It came via email. Does much come by postal mail anymore??? In spite of the title “Prepared beforehand”, I knew it didn’t refer to the already baked pasta waiting for my order at the nearby mall.
To give “credibility” to what the writer was going to pose was a well known quote from AW Tozer: “Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly represented Him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world. (A. W. Tozer. Knowledge of the Holy. Harper and Row, 1961).
Tozer’s words, in the original context, go on to say, “Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of young persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of. Add to this a certain degree of commendable idealism and a fair amount of compassion for the underprivileged and you have the true drive behind much Christian activity today.” (ibid)
Tozer’s words didn’t surprise me; when in college I had heard Tozer preach his series of sermons on the attributes of God, the series that finally gave rise to The Knowledge of the Holy. In fact, I still have the series in the original audio format. Tozer’s audience included scores of young men and women, who along with me were preparing for ministerial service, both “home and abroad.” Tozer wanted these students to analyze their motivation for ministry.
The email, however, went on to launch an “eisegesis” (“reading into”) of Tozer’s text, something Biblical students are warned not to do with the Scripture. The author moves from Tozer to the New Testament letter of Ephesians, where in chapter 2, verse 10, it says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” No question with that. No question with saying that salvation is a gift, which our email author adds. Then the email makes, what we may not recognize but which is, a very major shift, “Salvation, from beginning to end, only happens because God has given it. It is often forgotten that any good one may do is a gift too. Ephesians 2:10 states, Good works, from beginning to end, only happen because God prepared them beforehand. Any good that is ever done is only because God sovereignly arranged it.”
Did you notice that both of the last two sentence included “ONLY” (only happens because God prepares them . . . , only because God sovereignly arranged it.”). These affirmations are false due to over simplification. It is true that if God had not wanted good things to happen, no amount of human free will would make good things happen. But, there is such a thing as refusing to do what God wants done. Human choice is not the primary cause, but it is a secondary cause.
I wondered how much further the author would go with his eisegesis. I quickly found out as I read the following: “Special and specific moments of obedience have been orchestrated by Almighty God for you. Any good that you did this week was chosen by God for you. From the right attitude you embraced, the kind note you wrote, and the money you happily gave away; to the vocation in which you serve and to the suffering you endure with patience – each are a gift from God to you. From this perspective, you do nothing. All is of God. . . . God simply has allowed our participation.
What I read might be an effort to honor God. It may be an effort to keep people from taking credit for what only belongs to God. But, it might also be one of the following two things – (1) an affirmation that consciously or unconsciously removes the moral responsibility that requires human freedom of will. (2) an affirmation that tries to put God’s sovereignty above God’s love. In truth, God’s sovereignty operates within the framework of His love, not the other way around. Doing what is best for our well being (what God’s agape love is all about) does not remove freely willed moral behavior, but makes it possible for humans.