Divine Initiative - Preview


David Ervin

CCC Press
Belleville, Michigan

The Divine Initiative
Copyright © 2021 by David Ervin
Published by CCC Press
44500 Willis Rd.,
Belleville, Michigan
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First Printing, 2021
Italics or underlining in biblical quotes indicates emphasis
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The First Move


Spiritually Dead


The New Man


Of Mice, Men and God




Why Does it Matter?


Appendix A: Difficult Passages


Appendix B: Further Study







heart pounded as the evangelist called for a

response. Against a mountain of fears and inhibitions,
another force arose. A mysterious strength was welling
up within me, taking captive my mind and will to the
sweet call of the Savior. This unknown power, moving
from my heart to my head to my body, transformed my
thoughts and feelings into action. It was my very first
act of obedience. I raised my trembling hand in
response to the gospel.
I was a teenager attending a summer youth retreat.
We camped outside for a whole week on the church
grounds enjoying fun activities punctuated with group
Bible studies. A life-changing event was certainly not
on my agenda. My motive for attending the youth
retreat was devoid of anything spiritual. I went
because my friends were there, and more importantly,
girls would be present. It was strictly a social occasion.
The week‘s retreat culminated in a worship service. As
a PK (that‘s a pastor‘s kid), I was all too familiar with
the drill. It was time to ―pay for the soup.‖ They would
bring in some itinerate evangelist who would preach at
us for about forty-five minutes, and then we would be
free to go.
Though reared in an evangelical Christian church,
I was not a believer. I knew all the Bible stories and
had heard the gospel message a thousand times, but
it was a heap of foolishness to me. I thought


Christianity was a crutch for the simple-minded to give
them comfort. As an unbelieving PK, I had
consequently become quite adept at getting through
boring religious services and prepared myself for yet
another routine mental blackout. But something was
different this time. The setting was the same. The
songs were the same. The message was the same.
But something was vastly different.
I found myself hanging on every word. It seemed
as if everything being said was just for me. I felt the
weight of my sin and the need for the Savior like never
before. The cross, unimportant to me the day before,
suddenly became a refuge of safety. Prior to that hour,
I considered Jesus Christ to be nothing more than a
mildly curious religious figure. But at that moment, He
leaped out of history and became personal as if He
were alive and present in the room. I was acutely
aware that He had done something real and
stupendous on my behalf—something I did not
deserve. When the evangelist called for us to raise a
hand, indicating a response of faith in Christ, I raised
I wish I could say that I steadfastly followed Jesus
Christ from that day forward with unwavering
faithfulness. That would make a great conversion story.
But like many people, my coming to Jesus was like
stepping across a blurred, gray line. Others may have
experienced a sudden leap of faith; my journey was


more like a gradual incline. Over the next few years,
there would be many other incidents and ―faith events.‖
Somewhere along the way, I had crossed over to
Christ. Still, that day when I raised my hand
represented a beginning—a first move. I had heard
Christians say many times that ―if you just take the first
step, God will do the rest.‖ Well, I had done my part. I
took that first step. I had taken the initiative in this
salvation thing.
But did I really make the first move? Was God
waiting around for me to initiate His plan for my life, or
was His plan already in motion? Was the raising of my
hand the outward sign of my initiative in a relationship
with God, or was it the culmination of a divine initiative
that began in eternity past, moved a million
circumstances, and overcame countless obstacles
until at last it intersected with that specific moment in
The apostle John makes a causal statement about
our love for God: ―We love Him because He first loved
us.‖ (1 John 4:19). This is a profound truth yet one so
simple that children sing about it in Sunday school: ―O
how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.‖
According to John, there is a love prior to our love—a
love that causes our love. There is a movement of God
toward us that takes place long before our movement
toward Him.


Perhaps as John wrote these things, the memory
of Jesus‘ words rang in his mind. There in the upper
room, Jesus said, ―You did not choose Me, but I chose
you‖ (John 15:16). On hearing this, the disciples might
have protested, ―But, Lord, we did choose you!‖ After
all, they had left everything to follow Him. They had
made a deliberate, free choice to abandon their former
lives, their loved ones, their livelihood—everything to
follow Jesus. They had indeed chosen Christ. So, what
then did Jesus mean by this strange statement? The
point is that as real and as important as their choice of
Jesus was, it was nevertheless secondary. Christ‘s
prior choice of them was ultimate. Yes, they made a
real choice, but behind that choice was His.
Who was the ultimate cause of my hand lifting into
the air in faith that day? On one level, of course, I was
the cause. My mind understood, my heart gave assent,
my will made a decision, and my body reacted. But it‘s
not that simple. That day the room was full of other
teens, each one hearing the same gospel message
and presented with an identical opportunity to avail
themselves of the benefits of Christ. I responded to the
gospel, but most of them did not. By His grace, more
than thirty years later I am still running hard after
Jesus, but to my knowledge, most of the other
teenagers present at that worship service are not.
Why me? Why did I respond in faith and they did
not? Some try to answer this question by supposing


that God grants everyone enough grace to make a
decision for Christ possible. This is sometimes called
―prevenient grace‖ because it is grace that comes
before conversion. The idea is that God gives each
person enough prevenient grace to overcome their
sinful nature.1 But does that solve the mystery?
Prevenient grace gets us no closer to an answer.
If the saved and unsaved man receives the same
amount of prevenient grace, why does one cooperate
with that grace while the other opposes it? What power
enables the saved man to breach the barrier of his
unbelief and lay hold of Christ?



Equal doses of prevenient grace for all may seem
like the simple solution, but it actually does nothing to
help us understand why one person believes and
another does not. The problem may be pushed back a
little, but the underlying question remains—what
makes the difference? Either the saved man received


more grace than the other (in which case it would be
the power of God that made the difference), or there is
some quality in him that is lacking in the unsaved man
(in which case it would be the power of man that made
the difference).
Could any believer allow for the second possibility
to be true? Was I wiser, more spiritual, more obedient,
more intelligent, or more whatever than the other
people in the room? That cannot be the case. If my
response of faith is due to any quality found in me and
not in them, I would have something to boast of. If I am
the ultimate source of my faith, then salvation would
not be owing to God‘s grace but rather to some
property found in me that is not present in an
unbeliever.2 If this were true, my work of believing
would be the critical factor in God‘s work of salvation.
The power of salvation would then lie in me. The plans
of God and the work of Christ would be impotent to
save me without the prior addition of my work of faith.
Regardless of what God accomplished on my behalf, I
alone would possess the power to make His plans
effectual. This is a far cry from the gospel that is ―the
power of God for salvation‖ (Romans 1:16 ESV).
Christian, on the last day, when you stand before
God and look across the great chasm that will divide
the sheep from the goats, what will you be able to
point to that adequately explains why you are on the
sheep side and someone else is on the goat side? You


may say, ―Because I believed in Christ, and they did
not.‖ Granted. But why did you believe in Christ and
they did not? You reply, ―Because I realized my lost
condition.‖ True. How is it that you came to that
realization while they did not? What resources did you
bring to bear that they somehow neglected? Do you
not see that any quality, action, cooperation, response,
or decision you cite as the ultimate explanation that
separates you from them will redound to your merit?
Yet on that great day of judgment, the difference
between the sheep and the goats will be but grace
alone. Grace demands, therefore, that the reason we
believed and they did not is because of something
outside of us, something antecedent to our choice,
something that has no basis in what we have done or
will ever do.
A crowd once asked Jesus, ―‗What shall we do,
that we may work the works of God?‘ Jesus answered
and said to them, ‗This is the work of God, that you
believe in Him who He sent‘‖ (John 6:28–29). This
conversation was about work—spiritual work. The
crowd wanted to know the spiritual labor God requires
for us to be in right standing with Him. Perhaps they
were looking for a seven-step process or a list of
religious deeds that must be accomplished to get to
heaven. Instead, Jesus told them that the spiritual
work God requires is to believe in Him! Faith in Christ
is the great work that lays hold of salvation and


transports us out of darkness and into the kingdom of
So then, according to Jesus, the seemingly simple
act of my lifting a hand in faith represented a spiritual
work. In fact, it was the greatest spiritual work of my
life. It was a work that connected me to all the benefits
of Christ‘s atonement and determined where I will
spend eternity. In that moment of belief, a spiritual
labor was accomplished that determined my forever.
Who did that work? Who was it that achieved in my
heart what Jesus called ―the works of God‖? There are
only three options:
1. It was all my work
2. It was a mixture of God‘s work and my work
3. It was all God‘s work
The first option gives me all the credit for my
salvation. In option number two, the credit is divided
between the Divinity and me. The third option gives all
the credit to God. No Christian would attribute the work
of their salvation to themselves or even dare share the
glory with God. We know in our hearts that He did it all.
It is all God‘s work because repentance and saving
faith does not ultimately originate in the believer; they
are gifts of God.
We have no platform from which to boast in our
salvation because even the very faith we exercise to
connect with Christ is given to us freely by His grace.


Repentance and Faith Are Gifts of God
―For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not
only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake‖
Philippians 1:29
―in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if
God perhaps will grant them repentance‖
2 Timothy 2:25
―God has also granted to the Gentiles
repentance to life.‖ Acts 11:18
The apostle Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8 that ―by
grace you have been saved through faith.‖ Faith is the
instrument that connects us to the saving work of
Christ. Faith makes us a beneficiary of the cross. Paul
then goes on to clarify that this faith is ―not of
yourselves; it is the gift of God.‖ Paul is careful to
explain that even the initial work of believing is not a
labor produced from resources within ourselves but is
something given to us. He understood that if faith
originates in us, we would have grounds to boast and
salvation would not be of grace. That is why, after
explaining that faith is a gift, he goes on to say in verse
9, ―Not of works, lest anyone should boast.‖
Because God is the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:2),



the last scrap of human merit is removed, and God
receives all the glory. Our faith is His work in us.
Faith as the gift of God also explains why some
believe and others do not. Quite simply, God does not
give this gift to everyone. If God gave the gift of faith
and repentance to everyone, then everyone would
repent and believe. It was self-evident to the apostle
Paul that since the Christians in Philippi believed, they
must then have been granted the ability to believe
(Philippians 1:29). According to Jesus, the reason for
the Pharisees‘ unbelief was that they had not been
granted faith: ―Therefore they could not believe,
because Isaiah said again: ‗He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with
their eyes, lest they should understand with their
hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.‘‖ (John
A gift is, by definition, something freely given.
Suppose I went to the shopping mall and decided to
give five people a twenty-dollar bill just because I‘m
feeling gracious. Could the other people in the mall
then justly say, ―That‘s not right! Where‘s our twenty
bucks? You gave it to them, so you have to give it to
us too!‖ Of course, that is ridiculous. I didn‘t owe them
a gift in the first place. That‘s the same argument my
first-grade teacher used when I gave a piece of gum to
my best buddy. ―If you don‘t have enough for the
whole class, then put it away,‖ she said. But with all


due respect to Mrs. Heatherly, just because I give a
gift to one (or some) does not mean I now owe a gift to
all. A gift is never owed.
God made us and gave us every good thing we
enjoy. We are showered with His goodness and
breathe in His blessings every single day. And yet the
universal response of the human race is to reject God
and suppress our knowledge of Him (Romans 1:19–
21). What principle obligates God to stop His enemies
from despising Him? There is none. The sovereign
God has every right (and would be entirely just) to
leave us in our rebellion if He chooses to do so. It is
the wonder of His mercy that He intervenes to turn
some of His enemies into friends.
When I responded to the call of the evangelist that
day, it was because of an appointment. Another
evangelist, Luke, explains when he describes what
happened to a similar crowd: ―When the Gentiles
heard this [the gospel], they were glad and glorified the
word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed
to eternal life believed‖ (Acts 13:48). God had made a
prior appointment for some of the people in that crowd
to believe. When we consider the depth of our sin and
how grievously we have offended God, we should not
be amazed that God gives the gift of faith only to some.
What should astound us is that He gives this grace to
anyone at all.


Long before you and I made our first move toward
Christ, God had from all eternity made the first move
toward us:
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation
of the world, that we should be holy and without
blame before Him in love, having predestined us
to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself,
according to the good pleasure of His will
(Ephesians 1:4–5).

Ephesians 1:4–5
God has chosen a
people for Himself.

“He chose us in Him”

The purpose of that
choice is salvation
in Christ.

“to adoption as sons by
Jesus Christ to

God made that choice
before we were born
and could deserve it.

“He chose us in Him
before the foundation
of the world.”

Ages before I made my choice of Christ, God had
made a choice of me. The same is true of every one of
the redeemed. Someone may object, ―But doesn‘t God
choose everybody?‖ To choose everything is to make
no choice at all. To choose is, by definition, to limit
one‘s selection within a particular category. It is to
select something (or someone) while passing over


According to Scripture, there is no question that
God chooses some for salvation. ―God from the
beginning chose you for salvation‖ (2 Thessalonians
The word ―elect‖ is found seventeen times in the
New Testament as a description of those God chose
for salvation and seven times as a verb meaning to
choose someone for salvation. There are other words
and references to this concept as well.

Examples of Election in Scripture
―Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh
would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He
chose, He shortened the days.‖ (Mark 13:20)
―Who shall bring a charge against God‘s elect?‖
(Romans 8:33)
―knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God‖
(1 Thessalonians 1:4)
―To the . . . elect according to the foreknowledge of
God the Father‖ (1 Peter 1:1–2)
―These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb
will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King
of kings; and those who are with Him are called,
chosen, and faithful.‖ (Revelation 17:14)



References to God‘s choice of an elect people for
salvation abound in Scripture. So then the question is
not ―Does God choose people for salvation?‖ but ―On
what basis does God choose people for salvation?‖
Some would say that God looks ahead in time and
sees us choosing Him, and then on the basis of our
decision, He chooses us.3 That only brings us back to
the original problem: Why did I choose Christ and they
didn‘t? What attribute exists in the believer (but is
absent in the unbeliever) that causes them to choose
God in the first place? If God looks ahead in time to
see anything in you that provokes His salvific response,
it is to that quality you owe your eternal salvation.
Playing a shell game with God‘s knowledge of the
future does nothing to change the underlying fact: in
this way of thinking, you achieved something that the
unbeliever did not, and it is on the basis of what you
did that God chose you for salvation.
On the contrary, according to apostle Paul, God‘s
choice has nothing to do with any quality found in us,
but it was ―according to the good pleasure of His will‖
(Ephesians 1:5). God does nothing arbitrarily. He has
a perfect and holy reason for His choices, hidden
within His sovereign purposes. As is His divine
prerogative, God has not presently revealed the full
reasons behind His choices. But He has told us what
the reason is not. It has nothing to do with anything
found in us. ―[God] has saved us and called us with a


holy calling, not according to our works, but according
to His own purpose and grace which was given to us
in Christ Jesus before time began‖ (2 Timothy 1:9).
We deserved no part in this. We caused no part in
this. We accomplished no part in this—God did it all,
and He did it for His glory. Charles Spurgeon, that
great prince of preachers, testifies of this truth when
he recalls his conversion:
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of
God, I was not thinking much about the preacher‘s
sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck
me, ―How did you come to be a Christian?‖ I
sought the Lord. ―But how did you come to seek
the Lord?‖ The truth flashed across my mind in a
moment—I should not have sought Him unless
there had been some previous influence in my
mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I,
but then I asked myself, ―How came I to pray?‖ I
was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures.
―How came I to read the Scriptures?‖ I did read
them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a
moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all
and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the
whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and
from that doctrine, I have not departed to this day,
and I desire to make this my constant confession,
―I ascribe my change wholly to God.‖4

There are thousands of events that God uses
along the way in a believer‘s journey. There are some
things that God has done and some things that we


have done. Sometimes it‘s hard to sort it all out. May I
suggest it is as simple as this, ―I once was lost, and
now I am found.‖ In the final analysis, the one
responsible for that transition is not you. I think every
saved person knows that deep inside. If you are a
Christian, why do you thank God for your conversion?
Because you know deep down in your bones that He
did it. It is not that I chose God, and in response to that
work, He chose me. God chose me first, and His
divine initiative is what enabled me to choose Him that
day at the youth retreat—and every day after that. God
made the first move.




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