
Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. Accept the gift that God is offering to you and choose life. To do so is wise indeed.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656