The concept of democracy for a society, where the people rule the government and its leaders, has been a huge blessing to mankind in a world struck with unbelievable suffering at the hands of wicked men in power over people. One of the reasons democracy is so great is because of its checks and balances in place, where no one person or group gains control over others. And leaders only hold positions for a limited amount of time (as opposed to places like Cuba where Castro has been in power for decades). Within a democracy, instead of leaders being selected by a singular person or group in power (as in so many nations), leaders are selected by majority vote of the people. And this whole system works really well in a sinful, broken world.
One of the reasons communism will not ever work in the long-run is because of the sinfulness of man. I believe the fundamental idea of communism is great, where everyone gives of themselves for the benefit of everyone else. Sounds great! This is in fact what the first church did within the book of Acts. However, societies and cultures are made up of sinners, people who are greedy, lustful, selfish, arrogant, and unfortunately, someone or some group at some point assumes power over others and oppresses them. That is why I do not like the idea of communism in a sinful world: it will never ultimately work because of the proneness of men’s hearts to sin and assume power. However, a democracy, where everyone participates in the process, works great in a sinful world where people are greedy and want power over others. It keeps them from assuming that power. I’m thankful for this nation where we are not prevented from gathering together to worship Christ, to have Bible studies, and so on, being oppressed by people who hate us. Praise God for the political freedoms of this nation.
How does the idea of democracy make for terrible theology though? Think about this with me. We live in a society where being a self-starter is prized, looked upon with favor. Individualism, freedom, self-expression, just Self really, are encouraged and worshiped in our culture. If you pull yourself up out of some terrible, poverty-stricken situation, worked really hard to get through school, started a business, and you are now very successful (i.e. successful in worldly, monetary terms), you are worshiped as an icon of what good, honest, hard work can do. Yes, that is a great example of someone who overcame their circumstances in a merely worldly sense. We have a Bill of Rights that protects our political freedom and gives us certain “inalienable” protections, by law. As a society, we think in terms of how everything affects Our Freedom. We think of ourselves as pretty good people, without much moral decay, like those other “pagan” nations who are less advanced. (I’m being facetious of course.) And this thinking has largely entered the spiritual side of things as well, even in the church.
Many read the Bible through the “freedom” lens of our own political theory and even contort Scripture to this end to make it fit their sin-bound, cultural understanding of God. Scripture confronts every culture though in all of history with the Gospel, because every culture is flawed and in bondage to sin, doing the will of Satan, and in need of supernatural healing by the Gospel. It is important for us to understand that God does not rule by referendum or majority vote. He is the Ruler of rulers, the King of kings. He does not get voted out of office, nor does his time in office expire, nor is He thwarted in His plans and purposes, in all realms of existence, including evil. None can stay (or hold back) His hand from doing what He wants to do. None. That includes we Americans. In addition, it is evil for us to assume we are owed salvation. No one is owed salvation. We talk about our rights so much, that as a society, we assume we are owed a good place when we die because, well, life is hard, so there’s gotta be something better. And there is, only through Jesus.
“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)
Sadly, for many Christians today, these underlying fundamental political presuppositions of freedom (in all respects) are applied to the spiritual/Scriptural realm, in terms of our freedom from God. And it usually comes in the form of free will theology, something Martin Luther wrote against in Bondage of the Will, which he considered his most important work. Now to be clear, it must be stated that men do have wills, they do indeed choose what they desire most. But what does a sinfully corrupted will desire apart from the grace of God? Wickedness, in all its colorful forms. Is the will not in bondage to sin? This is what Luther addresses in Bondage of the Will and Edwards goes on later to extensively demonstrate in Freedom of the Will. What part of our existence is left untouched by the fall? Free will theology does not stand in light of Scripture. The whole book of Job (read the last several chapters to sum up God’s point), John 6:44, John 6:63-65, Romans 8:5-8, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, Exodus 33:18-19, amongst many other places, will not let it. This is not the way the Scriptures speak, in terms of Our Freedom. What kind of freedom does a child of wrath, in bondage to sin have? Sure, we have a freedom to choose whatever we want. But all we want apart from God’s work in us by His Spirit is wickedness. The Lord attests to this in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Man, that is how bad we are! We are bent on destruction. What kind of freedom is this? Freedom to go to hell, as George Whitefield famously said.
We as sinners are so arrogant to think in terms of our freedom from God. Is this not the mark of rebellion? Is this not what the people at the Tower of Babel did, the very reason God confused their languages in order that they may not accomplish their purpose? Seems to me to just prove the case of our total depravity all the more that we would even speak like this, even as believers. The Bible is very clear about speaking in terms of God’s freedom to do as He pleases, and speaks of us only in terms of our bondage to sin (our wills, hearts, minds, tongues, flesh, thinking, reasoning, desires, emotions; all facets of our existence are under bondage to sin and its power). And even then it only speaks of our freedom in terms of salvation brought about by God in the supernatural work of Christ to raise us from spiritual death. To think that you, in your sinful bondage, can think correct thoughts about Christ or conjure up saving faith from within your unregenerate, dead, sinful human nature is the very fundamental mark of legalism and the fundamental philosophical basis for all other religions, that we produce something to give to God as payment for our bad deeds against Him. This right here is what Luther fought tooth and nail against in the Reformation against Erasmus in particular in Bondage of the Will. Nothing is outside the grasp of sin in our lives. It has completely and utterly corrupted, destroyed, and taken hold of every part or us, blinding us from the knowledge of the truth of God in Christ.
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17)
So many times from the pulpit, on the radio, and on the internet in America, the Gospel is presented to people as if they lived in a cosmic democracy. Their version of the Gospel goes something like this: “God votes for you, Satan votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote.” That is arrogant to talk like that and clearly evades the implication of the new birth. That is the American way to think though and the presupposition when teaching the Scriptures so often. Who do you have to thank for why you are saved in this scheme? Yourself. And really it is the humanly natural way to think about religion. You do something to get in good with God. Unfortunately now, this very deceptive, insipid version uses Christ as the means to self-salvation, and it is my estimation that many are duped into thinking that just merely superstitiously uttering a prayer, “asking Jesus into your heart,” (which is nowhere spoken in the Scriptures) they are indeed saved, without ever being born again of the Spirit of God. The thinking goes, “I got myself in the door of Jesus,” or, “I pulled myself up by my boot-straps to choose Jesus.” (This is semi-pelagianism, a heresy condemned at the Council of Orange in 529 A.D., long before America even existed, and yet this heresy prevails in much of American Christianity today sadly.) What exactly did God do to save you in this scheme? You casted the deciding vote! God did most of the work, but you got yourself in the door. I cannot for the life of me see how God gets glory in this. Who do you have to thank in heaven for being saved? This is why we must see that we are utterly dependent upon God for every step of salvation.
This American Gospel is no gospel at all, but rather a very deceptive form of legalism using the slain Son of God as its stepping stone so you can basically save yourself and the very thing Martin Luther fought against with Rome in the Reformation. It is funny how most evangelicals nowadays, at least on the level of God’s sovereign grace in salvation, have more in common with Roman Catholics than historic Protestants. It is no wonder there is so much talk and confusion now about common ground and unity between Catholics and Protestants when historically, we disagree on fundamental soteriological doctrines. Luther said that God’s sovereign authority, power and right to save whom He chooses is at the very heart of the Gospel itself. Are we going to ignore such a statement? There is no hope in the Gospel without God’s working in us to will and to work for His good pleasure and our good.
All I know is the way the Scriptures speak and from my own experience, God saved (rescued, regenerated, brought to life, resuscitated) my dead, rotten, no good soul that was dead and decaying, that was bent on rebellion and evil from the heart; He did this from Alpha to Omega, encompassing and even preceding my desires, my will, and my faith. And I believe by His grace alone, He will work in me to continue to the end. His regeneration in my heart is the very thing that gave rise to my faith in Him. Apart from Him I could do nothing. What can dead men do? I was helpless and in bondage by the dungeon of my own wicked heart, He reached in through the preaching of the Scriptures and granted that I should see, that I should hear, that I should get up and walk, and thus I did because of His enablement. As Spurgeon has said, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” He gets all glory for every step of my salvation, including the supernatural origination of faith in my heart. I take no credit for my faith, because it was granted by God Himself. This is the power of God unto salvation. We need faith to be saved, absolutely. Faith alone in Christ alone. But as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals says, “Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.” Right on. It is a work of God alone. We must be born again, as John said, “Not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)
If we are saved, having believed in Christ, who do we have to thank but God for working in us to make us what we are? I desired nothing of God prior to my conversion. Why did I just drop the drugs all of sudden and stop hanging out with people Satan was using to hold me down in sin, blinding me from the truth of Christ? Was that change of heart of myself and my deadness or was it God? Where did my faith in Christ come from? From myself, in bondage to sin? No! “Dead in trespasses and sin.” That was me. We need to be born again, born of God if we are to be saved through faith in Christ. What is the new birth? Is it just turning a new leaf, or morally reforming ourselves, or is it just a label slapped on “Evangelical Christians” by the culture? Many pastors and teachers in our society would lead you to believe it is all of these. And unfortunately the message is really no different than other messages of other religions at its heart, though with differing means. No, Biblically speaking, the new birth is a supernatural transformation from the inside out, brought about by the Holy Spirit alone, through the preaching of the Gospel in the Scriptures (and all of this without our help, mainly because dead men have nothing to offer in bringing themselves back to life).
Many times, the new birth is presented as being that which comes as a result of faith. Scripture in no way speaks like this. The new birth precedes and gives rise to faith and good deeds, always. Acts and 1 John are great examples. “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1 John 5:1) “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.” (1 John 5:4) “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 John 2:29) If you are a believer, you are what you are but by the grace of God alone opening your heart to pay attention to what was said by whoever preached the Gospel to you. Or if you were reading the Scriptures and saw the eternal truth of Christ and what they were saying, that was a work of God in you. You can boast in nothing of yourself, pulling yourself up to trust Christ. Why did you heed the message, while someone else rejected it and became a staunch atheist? May I submit to you, that you would have been the atheist if God had not revealed Christ to you. God could have and in all justice would have been right in letting you continue in your sin, blind as a bat to the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel. And yet He reached in and gave you new life. The second, spiritual birth of God is the only answer for why you are saved through faith alone in Christ alone. This new birth is an act of God, where He raises your sinfully dead, hardened heart, soul, will, and mind to new life. He gives you eyes to see Christ and the Kingdom of God, hear the calls of eternal mercy in the Gospel by the Spirit where you cannot help but throw yourself at the feet of Jesus to be saved. This very blessing that is ours was predicted in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 11:19-20, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
By a deep dependence and trust in God’s sovereign grace, may we set aside our political “freedom” presuppositions when coming to the Scriptures, in order that we may be changed by the shockingly deep and satisfying, all-powerful might of God in the Gospel, revealed to us in the face of Jesus. God is on the throne. We are not. American political thinking must not be confused with the clear teaching of Scripture concerning the work of God in salvation. The essence of God’s glory, as revealed to Moses in the Exodus passage cited, is that God’s saves whom He chooses to save. It is the glory of His sovereign, free, beautiful grace.