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Living in the Tension

By Pastor Chad

In my message this Sunday, I addressed a long standing dilemma within the Christian community: How do we reconcile the sovereignty of God and human freedom/responsibility? Just to be clear: I did not solve the problem. In fact, I didn’t even attempt to give a solution to the tension between the two. 

We discussed John 12:36b-43. In verse 40, John is quoting Isaiah 6:10 when he highlights, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” So wait! Is John saying that the reason many in the crowd did not believe in Jesus is because God prevented them from believing by spiritually blinding them and hardening their hearts? Yes, I think that’s exactly what John is claiming. Notice the last part of verse 40 claims that if the crowd did “see” and “understand with their hearts,” God would heal them. So why aren’t they seeing and understanding?  The passage seems to be saying that they did not believe because of some intentional and direct action by God.

This probably makes many uncomfortable. How can this be? I thought God loved everyone? I thought God wanted everyone to come to Him? Why would He prevent people from turning to Him? In the end, this is something God determines based upon His own divine prerogative.  

My stance is really quite simple. God is completely sovereign over all of creation (including our salvation), and we are held responsible for our actions, decisions, words, etc. I think Scripture attests to both of these–and historically, Christians have held both of these. There are some who will jettison one or the other because they believe that both cannot be true. Personally, I’m not sure how the two are reconciled, but since Scripture affirms both of these, I believe it is incumbent upon the Christian to hold both. Do the two contradict one another? If Scripture is true, and declares that both of these are true, then we must assume the two are somehow compatible. Philosophers and theologians have worked out various possible answers to the dilemma, but there is no Christian consensus. I honestly enjoy simply living in the tension. 

So does that mean if someone doesn’t come to God they did not receive the same grace Christians did? No, that isn’t necessarily the case. We must avoid putting God into our neat theological boxes. God is God. We are not. There are many Christian doctrines that we hold in tension to one another. For example, Jesus is true man and true God. How does that work? It is a mysterious union. The same is true for this issue. 

Does God’s sovereignty mean I am not held responsible for the things I do? No, again, I think Scripture claims we have human freedom. If I sin, it is not God’s fault, it is my own. But I need God’s grace to avoid sin. And God gives His grace so that we may come to Him. It is generally said: If I sin, it is my fault; and if I am obedient, it is due to the grace of God.

My encouragement here is: Camp out with me in the tension. It really isn’t so bad. It not only gives us a lot to think about, but it takes a lot of weight off of our shoulders.   

To hear the full sermon, click here.


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