The God in Front and the God Behind

If God is only in front of you beckoning, you tend to become a legalist. If God is only behind you pushing, you tend to lose resoluteness. Calvinists tend to shy away from the beckoning God. Arminians tend to shy away from the pushing God. But the Bible pictures God in front and God behind. And this is not a contradiction.

For example, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…No one can come to me unless it is granted to him by my Father” (John 6:44, 65). In other words, behind my decision to come to Christ for salvation is God. He opened by heart to believe and embrace the gospel. He provided the push that got me started.

Not only that. He stays behind me all the way as Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” All my obedience as a Christian is owing to the enabling push of God’s grace from behind. The rear-guard work of God keeps us from being legalists who think that our obedience is the price we pay on our own in order to earn God’s favor. On the contrary, working from behind in the secret place of our heart, God’s favor is already ours. We don’t purchase it by obedience, it precedes and enables our obedience. There is no room for boasting. As Paul said, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Nothing is more important than the God behind.

But we Calvinists are always in danger of minimizing the God in front. The Bible pictures God in front of us beckoning us to be resolute and follow him. He holds out favors to us if we will move forward to Him. For example: “He gives more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’…Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you” (James 4:6, 8, 10). In other words, not all of God’s grace is behind us pushing. “More grace” is in front of us beckoning. If we muster whatever resolution we have and draw near to God we will experience “more grace.”

The reason Calvinists flinch about his is that it seems to put God at the mercy of our self-determination. It seems to make salvation and sanctification depend finally on us. But this is not true. God is both in front and behind. If I have the wherewithal to draw near to God for more grace, it is because God is at work in me. If I humble myself, it is because God’s Spirit is at work in me. So a biblical Calvinist does not need to surrender the God behind when he embraces the God in front.

We must believe both. If we only have the God behind, we ignore all the demands of the God in front. If we only have the God in front, we ignore the assurances of inner enabling from the God behind. One error robs us of resoluteness and ambition. The other robs us of God-reliant humility and leads to legalism and pride.

If we keep clear that God is behind and in front we will feel a new zeal and freedom. Zeal to exert all the will and energy within us to pursue goals that will save the elect and glorify God. And freedom from the fear that such labor and toil is a sign of self-reliance and pride. We will hear God beckon us and we will strive, knowing that every good impulse is from the God behind.

Is there not much “more grace” for us to experience at Bethlehem? Is there not a power yet to be had, a purity, a boldness, a zeal, a harvest? The God in front beckons. Let us strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14); let us draw near to God (James 4:8); let us pursue peace (1 Peter 3:11); let us be zealous for spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). And as we run with all our might toward the blessing of the God in front, let us humbly remember what Paul said about he God behind: “For this I toil, striving with all the energy which He mightily inspires within me” (Colossians 1:29).

Sandwiched in grace,

Pastor John

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