My Journey Into Grace by Pastor John Samson
My first 20 years as a Christian were spent as an Arminian. O.K., I've admitted it.
For the most part, I was never really exposed to these doctrines I now consider so precious. Oh, certainly, I met many a Reformed man in my time; in fact, many of them were my instructors and professors at the Bible College I attended in England, but no one ever sat down with me to try to explain the Reformed faith.
Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. In the game of golf, you can practice your swing and in all reality, if you keep repeating the same mistake (for instance, the way you hold the club), you don't make the swing perfect at all; your poor swing becomes permanent - and only deliberate and intense personal coaching can eliminate the problem.
I have been in full time ministry since leaving Bible College in June of 1987, and was fairly confident that my knowledge of the Word was sound. In the year 2,000 I had been a Christian for 20 years. This only compounded my problem - not a golf swing problem (my golfing problems remain unexposed in that I don't play the game at all) - but my many false assumptions and traditions, which were heightened by this simple fact - I had no idea that I held to faulty doctrine. I had assumed I was correct in my interpretation, and went on my way merrily for many a year. As Dr. James White so ably puts it, "those most enslaved to their traditions are those who don't believe they have any."
Because the traditions I held to were strong, when I first heard the message of Sovereign Grace and election taught, I have to admit that I resisted it.
So what happened?
Well one day in November of the year 2,000 I received a flyer in the mail from Ligonier Ministries informing me that Dr. R. C. Sproul was coming to do a Friday night and Saturday morning teaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. That was only a short distance for me, living in Phoenix. I had never heard Dr. Sproul in person, but had been greatly impacted by seeing his teaching videos on the Holiness of God some years before.
As I looked further at the flyer my heart sank when I saw the subject he was going to be focusing on â€“ â€œChosen by God â€“ the biblical doctrines of election and predestination.â€
Honestly, I thought, â€œhow silly that a man of that caliber would spend his energies articulating an idea so way past its sell by date.â€ I was in two minds as to whether to go or not. I wanted to hear Dr. Sproul, but not on that subject. Any other subject would have been better as far as I was concerned.
Well, I finally decided to go, but sat on the back row so I could leave quickly without interrupting folk around me. I stayed for the first session and thought â€“ yes, Dr. Sproul has a point â€“ I canâ€™t fault what he is saying, but I have many scriptures that would refute his conclusions. However, I was intrigued that there was nothing in what I heard that would be easily dismissed.
Then the conference included a question and answer session on the subject. This proved to be invaluable for me, because many of the questions I had were raised, and, I had to admit, were answered from Scripture, in their proper Biblical context.
I was immediately alarmed by this, as I came to understand that this whole issue required a lot more research than I had previously thought. I left the conference unconvinced, but bothered enormously that I had heard no scripture taken out of context. Being absolutely honest with myself, I had to admit that it was my assumptions about certain texts that were guilty of that exact charge.
Knowing that I needed to believe what Scripture taught on the subject, I ordered much material, and began my research. It is never pleasant to examine firmly held traditions, and I felt that this was especially so in my position, when I had taught other things at various times in my ministry. No one wants to admit the possibility that they may in fact have been wrong.
I have to say that it took more than a year of researching the issue in depth, before I realized that there was a consistent and clear Biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I also came to see that in order for me to believe what the Bible taught in this area, I had to dispense with my traditional understanding.
I was as surprised as anyone to emerge from this self imposed theological study cocoon as a five point Calvinist. Yet that is what happened. And I look back and see the whole thing â€“ the desire to study this and examine firmly held beliefs (I have found many do not wish to do this), and the ability to see the truth - as a work of Godâ€™s grace in my life. How gracious it is that God opened up my eyes to see these things.
Although now embracing God's Sovereignty in election, I continued on with my study, and yet waited another year before preaching on the subject at the Church. There's no doubt this issue is controversial. I think many pastors and teachers who believe it, do not preach about it for this very reason. The question then becomes, who are we trying to please - God or men?
Jesus preached it and watched many in the crowd walk away when He pressed the claims of Divine Sovereignty in election. In John 6:65, 66 we read, "And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore."
It is extremely humbling to think that God alone gets the credit for our salvation. This doctrine destroys all human pride once and for all, and elevates the graciousness of God in saving a people for Himself, for His own glory alone. Not everyone wants to hear this. Yet I am convinced, as C. H. Spurgeon said, "Christ's sheep will not be offended by Christ's voice."
Of course, this subject is not all that I teach, but in that it is something spoken about regularly in Scripture, if I am a Bible teacher, I have to teach something about the subject. I have no right to cut it out of the Bible or out of my teaching, if, as a pastor, I am called to teach the contents of the Bible, which of course, I am.
I also realise that even now, there may be areas in my thinking that are incorrect. That is true for all of us, which is why it is so important that we constantly expose our traditions to the light of Scripture, so that we may fully conform with His Word.
Rather than sending a golfing coach to help me with my undiscerned problems, God sent a Bible teaching coach named Dr. R. C. Sproul, who was the first (of many) to expose my errors and inconsistencies, and help me see the biblical reality of wonderful, amazing, Sovereign grace. May I ask you, dear reader: Are you open to allow your traditions to be tested? You should be, because it should always be remembered, practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent.
Semper Reformanda! (always reforming)