I Have Not Decided to Follow Jesus
There is hardly a Christian in the United States who has not been to a revival meeting or worship service that featured the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” I was intrigued to learn that the song lyrics writer and music score originator were “unknown” according to the CCLI license slide the last time it was sung in our church. That prompted a Google search revealing the legend of an American Baptist missionary convert named Nokseng in 19th century Garo, Assam, India.
Northeast India is notoriously harsh to Christians even today. One can only imagine how difficult it was to be a believer in Jesus there 150 years ago. In traditional torturous fashion, the tribal chief martyred Nokseng’s two sons before the man and his wife. With no recanting of Christian faith, Nokseng’s wife was next. Finally, the man himself was killed by bow and arrow. Each scene in this three-part tragedy had an apparent intermission wherein Nokseng wrote the lyrics to the now famous song.
The musical score is also said to be an Indian tune. It is remarkably catchy. This made it one of the most popular songs to be voiced at Billy Graham Crusades in the 1960s, which led to its inclusion in local churches thereafter. So, what is the problem?
First, martyr stories are often heart-wrenching because of the suffering involved. One thinks of our Nigerian brothers and sisters in the central belt near Jos where Islamic Fulani tribesmen regularly murder scores of Christians in our day. Thousands are killed each year. With no repercussions from the Nigerian government or international community, the slaughter of Christians continues year after year. We are moved with lament.
Second, we are moved by simple songs that affect our emotions. The world has mastered this technique. It is drug-like in its effect.
This one-two punch wins the resistance I would offer. I concede defeat, but I will go down fighting, as to why my family does not sing this song when it comes round in the cycle. Here are a few reasons.
First, man-centered songs are the scourge of contemporary Christian music. Is the song you are singing about you (subject) or about Jesus (object)? “I have decided” is about me and something I do. If the legend is true, it is not our place to question deficient theology in the man who penned the words under such extreme duress, but this does not change the fact that those who sing the words, today, have a much greater opportunity to examine the theology of what they sing.
Second, Arminian free will decisionalism has latched on to this song to promote its heretical teaching of easy believism. People who claim it was their decision that determined their salvation are misinformed at best and false brethren promoting false teaching at worst.
The biblical teaching on the subject reveals that it is God who determines each person’s status for eternity. All people are sinners, except Jesus Christ (Rom 3:23; 5:12; Heb 4:15). All people stand condemned at the bar set by God’s holy Law, except Jesus Christ, the Righteous. Therefore, there is salvation from the just judgment and punishment issued by God, found in no other name under heaven and given among men (Acts 4:12).
Jesus Christ lived and died in righteousness before God, even as He offered Himself to God as the substitute sacrifice for the sins of His people (Mt 1:21; Rom 5:8; Eph 5:25). He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Pet 2:24). In Him we have redemption, the purchase of blood, which grants the forgiveness of sins, according to His grace (Eph 1:7).
It is God’s gracious choice as to who is baptized into Christ’s church (Rom 11:5; 1 Cor 12:13), a remnant people drawn from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 5:9). Those who receive Jesus Christ do so by the will of God (Jn 1:12–13). He saved us (Titus 3:5), not we ourselves. It is only by His doing that we are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). He alone is the One who transfers us from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13). Christian, who grafted you into Christ, the true Vine (Jn 15:1)? Dead branches do not’ make such decisions (Rom 11:24).
The Bible reveals that salvation is a work of our Triune God. For this reason alone, Christians should be singing songs that praise God and worship Him, making sure to exclude any that place undo emphasis on man’s will or ability (Hint: man has neither!). These songs steal glory from God and tempt people to boast in their imaginary spiritual prowess.
According to His free and sovereign grace, God, in His good pleasure included a wretched sinner such as I, and the Spirit in me inspires me to give all glory to God for the great things He has done for me. Boasting in my prudent decision-making ability is not part of the regimen of Christ-exalting, God-glorifying worship. For this reason, I stand mute before the throne of grace when this unfortunate song is presented as an offering of self-worship to the so-called, “free will of man.”
My confession is that I did not decide to follow Jesus. Rather, His Spirit directed this sinner to a place where the same Spirit did fill a man of God, who preached the Gospel of grace. I heard my Savior calling me because the Word of Christ opened my ears to hear, even as the Spirit opened my heart to believe the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus. He alone accomplished what concerned me. He alone deserves the glory for a work only He could do in the power that belongs to God, alone.
My confession includes the reality that my response to the irresistible grace of God is entirely a work of God’s indwelling Spirit (Rom 8:9, 11). Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20), willing and doing His good pleasure and accomplishing His good works prepared beforehand for me to walk in (Eph 2:10; Phil 2:13). If you ever happen upon a good work that you might mistakenly ascribe to me, remember, it is never me but Christ in me who warrants all honor, glory, and praise. He is worthy…not me. Given the choice…which I was not, I would not have decided to follow Jesus…nor would you.
Spokane Valley, Washington
October 5, 2021