A little over three years ago, I underwent a seismic shift in the way I thought about God and his Word. To summarize as briefly as possible, I was confronted with the reality that God is truly sovereign over all of his creation, including the very salvation of mankind. Previously, I had only paid lip service to this truth but functionally, I did not like this doctrine and it did not sit well with my heart.
That all changed in January of 2019 and since then, I have immersed myself in this new world “big-God theology,” if you will, and learned as much as possible: reading thousands of pages of books, listening to and watching hours upon hours of sermons, debates, and lectures, and having conversations with both friends and acquaintances. This eventually led me to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I began pursuing a Master’s of Divinity in Christian ministry in the Fall of 2021.
“What do these first two paragraphs of this post have to do with one another?” you might be asking. How is the way I view God’s sovereignty related to my current seminary endeavor? That is a question I want to spend the rest of this post exploring and reflecting on, and I hope you are up for the journey with me.
I came to seminary last August knowing that it was going to be hard. I mean, it is Master’s level work, and I would be studying under world-class biblical professors. And, to top all of that off, I would be studying the Bible, a book which
Was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.Baptist Faith and Message, 2000
I would be taking a step deeper into attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible, if you will. A similar endeavor to what Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus: “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
Not only this, but also in the few weeks leading up to when classes started, I remember wondering if going to seminary was really what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I wrote the following in my journal one week of classes into the semester:
There are times when I have felt that my journey in wanting to become a pastor is wrong-headed. I have questioned at times whether I really am doing what God wants me to do in life. I have felt called to ministry since 8th or 9th grade, and pastoral ministry since the summer after graduating high school, yet I have struggled at various points in this journey as to whether I am really supposed to be a pastor.
As a Christian, the last thing I want to do in life is to be disobedient to God, especially if I step into ministry, a very weighty thing, without God wanting me to be here. I don’t want to be a shepherd of God’s flock if the Chief Shepherd has not willed it.
Needless to say, it was a hard few weeks, but as I started going to my classes and settling in, I was given the sense that this really was where I was supposed to be. I was greatly comforted in my personal Bible reading at the time, particularly from 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I also greatly helped in meeting new friends, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were like-minded in wanting to pursue ministry, with whom we could all share the joys and struggles of what we were learning in our classes and in life.
Along with this, I was also given opportunities to preach at a local church in the area, where my passion and love for preaching were reignited and I had a way to apply everything that I was learning in the classroom. And, of course, I had my own local church, First Baptist Church Henryville, where I not only had many opportunities to serve, but I also had the godly counsel of my pastors. To summarize, the Lord was very kind to me during this time.
This is not to say that the rest of the school year was easy, because it wasn’t, but it is to say that through those other struggles, there was the constant reminder that if this is truly where God wanted me, he will make sure that I make it to the end. It was during this time that the song He Will Hold Me Fast became a favorite of mine, and Jude 24-25 was coming to the forefront of my mind more and more: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Indeed, the Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints became sweeter and sweeter to me every day.
Going back over four years, becoming convinced that this teaching was biblical was one of the first major movements in my theological shift. Essentially, the doctrine teaches that all those who are truly Christians, those who have been regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit of God, and who have truly repented of their sins and trusted in Christ, will be held in the faith forever by God, while they themselves also bear the responsibility for keeping themselves. It is simultaneously preservation and perseverance.
This is one of the many great paradoxes (not a contradiction) of the Bible. How is it possible that God promises to sustain believers, and does so, but they also have to work to make sure they make it to the end? This is a question that we cannot fully resolve, but I believe that we must be willing to hold each of these truths up in equal balance because, simply put, the Bible teaches both.
Consider a few, non-exhaustive, examples. Paul tells the believers at the church in Philippi to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Work out your own salvation, and that with fear and trembling? That seems impossible, and it is, if it were not God working and willing underneath our working and willing for his good pleasure.
Similarly, Jude writes to his audience to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). But earlier in the opening verses of his short letter, he spoke of his audience as those “who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Additionally, he closes his letter with the greatest doxology in all of the Bible, which I referenced above, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” (Jude 24-25).
As the great Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon once said,
That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.
I share all of this simply to say that I am living proof of what the grace and mercy of God can do. Had it not been for his call upon my life, I never would have dreamed of pursuing pastoral ministry; and will it not be for his sustaining grace moving forward, I will certainly fail to fulfill the ministry that he has given me.
I was deeply moved by Mark Dever’s sermon at Together for the Gospel a few months ago. Moved, but was also scared nearly out of wanting to be a pastor all over again. To paraphrase one of my pastors, to faithfully execute the office of pastor is certainly an impossible task unless a man truly has been called by God to do it. However, as this was one of the last messages of the conference, we sang one final song shortly after to close out the event. The song? He Will Hold Me Fast, and I remember sobbing through the whole song, being confident that if God truly has called me to ministry, he will hold me fast to the end.
When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast