The first time I was ever thunderstruck by the sovereignty of God in my salvation was while lying on the hood of a burgundy 1976 Chevy Impala.
It was the summer of 1988. I was two years out of high school and my summer job was with the Milwaukee Dustless Brush Company. I assembled brooms from 7:00am until 3:30pm every day. Most of my salty co-workers were convinced I was soon to enter the priesthood because I was always listening to Christian radio.
During lunch breaks that summer, on the hood of my car, I read a provocative book by an author I had never heard of before: R.C. Sproul. His book was titled, “Chosen By God.” As I read this little book with the purple dust cover, I was being led by a clear-minded theologian through the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners. By the time I finished I was thoroughly seasick.
Some of my friends had affectionately named my '76 Impala, “the boat.” But it was not lying on the hood of the boat that made me seasick. If anything, that car was a rock! What made me seasick was the sovereignty of God. My heart, my mind, my will - they were all out to sea. As I carefully studied Paul's teaching in Romans chapter 9 I felt I was being converted to the faith all over again. I felt as if the faith I had embraced previously was quite different than the one I had just discovered. I was becoming unmoored, unmoored from the dock where my knowledge of God was tidy, dry, safe, close to shore and, importantly, close to my friends own youthful knowledge of God.
Maybe you are coming to believe the biblical doctrines of sovereign grace the same way I did - after you were already a believer in Christ for some time. If so, it is possible you have wondered: "Do we really have to keep hearing and believing that God is so utterly sovereign in the salvation of men? Is there not a way we can just stay safely anchored to our previous understanding of God?”
The truth is, there is no common ground, natural ground or easy ground to stand upon if we wish to hear and believe the Word of God. It is not just the doctrines of sovereign grace that pull the terra firma out from underneath us. It is all God's truth. We must suffer seasickness of heart, mind and will if we are to live happily in the Kingdom of God, that wonderful place were the Word of the God creates, calls and commands not the word of men.
If we do not become unmoored from our own understanding of God and submit ourselves to the strange peculiarity of scriptural teaching on this and all things, we will have kept one foot or both in a world where the ideas of proud men preside over the dissemination of the knowledge of God. But it is just that kind of world that is sinking, flooding with judgment, dying and passing away (1 John 2:17).
The world God is making— the Kingdom of God—will last forever. It is the world that Christ has been crucified to bring us into and has opened by his resurrection. A world created and sustained by the Word of God. A world where the Word of God rules over man and man enjoys no greater satisfaction than living in and under that Word. It is the Kingdom of God ruled by God’s Christ, the Living Word.
It is our sinful nature when we hear the Word of God, to stretch out our hands with pride, cynicism and carnal fear and grab hold of our own understanding. When we first hear it, the Word of God comes to us like a strange and mighty wind. Our impulse is to hang on to all that is familiar, safe, and intellectual approved by others hanging on. Jesus knew this was our impulse so we see him dealing with it in the disciples all the time.
Remember when Jesus and the disciples were together in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Mark 4:37 says, “that a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” The sea is raging. Those fishermen disciples—so strong in their own strength, so competent in their own competence—cry out to Jesus for help. Jesus, who was sleeping, rises to his feet and speaks to the storm: “Quiet! Be still!” he says. The sea becomes completely calm.
Do you know what the disciples did when they heard the Word of the Lord, when they saw the nearness of the Kingdom? They trembled. They became more afraid of Jesus than the storm which had just passed. Jesus was separating them from their own understanding and taking them into a world where the Word of God creates, calls, and commands.
Do remember Jesus speaking these words: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him (Luke 17:3). Do you know what the disciples said after they heard that? They said three words, “Increase our faith!” Why did they say that? Because the Word of God, Living and Ruling in Jesus Christ, had said something that pushed them out off the edge of the terra firma of human understanding and human ability. The Word of God was calling them into the Kingdom of God where fallen men's intellectual and moral commitments can not pass.
So, some questions for you.
(1) Have you ever stopped believing a certain idea or behaving a certain way because the Word of God came to you? If you have, then you are not far from the Kingdom of God.
(2) Have you every started believing a certain idea—something you never imagined yourself believing—because the Word of God came to you? If you have, you are not far from the Kingdom.
(3) Have ever started behaving a certain way—a way you never imagined yourself behaving—because the Word of God came to you? If you have, then you are not far from the Kingdom.
In Isaiah 66 verse 2, God says something that you can build your life around: “This is the one I esteem, the Lord says, He who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” If that describes you, then the sovereign, intrusive, disruptive grace of God is at work in upon your life.
The truth is none of us would ever sign-up to board a raft and be carried out to sea away from the safety of old and well-rehearsed thoughts. If our sin nature were sovereign we would stay off God's boat and discover what we thought was safety turned out to be a flood of wrath.
Yet somehow we have escaped wrath, we are on the Kingdom raft anyway. How? By sovereign grace. God has given us the good we did not know we needed and he has taken us places, if left to ourselves, we would not go. This is sovereign grace - grace which unites us to Christ through justifying faith and grace which changes our mind through sanctifying power.