Chosen?

chosen

 

Why reach for this can of worms? What good could come of addressing a topic that has been debated for so long? Why not try to solve America’s political differences while we’re at it?

First of all, I have this crazy belief that, if interpreted correctly, the theology of Scripture should be consistent with itself. If we find ourselves favoring certain passages and ignoring others, we should recognize what we’re doing and be open to a broader perspective.

Second, I think it’s healthy to consider other points of view. Not because we can never be sure of anything, but because it’s important to practice being more open-hearted, if not open-minded.

If more believers would set their pom-poms aside and open themselves up to criticism, we might discover a fellowship that is more loving, humble and unified, approaching the Bible with more curiosity, relying more on the Holy Spirit for direction.

So, in the belief that we are one body, united in Christ by one Spirit, a Spirit that was given to lead us into all truth, let’s take a look at this thorny subject from three different lenses:  

#1: Preselected Individuals:

God, before Creation, in his wisdom, preselected individuals that he would save despite their absolute inability or desire to choose him. Because of the Fall, every human being deserves judgment and damnation, but God, in his mercy, at great personal cost, made a way for a select group of people to be saved from their depravity in order to share eternity with him.

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves — Eph. 1:4-6

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy — Rom. 9:14-16

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last — John 15:16a

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day — John 6:44

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed — Acts 13:48

#2: A Chosen Community:  

The concept of divine election is not new to the Church. It is an old concept, rooted firmly in the nation of Israel, a chosen people that did not deserve their election. In establishing a New Israel—12 disciples to replace the 12 tribes, the indwelling Spirit to replace the external Mosaic Law, a new priesthood and kingdom under a long-awaited, resurrected Messiah—both Jesus and Paul use the same terminology used by Moses and the prophets.

The election of Israel was biological, based on the physical descendants of a man who actually did earn something. Because of his faith and obedience, God blessed Abraham, and that blessing extended to his descendants. However, the individuals involved could be grafted in or out of that chosen nation based on their adherence to the Law.

The people of Christ have a similar quality of election. Christ and his mission were prepared before the earth was made (I Peter 1:20, Rev. 13:8), therefore, in a sense, his people were chosen in him at that time (Eph. 1:4). To join Christ is to become part of God’s chosen people, his Elect, and to share in those inherited promises and blessings.

Because He loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, He brought you out of Egypt by His Presence and His great strength — Deut. 4:37

The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt — Deut. 7:7, 8

For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me — Isaiah 45:4 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nationa people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light — I Peter 2:9 

#3: A Retrospective Reciprocation:

The concept of election in Scripture is undeniable, but the implications are hard to swallow. If God truly wishes for no man to perish, but for all to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9), if he truly loves the whole world enough to die for it and open a path of salvation for anyone (John 3:16, Rev. 22:17), if he is as loving and good as his apostles claim, then the Calvinist point of view makes a mockery of God’s quality of justice.

If God has preselected everyone, then why was Jesus disappointed when the Rich Young ruler refused to sell all his possessions and follow him? Why would Jesus tell the crowds that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? If Jesus was a five-point Calvinist, he would never use that adverb, and he certainly wouldn’t be disappointed by the man’s reaction to his call.

If the Fall turned humanity into a universally wicked, God-hating community, then how could Ghandi, an unbeliever, do what he did? Why is it so hard to tell believers from unbelievers? Shouldn’t the contrast between the kingdoms of darkness and light be dramatic and obvious?

If God must personally draw a person out of their depravity, then why was he striving with humanity before the Flood? Why did he strive with the wicked kings of Israel, sending prophet after prophet, watching them die for no apparent reason? Why send his apostles into all the world, as if their witness would make any difference in the ultimate outcome?

For election and predestination to make sense with the whole of Scripture, the choosing must be based in God’s foreknowledge. Because God exists outside of time and knows everything that will happen, he also knows who will make a free decision to embrace his offer of eternal life. So God’s choice is not arbitrary or unfair. It is reciprocal.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son — Rom. 8:29a

My Choice?  #2, but with hesitation 

Though I resonate with the sentiment and logic of #3, I don’t think Scripture makes the election of God that passive. I really think that God makes choices about people. I think we saw that when Jesus walked the earth. He chose his 12 disciples very specifically, and told them that they were given understanding while others were not (Matt. 13:11). However, beyond the 12, it seemed that people were allowed to follow or reject him according to their own free will.

I believe that God is a relational being in a profound way. Why would such a being predetermine his future relationships? What motivation would he have to do that?

An honest reading of Scripture shows that the relationship between God and man has always been tenuous and problematic, which suggests a real sense of freedom between the two parties.

At this point of my life, I think that Abraham and Jesus were the chosen ones, based on what they actually accomplished. I think that the rest of us are chosen in those people, being absorbed (or baptized) into the benefits, promises, challenges and mission that they earned before God.

That being said, I think there is plenty of room for discussion. So go ahead. Bring it.

15 thoughts on “Chosen?

  1. I think that God pre chose
    ” humanity” and gave us the free will to accept or reject His grace.
    Jesus , “God the Son” is the one who said of himself “who so ever believeth” and gave us a choice to accept or reject His gift of Salvation.
    In Deuteronomy 30:19, God the Father says “”I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
    That sounds to me like God Himself is telling us we have a choice.
    Thank you for a great and timely post. We are studying this very argument in our Life Group and church. Our church teaches the Calvinist theology, our Life Group is open.

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    • Interesting. I would enjoy those discussion. I’m glad this was timely. It’s always worth talking about, but usually people have a hard time seeing other points of view on it without getting upset. 🙂

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  2. Like a Calvinist, I believe that God does unconditionally elect people before they are born. God is the Creator and we are the creature. We don’t have anything unless God gives it to us including things like wisdom, knowledge, understanding, repentance and faith. Paul said that God gives to all life and breath, and all.

    Having said that, what the Calvinist does not understand is that the Elect are chosen by God to be God’s representatives and accomplish certain works and goals. For instance, Abraham is not chosen just for himself, but is chosen so that through Abraham all nations would be blessed. Jesus Christ Himself is God’s chosen One to bring about reconciliation and save men from sin and death and fulfill the promises of God. When ever you think of being chosen by God, you must think “Chosen for what?”, what purpose of God was I chosen to fulfill? “For His achievement are we, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that we should be walking in them.”(Eph 2:10) Ultimately, God has one purpose which is to unite all of heaven and earth under the rule and headship of Jesus Christ.(Eph 1:10) And if we are chosen, then we have a role to play in making that happen.

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    • I like that. Chosen for what? We tend to assume that we are chosen to escape hell, but that seems to resonate more with our personal desires than his expressed desire.

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    • That’s probably true. How would you clarify or help me communicate better? Or am I not really making sense?

      It’s hard on a blog to present a large concept with clear, concise language. And, at this point, all I’m looking to do is practice writing and flesh out interesting topics with friends.

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      • Hi John. I love you and your writing. After reading it once, I didn’t find it clear. If you’re picking one of the two sides (which I don’t think you are), then make that clear. If you are creating new categories and choosing one of them, then I think you need to make it clear how the new categories relate to the old categories so that people who have adopted one of the old categories could follow you into your new set of choices and pick one from the new playing field.

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    • Thanks Pastor Cooper,

      I sure didn’t sense any negativity in your response, but I definitely appreciate your honesty about how clearly I’m coming across. That’s helpful.

      Let me put it this way:

      In #1, I was trying to summarize the Reformed position, quoting some of the key verses.

      In #3, I was trying to show the classic challenges of the Reformed position, and express the common pushback, which is that man is free to choose God, but because God knows what men will choose, he chooses them first.

      I guess you can say #1 and #3 are classic positions—-God chooses man, or man chooses God—-but I think Scripture seems to say both, which is why I presented option #2, which was proposing a chosen people group, not a group of chosen people.

      Ha! Let me explain:

      Think about Noah and his family. That ark was the only way to survive the coming judgment, and Noah, because of his righteousness, was chosen to build that ark and survive the judgment.

      His family, however, were chosen by association. Yes, they boarded the ark and survived, but it was because of their relationship to Noah that they were saved, not because of their individual merit. In their case, they were saved by grace.

      The Israelites were the same way. No one thinks of a Jew as individually chosen by God, yet they would call themselves God’s chosen people. It was an inherited distinction based on a man that truly was blessed because of his obedience and faith.

      I propose that the same could be said of Christians. Since Christ was called the Chosen One, a man considered worthy because of his righteousness and obedience (like Noah and Abraham), we, in turn, are saved by our identification with his death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6). In that sense, we can say that we have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, without having to be individually selected.

      The only catch for me is that believers in Christ are not biologically tied with Jesus, which might complicate the connection, making the choice seem more individualistic than the other two examples.

      Not sure if I’m being clear, but I hope it helps.

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  3. Ok, I’ll bite (said the fisherman). How can we claim to understand the mysteries of the eternal? Aren’t the two ideas married, dependent on each other. Isn’t it predestination and free-will, not predestination vs. free will? Pharaoh was chosen, but because of the condition of his heart. And God raised him up for this purpose, so that YHWH’s fame would spread throughout the world. Pharaoh hardened his heart, then God hardened Pharaoh’s heart…. God sealed it. In respect to community vs. individual election, was not the nation bound to the Law as well as the individual? If anyone sins, cut him off from his people. If the nation is disobedient, then the covenant was broken and the people were cut off. And of course, Moses argued on behalf of the people and changed God’s mind so they would not be destroyed. How does that work? A relationship with God is a living thing. Yes, He is unchanging, but we change and grow in Him. Life in the Spirit is the same. I see no difference in the two ideas… they are one in the same.

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    • So you’re saying that because the relationship is genuine, freedom exists on both sides, therefore we both choose and are chosen simultaneously?

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      • I think I’m saying that in response to the question, which historically has created denominations/division, we as believers are continually trying to examine the mind of The Eternal through a finite lens. I think it is both simultaneously because the Bible speaks of both, simultaneously. I don’t see that it defers one to the other. I don’t think this way because I have a clear understanding of the issue or the mind of God. I think most of us would agree that it all comes down to faith… but then the argument becomes circular. So, do we choose faith, or does He? The relationship is genuine because I can trust that I don’t need to have the answer to that question.

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    • This is an important point you’re making. If straining toward something that is impossible to understand creates division, we need to take a step back, accept the confusing presentation by faith, and focus on other, more important issues.

      Still, I wonder if this particular issue is serious enough to explore further. Though Calvinists and Arminians would claim to both be worshipping the same God, it’s possible that they’re not, and if so, this is something that should probably be looked at if we want to take unity as seriously as Christ—-“Let them be one, even as we are one” John 17:21.

      We also should consider that if God didn’t want us to seek hard after truth, he wouldn’t have come in the flesh, went through such suffering, and poured out his Spirit (the Spirit of Truth) on humanity. I’m not saying that we can suddenly understand all eternal mysteries in a moment, but I am saying that I believe God wants us to always be working toward the truth in humility and grace, especially if the truth can help lead toward unity.

      Many Calvinists would claim that before Creation God chose a select group of people that he would save from their inherited depravity—the Elect. This sounds like grace until we realize that he is also arbitrarily choosing not to save a “wide road” of people to eternal suffering, people that did not choose their depravity.

      If God truly is good and loving, as he claims, and is the only person that could save these people, why not save them? This is problematic, holding sovereignty above character, instead of the other way around, which is more logical.

      Many Arminians would claim that God wants everyone to be saved, makes salvation possible, and urges all people in various ways to freely respond to his offer. This sounds great if you want to dismiss the debilitating affects of sin on human decision-making, and certain passages of Scripture that emphasize God’s active work in salvation.

      So one group worships God with a mind toward his undeserved grace and sovereign power, ignoring the deep-down suspicion that he may actually be a little bloodthirsty. Another group worships him because of his love and grace, glad that someone told them the Gospel and they had the good sense to respond the right way. Another group ignores the two sides and simply worships God because he is unfathomable and they’ll find out when they get behind the curtain.

      And, yeah, all in all, we are one Body in Christ no matter how we worship.

      Still . . . I enjoy the conversation, and I do want to honor the gift of God’s Spirit by constantly seeking clarity while also conscious of humility and a desire for peace and unity.

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      • I enjoy the conversation as well, though this issue in all honesty, frustrates me. I do believe we are actually meant to struggle through issues. The name Israel means, after all…

        Here’s an analogy to this issue. Maybe it comes up lame, I don’t know. I’m not that smart 😉

        If I ask you based on evidence alone to look at the sky when you wake up this morning, and tell me its color. I will wake at the same time as you, and make the same observation (Your 7am is my 4am). We live in different parts of the country, your sky is blue, mine is black. We each hold to our truth based on this one moment and observation. I’m willing to stake my life and my position on what I have seen. I know TRUTH. I’ve seen it. So, what color is the sky? You might think we are both right, simultaneously. We are, after all, looking at the same sky, are we not. And our information is correct….? The problem I see here is that we are not even asking the right question. The question is not the color of the sky, but rather, WHAT IS THE NATURE OF LIGHT? Light determines what we see and the REAL TRUTH is that the sky is neither blue nor black at any time of day. We see based on our literally grounded position and we miss the mark.

        We interpret spiritual truths in the same way most of the time. If we took Paul at his word, Romans 7, 8, and 9 pretty well cover this issue. If we are able to get closer to the mind of God, as Paul had, we’d probably understand it better. But we’re looking from ground level at something that is much bigger than the atmosphere.

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      • I can see your analogy if we’re talking about, say, the Fatherhood of God or the importance of certain spiritual gifts, which would be more subjective to each believer, more of a relational, experiential approach to truth.

        With the concept of being Chosen, I think we can have more reasonable, Scriptural discussions. If we take Romans 6 – 8 as a unit, we see the apex of Paul’s description of what it means to be united with Christ and filled with the Spirit, the ultimate cure to the sickness he presents in Romans 1. Romans 9 – 11 however, is Paul bemoaning the fact that his people, the Jews, are not going to inherit the role of embracing that Gospel, or spreading it to the world. That torch has been passed to the Gentiles, and this is entirely God’s choice based on the disobedience and hardness of the Jews.

        If you just read it without the TULIP in mind (like how Paul wrote it) you actually can see that Paul is reminding his people of other times in their history (Pharaoh, Jacob and Esau, and even using the potter and clay analogy from Isaiah) to show the Jews that, despite the absolute tragedy of the situation, God has always made his own decisions, and will still fulfill his promises. He also says that the Jews will ultimately get jealous of the Gentiles and find their way back into the true vine, and ultimately, despite the tragedy, the whole world will be saved.

        To get the idea that God arbitrarily chooses individuals before the world began is actually to go beyond the basic concept of Romans 9. Unless, of course, you read Scripture through a Reformed lens, in which case it seems obvious.

        Anyway, since the topic does so much damage to our modern church, maybe as an intellectual overcorrection to the mega church movement, this discussion about Calvinist vs. Arminian theology is something that I think we should be able to talk about.

        I can’t tell you how often it comes up in my college classes. I was even asked to come to dinner at a student’s house to help him wrestle with this stuff. But as you say, Israel means . . .

        🙂 Thanks for the interaction. I think it’s healthy.

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