“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom —” – D.A. Carson
I’m an unnatural man, and I hope my life shows it.
At least, that’s I try to be. How else can I explain some of the life-changing and seemingly radical decisions I’ve made over the years, or some of the things I say “no” to when everything in me screams “say yes?” How else can I make sense of the fact that already today, while the day’s still young, I’ve resisted some thoughts and actions that would have come so naturally to me, and I feel great about that? Or the fact that – sorry to admit it – I‘ve also said “yes” to other thoughts and actions that also came naturally, leaving me feeling rotten.
What a life we live as believers in this decaying world, within these carcasses housing both the flesh and the Spirit! Feeling good saying no to what comes naturally; feeling lousy saying yes to basic impulses, with what comes naturally being on the To Not Do list, making the natural immoral and the moral unnatural. Like I said, what a life.
So I say Amen to Carson’s point in the quote above: we don’t naturally drift towards holiness. We’re not by nature prayer warriors, scripture verse meditators, flesh crucifiers. Let yourself go in the direction you’re most naturally inclined towards and I’ll bet good money none of those three will be on your route. So if we’re ever to live in holiness, it will be by the work of grace in us, inspired and provided by God, enacted and driven by the Holy Spirit’s work, mediated and shepherded by our Great High Priest Jesus.
And, of course, it will also be because we said “yes” to that work. After all, we have the choice to live for the old or the new nature, and free will, whether a burden or blessing, will always be intact. We have a say in whether or not we live holy lives.
Then again, I’m reminded of what Paul told the Philippians:
“For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
That is, even my will to do His pleasure is a result of His work in me, so when I make the right choice it’s ultimately because He gave me the right desire.
I don’t fully get that and, in fact, I wrestle with two seemingly contradictory truths, both of which I fully believe: We have the choice to say yes or no to God and His will in our lives, yet even our willingness to say yes is ultimately given us by Him, so was it ever really a free will choice?
Dunno. Maybe when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ we’ll find we never really had a choice, because we were foreknown, chosen, and predestined (Romans 8:29) so it was all marked out for us; no real choice involved. Or maybe we’ll see with infinite gratitude that we miraculously chose Him over self and could, in fact, have refused Him had we so chosen.
But then again, I remember Chuck Smith, my first pastor and favorite bible teacher, expounding on what Jesus said in Matthew 22:14: “Many are called but few are chosen.” He pointed out what a mental dilemma that scripture poses, and how many rail against it. “Seems unfair!” he said, “and lots of people agonize over that. Are we predetermined to be saved and nothing can stop it, or likewise predetermined to be damned? Is it fair for God to say ‘This one’s in; this one’s out’?”
The he flashed that beautiful Chuck Smith grin and said, “I’ve given up trying to figure predestination out. I just like to revel in it.”
And why not? If I was chosen, whether I had a lot, some or nothing to do with it, praise God. And if I by His grace drift against the tide towards a holier life, all the more praise to the One who implants submission in a rebel’s heart. That, whether I get it or not, is something to revel in.
So I hope to always, in this world at least, be unnatural. The tide goes where I’m forbidden to even glance, yet without divine power I’ll drift there. (Drift? Heck, I’ll crawl stroke!) So when that power shows itself I appreciate His grace and remember His decisive, even aggressive statement of ownership when He declared, regarding his own:
“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)