Every Evangelical or “born-again” Christian of the boomer generation knows of Keith Green, a fervent evangelist (some would say almost prophet) musician who died way too young. When I was in college in the late 70s and early 80s, Keith Green’s music was a large part of the soundtrack of my Christian life. On my way to my first job out of college on July 28, 1982, the day before my birthday, I heard on the radio that Keith Green had died in a plane crash. He was all of 28 years old.
I was thinking of him on Easter morning because I couldn’t get his Easter Song out of my mind, especially where he sings, “He is risen, hallelujah.” So I decided to take a little nostalgia trip reading about him and listening to some old songs. I came across his bio at the website of the organization he and his wife, Melody, founded called Last Days Ministries. A quote from Keith there reminded me of the type of Christianity I was “born-again” into, and why I am so grateful I was introduced to Reformed Theology a couple years out of college. Here is the quote, and I’ll explain why:
Loving Him is to be our cause. He can take care of a lot of other causes without us, but He can’t make us love Him with all our heart. That’s the work we must do. Anything else is an imitation.
I don’t do this to bag on Keith Green, but to show how the orientation of our faith can either be about us, or about what God in Christ has done for us—big difference.
His main contention is that God “can’t make us love him.” Of course he can’t! But this assumes that God making someone do something is the same as humans making other humans do something. The latter requires force or coercion. God’s “control” of human affairs or the human heart, on the other hand, never destroys human agency, freedom, or accountability. While “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will,” the king is still accountable for his actions.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read Green’s quote is a simple verse in 1 John (4:19) that tells us we can only love because God first loved us. Any ability we have to love God is initiated by him. I also thought about the Apostle Paul telling us that we are by nature objects of God’s wrath, and elsewhere he calls us God’s “enemies.” The idea is that by nature we are literally at war with God. That’s what rebels do. If we could, left to our own devices, we would try to kill God. I know this sounds extreme or overstated, but that is only so because we underestimate the power and ugliness of sin, and thus underestimate the power and beauty of our salvation from it by God’s unmerited favor.
Fundamentalists, like Keith Green, have a tendency to make Christianity almost all about our responsibility to live up to God’s standards. Yes, we have a responsibility to live up to God’s standards, or as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The problem is . . . we can’t! That’s why we need the gospel, the good news, that God saves sinners. Turning us from rebels and God haters, to children and God lovers, is all God’s work. He doesn’t “control” us or “make us” do things or love him. Rather he transforms us by his power, and then woos us as a man woos a maiden, or a mommy nurtures her baby.
So the the issue isn’t how much I love God, or that I ought to love God more. Of course I should! Rather, the issue is that God loved me! In Christ! I am loved! By Him! Let me focus on that, think on as Paul says, that God demonstrated his love for me in this, while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.
how wrong is this