A Conference Focusing on the Power of Paradoxes

A Conference Focusing on the Power of Paradoxes

This fall the Desiring God National Conference will wrestle with paradoxes. Not contradictions. Things like Philippians 2:12–13, “You work . . . for God is at work in you to will and work.” And 1 Corinthians 15:10, “I worked hard . . . but not I but the grace of God.”

We are commanded to repent (Acts 3:19), and God is said to grant repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). We are commanded to believe (Mark 1:15; John 14:1), and belief is said to be God’s gift (Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8).

I saw another one in my daily Bible reading this morning. “I incline my heart to perform your statutes” (Psalm 119:100). “Incline my heart to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36). I must incline my heart. I must also cry out that God would incline my heart.

We are capturing these paradoxes in the conference title, “Act the Miracle.” The imperative, “Act!” implies you can and must. The word “miracle” implies that you can’t without divine enabling.

Jonathan Edwards put it like this:

We are not merely passive in [efficacious grace], nor yet does God do some and we do the rest, but God does all and we do all. God produces all and we act all. For that is what he produces, our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects wholly passive and wholly active.

So God is said to convert [2 Timothy 2:25], and men are said to convert [Luke 11:32], or turn. God makes a new heart [Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26], and we are commanded to make us a new heart [Ezekiel 18:31]. God circumcises the heart [Deuteronomy 30:6], and we are commanded to circumcise [our hearts, (Deuteronomy 10:16)]. Not merely because we must use the means in order to the effect, but the effect itself is our act and our duty. (Writings on The Trinity, Grace, and Faith, WJE Online Vol. 21, 251.

Thus Edwards exhorts us:

I would earnestly exhort those who hear me, to make to themselves a pure heart (James 4:8). Though it be God's work to purify the heart [Psalm 51:2], yet the actual, or rather the active, procuring of it is your act. . .

We must not think to excuse ourselves by saying that it is God's work, that we cannot purify our own hearts; for though it be God's work in one sense, yet it is equally our work in another; James 4:8, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded."

If you do not engage in this work yourselves, and purify your own hearts, they will never be pure. If you do not get a pure heart, the blame of it will be laid to your own backwardness. (Sermons and Discourses, 1730-33, WJE Online Vol. 17, 85)

Our aim in this conference is

  • to penetrate this mystery of sanctification as far as the Scriptures will take us;
  • and thus to be transformed in the renewing of our minds,
  • so that we may prove what is the will of God — what is good, acceptable and perfect;
  • so that Christ might be more clearly manifest in the life of his church.


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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.