Are Christians smarter than non-Christians?
When a Christian is saved and receives the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the entire Bible begins to make sense. We’re amazed that non-Christians don’t understand, and we may even think that we’re smarter than they are because we figured it out. However, Christians are not saved by intellectual arguments and scientific evidence, but instead by the sharing of the gospel. After all, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
So why is it that two people can hear the same gospel presentation, but only one gets saved? We know that non-Christians choose to “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18), and that’s exactly what Christians did before being saved. The difference is that God chose to save us:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
It’s not that Christians figured out the gospel or that we made the right decision, but rather that God gave us grace and faith as a gift. Since we didn’t do anything to earn the free gift of salvation, we can’t boast. In fact, we have pity for non-Christians because God may never give that same gift to them.
Salvation only comes to God’s chosen people
The Doctrine of Election says that if God has elected us to be part of His chosen people, then we will repent and put our faith in Jesus for salvation. The inverse of that statement is also true: if God has not elected us to be part of His chosen people, then we will not repent and put our faith in Jesus for salvation. According to Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 17:8, the names of the elect were already written in the Lamb’s book of life from the creation of the world. That means that God decided long before we were even born whether He wanted to save us or not, and it also means that we have no control over our own salvation.
The Bible contains many verses that support this doctrine, and these are just a few:
- “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)
- “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)
- “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:9)
- “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls.” (Romans 9:11-12)
- “‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.’” (John 6:37-39)
- “‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.'” (John 6:44)
- “He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’” (John 6:65)
Why can’t we just save ourselves? Why do we need God to save us?
According to Romans 5:12, Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden cursed them with a sin nature which has spread to all of humanity ever since. According to Psalm 51:5, we inherit that sin nature from conception. As a result, Ephesians 2:1 says that we’re all dead in transgressions and sin. As Pastor Chris Rosebrough likes to point out, the meaning of “dead” in this verse means all dead and not mostly dead like in “The Princess Bride.”
So now that we know that everyone is dead in sin from conception, verses like these make sense:
- “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” (Romans 1:21)
- “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)
- “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7)
Since we are all born sinners, we will never choose on our own to repent and put our faith in Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. We need God to give us the free gifts of grace and faith so that we can see ourselves as God sees us and experience Godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). God must choose us first before we can choose him:
“I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20)
Why doesn’t God choose to save everyone then?
Paul addressed this very question in his letter to the church in Rome:
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”‘ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14-24)
We have to remember that non-Christians don’t go to Hell because God has predestined them to go there–that is referred to as double predestination, and it is unbiblical. When it says in verse 22 that some were prepared for destruction, it wasn’t God that was preparing them for destruction, it was the sinners themselves who chose to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Non-Christians go to Hell because they have offended a holy and righteous God who punishes sin. The better question to ask then is, “Why does God choose to save anyone?” God would be perfectly just in sending all people to Hell because that’s what we deserve. The fact that He chooses to save even one person makes Him infinitely kind and merciful, especially when you consider that it was God Himself who volunteered to take the punishment that we deserve.
God’s glory is the ultimate goal
The fact is that God could have chosen to save everyone, but He only chose to save a few (Matthew 7:13-14). Doesn’t that fact contradict these verses?
- “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
- “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
This is not a contradiction, and the reason is found in the passage above from Romans 9. God allows some people to be objects of His wrath to serve as an example to those whom He has prepared in advance for glory. We who are saved will see the punishment that we deserved, and we give God glory and praise for His mercy on us. So although God wants all people to be saved, His desire for glory is even greater:
- “‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’” (Isaiah 43:6-7)
- “‘And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.’” (Exodus 14:4)
- “You have enlarged the nation, Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.” (Isaiah 26:15)
- “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” (1 John 2:12)
And no, God’s desire for glory does not make Him a megalomaniac because He does not have an overinflated sense of power and importance. He is infinite in power and holiness, and therefore He alone is worthy of glory above all else:
- “‘I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.’” (Isaiah 42:8)
- “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:11)
- “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:4)
Doesn’t God’s choice affect our free will?
Humans are born with a sin nature, and we cannot choose to follow God because that goes against our sin nature. Paul writes in Romans 6 that we are born into bondage because we are slaves to sin. However, the process of being born again means that we are granted our freedom from sin’s power over us, and we become slaves to righteousness:
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23)
Maybe God’s choice is based on his knowledge of the future.
God is omniscient and outside of time and space, so what if He can somehow look at each individual and play out an infinite number of scenarios to see how each person would react? If that were the case, then maybe God could test each person to find out whether they would choose to repent under the right circumstances, and maybe God’s choice of who to save is based on that knowledge of who would choose him if given the right conditions.
We humans value our free will and our freedom above all else, so I understand the desire to look for a loophole in the Doctrine of Election. We want to know that our salvation is in our hands and that we have some level of control. However, if God’s choice were somehow based on something that we would do under the right circumstances, then that would give us something to boast about. We cannot take any credit for saving ourselves, and therefore God gets all the credit for being so kind and merciful and His glory increases.
What is our role?
Although no one is saved unless God has chosen them, He still wants us to play a part in His plan for salvation. God instructs Christians to evangelize:
- “‘And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.'” (Mark 13:10)
- “‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations'” (Luke 24:47)
- “‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'” (Matthew 28:19-20)
- “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:13-14)
We can’t mess up the words
The good news is that we don’t have to worry about whether we will say the right words or not. Certainly we should prepare ourselves as best we can by studying God’s word, but when the time comes for us to share the gospel, it will not be our words, but the Holy Spirit speaking through us. (Mark 13:11 and Luke 12:12) We don’t have to second-guess whether we could have done a better job, because as long as we are obediently sharing the gospel, God will do the saving. (1 Corinthians 3:6) That takes all the pressure off of us.
We don’t have to feel guilty
Also, we feel pity for anyone who dies in their sins without being born again. It’s always possible that someone could be saved in the final moments of their life without us knowing. But if we believe that someone was not saved before dying, we should not feel guilty because we know that it is God’s sovereign choice over who will be saved. We just keep obediently sharing the gospel as best we can and leave the rest up to God.
What is the role of the church?
In the first Christian church, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) Therefore, we should also follow that model in our local congregations.
Likewise, the primary job of a church pastor is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
The pastor is to disciple the born again Christians in his congregation so they grow in knowledge of God’s word and mature spiritually. Then, they will be ready to go out and share the gospel to convert new Christians and bring them into church to get discipled, and the whole cycle continues.
What happens when a church doesn’t believe in the Doctrine of Election?
Churches that don’t believe in the Doctrine of Election will adopt a seeker-sensitive style of service in an attempt to attract unbelievers into attending. The thought is that if the church can keep unbelievers around for long enough to get comfortable, then they will eventually make the right decision to follow Jesus. These seeker sensitive churches tend to be some of the largest and fastest growing congregations around, which they believe is evidence that their method is working.
Besides the fact that this is not a Biblical approach to church, I have several practical problems with this style of service:
- The people in the congregation get lazier in their evangelism (I fully acknowledge that I too struggle in this area). When people are out actively sharing the gospel message, they hear every kind of argument against Christianity. They have to study apologetics to stay strong in their faith, and the result is that they get a very deep knowledge of Biblical doctrine. Admittedly, it is much easier for a new Christian to just invite a nonbeliever to come to church with them, so in that sense the seeker sensitive style of church lowers the bar to be able to engage in evangelism. However, as someone matures as a Christian, they ought to be able to be more bold in sharing their faith.
- The pastor’s preaching stays very shallow. With a steady influx of unbelievers coming each week, the pastor feels the pressure to keep the preaching at a very high level so as not to lose the new people. As a result, the people who have been coming for a long time tend to get bored hearing the same messages. Inevitably, they will complain to the pastor that they want to go deeper into Bible study, and they will receive one of three answers: a) attend the pastor’s Wednesday night Bible study; b) conduct your own Bible study in your small group; or c) the service is for the new people, not for you. The problem with a is that the veteran church members’ schedule may not allow them to attend the Wednesday night study. The problem with b is that the people teaching in small group are typically not trained in seminary and may lead their group astray. And unfortunately, the larger the church gets, the more likely it is that c is the response given to veteran church members.
- The reasons that attracted an unbeliever is the only thing keeping them around. If the pastor promised a better life, a better marriage, more well-behaved kids, better relationships, better sex, better health, or greater wealth, then those are the only reasons why an unbeliever would stick around. The Bible doesn’t promise any of those things, and once the unbelievers realize that these were false promises, they will stop coming. The same holds true for unbelievers that show up for a lively Christmas performance–once they realize that the regular services are just a normal sermon rather than a laser light show, they will leave.
- This is a very expensive way to run a church. All these incredible light displays, first-class musical instruments and sound systems, and crazy publicity stunts cost a fortune. The result is that a lot of pressure and guilt is put on the congregation to increase their giving.
- The pastor becomes more of a leader or manager than a shepherd. The congregation grows so big that he cannot possibly minister to everyone, so he hires a huge staff of assistant pastors or looks to untrained volunteers to fill the gap. Either the church budget balloons from all the extra salaries, or the people ministering to the congregation start teaching bad theology as a result of their inexperience.
- The congregation is filled with false converts. The pastor may choose to steer clear of preaching anything about the need for repentance and faith in Jesus because he doesn’t want to offend the unbelievers by calling out their sins or scaring them with the possibility of going to Hell. Instead, he’ll tell them something less forceful such as: “Make a decision to put God first.” He will emphasize a “God encounter” or “entering a relationship with God” without explaining Biblical repentance enough to get people saved. The result is that the congregation may be growing in numbers of people, but none of those people will ever get saved by listening to the high-level fluffy style of preaching week after week.
Don’t misunderstand me. I see nothing wrong with trying to make the church service comfortable and fun, but there has to be a balance. We can’t lower the bar so much that we forget about our mission to minister to the believers already in the congregation.