6th Sunday of Easter Proper B6
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 15:9-17 Sermon
May 17, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
311 "Christ For The World We Sing"
493 "There's A Wideness In God's Mercy"
TLH 37 "Lord 'Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee"
392 "More Love To Thee, O Christ"
TEXT (vs. 14-17): "[Jesus said] You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other."
Some years ago when the old LARC School on 84th and Adams Streets closed down, and the People's City Mission was converting it into their Family Shelter, I had the opportunity to work out there. I was employed by Notifier at the time, and my job was to go and revamp the old fire alarm system to make it useable again.
As I was working in one area of the building, there happened to be another gentleman working in the same room. We exchanged pleasantries, and made some idle chatter. Then he asked me a question. He said, "Are you going to heaven when you die?"
Now you have to remember that I was probably barely 20 years old at the time, and admittedly I wasn't as Biblically literate as I should have been, even though I was active in church. I had faith, and I was a Christian, but my answers lacked the certainty and depth they should have. With that in mind, my answer to him was simply, "I certainly hope so."
He immediately responded, "You only hope so? You mean you don't know for sure?" And before I could say anything else, he asked me, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour?"
I responded, "Yes, I'm a Christian, and I believe in Jesus Christ."
But that answer wasn't good enough for him. He made it abundantly clear to me that in order to be saved, a person had to make a decision to accept Jesus Christ into their lives. And furthermore, when that happened, I would know the exact time and date it occurred. And if I didn't know the time and date, then I wasn't really saved. I had not made the decision to accept Jesus into my life, and therefore I would not be going to heaven when I died.
This whole situation left me rather disquieted. I don't think that I was ever more unsure about my salvation than I was that day. I was really questioning as to whether or not I was going to heaven when I died. Had I done something wrong? Was there something that I needed to be doing that I hadn't done? And why hadn't I ever heard about any of this in church before? Why was all of this so foreign to me?
I realize now how important it is for a Christian to be certain of their salvation. That is one of the greatest comforts a Christian has. There is no question mark when it comes to the future of our heavenly home. We can state with all certainty that we are going to heaven when we die. That's the whole reason we have faith in Jesus our Saviour.
But what about all this other stuff? What about the time and date thing? What about this decision I was supposed to make? How in the world would I know whether or not I had really accepted Jesus Christ into my life as my Saviour? How could I replace all these question marks in my life?
The problem here wasn't me, it was that other guy I was talking to. His theology was all messed up. Even though his intentions might have all been good, nevertheless he sowed the seed of doubt into my soul.
As I studied our text for today, which is our Gospel lesson appointed for this Sunday, my thoughts immediately went back the 35 or so years to my encounter with this guy at the old LARC School building, who I can only guess was a Pentecostal preacher of some description.
If we look at verse 16, Jesus says some words that show his whole line of thinking does not square with what the Bible teaches. He says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you..."
This morning, I think it would do us well to examine what we have come to know as "decision theology," and how it all came about. We will discover that not only is decision theology wrong, but it is dangerous as well.
Decision theology is known in theological circles as "synergism." Synergism is actually a combination of two Greek words, "soon" and "ergo." "Soon" means "together or with." It's where we get the English word, "synchronize." And the other word, "ergo" means to work. It's where we get the English word "ergonomic" which is the science of arranging a working environment for efficiency and safety.
Anyway, when "soon" and "ergo" are combined to make "synergism," it simply means to work together for something. In theology, the term is used to describe a sort of cooperation between God and man when it comes to man's salvation. God does his part, and man does his part, and that's the way the synergist believes that man will go to heaven when he dies.
Synergism is nothing new. In fact, it is some very old heresy made popular by two different theologians in two different periods of time.
The first is a man by the name of Pelagius, who lived during the 5th and 6th centuries. Pelagius taught that humans were basically good people, who could find their own way to God, as long as somebody pointed them in the right direction.
Then about a thousand years later, a man by the name of Jacobus Arminius came on the scene. He felt that humans, although not perfect in their goodness, were still righteous enough to choose Jesus on their own, according to their own free will. Arminius believed the soul wasn't perfect, just sick; and the sickness could be cured by accepting Christ just like taking medicine. This is the school of thought behind most of the synergism and decision theology we find so prevalent amongst Christians today.
When we look at what the Bible has to say, we can see just how wrong these two men were. In Ephesians chapter 2 verses 4 and 5, we read: "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." And then Romans chapter 8 verse 7 says: "...the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." And finally in Isaiah chapter 64 verse 6 we read: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
The Bible clearly teaches that accepting Jesus Christ as one's Saviour is not something that a human being does according to their own power, reason, or intellect. God himself creates the faith so this can happen. It's like our text for today says, Jesus chooses us, we do not choose him.
I like to use the illustration of a man drowning in the ocean to show the difference between these three schools of thought. Here's the way this would play out accordingly:
The Pelagian would say, "I was drowning in the ocean; but God came along and pointed the way so I could swim to the shore." The Arminian would say, "I was drowning in the ocean; but God came along and threw me a life preserver. I grabbed on and was saved."
But according to the Bible, the Christian would say, "I had drowned in the ocean and was completely dead. God came along, pulled me out, and brought me back to life."
Some years ago, I was taking a gentlemen through a Bible Information Class. As we were discussing this topic, he made the observation, "How can sinful man make a decision on behalf of a holy God?" And how true that is. According to what God tells us in the Bible, we are completely incapable of making a decision for Christ apart from him and the faith he gives us. We need him to come into our hearts and bring us back to life.
There are two very important passages of Scripture to remember regarding our acceptance of Jesus as our Saviour. The first one is Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no-one can boast." And I Corinthians chapter 12 verse 3b says simply: "...no-one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit."
There are others of course, but these two passages clearly put our conversion in God's hands, and not in ours. The Bible in no way allows for any sort of synergism, because without the Holy Spirit, man is completely incapable of making any sort of decision on his own. And remember what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson for today, "You did not choose me, but I chose you..."
Synergism has been a problem for a long time. And here, as Dr. Martin Luther saw it, was the danger. He says, "It is no longer the Gospel of the sovereign grace of God that we are proclaiming, but the delusion of the sovereignty of man who in the final analysis holds the trump card. It is not a Gospel of revelation but a Gospel of common sense..."
People have often wondered why I don't like the second verse of the hymn "Amazing Grace." It's not because I don't like the hymn, it's because the theology is wrong. The first line goes: "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear..." Grace isn't what taught us to fear, it was God's law. God's grace is shown to us through the Gospel, which is good news. The forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of God's grace. Therefore the next part of the verse is fine: "His grace my fears relieved."
Then we get to the final part of the verse: "How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed." The HOUR I first believed? There we're right back at that "day and time" issue of when a person accepts Jesus as their Saviour and asks him into their heart. That's not good theology at all.
That's why whenever I use Amazing Grace as a hymn, and include the second verse, I always edit it so it reads: "God's law it taught my heart to fear, his grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear, from when I first believed." That straightens out the theology.
Certainly there will be people out there who will remember the time and date that the Holy Spirit brought them to faith in Christ. For example, the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus had a very dramatic conversion. But not everybody will have that kind of conversion. A good example might be Timothy, the young Pastor whom Paul was training. He was brought up in the faith, as Paul writes to him in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 15: "...and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
We are saved because Jesus chose us; we didn't choose him. We are saved because the Holy Spirit worked faith in our hearts. Faith isn't something we make or produce ourselves. Faith is the gift of God himself. We are saved because our faith is firmly planted in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. We come to him dirty with the stain of sin, and he makes us completely clean. His righteousness becomes ours through that faith. Faith in Jesus is what will get us into heaven, and not some sort of personal experience or dramatic conversion. God isn't going to quiz us on the time and date that we accepted Jesus into our lives. True faith is the only thing that matters.
I've often wondered what ever happened to that guy I met that day at the old LARC school. I don't even think he introduced himself. And in 35 years, I have never seen him again. Even though our conversation was very short, it's one that I will never forget.
I've often wished that I would run into him again so I could tell him what God actually says in the Bible. The message he was spreading was one that would lead people to despair, and not to the cross.
In our text for today, Jesus tells us that he has not only chosen us, but he has chosen us for a reason here on earth. We are to love others as he has loved us. We need to show others that our Saviour lives within us in all we say and do. We have a Saviour that doesn't care about times, dates, places, or experiences. The only thing that matters is faith alone, and that's it. That's the faith we live, and the faith we share with the world.
May God bless us as we share our faith with others, as it says in 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 15: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."