Of all the revivals recorded for us in the Bible then one of my favourites, if I'm allowed to have such a thing, is the revival in the city of Nineveh as told us in Jonah 3. It's a short chapter so I'll quote it all:
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened."
Interestingly, the answer to this question is often presented as an absolute yes or an absolute no. If you answered with an absolute no then congratulations for being an antinomian (google it, somewhat to my own surprise I spelt this right first attempt), you're also wrong. And if you answered with an absolute yes then you're probably a Catholic or legalist and likewise wrong. The answer to the question is probably best summed up as a qualified yes (or even a qualified no but I think I prefer the emphasis on the doing of good). It requires a nuanced understanding of salvation and if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, please stay with me, at least until I've gone through the arguments.
Of course, one of the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith is salvation through faith alone. Happily, I'm not denying this. But salvation is much broader than we often conceive it to be. Let's spilt salvation into its parts then, sorry if you are put off with the '-ations' but it's good to learn the theological terms involved.
_ One of the ideas I come across fairly regularly is the one that when it comes to salvation God purposely limits himself and gives human beings free reign to choose as they will on the matter. That is to say, God, who is sovereign in all things, limits his sovereignty so that it does not include salvation. He still works to save people, he presents people with a choice and they are free to accept or decline as they see fit. The advantages of this thought are clear: it makes the whole issue of divine sovereignty and human free will very easy to understand. God has his bit he’s in charge of and we have our bit and so we sidestep a lot of the complicated issues predestination brings up.
But its ease of understanding is not a measure of its truthfulness. The question we have to ask is simply whether this idea is biblical or not?
As you may have noticed I bang on a lot about Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace and if you don’t know what I’m talking about click here and prepare to have the way you think of God overturned. But why do I think it matters? What’s so vitally important about it? Why do I care? It’s not because I think reformed Christians are better than others for I’ve met too many people who aren’t and yet walk so closely with Christ. One of the biggest benefits of the Christian Union is meeting a lot of people who I disagree with theologically speaking yet put me to shame for my lacklustre walk with God. It’s not because I think that you’re a bad Christian if you’re not reformed. And it’s not because I want everyone to agree with the Ben Mildred Way of Looking at Things. No, it’s something greater than all these.
This question is a biggy. Right up there with what is our purpose in life? (to glorify God) what will happen when I die? (heaven or hell) or what will I have for breakfast tomorrow? (cereal and toast).
The answer to the above question resolves around the concept of predestination. I know, long work, but the good news is that it means exactly what it looks like it means. People were destined to become Christians and the ‘pre’ means that this happened before they came into existence.
But that’s throwing you right in at the deep end. To truly understand predestination we must go right back to the beginning…
Man is sinful
This is a pretty self evident point. Let’s run a quick test: have you for the whole of your life perfectly kept the two commands to love God with your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbour as yourself? If that’s a no then you’re a sinner.
But sin is more than that. We’re not sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re born sinners.
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful natureand following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Ephesians 2 v 3
By default we’re sinners, ‘by nature and choice’ as Mark Driscoll says. Jesus gives a damning assessment of a sinful man’s heart: