Grant F. Gates is a math major (class of 2016) who really likes beards, books, coffee, reading books, baseball, writing about books, and theology.
God blessed me with Christian parents and church attendance from the age of negative forty weeks. From birth I was exposed to gospel centered Biblical teaching at home, in Sunday School, at mid week Bible studies, through AWANA, and at chapel meetings for our homeschool group. I quickly compiled a lot of Bible knowledge. At a very young age I took on the role of the good kid, always striving to get the praise of teachers and family visitors. I lived for that praise. I thought myself morally and intellectually superior to my peers. I looked down on those kids who couldn’t answer the questions, assuming if they ever did win the “best kid in Sunday school today” type awards that some mistake had been made. I was very proud of the way I did things and the things I had been taught. I was also around four years old; even children can illustrate the doctrine of total depravity.
But God uses all things for the good of His elect. That same pride in my heart that continually stank before His holy presence He used to drive me to learn His Word. In order to maintain my self conception as the good kid, I needed to know all the answers and memorize all the Bible verses. Inevitably I had to deal with the truths of the gospel. When faced with James 2:10, it was inevitable I would admit I was a sinner condemned before the law, and that as a sinner condemned before the law, I needed salvation from its penalties. Through Sunday School stories about pharisees and white washed tombs—more particularly the indistinguishability between them—it became clear that all those verses that said I couldn’t make myself a good person were indeed true, and that I needed a God to redeem me. That God did. I gave my life to Christ early in the second grade.
Many GOC freshmen struggle with the doctrines of grace, so I want to talk about how I learned about them. The clear superiority of Christian over secular education lies in its unhindered ability to study all subjects as a unity, with God the unifying core. My parents took full advantage of this in my education; in seventh grade I wrote a paper on Jonathan Edwards. I needed a reference, and as an act I consider purely God’s providence I picked up Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography from my local church library. This was the book that introduced me to the doctrines of grace. At that same time I was studying the book of Romans. Romans 9 has brought many throughout history to grips with the doctrine of election, often involving some long struggle to understand the passage. I had no such struggle. In my reading and studying Edwards, the issue had not been framed as, “Do people choose God or does God choose them?” but rather as, “Who does the saving, God or man?” If we choose the latter framing, and answer that God indeed saves sinners, election is inescapable.
People often envision election as God having a large field of individuals who want to be saved and only picking out some of them. But man doesn’t actually want to be saved; he is a depraved sinner (cf. Rm. 1). Hence God must initiate and reach out to him; God must save us before we can love God and choose Him. Passages like Ephesians 2:8-10 make sense under this system; I could make no sense of them if I were the one choosing and initiating my own salvation. How then would God have good works planned out for me already? How then was salvation a gift if I had to be the one to reach out and receive it? If I chose God, wasn’t that a work, a basis for my salvation? It was clear to me that I could not have initiated my own salvation as a young child. I could barely think in second grade; how did I understand something so deep as the gospel? Only by the grace and love of God.
Finally, Arminianism didn’t match the view of God I was learning from Jonathan Edwards. If I chose God first, and He didn’t initiate and pursue me, then God’s love is a haphazard love, an unplanned love, incidental to His plans in creation, a sort of happy accident. Edwards taught me that God’s love, and particularly His love for me, was no accident. My salvation was planned from the beginning of the world to fulfill God’s plans to glorify Himself. One of the reasons God created the world was to love and save His church, and that means me. At great cost to Himself, God planned to bring glory to Himself through redemption, showing off His scandalous love in the process. That beautiful, sacrificial love that directs all in creation to the good of God’s people is lost in a system where I reached out to God for my salvation.
My Calvinistic understanding of God’s love and plan for His people also fits nicely with the narrative of my time at UCLA. I came in planning to get a PhD, become a professor, and influence people for Christ usually too intellectual to interact with Christians. I picked UCLA because my home church had this Bible study there you may have heard of called “Grace on Campus.” Through GOC I got my first thorough exposure to the American church outside my bubble within Christianity, and I was shocked. I was shocked by the lack of Biblical literacy, I was shocked by the prioritization of grades and career at extreme costs, and I was shocked that this was normative in churches. I don’t say this to judge or to show myself off; I say this because I then turned my analysis on myself. I was unsure how my career plans could faithfully fulfill my purpose in life, to serve Christ and forward the cause of His kingdom. I started to see my Bible training, my church background, and my Christian parents as a stewardship from God. I currently believe that the best use of these lies in full time ministry, or particularly where the need is greatest—foreign missions. It was no accident God brought me to UCLA; He used GOC and UCLA math to bring me to this conclusion. My prayer, then, is to be used by God as He sees fit, to offer some small return of glory and worship for all the love and grace He has shown me (cf. Rm. 12:1-2).