I have been blessed during my ministry to have people in all of my congregations who were not afraid to ask questions about my sermons, challenge some of the data, or give me some of their interpretations of the text I just interpreted and come to different conclusions.
Given the denominational proverbial length of the sermon (homily) – Catholic - 8 minutes, Presbyterian - 16, Euro Baptist - 30 minutes, and African-American Baptist – 60 minutes, there is only so much one can intelligibly pack into a sermon. Some preachers traditionally have three points to everything they do and some concluded that in our contemporary times an audience will be lost listening to any message with more than one point.
At a recent meeting, the question was raised from a Protestant viewpoint as to why all the children in a particular family were not saved. They had the same parents, they were raised in the same church, they lived in the same community, but some of them continued to live as Christians while some claimed to be the opposite - atheists. My answer (which satisfied no one) was one word – will.
I started from the premise in the Scripture that God does not want anyone to perish. This premise is stated in the best known verse from the Bible, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Paul confirms this in Titus 2:11 where we read, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”. Apostle Peter writing towards the end of his life pens these words, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. My conclusion was that from the divine perspective, no one can claim they are lost because God does not will their salvation.
The second component was that this particular family had preachers, Sunday School teachers, friends who desired above everything else the conversion of their children, relatives, friends, and neighbors. There was passion in the presentation of the gospel and there was clarity so that no one could say they did not understand the gospel. Those who have been entrusted with the proclamation of the gospel willed for their hearers to repent and become saved.
This left for our discussion the third component – the will (willingness) of the individual. As I am getting older, the more I appreciate the human will. In a sense, I feel that the human will is the human glory and the human destruction. The human will is that God given ability given to us to choose the right or the wrong. The human will was as much a part of the historic Adam and Eve as much as it is a part of my life and the life of my children. When the gospel is being proclaimed, it is being proclaimed as whosoever will may come. Forced Christianization has never helped anyone. Authentic Christianization, one in which the individual comes willingly, will be an enduring Christianity.
When the three wills come together - God’s will that no one will perish, the will of the proclaimer, and the will of the hearer who will submit oneself to the message of God, a new creation will come into existence, a person born from above will be born, an individual will come out whose desire will be to please God.