After taking a short break from this series over the Christmas period and new year (Happy New Year BTW), I thought I should probably get a shift on and actually get down part 4 of my look at Two Ways To Live. So without further ado, the other problem I have with TWTL is:
The Illusion of Choice
Now this might be a slightly controversial one as I know Christians have different views about this. TWTL’s tagline is ‘the choice we all face’ but I just don’t think following Jesus is about making a choice (hear me out), because I don’t think any of us have the ability to make the choice to follow Jesus. Left to our own devices, we are so steeped in sin that it is impossible for us to choose Jesus of our own accord. We’ve already seen in part 3 that we’re not free agents and that before being saved we’re under the rule of Satan. Two Ways To Live doesn’t pick up on this, which is a shame, but it also paints another unhelpful picture of what we’re like. We’re depicted as empowered decision makers who should take the clever option for the discerning religious consumer and make the enlightened choice. But this idea is foreign to the Bible.
We’re not empowered decision makers, given a choice and just needing to make the right one. We are captives in the strong man’s house (Mark 3:27). We are helpless slaves to sin (John 8:34). We are whores besotted with terrible lovers (Ezekiel 16). We are sheep following after bad shepherds (Ezekiel 34). We are thirsty beggars drinking from broken wells (Jeremiah 2:13-14). We are lost and must be found (Luke 15). We are snake-bitten and need healing (John 3:14f). We are famished and need Bread (John 6). We are dominated subjects in Satan’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-3).We are dead and need raising (John 5:24f).
These are not pictures of empowered decision makers who just need to choose to get out of this situation. These are pictures of people who are hopelessly lost, enslaved, dead! That last picture, death, is the most helpful in seeing where the idea of choice falls down. TWTL presents us with two lifestyle choices. But of course, we don’t really have a choice, because we’re spiritually dead and dead people don’t, in fact they can’t, make decisions! When was the last time you heard about someone who was dead and one day just chose to be alive again? When was the last time you went to a funeral and you heard the vicar say in his address, “well it’s terribly sad that she’s gone but who knows?! She might just choose to come back again!”Or when Lazarus was dead in the tomb, did we hear Jesus say, “I’m sure he’ll choose to be alive again when he’s ready?”
Imagine that you’re walking along the street one day and “BAM!” You have a heart attack. You fall to the ground and your heart stops beating, leaving you lying dead on the curb. Now you are in no position to make any choices at that point. You are entirely dependent on salvation coming from outside of you. Maybe a passer by or a paramedic will step in and administer CPR, get your heart beating again and give you your life back. But you! You were powerless. This is exactly the situation we’re in.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:1, 4-5
We were dead and made alive, and this wasn’t our choice. Following Jesus is not something we choose to do. We don’t weigh up the evidence and then choose to have faith. Faith is given to us as a gift, it comes from outside of us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Now one of the ways we might receive faith may involve us weighing up the evidence but let’s not falsely pretend we’re free agents reaching this point ourselves. We’re only going to come to faith if faith is given to us. Even in those circumstances, we’re still receiving it.
Think of a couple of classic illustrations we often use and how they’ve been influenced by the same sort of thinking as TWTL. Take the illustration of being stuck in a burning building and the fireman putting his ladder up to the window. All we need to do is make the decision to jump into his arms and let him save us. Or the image of being lost at sea and floundering in the water, until a boat appears and someone throws you a life ring, urging you to take hold of it. I’ve used both these and similar illustrations before. But don’t they suggest that the fireman himself can’t really rescue us and that those on the boat are ultimately helpless to save us? In the end, the focus is put onto us and our decision. Choose to leap into the fireman’s arms. Choose to grab the life ring. Once again, subtly, the focus is being moved off of Jesus and onto us (and the gospel simply as self preservation again). It would be more accurate to have us as the person overcome with smoke inhalation and not breathing, or the body floating facedown in the water, lungs filled with fluid, who is then resuscitated by our rescuer.
Ultimately, the gospel is not a one of two lifestyle choices, it is life to the dead and the dead can’t choose to make themselves alive again, Christ gives life. I think this has far greater impact than Two Ways To Live.
If not TWTL, then what?
So you’ve probably guessed by now that Two Ways To Live doesn’t float my boat. So what does? Below is 321, an outline I have been particularly taken by in the last year. I’m not going to say anything about it, it’s just yours to watch. Below I’ve also posted some links to a few articles from the writer of 321, Glen Scrivener, where he addresses how 321 relates to the classic gospel outline of Creation, Fall, Cross and Repentance. Enjoy!