We’ve all heard it. Some of the most popular books on evangelism teach it. I’ve believed it. “God loves you, but he’s a gentleman. He won’t force you to love him. He waits for your willingness and permission to enter into your life.”
For years I believed that. For years I sat in services where pastors and evangelists would pressure us to make a decision to invite Jesus into our hearts. I can’t tell you how many times I prayed the sinner’s prayer and hoped that maybe this was the time that God would obey my request and enter into my life.
Even though I hate to admit it, that was arrogant of me.
I didn’t realize at the time that the idea that God is a gentleman runs counter to everything the Bible teaches about God and salvation. I didn’t realize how powerful this view makes me, while turning God into a desperate dreamer who can’t seem to achieve what he wants to achieve.
You see, if we really believe that God is waiting for our permission to act, we believe in a God who is either too unloving to care or too weak to take decisive action. If we really believe that salvation is about bringing our own hearts to a point where we can accept Christ, we cannot also believe scripture when it says that salvation is “not by works, but by him who calls” (Rom 9:12), since bringing our own hearts to obedience would, in actuality, be a work.
Fortunately for us, salvation does not depend on us turning our own hearts to God. God loves us too much to leave our fate in our own hands.
Consider the testimony of Saul of Tarsus, found in Acts 26:1-20. One minute he was breathing murderous threats against God’s people, and the next he was being commissioned by God to take a Gospel he deeply despised to a world that did not know Christ.
Saul did not turn his heart around. He did not pursue God. He did not accept Jesus into his heart. He did not give God permission. God stopped him right in his tracks, stole his heart, and forced him to obey His will and His plan. God forced salvation and purpose on Saul because He loved Saul and knew that Saul was incapable of pursuing God on his own. If you have ever felt led to follow God, then God feels the same way about you.
My story is the same as Saul’s. I did not want to obey God. He forced me too. And I am so glad that he did. I never would have given my life to him on my own. And neither would you. If you are saved, rejoice and give glory to God for authoring and finishing your salvation. If you are not saved, but want to be, be encouraged. If Romans 3:11-18 is true, it is not you who are seeking God, but God who is lovingly seeking you.