Human Effort or Divine Sovereignty?


We know Jesus has sent us as his disciples into the world to make more disciples. But the world is asking us a question about this mission: Can our message and our God be trusted? Is the offer of God’s grace—that we can know Christ; be saved from the consequences of our sin; and gain eternal life in God—really legitimate?

At heart, Christians believe we serve a God who is just, righteous, and holy. But some presentations of God portray him as uncaring and even content to consign large portions of humanity to condemnation. Or they emphasize a God whose will is done regardless of human choice. Is there a way to think of God and his plan that emphasizes human responsibility while acknowledging our desperate need for a Savior?

Admittedly there is an element of mystery in all of this, and I don’t claim to have solved this question. Regardless of our particular theological position on human choice and free will, at some level we must all acknowledge that our choices do matter. We may never get any closer to knowing the ultimate answer to this dilemma (which resides in God alone). But as a practical matter when making disciples, we must act and live as if our choices are real choices and that we are ultimately responsible for what we say and do. On this all can agree—whether Calvinist or Arminian. Even the most ardent disciples of determinism knows that they must choose to get out of bed, choose to wear certain clothes, choose to eat some kind of food, and even choose to possess a particular attitude. We all pray to God to help us make our decisions, but we know that our decisions are not made for us. We are responsible for them.

God’s heart is revealed in the truth that he wants all to come to repentance and be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore the fact that many will not be saved says more about the depravity of human sin than it does about the nature of God. God takes our decisions seriously. The price of our choice to reject God is the evil of sin. But we can also choose to repent and obey God and enjoy the blessings of engaging in relationship with our Creator. We can truly love and be loved. As Thomas Aquinas said, “God causes and moves our will, and yet without the will ceasing to be free.”*

As you make disciples, don’t fall for the extremes. On the one hand is the mistake of thinking that our salvation is entirely up to us, completely dependent on our knowledge, our will, and our choices. But salvation is always by grace—the undeserved gift of God. On the other hand is the wrong thinking that since everything is predetermined, our choices no longer matter. But our choices matter because God has chosen to bring his gospel to the world through us and has given us the responsibility of making disciples. There is no plan B. We must choose to walk in dependence upon God each day, relying upon his grace and working strenuously to making disciples who make disciples.

*Quoted in Brian Davies, The Thoughts of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 267.

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This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.

Image credit: Unsplash.