Two of my best friends in high school, into college, were atheists. They still are to this day to the best of my knowledge.l These were two guys I loved. We laughed together. I doubt we ever cried together, but we certainly expressed our general teenage angst. I was a nominal methodist who had been saved after saying a prayer when I was nine. They were avowed atheists, with those certain arguments that every atheist has towards the Christian faith. It never bothered me much though. I was not sold that they would go to hell. Certainly, I wished they would come to church, but it wasn’t a point of contention. We had the same fundamental worldview. We loved the same things, or should I say thing: sin. We al found our identity in girls and whenever that didn’t seem to work out (which it never did) we all sought refuge in alcohol and self reflection that generally entailed wondering why no one saw how great we all really were.
Then, I got saved. In the midst of my self-deception, God saved me. Fully convinced that I was righteous, I had committed to live a double life. I would work at a Christian camp during the week and party during the weekends. Even the girl that had gave my world its shape looked to finally be coming around. In short, I was getting everything I thought I wanted. Sin. But in God’s providence, while skipping work I might add, I heard the gospel on accident. My new friend (now best friend) was struggling mightily with sexual sin and my other new friend was applying the gospel to his sin problem. They didn’t even know I was listening. I am not sure why I was listening. But I was, and God saved me. I woke up the next day a completely different person.
And I wasn’t the only one who noticed. My mom said that she had lost her son. Those Christians whom I was around after coming to Christ noted that now they actually could stand to be around me. I wasn’t as arrogant. I loved the Bible. I didn’t know it quite yet, but I had been saved out of my hypocrisy. My two atheist friends and I both knew something was different. I remember going to hang out with them again right after I had been saved. That short time was torture to my new heart of flesh. They hated God and loved sin. They had not changed. But I had. The things that I once indulged in were repulsive to me. I never really hung out with them again. I couldn’t. I was too weak, the thought of returning to my old life too much to bear.
I remember talking to my new brothers and sisters about these two guys. They were still in sin and on the road to perdition. Their lives were marked by pride. As I was beginning to see, sin at its root is idolatry. Idolatry and pride are nearly indistinguishable. Man has chosen to worship himself rather than God. Instead of taking God at His Word and fall on our faces, we have tried to spit in His face. These men were so arrogant. I remember saying as much to my new friends. It even came to the point that I said something that makes me shiver, even now. I said, “They are so arrogant, I don’t think they will ever change.”
In this we see the practical difference between so-called Calvinism and Arminianism. I wasn’t always Reformed, you know. I too thought that I had a decisive role in my salvation even if my testimony screamed the opposite. See, I had diagnosed their problem correctly. But I had not taken into account my own sin. I could see no way they could possibly humbled themselves as I had and come to Christ in faith. What arrogance! In some sense, my sin was greater than theirs. I doubt I ever heard the true gospel, but I acted as if I represented Christ. I made it known that I was a Christian and yet my life looked no different than any other person. There is no telling how many people have blasphemed God on account of my false witness. I pray that God would allow those people to see my story of what it is; not moral reformation, but resurrection.
I heard my favorite hymn for the first time about two months ago at a Sunday night service at my church here in Louisville. If you had asked me before that night it would have been hard to put my finger on what my favorite hymn was. But that night the contest was won. The song is called “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place,” written by Isaac Watts. The verse that has caused the deepest worship in my soul goes like this:
Why was I made to hear thy voice?
and enter while there’s room.
When thousands make the wretched choice,
And rather starve than come
There is a peculiar joy in seeing your sin as it really is. Perhaps, we seem a bit morbid. But the truth is that we can never think our sin bad enough. No brothers we are far too likely to paint ourselves into too rosy of a picture. This song exposes us afresh to the wonder of our salvation. Was I wrong about my friends? Absolutely not! They are in love with themselves and sin. Was I right that I was different? Sure. I broke my love affair with sin and ran to greater joy in Christ. What I had wrong was the cause of that difference.
There are three groups of people I would like to address. First, to nonbelievers like my two high school friends. You are in rebellion against the God of the universe. The God that you might no think exists does indeed exist and His reality will be all to real for you on the Last Day. God will not be mocked, friend. His wrath against your sin is just and right. It is eternal, just as God’s value that you are trying to usurp is infinite. But God has put forth Christ, laying our sin on Him and punishing Him as if He were us. He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God by faith (2 Cor 5:21). Flee your sin and run to Christ alone for your salvation before a holy God. Only the rock of ages will saved you from the wrath to come. Only Christ is worthy of your worship, not yourself or the God’s you have fashioned for yourselves. Second, I would address those who do no love the doctrines of grace. I implore you to repent of your belief that you co-authored your salvation and worship God as He deserves. You can be a Christian and be an Arminian. But you are robbing yourself of joy and God of glory. What made you different? Learn from my error, brothers. The only reason you love God now is because you were made to hear His voice. You would make the same wretched choice as the first group that I addressed had not Christ stopped you sovereignly in the midst of your rebellion. Third, to my Reformed brothers. Unfortunately, these great truths did not have the immediate effect they should. I saw the weight of my sin and the greatness of God’s kindness, seeing that the thing that made me different was God alone. But how brash and brazen I could still be! Brothers, if your Calvinism does not bring you to your knees then you must pray that God would humble you. You were made to hear His voice! There is no room for guns-blazing, chest- out Calvinism. We must see ourselves as the most wretched of men, the most dependent on God’s grace alone to save us by the merits of Christ.
It is humbling to think of my story. My pride was snapped by the cross of Christ. My sin was illuminated before the holiness of God. Fallen man is at enmity with God, and God with us. But God has chosen to save and save monergistically. May we with the rest of the redeemed cry a mixture of the two hymns of Heaven. “Holy, Holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, the whole earth is full on His glory. Worth is the Lamb who was slain, who purchased us from every tribe, tongue and nation.”
Soli deo gloria. All we have is Christ!