Our Response to God’s Decisive Act

Salvation perspectives that infer a contingent transaction are overwhelmingly common with the evangelical gospel message. In this post, I want to discuss the possibility that we can express the gospel in ways that override this default perspective.

The reason for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was because we were helpless to reconcile ourselves to God. The gospel message is not what we must do to get to God. If any part of the plan of redemption is dependent on us, it has an inherent fatal weakness, which is why it is important to not communicate transactionalism in the gospel.

Here are a couple of statements I’ve made in prior posts that do not fit the western evangelical model:

God’s act of reconciling mankind in Christ demonstrated scandalous love toward everyone – enemies, sinners, the ungodly, and the undeserving – with a one-sided benevolence that is difficult to grasp – an unconditional gift, not just the possibility of salvation.

What God has done in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself is an accomplished reality. It is not a transaction contingent upon your response. Your response does not in any way affect God’s stance toward you. His gift is unconditional; faith is not the action that makes it a reality.

The gospel as God’s unconditional deliverance of mankind clashes fundamentally with the transactional understanding that is presumed in the western evangelical gospel. Since I have been writing about the gospel as unconditional, the most common pushback that I have received concerns the issue of decision or choice.

A common argument is that salvation as a gift is conditioned upon our acceptance of the gift. However, God’s saving act took place when no condition had been or could be met. The really good news – you are loved and embraced by God the Father, period.

Another common argument is salvation as amnesty or pardon, which is conditioned upon returning to our home country. Yet, instead, Christ came to the “far country” and brought all of pardoned humanity home to the Father. A person will either live in the light of this truth or continue to live in the delusion of alienation.

Rather than a message that perpetuates alienation, the gospel story of Scripture is that God jumped into our mess in His recovery mission. Through the incarnation and crucifixion, He entered into the depth of our brokenness in order to restore our communion with Him.

Why doesn’t everyone enjoy the benefits of salvation now?
Why do so many people NOT partake of divine life?

God chose before the foundation of the world that all mankind would be saved in Christ. Just as by one man, Adam, death came into the world, by the second Adam all are saved. God stepped into the depths of our lostness to rescue mankind. His saving act in Jesus is complete.

I understand the concern about making a decision and believe that free will and choice are essential to relationship. There cannot be love without the freedom to respond. It is helpful to distinguish between God’s saving act and our participation in that reality.

a.  The decision regarding the adoption of mankind was a unilateral act of God and is an established reality. God has done what man cannot do.

b.  It is in the realm of relationship where choice is essential. This is a response of cooperation and participation in the already established union with God.

Partaking of divine life is not an automatic thing, but that does not negate the unconditional nature of God’s saving act. We have agency to participate in what God has provided. For those who have awakened to God’s love, salvation is ongoing participation in divine life.

One’s experience of kingdom life and the quality of their relationship with God, to whom they are reconciled, is dependent on their cooperation. This is an ongoing choosing, not a one-time decision. All of life is the moment by moment opportunity to live in light of this reality. The transforming love of the Father, the indwelling life of Christ, and the ministry of the Spirit empower this journey of living out the reality of reconciliation.

This position does not fit the traditional frame of either Calvinism or Arminianism. However, it does address the salvation of humanity as the divine initiative of God while still acknowledging the role of human free will in relationship and communion with God. I would be very interested in reading your thoughts.


38 thoughts on “Our Response to God’s Decisive Act

  1. Linda,
    I appreciate your blogs and like CBK’s blog at Perichoresis, I find the thinking simple and refreshing. The way I see things, salvation has to be a unilateral action on the part of a loving and infinitely powerful, relational God, and not dependent in any way upon his fallen and finite children both to clearly present and properly respond to what is merely an offer of salvation.
    But I would be accused of being a dreamer, ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture. I would be asked to explain how the great positional truths for those “in Christ” set forth by Paul, like being seated with Christ; adoption; or how being a joint heir with Christ could possibly be
    applied to unbelieving and unfaithful people, especially since Paul’s audience seems narrow
    and partisan rather than broad and universal.

    Your thoughts?


  2. Dave,
    I can certainly relate to your comment. I do not believe that I could convince someone of this perspective if they were not interested in challenging their theology. Considering that it took several years for me to process these thoughts, I would not expect someone to understand this point of view after only a few conversations or blog posts. Only recently have I attempted to express these ideas on the blog.

    There were many times over the last couple of years when I held a particular belief or Scripture in tension, waiting for greater understanding and clarity. Often we were taught Scripture with a narrow, partisan lens or grid. When reading familiar passages, I sometimes ask myself, what are the assumptions that I bring to this text?

    It does stretch our paradigms to consider unbelievers as in Christ. Yet God’s adoption of mankind through Jesus was an act of deliverance, the rescue of a people helpless to fulfill their end of the contract. In addition to Kruger, some other sources that I have found supportive of this inclusive, all-embracing view are Robert Capon, On the Incarnation by Athanasius, and aspects of eastern orthodox theology.

    What convinces you that this perspective is true and makes you willing to risk being misunderstood?

    1. Linda I wanted to circle back to your question to me. I think a major influence apart from Kruger, Steve McVey and others, was when I read “The Good God” by Michael Reeves as recommended by Robin Parry. For me the character of Triune God as a loving, relational being has become my starting point in all matters of theology and living life.

      I have already suffered for thinking outside the box, having resigned as an elder in the Bible church I have been intimately involved with for 15 years. This was done after myself and more importantly our preaching elder,
      thought we ought not be so dogmatic about our doctrinal statement relative
      to its position on eternal conscious torment and our systematic theology and church paradigms in general. He was fired by the other elders and I resigned because I didn’t want to walk the narrow path through a minefield in my day to day ministry.

      1. Dave,
        I have also found that understanding and trusting God’s character is a solid starting point for sorting out other matters of theology.
        I am sorry for what you experienced in your church.

  3. DaveM

    I understand your concern here having myself been steeped in this partisan approach all my life. It was what I taught in my circles as a truth that could not be questioned. I was told the reality was that God loves some and some he hates. That may not be your understanding at all, but that was where I was coming from.

    However, I now tend to see what Paul was saying, was broad and universal. If God was in Christ reconciling the WORLD unto himself not counting mens’ sins against them, then what was done on man’s behalf is a unilateral action. I don’t see this as dreamer language. I can see it is possible to understand this as a clear teaching of Scripture. When John the Baptist declared “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the WORLD”, he is declaring universal truth. Mankind has been forgiven. The problem which exists is that there is reality that is still hidden and miscommunicated to man. The fallen mind has a hard time receiving this. We have believed a lie that causes us to doubt the Father’s heart for us. It reminds me so much of Abraham Lincoln’s Declaration of Emancipation which created freedom to all slaves, a universal truth in America yet hidden and miscommunicated for years. Freedom was a unilateral gift available to all but required knowledge of it to fully enjoy the reality and benefit of it.

    Having been a missionary for years and a leader in church circles using the dualistic approach with little positive result I came to reevaluate why this dualistic approach does not resonate with people. I was trying to share grace but people were hearing law. I was sharing repentance and faith and they were hearing, straighten up and fly right. I was sharing God loves us unconditionally, but they were hearing there were conditions needed to maintain this love. I was sharing joy and peace, and they were feeling guilty and helpless. I was sharing acceptance and they were feeling condemnation.

    Once I understood this unilateral action, then I was able to communicate better with people the love of the Father. Salvation took on a new meaning. If God is at work in all people, and the Spirit speaks to us all, and if it is unilateral, then salvation is not something we achieve through our actions, but rather becomes a discovery of what has already been gifted to us. So it is not a dualistic action required on our part such as receiving the gift and keeping it. It was more of understanding the gift and growing in the knowledge through the relationship that develops with the Father. It is knowing that it is the goodness and kindness of God that has led us to this repentance(change of heart). And with this change of heart comes a new awareness that He can be trusted and He will build on that trust now that we understand it. This message is resonating with many people I now associate with. He cares about us all.

    So when Paul declares in Ephesians 1 the full implications of God’s adoption plan for everyone it may seem narrow and partisan to us because the audience he is speaking to now understands their freedom and they had been won to trust. They now knew the reality of it. But this does not make it any less universal. He even tells them that in times past they did not understand but now they do. That is why Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5 we are ambassadors once we understand our standing in Christ, (THAT STANDING BEING THAT WE ARE FORGIVEN), then we are to pass on to others this good news. This good news being God can be trusted. What he has done for me he has done for all. Our brokenness can cause us to believe a lie about Him that keeps us from the peace He wants us to enjoy in Him. Life comes with trust.

    1. Very well said. It is our realization, awareness, and awakening to understanding of what is true and what is real that brings us to participation and cooperation with divine life. I have found this perspective to be life-giving and liberating.

      1. My daughter is a drama and theater major in college. The other day she sent me this short youtube video from the Hunchback of Notre Dame movie. I thought it brings to light this universal love that the Father has for us and also how the dualistic image we often portray is off the mark. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEpavnk7Uw

        1. Nice. So much changes when the designation of outsider is removed and we begin to view everyone as the children of God. Distinctions and assumptions that put people into us/them categories are an obstacle in communicating the universal love of the Father.

  4. Always love the way that a simple yes to the gift of salvation is described as a transaction. I suggest that the acceptance of a gift is not a transaction because the recipient of the gift has done nothing to earn the gift, It is like a person receiving a gift, in the form of a check, for a million dollars from Bill Gates and then bragging because they cashed the check. Of course the check would do them no good if they did not cash it but who in their right minds would call that a transaction? The recipient of the gift did nothing to earn it.

    1. Bob, I agree that one’s response to God’s gift influences the experience of the gift. My point in the post is that one’s standing with God is established, regardless of the response.

      1. What do you mean by “the experience of the gift”? If one says no to the gift then the gift (i.e. salvation) is not theirs to experience. Unless, of course, if you believe that one can be in right standing with God apart from being born of the Holy Spirit.

        1. Bob, that is exactly what I am saying. What God has done is a true and established reality regardless of response. Just as all of humanity was indicted with Adam, all of humanity was united with Christ in the incarnation. Sin, death, and the fallen nature of mankind were judged on the cross and new life recreated in Christ’s resurrection. Paul says as all were in Adam, so all were in Christ. This doesn’t change if one says no to the gift, but the person may continue in their delusion and brokenness, not experiencing the deliverance and life that is theirs. Hope that makes sense. I’m off to work.

        2. There are two ways to look at being born again. The most often taught is that we receive the Spirit when we accept or understand the gift is available and trust in it. That is being born again most would say. God’s Spirit abides within us. Some might say achieving immortality or eternal life and that even expressed in different ways.
          However another way to look at being born again is what Jesus did in this sense. He restored Spirit life in all of his creation. We have all been born again in the sense that there is this unilateral gift that has been bestowed on all mankind. We all hear his voice. Just as the children of Israel looked upon the serpent in the desert and were healed the same is of Christ. He has reborn us all so we all are in right standing with God. For by the one man disobedience(ADAM) the many or all were made sinners, so also through one man’s obedience(CHRIST) the many or all will be made righteous. The same all that have sinned is the same all that has been justified freely by his grace.

  5. I guess I am not attracted to hypotheticals. Perhaps all have the Holy Spirit but only some seem to be led by Him? Perhaps the presence of the Spirit in some is not life changing? Perhaps being born of the Spirit is just poetic imagery that has no power. If that is “your” experience then I cannot argue with it except to say that my experience with the Holy Spirit has deeply changed my life.

    1. Thanks for that reminder that experience with the Holy Spirit does deeply effect and change our lives. However I would ask you how did that all come about? What did you do to get the Holy Spirit? Did someone ask you to pray a sinners prayer like they did to me and ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life? Did someone tell you how to be born again in another way? Did you have some experience like Paul the apostle being introduced to Christ in a miraculous way? Can it be different from one person to another? Did someone lay hands on you and slay you “with this Spirit” as my Pentecostal friends like to say. I don’t like hypotheticals either and yet I feel that is how we try to convince people that they are born again. I have heard it all. Some people call me out that I don’t know the exact day. Others asking me to seal the deal with something I do. I have been baptized twice to make sure I got it right. And over 50 years of being in church circles have been challenged to come to the altar and make my salvation sure innumerable times. How many people do you know that say they have been born again and have not received the same experience you have had which has deeply changed your life?

      As for hypotheticals I have experienced something of all the above and found them not really helpful in conveying to someone lost in their darkness a way to be born again. Why ? Because I don’t think we can born again ourselves. As you say there is no transaction involved. What might have been one man or woman’s experience does not work for all. There is no formula that is generic for all.

      However if God’s Spirit is now aware to all and working in us all, as I understand him to be, He then can draw us all as it were to the POINT OF DISCOVERY, that we are his children and that he can be trusted. Is that not the lie that drove mankind into darkness AND NEEDS TO BE UNDONE? That lie is God can not be trusted. This undoing of Adam has already been accomplished from the beginning of time, before you and I were born by adoption. Salvation therefore for me should be described in terms of a revelation, rather than a transaction, revealed by the Father who loves me and has always loved me and is dealing with me at all times. It is more in terms of a breakthrough, an astonishment somewhat to find that He is there and has always been there working with me to get me out of my darkness.

      Because I am, we are, a child of Adam we all have been subjected and influenced by the lie. Baxter Kruger puts it well on his web site http://www.perichoresis.org under the resources tab he elaborates this concept through his soul diagrams. The lie to Adam caused him to doubt the Father’s heart/ purpose/ wisdom.In believing the lie. Adam lost his security, felt like he was not cared for, not whole, not alive, not free, This in turn immersed him in fear which led to guilt, anxiety, shame, angst, pain, loss and helplessness. Because of this, fleshy things developed, such as anger, bitterness,greed, lust, hatred, strife, and etc. Of course this things lead to loss of freedom, chaos, and death. It fills the human experience and is passed down from generation to generation and becomes the default settings wherein we live. Baxter says it causes us to tar the Father’s face and project onto him a misreading of who he is which can lead to mythologies about him.

      So what was the Father to do in the face of all this? Were we to be lost in our darkness? How could we find him within our own darkness and misunderstanding?

      God has broken through and stooped to our level. In doing so through the cross he broke through our alienation, an alienation that is real. So to the one wracked with guilt God says through the cross,”I’ll take the blame I pay the price.” To the one who is locked in self hate God says through the cross “I love you so much I would give my life defending you.” To the one in rebellion to life God says through the cross, “See me here. I am not a threat; I am love.”(from therebelgod.com website Part three Christus Victor page 9 of 14)

      God can use whatever to breakthrough to us, he does not need a transaction. If this then is reality and not hypothetical shouldn’t we be communicating that God is alive and well in all of us and we need to learn to recognize his voice speaking to us and others in whatever is the part of our alienation that we are lost in, instead of trying to pray a sinners prayer or any of the above stated transactional hypotheticals.

      My experience with the Holy Spirit has been a life changer for me as well.

      1. “What did you do to get the Holy Spirit?” – The responses to the HS are as unique as our fingerprints. There is no formula for being spiritually born. In simple terms it is just saying a simple (non-transactional) yes to His invitation.

        My thinking is that you feel that everyone is born immortal and does not need to be born spiritually to survive death. Not sure where you got that idea. Maybe from the Greeks? My view is that unless a person is spiritually born they do not survive death.

        1. If some of us are mortal and some achieve immortality how does this work? In my understanding that would make us all glorified animals and some of the animals are won to immortality by being born again? Could you expand your view of not surviving death unless being spiritually born?

        2. No problem drg. When I read the word birth I think of a something coming into existence that never existed before. In the flesh that means being born of a woman. In the spirit that mean being born of the Spirit. My view is that Jesus told Nicodemus something that seems fairly obvious – people are not born immortal – they need to be born spiritually after they are born physically. I do understand that there is a man-centric view that sees humans as these great and immortal beings but do not agree with that view.

        3. How does that relate to people before Christ? Was Jesus speaking of a fact from the beginning of mankind that should have been understood by Nicodemus already? Or was he revealing something new that Nicodemus needed to be aware of? I guess what I am trying to ask is was Nicodemus unenlightened as to a known fact or was Jesus revealing something new that Nicodemus needed to comprehend?

        4. My thinking is that this is something that Nicodemus should have known already. It makes perfect sense to me. Why would anyone think that they are immortal apart from a spiritual rebirth? Unless of course they feel a divine entitlement to heaven similar to the narcissistic entitlement that many earthly children have.

        5. Here is the dialog about being born of the Spirit between the two:

          Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:9-10 ESV)

          Seems that Jesus was surprised that he did not understand something that he felt that he should.

          But really. Why would anyone believe that they should, apart from faith, survive death? Atheists do not and agnostics are probably not sure. It is only those of a certain man-centric perspective that see all people as immoral.

        6. I understand what you are saying but I don’t think that quite answers my question. How would he have known? If some are mortal and some become immortal by faith, what do we do with passages like 1 Peter 3:19 and following which states that Jesus went to the spirits that were in prison who in the past were disobedient when God waited patiently in the days of Noah……. followed up by 1 Peter 4:6 which states that; For this reason the gospel was also preached to the dead so that although they might be judged by men in the fleshly realm, they might live by God in the Spiritual realm.

          Peter is saying here that the spirit of man does not die, as I read it, and physical death might even be seen as a rescue from the alienation, the darkness, the lostness, one experienced by living the fallen mind default settings that comes from believing the lie, as I have suggested many do in preceding posts. So even in the days of Noah when God made a correction due to extreme disobedience, He still lovingly presented the gospel to spirits still trapped in the prison of doubt and lack of trust, here elaborated by Peter.

          So I would wonder if Nicodemus understood and had the same mindset as Peter that spirit does not cease to exist and maybe Jesus was dealing with something else here as to how Nicodemus was teaching Jewishness, works, religion, things to appease God, as the way to know him. I think Nicodemus knew spirit does not cease to exist, but Jesus correction had to do with his paradigm of legalism, appeasement to gain God’s favor, that Nicodemus was presenting as the way to know God. Jesus correction is toward relationship.

        7. You may be right about those verses in 1Peter? Perhaps some who are born of the Spirit survive death and do not end up in the presence of God? Not easy to imagine that though as such an existence would mean that people exist in a time-bounded dimension outside of the presence of God.

        8. Here are my thoughts. God is omnipresent. Colossians states that In Christ by him and through him all things hold together and without Him nothing exists.

          In light of that Psalms 139 states there is no where we can go to escape the presence of God. Neither the heavens or even the depth of Sheol.

          Hebrews tells us that God is a consuming fire as well. So when talking about people who were so lost in their darkness in their physical existence having not been won to trust in this life such as those in the days of Noah. Could it be that spirits such as these do not to exist in a time bounded existence outside the presence of God, but rather exist within the presence of God. The prison does not have to be a time bounded dimension or for that matter a literal prison.

          Could existing in this condition having not understood trust and the love of the Father, that even in His Presence the alienation and darkness of their lostness could be seen as a place of torment, even after physical death.

          After all can that not be a reality in this world as well. Many of us bound by the prisons we puts ourselves in due to a mindset that does not understand the love of the Father

  6. I am so glad to have found this blog. This is a good discussion, a kind which I don’t get to engage in too often where I am in TX. I have always opporated under the assumption that some kind of mystical change happened to me when I accepted Christ 36 yrs ago…that I was born again. I knew this to be true by faith and because I stopped swearing overnight. The conversion experience was a defining moment. On the other hand, my best friend, raised in a “liberal” ecumenical church by a Dad who was a pastor, baffeled me because he, to this day cannot point to such a moment when he was born again, yet in his committment to Christ we are brothers. He embraced an evangelical, calvinist paradigm. When were we born again? What is the determiner of a bonafide new life? It seems much more feasible to me now that if the Spirit of God can give “life” to my mortal body in spite of my propensity to sin post conversion, that He can also be in the one who has not responded to the love of God which has been poured out on “all flesh”.

  7. 1 Timothy 4:9,10 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have a hope in a living God, WHO IS THE SAVIOR OF EVERYONE, especially of those who believe. Holman CSV

  8. Kansas Bob as I looked at my last reply to you when I read it in print that just sounded harsh. That was not my intent. Sorry. However you bring a new perspective about immortality to me I have not explored. Could you please expand on it?

    1. Thanks for interjecting here the information found on these 2 sites. Having lived a lifetime in the Mark Driscoll, John Piper understanding I have found several weaknesses in making this work in the long run for myself and others. However the biggest problem here for me deals with the collateral damage that is done to those outside of my viewpoint. It became at least for me a “them against us mentality”. It was reflected in the language I was using to try and communicate the good news. Denominational apologetics, why our way was the best way. Apologetics to defend against science. Moral, political and social issues addressed with inflammatory language that came down to a “those people are just stupid” and they deserve what they get frame of reference. I became consumed with standing for the faith instead of inviting people into life.

      My new frame of reference of universal adoption does not allow me to treat people the way that I used to. Differing opinions are Ok. When I experience brokenness in my own life I deal with it not out of condemnation by the Father. Likewise when I see brokenness and alienation in my fellow man there is not condemnation there either, which has allowed me to get into conversations not about religion and rules establishment, but rather relational dialogues that lead to understanding working through to the truths that will set us free. Freedom has been given through the knowledge that with God all our sins are forgiven. They are not an affront to him for relationship.

      Many people are finding relationship with the Father not fully understanding the deepness of this reality, the born again issue, and obviously it can be explained in more ways than one. For me, John and Mark are on a different track than myself, but they are I believe helping people step out of their lostness and into the light. That really is the goal of us all don’t you think? The trap I would want people to avoid and I lived in for so long is to not be able to see the forest for the trees. There can be a tendency to put on people a new legalism of principles for life and seeing the Bible as a law/principle book to be used as a guideline to knowing the principles. I have been down this road and have heard the exhortation of Jesus out of John 5:39,40. Pouring over the scriptures and using them as the measure for establishing standing with God does not lead to life. Coming to trust in Father leads to life.

    2. Very interesting perspective on John 3 and a compelling argument by Olliff. I may have had blinders on in Bible college lomg ago, but is this a new perspective or does it have a historical precedent? I have long thought that We were reading our own meaning into the conversation between Jesus and Nic.

  9. Linda and Dave and drg,

    It would seem that we have come to much the same mind on this subject. Let’s start a church then maybe we can evangelize Kansas Bob ;o)

    Seriously though, the many “in Christ” statements that Paul (especially) makes seem to be a pivitol concept or statement of the reality he’s trying to express. How exactly should we understand “in Christ”?


  10. Wow. Some great discussion here.

    I do believe that Christ died for all and forgave (forgives) the sins of ALL.

    But that forgiveness is accessed through faith. And not all who hear…truly hear, and come to faith.

    That we don’t know why is truly a mystery.

    Here’s how we believe about it, in a nutshell;

    ‘If we come to faith, God gets all the credit. If we don’t, we get all the blame.’

    1. Steve
      Is the question really about God getting the credit? Is his nature egotistical? Is it somehow he did the best he could do? On the other side can one be blamed for lack of knowledge? Can one be blamed for lack of faith? This is probably not what you are trying to convey but it did bring up some interesting thoughts in my mind.

      1. Interesting questions drg. Here are a few more. Should God be blamed for creating humans with the ability to bad things? Can a person be held responsible for saying no to the Holy Spirit? My thinking is that the answers lie in whether you understand that the world is fallen or if you somehow think that God is fallen. http://tinyurl.com/fallenWorldnotGod

  11. Again, great questions.

    We can, or should anyway, only go by what the Scriptures tell us on these matters, I believe.

    That God loves us all. That He died and forgives us all. And that all of us are born rejecting Him. But by some miracle faith is born in some.

    Beyond that, I think we could get into areas that are above us (our pay grade, so to speak).

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