The most reckless decision you will make in life is how to respond to Jesus. It doesn’t matter what you decide, there are no safe options. Even though Pascal’s Wager sounds logical, it is deeply flawed and untrue: If God exists and you don’t believe you are damned, but if God doesn’t exist but you do believe it is even worse. Paul cautioned the Corinthians about this when he pointed out that not only would their faith be futile but they would be the most miserable of all mankind. Trusting God is an enormous risk, and God has done nothing to mitigate that risk. When we observe people who have an intellectual grasp of the Gospel and yet are reluctant to commit themselves, it is because they are struggling to accept the risk inherent in that decision. This reluctance is not foolish. Rather, what is foolish is to rush in as if there were no danger. What is foolish is to believe, but without understanding how reckless it is to do so. Even though it is common for evangelists to gloss over the risk and portray faith as a ‘no-brainer’, Jesus never encouraged this kind of short-sighted reactionism. He strongly advised those that would follow him to consider that decision very carefully, weighing all the risks, both immediate and long-term. Jesus taught that it would be better to sue for peace than to start a war you couldn’t win. It would be better to build nothing than to start construction on a structure that you couldn’t finish. It would be better to leave your farm fallow than to put your hand to the plow and not follow through. And when would-be followers recoiled from the prospect of the real danger surrounding discipleship, Jesus did not chase them down or make any attempt to reassure them. He let them walk away, at best. Though often he doubled down and intensified the frightening demands of the Gospel. “Take up your cross”, “Leave your father and mother”, “Hate your family”, and “Have no house nor bed” are a few of the exacerbations that Jesus piled on top of the already disconcerting downsides of faith.
One reason many are oblivious to the recklessness of faith is because their God is so small. Their God is bound by some external force to behave in a way that mitigates the risk inherent in them committing themselves to him. Their God is like a mechanical bull that provides the illusion of danger and unpredictability, but deep down everyone knows can’t actually trample and gore them. He is a stuffed lion into whose gaping mouth they feign the courage of laying their heads. Their God is so small that they can’t fathom how they could ever fear him. They have skipped past all the scary parts of Romans and have “Who shall separate us from the love of God” playing on an endless loop in their minds. Eternal security isn’t their conclusion, it is their assumption. They believe that God cannot condemn them; that he is restricted, constrained by some more powerful force than himself. They point to the observation that “God cannot lie”. But, I ask, isn’t that exactly what a lying God would say as well? So then how can we know the difference with sufficient certainty as to claim with absolute confidence what God can and cannot do? The short answer is that we cannot.
Saying that God is constrained by his own will, purpose, and word is to say that he is not constrained at all. That is the same constraint you have when you make a New Year’s resolution to not eat cake. You say “can’t”, but really you just choose not to… until you choose to. God can condemn you — now, tomorrow, and 10,000 years from now — if he doesn’t it is only because he chooses not to. So, we should fully appreciate how unfathomably dangerous God is. The Psalmist recognized that the appropriate response to God’s prerogative to forgive is fear (Ps. 130.1-4). God is not a stuffed lion, if you lay your head in his mouth he is every bit capable of biting it off. He is not a mechanical bull that someone or something can control the speed of and even if you topple to the ground cannot rend you to pieces. He melts the very elements with fervent heat, he grinds entire kingdoms into unrecognizable dust, he makes and breaks men like clay pots, and no one dare suggest that there is even so much as a shade of unrighteousness with him. God defiantly proclaims: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion, and who I will, I harden.
It is interesting that those that frame eternal security as a constraint on God for some reason think that once they “get to heaven” they are safe; almost as if they are sliding into home base. God is unconstrained to condemn us anywhere and anytime. There is nothing powerful enough to constrain God from doing what he wants. If you pay even a little attention you will notice that the person who most repents in the Bible is God. It isn’t even a close contest. Of all the times in the Old Testament that the text records someone ‘repenting’ it is almost always God, with only two or three exceptions. Salvation itself should be called “The Great Repentance.” We don’t typically object to these instances of repentance because they work in our favor, but theoretically speaking there is no difference between God repenting from condemning us and repenting from saving us. Obviously we prefer one over the other, at least when it pertains to our own eternity; however, in a situation such as Jonah’s we often find God’s penchant for repentance infuriating and disconcerting.
For these reasons, Paul’s argument for eternal security was not of the “God said and I believe it” trope. That epigram inverts the proper order and puts faith first and forces facts to accommodate themselves to it. I say it inverts the proper order, because faith is not the starting point of Christianity: Facts are. Therefore, Paul argues eternal security as the only logical conclusion of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, if Jesus died and resurrected then it is incoherent to think that God would condemn us, even though it is his prerogative to do so. To be more specific, if God delivered Jesus to die and resurrected him for us, even while we were unregenerate and degenerate sinners, and thereby redeemed, justified, and regenerated us: How will he not also freely give us all things with Christ? Who will lay anything to our charge? Who can possibly condemn us? Only God can. And he can. But why would he? It is his will to justify us. How do we know that is his will? Because he sacrificed his Son. So, if his will were to condemn us for sin at any time – past, present, or future – why then the infinitely expensive charade of the crucifixion? So: Yes, God can condemn us. But if he is such a small-minded God that he delivered his own Son for our justification only to change his mind because we turned out to be exactly what he loved to begin with, then we are all lost anyway.
Knowing this, we are compelled to accept two beautiful truths: First, If we are saved it is because God wills it. If we sin and he doesn’t condemn us, it is because God wills it. We live and breathe and move by his good pleasure and nothing more. There is no force that can constrain him. And the second, faith is a terrifyingly reckless response to this indomitable omnipotence. It is the encounter between the helpless object and the unstoppable force. There is no risk management strategy that justifies faith. There is no guarantee that it will work out well for you. The only underwriter that God proffers is himself. He guarantees his good will toward you by the virtue of his own good will toward you. And if that worries you, then you are beginning to understand how dangerous God is and how reckless faith is; but it is also because you haven’t considered what any other guarantee would mean. If there were something, anything, by which God could swear then God would be smaller than even the figment of your own imagination. To swear by something is to invoke some power greater than one’s self as guarantor in case of failure to deliver. So what would you rather have:
A) A God who is unable to condemn you.
B) A God who is unwilling to condemn you.
These are mutually exclusive Gods. A God who is unable to condemn cannot be unwilling to condemn. That is like you saying you are unwilling to fly like a bird or breathe underwater like a fish. And a God who is unwilling to condemn must not be unable to condemn. You must choose one. Either a small, impotent, feckless thug of a God who wants to destroy you but is held back by some force which is incoherently both greater than God yet not great enough to be God. Or, an omnipotent God whose infinite power inhabits everything known and unknown and overflows the universe like the ocean overflows a teacup, who answers to no one and does whatever he wills. A God who renews his mercies every morning.
Faith is making the choice to lay oneself open and bare before the omnipotent God, with no demands and no preconditions. If his will is to condemn, he is glorious. If his will is to save, he is glorious. Who are we to reply against God? If he forgives the penitent sinner it is because he desires to forgive. Repentance does not bind or constrain God in any way. Contrary to populist evangelical mythology, Jesus did not die on the cross to appease the father’s anger and to obligate him to forgive those that call on his name. There is no antagonism within the Trinity. The Son and the Father do not exist within an adversarial framework. It was the Father’s will to save all those who believe. It was the Son who pleaded for an alternate way, but joyfully submitted to the will of the Father. It is the Father who loved you and sent his only begotten Son to die for you. It is the Father who draws with chords of love and his banner over you is love. It is the Father who first loved you. There is no angry God in heaven being held back by the pleading of the Son, the saints, the angels, or the prayers and penance of the sinners. There is a God who is love, drawing you to him, calling you to him, through Jesus and only through Jesus. If you reject that love of God you judge yourself unworthy of eternal life and choose to hoard up wrath in anticipation of the day of wrath.
Faith is to believe with your heart; with all your heart. To count everything loss. Every. Single. Thing. All your achievements, all your accomplishments, all your virtues, all your relationships, all your accolades, all your hopes, everything. To hold anything back, even the smallest amount “for a rainy day” is undoubtedly a very sensible faith. But God does not recognize nor accept sensible faith. Sensible faith is the faith of the faithless. The faith of the saved is so reckless that it commits its whole heart. It is all in — Lock, Stock, and Double Barrel. It is a faith so reckless that it burns all its boats. So reckless that it buys only a one-way ticket. It makes no contingency plans; it has no plan B. It is a faith that recklessly shouts, “Jesus Saves or We are Lost.” There is no middle ground. Save your life, any part of your life, and you will lose it. Lose your life, all your life, and you will save it. This is truly a crazy reckless faith!