In November of 2007 I was sitting at my kitchen table in our apartment with Romans 9 open and a book called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God next to it. Johanna and I had put a year of marriage underneath our belt and I had been wrestling with the doctrine of election all year. Did God really choose those who would be with him for eternity? Is that fair? What about free will?
Growing up I had developed a works oriented theology into my life without being consciously aware of it. I believed that salvation was a free gift and that if I repented of my sin God would forgive me. I also believed that as a Christian, when I sinned, I had to earn back favor with God. I viewed God as an upset Dad who wouldn’t fully receive me back until I proved that I could go 3 weeks without giving into lust.
This thinking was not grounded in Scripture and resulted in a very frustrating cycle: sin, repent, work back God’s favor, face temptation, sin again, repeat. I was a walking example of the Israelites in the Old Testament, still living as if I was under the law. I believed that if I just tried harder God would bless me with a good life. I had no idea how messed up I was. I was living a double life of looking like a good Christian on the outside but utterly defeated by sin on the inside.
What I could not recognize at the time was that my satisfaction was in my sin. I had a desire to not not sin (follow me?) and to follow God, but I didn’t realize that God could be my satisfaction a million times more than money or pornography. I knew parts of God with my mind but did not find satisfaction in him with my heart. I was not seeing and savoring him. I needed to help to recognize that and thoroughly understand what that meant.
2007. Johanna and I had been attending Bethlehem Baptist Church for 6 months and my head was being turned upside down by the preaching of John Piper. His sermons drove me to begin reading his books and listening to his archived sermons of his Romans series. I read Desiring God and learned what it meant to be a Christian Hedonist. One sentence in that book shook me to the core. “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” I read Future Grace and learned that all that God requires of us he gives us freely through Jesus Christ. His grace will always be sufficient in the future for whatever we face.
Then I read Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. If God is completely in control of this universe how can he justly allow evil and suffering to exist? How can he justly predestine some to heaven and some to hell? The book was a heavy read and parts of it took several repeat readings to grasp. I pushed against it and didn’t want to believe it. But God had the final say as I was driven to Romans 9. The chapter laid me bare and this part knocked me back like a strike from Fedor Emelianenko:
“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable us? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”
In God’s grace he used John Piper to drive me to Romans 9. Ultimately it was the words of the Apostle Paul and the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart to see this truth as amazingly true. God had chosen me before the foundations of the earth were laid, to be his child. I began crying in thankfulness for the understanding of this chapter which had been in front of me for many years. I had read this chapter before but had not really read it. That day the weight of it landed on me with full force.
In that moment a wave of salvation assurance swept over my soul. I knew my outcome was secure, whereas up till that point I had always doubted my salvation. I now understood that God had chosen me and I had not chosen him. No sin could keep me from his grace and mercy. I saw that my salvation was not dependent on my performance. He would have to do the work in my heart to awaken a desire and thirst for him. I got up from that table a different man than when I had sat down.
In that moment my focus shifted. I saw that my happiness and pleasure was to be found at the well of God’s love. Nothing else could satisfy it because I was made for the joy of praising God, not being praised. That is how I became a Calvinist and a Christian Hedonist in one, life-altering moment. Thanks be to God.