CHOSEN PEOPLE (Part 2)
Romans 9: 11-24 (New Living Translation)
11 But before Jacob and Esau were born, before they had done anything good or bad, Rebekah received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; 12 he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son”. 13 In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau”.
14 Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! 15 For God said to Moses,
“I will show mercy to anyone I choose and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”
16 So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.
17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” 18 So, you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
19 Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.
There is a longstanding debate about whether God chooses those who will be saved… or whether we choose whether we accept salvation
God chooses is usually argued with reference to a number of Bible verses speaking about being “chosen” and “predestined” and “elected”
People choose is usually accompanied by phrases such as ‘give your heart to Jesus’ and ‘let Jesus come in to your heart’ and ‘making a decision for Christ’.
Those who argue in favour of God choosing speak of the sovereignty of God, which means that He can do as He pleases…
- They are sometimes sceptical about a person “making a decision”, arguing that it is often superficial and emotional
- They emphasise the need for deep repentance, God’s mercy and the fact that all have sinned and deserve God’s wrath
Those who argue in favour of people choosing point out that God is love and does not want anyone to perish…
- They quote many instances in which lives have been and are transformed by ‘making a decision to follow Christ’
- They argue that God is a God of justice… so choosing certain people in advance to be saved means that Jesus died only for ‘the elect’ and not for those who are already doomed to hell.
One of the most serious implications associated with GOD CHOOSING is that some people will be Hell-bound, regardless of their actions and decisions in this life…
- The ‘God chooses’ lobby counter by saying that as God is sovereign, giving people the choice about their eternal destiny would be to diminish God’s authority
- Such a Calvinistic view holds that God’s election of some to be saved is a sign of His grace and mercy… not of His unfairness
One of the most serious implications associated with PEOPLE CHOOSING is that someone can only decide to become a true Christian if he or she hears the Gospel… and many millions have not and never do… so how can they be saved?
- It therefore follows that OUR success or failure to share the Good News is the determining factor in a person’s salvation
- Furthermore, there are many souls who, through no fault of their own, do not have the mental capacity to understand the truth… or they die young… A strict interpretation of ‘people choosing’ means that all these unfortunate individuals are doomed because (obviously) they are unable to make a choice.
On the other hand, the ‘God chooses’ camp needs to grapple with a tough issue, namely: If God is omnipotent and has pre-determined who will be saved, it follows that no person has the option to reject His claim on their lives either … Free will is not involved… We are saved whether we like it or not!
- The ‘God chooses’ viewpoint counters this argument by saying that God ensures that an elected person responds positively by placing that desire for salvation in his or her heart by the Holy Spirit, so acceptance of salvation through Christ is inevitable
Jesus told a parable about seed falling on the path, on stony ground, on weed-infested ground and on good soil…
- From a strict Calvinist perspective, only those in the final category (‘good soil’) were pre-determined by God to be saved… all the others were pre-determined to be lost.
So the picture is rather confusing… one group argues for ‘God choosing’ and the other group argues for ‘people choosing’. Tricky!
We can represent the difference between the two viewpoints by reference to a familiar situation…
~ Imagine a group of people sitting with a solicitor while the Will of a recently deceased very wealthy man is read out. The Will states that the man’s vast fortune is to be shared between only two of his five grandchildren, three of his eight nieces and nephews, and one of the two nurses who cared for him in his latter years. Everyone else receives nothing!
~ Imagine an identical scene where the Will states that everyone who has been faithful and sincere towards him is to share equally in his fortune
I wonder how you react to these two scenarios?
- You might say that the first situation is unjust… Why did some receive and others not receive?
- You might feel more comfortable with the second situation in which the man gave equally to all those who deserved it.
Of course, the analogy breaks down in as much as none of us are righteous… none are deserving of God’s favour… It is by grace that we are saved through faith in Christ…
- Yet the notion of God deliberately selecting some unworthy sinners ahead of other equally unworthy sinners doesn’t rest easy with our experience of God at work in our lives and others.
The only way to resolve this apparent deadlock between the two positions is to examine carefully what the Bible actually says in context…
First, let’s remind ourselves about two of the key passages on the subject from Ephesians Chapter 1 and Romans Chapter 9…
- At first reading, they appear to show conclusively that God elects some people to be saved and some to be lost
- Some are shaped into beautiful vessels… others end up as rubbish bins!
But a closer look shows that both letters were addressed, first and foremost, to Jewish converts…
- The Jews were chosen (elected) by God but rejected Him
- That’s why God extended the Gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews
So, we need to be clear about when a writer is referring specifically to Jews… or to Gentiles… or to both…
- Imagine if you receive a letter suggesting that you attend the Ladies’ Meeting at the local church… and you’re a man! You are perplexed until you realise that the letter is intended for the lady in the house, though addressed to ‘The Householder’
- Or a letter might tell you not to park your car in the road for the next week to allow repairs to take place… You are confused because you always park on the drive… then you realise that the letter is a general one that applies only to a specific group of people, who park irresponsibly
So it is that the letter to the Ephesians and Chapter 9 of the letter to the Romans refers principally to the position of Jews… but also Gentile believers… Some of the letter is specific and some is general. We need the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us in such matters.
- Thus, from Romans 9: 3-4… For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
- The Jews, God’s chosen people, had turned from Him, so had been rejected… though some Jews had, by faith, been adopted as sons
- It is those who come by faith whom God accepts
- Faith (trust) in what God has done through Jesus Christ is the key factor for salvation
You might argue… Yes but what’s this business about God hardening their hearts?
- The notion of God arbitrarily ‘hardening’ some people’s hearts and ‘softening’ others is contrary to the whole nature of God
- God will further ‘harden’ the hearts of those whose hearts are already hard (by their choice)… Otherwise, God is being unjust, contrary to His nature.
God does what He wants BUT (crucially) He cannot deny His own nature… a pardoning God, who hates sin but longs that no one be lost
- The God who loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to die upon the Cross to save those who put their trust in Him
I mentioned earlier that people refer to the ‘sovereignty’ of God… The One who is over all…
- As a result, they argue, He can do what He chooses, including saving some and sending others to Hell
- And individuals, therefore, don’t have a real say in the matter
- God wills it… and so it happens! Full stop!
Now these claims are broadly correct but they overlook one vital fact, namely, that although God can do anything and is ‘sovereign’ over all things, HE CHOOSES to allow His sovereignty to be restricted in certain key areas; for example…
- God gave Adam and Eve free choice to make decisions… God could have, but did not, impose His will on them and does not on us either!
- God allowed (and still allows) men and women to deny His existence and even to persecute those who are followers of Jesus Christ… He could wipe them out with a word but He holds back
- God humbled himself, became a man and died on a Cross for the sins of the world… Think about it! The Son of God died on a cross of wood! “If you are the Christ, save yourself!” they mocked
- God calls those who confess Jesus as Lord to do the work of evangelising the world… As God, He could ‘make’ people believers… but He offers choice in the matter
- John tells us that for the period of history before the end of the world, the Prince of this world is allowed to rule…
Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up (“exalted”) from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12: 31, 32)
God could destroy the earthly demonic power NOW with a single breath! He could but chooses not to do so
In other words, God is sovereign… but He chooses to relinquish some of His authority, ‘step back’ and bide His time
So the sovereignty of God should not be confused with God as a dictator or tyrannical ruler…
- He permits certain things to exist beyond His immediate control for reasons that we do not fully understand…
- Equally, we know that the day is coming when all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth will be brought into submission under Christ
In other words, we cannot dismiss the ‘we choose’ interpretation of salvation solely on the grounds of “God is sovereign and so we cannot resist His will”… Ultimately that is true… but for the period of this earth’s history, God gives us freedom to make choices and relinquishes some of His authority
So where does this leave us? (Confused… relieved… neurotic…!)
There are some truths on which we can all agree…
- We need to take sin seriously. God sent His Son to die for the sins of the world because the world needed a Saviour!
- God’s heart is that none shall be lost but all come to a knowledge of the truth… As we read in I Timothy 2: 1-5…
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and (all) mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people.
- To suggest that Christ died for just a proportion of the population (“the elect”) is bizarre and unbiblical…
Salvation is both unconditional and conditional…
- It is unconditional in that it’s available to all…
- It’s conditional in that evidence of true conversion has to include: an acknowledgement of God’s existence… of sin… of repentance… of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and resurrection… of testimony… of a transformed life… of a desire for Christ’s return
As Paul writes in Romans Chapter 10…
‘If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says: ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame’. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
In understanding the wonder of salvation, we have to accept that there are some areas of the Divine Nature and Purpose that are mysterious and beyond our comprehension…
For now, may God help us to trust Him, not only for our own salvation, but also concerning things that are presently concealed from our sight!