Why We Must Consent To Salvation

imagesMany atheists reject Christianity because of what they see as a profound unfairness. Why would a loving God, they ask, throw someone in Hell for eternity for a relatively minor sin? The punishment, they conclude, does not fit the crime.

For the modern skeptic, there is a certain irony in this challenge. After all, our culture extols individualism and the freedom of individual expression. Whether it’s the call for “less government” or the demand for greater sexual freedom, we find ourselves ensconced in an “age of consent,” in which giving expression to our choice is all that really matters. The abortion industry has made amazing use of this theme, deploying the euphemism “pro choice” to dress up a barbaric act that runs counter to a mother’s basic human nature. Everywhere we look, the desire to give free reign to our “free will” is a driving force. The corollary, of course, is that we should not be forced to do something which is against our will.

Christianity teaches that this free will we so highly prize was designed into us by God, and this view is  seems to coincide with our own personal experience. After all, I know that I am me, and I know that I have a set of desires whose fulfillment I seek. I know also that there are many things I wish to avoid. While not strictly speaking a “thing,” God too is either an object of my will, someone I am moving towards, or someone I am trying to avoid. Either I find within my will the desire to better know him and in so knowing, to worship him; or I wish to run from him, evade him as best I can, all the while convincing myself that he is not really there. In short, two choices appear before me: to bend my knee to God, or to seek to be God, replacing worship of him with worship of self.

Having made us free to reject him, God knew that many would do just that. He could have overwhelmed us with his power, forcing us on our faces in worship. Or he could simply abandon us for our acts of rebellion. Instead, he chose a means to reunite with us, to prepare us to spend eternity with him. But in our present form, we are not yet ready. Like a sickness that calls for quarantine from those who are healthy, God will not – indeed, his nature cannot – allow us back into his presence unless he first perfects us, until he first deals with the requirements of justice.

But there is a problem. God will not do this against our will. We must assent. And so he provides us with the means to assent, by giving us enough evidence of him, enough basic knowledge, to know that he is there, and to know something of his nature. But he does not overwhelm us. He shields much of himself from us, because we are not capable in our present from of reunion with him, so that the choice we ultimately make is both informed and fair. Our own love of “fairness” and of justice, coupled with what reason tells us about the necessary existence of God, these things will testify against us when we one day stand before him.

Consider: if I am ill, a skilled surgeon’s examination may reveal what steps she can take to make me whole again, to allow me to resume a healthy life. But she cannot force me to undergo the procedure, even if she knows with certainty that my refusal to act with lead to death. No law, moral or legislative, gives her such power. Instead, she must obtain my “informed consent.” With that consent, she can to this work in me that only she has the power to complete. Alone, I can do nothing, I cannot save myself. But without my consent, neither can she, regardless of how much power or skill she may possess.

So it is with God. He does not punish us for refusing to “believe” or refusing to accept Jesus’ sacrifice. When skeptics claim this, they demonstrate that they do not understand what Christianity actually teaches. No, God punishes us with separation from himself because that is what our rebellion has earned us. It is the just consequence of our choice. That it is eternal, and that it involves torment, are a consequence of the nature of reality.

Those who direct their will against God do not want union with Him. They want separation from Him. There is nothing unfair in this outcome, just as the patient who dies rather than undergo the operation that could save him cannot blame the surgeon whose touch he refused. In matters spiritual and eternal, a surgeon cannot help. But Jesus can. He has the power to heal us of our present imperfections and to conform our will to what we desire – reunion with God. But, like the doctor, he will only act if we first give him consent.

The skeptic who so highly prizes free will should not object when he finds that God feels much the same way. But this is punishment, and punishment is unfair, he will nonetheless contend. But what would he have God do? Force the unbeliever to spend eternity with Him against his will? Force him to love God by stripping away his freedom, while in his heart he wants only to go on defying God? Force God to reward those who defy Him, even if that is not what God wills? Even if it would cause God to violate his own nature?

Does the skeptic not see that he is speaking a contradiction?

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. N says:

    You write that we (the created) must assent to God having anything to do with our lives; we must ‘assent’ to Jesus cleansing us of our sins; that it’s the creature’s choice, not the Creator’s. To my mind, this is saying that the creature is more powerful than the Creator, yet Isaiah 29:16 and Romans 9:21 both tell us that the ‘clay’ is not more powerful than the ‘potter’.

    In Romans 3, Paul quotes Isaiah and says ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God‘ (verse 10B-11), yet you write that man actually can seek God; in fact, he must seek God, otherwise God won’t bother with him.

    Would you be so kind as to comment; I’m seriously interested in your take on this.

    • Al says:

      Nate, the problem with 1000 word essays is that they always leave a lot unsaid. My point in writing was to say that God does not force us to accept him. To respond to your specific questions: I’m not saying that we must assent to God having anything to do with our lives. That would be too broad a formulation. God has many things he does/will do whether or not we consent. My point is limited to the question of salvation. I’m also not saying that the creature is more powerful than the Creator, any more than that the patient who refuses surgery is more “powerful” than the surgeon. God has the power to change us against our will; he does not will that, however. Therefore, this is not a question of power. I agree with the passages you cite. I would say that God reaches out to us first; he initiates relationship with us. He gives us sufficient grace and knowledge for us to respond to him; to “assent” to his gift, but not so much that he overrides our will. Thus, when we “seek” God we are responding to the grace he has provided. He remains the motivating source. We, in our corrupted state, are not able to pursue God or to initiate a relationship with him. So, when I speak of man “seeking” God, I am referring to those who respond to God’s grace.

      I hope that clears up my position. Please email me at al@pleaseconvinceme.com if you would like to discuss this further. Thanks.

      • N says:

        When I read the article, I thought, You know, that doesn’t sound like the stuff Al’s written before…and I can understand the ‘too-few-words-to-adequately-explain’ difficulty. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. MG says:

    I found your website after searching for a discussion on what it says that Jesus was worshipped. I have recently had this discussion with some Jehovah’s Witnesses and wanted some more detailed information to present them the next time I encounter them at my door. Thank you for your help on this. I also purchased Mr. Wallace’s book a while back and hope to get after it during my Christmas break. However, I wanted to comment that this article about assenting to salvation is troublesome to me, as one who worships the Trinity in the Lutheran tradition. A key Scripture passage for me in this regard is Ephesians 2:1-10, in which Paul speaks of the unsaved (which is all of us prior to our rebirth via the Holy Spirit into a saving faith in Christ) as dead in their transgressions and sins- not sick, not disabled, but dead. And a dead person, unlike a sick person, can do nothing of his or her own volition. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5 NIV84) This would seem to say that we really have nothing to do with our salvation, any more than we had anything to do with our physical birth, that it is all a work of God’s grace on our behalf. Of course, after our rebirth and adoption into God’s family, we very much have work to do, but that is sanctification, not salvation.

    • Al says:

      Matthew, if I accept that passage as meaning that I have no say worshiping God, then I would have to conclude that free will is a fiction. But if this is the case, there would be no Great Commission. There would be no need to present the gospels because the saving work would be done to us whether we assented or not. I think looking at the Scripture as a whole, your view and mine can be reconciled in the sense that God still does all the work of salvation, including initiating contact with us and giving us the power to respond. But since we are talking about love, there has to be an element of assent by us or we would be nothing more than robots.

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