So yesterday I said that the difference between insecure, troubled Christian A and secure, at-peace Christian B was theology. If you look in the dictionary under “theology,” it might say something about the formal study of the nature and attributes of God or a deity, but in practice, I think the best way to think about the term “theology” is just “what I think — and what my life says — is true about God.” Ideally, “what I believe is true about God” and “what my life says is true about God” should be the same thing, but in practice, because our imperfect nature affects our ability to be consistent. So let’s examine the probable theologies of these two hypothetical brothers:
A gives lip service to the idea that God is sovereign, but functionally (and perhaps even secretly) he believes that there are lots of areas of life where God doesn’t really control the outcome of events. Of course, God knows what will happen, he says, but He allows human choice to rule sometimes. A thinks that the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is primarily that the unbeliever just doesn’t know that the Bible is true. If my unbelieving coworkers just saw enough evidence, they’d surely have to believe, he says. He’d never deny the dictum that “all truth is God’s truth,” but it’s been so ingrained in him to be suspicious of science and fine art – after all, modern science is the enemy of the Scriptures, right? And “the arts” now seem to celebrate evil and perversion, so what good could be found there? He believes that Christians need to separate themselves from the world, which is filthy and horrible, to remain pure. He looks forward to the day when he can escape the confines of this sinful world and be with Jesus in Heaven forever (though he’d never admit publicly that an eternity of something that sounds like a church service with only one song doesn’t actually seem all that exciting; he assumes that his lack of excitement about Heaven just means he’s immature).
B is fully persuaded of God’s total sovereignty in every area of life. He believes that God uses ordinary people and ordinary means to accomplish his extraordinary and perfect purposes, and he’s excited to be allowed to be part of God’s plan. This confidence in God gives him a sort of Teflon coating for living in this broken world – when things go his way, B doesn’t let it go to his head, because it’s all for God’s glory; and when there are setbacks, it doesn’t bother B, because God is still in control. B believes that the world was created to be “very good,” and that God has lovingly preserved some of that goodness even now, even in fallen creation, even in sinful humans, even in the things sinful humans make, so B can rejoice in beauty and goodness wherever he finds it. B also believes that the world isn’t as God created it to be, so it doesn’t surprise him when he also finds darkness and evil and pain and sorrow. But, he knows, God is at work making things new, overturning the darkness. “Everything sad is coming untrue,” B is known to say by way of encouragement to friends in trying times.
What’s the lynchpin difference? The answer to the question of who is in charge of the universe, and what that means. If God is completely, meticulously in control of everything — both causes and effects — in the universe, if His Spirit dwells in believers and transforms them, if no one can turn aside God’s purposes, if those who are joined to Christ are joined to Him forever, and no one can snatch them out of His hand, and you live your life that way, you have a pretty good chance of being like B. If God is “in control” but people have to do X to get God to do Y, if sanctification is up to believers, if those who are Christians can jump in and out of salvation and God is powerless to stop them, and you live your life like that? You have a pretty good chance of being like A.
I like Tim Tebow. He seems like a good guy, and I’m grateful for a lot of things about him, most of all his constant testimony to Jesus; I’m happy to call him my brother. But his success and fame don’t prove that Christianity is true. He and his life and his football career are not the key to the salvation of unbelievers. And that’s fine — in fact, I praise God for it! If he were the key, who would be saved? The key is this: a gracious God reaching into history to rescue sinners, people who, without the plan He enacted from eternity past, would forever reject him. A God who orchestrated in the mysterious counsels of eternity, that you would be born into that family, and have those experiences, and that, one day, you would hear the message of the Gospel in a new way, that it would make sense like it never had before, that you would look at your sin and realize that you were lost, and that you would look to the cross of Jesus, not just as an event that happened, but as an event that happened for you, and that you would run to it with joy like a thirsty man runs to a stream.
Believe that, my friends.