Wednesday, November 16, 2011

God’s Sovereign Election Demonstrates His Grace

Note to reader: This particular post is very theologically charged and focuses on a very specific stance on certain theological doctrines. This point of view can best be categorized as Wesleyan. I often reserve such posts for a separate blog site, but I am making an exception this time for several reasons. If you do not feel that you can read such commentary without offense or the like, I recommend skipping this particular post. This is meant to spur on healthy thinking, even if the reader does not agree with my point of view. 

Some time ago, I watched a video posted on an old acquaintance’s blog with the title “God’s Sovereign Election Demonstrates His Glory.” I am probably parodying the points within since it has been well over a year since viewing the hour long video, and I do not have the time nor patience right now to review, but, in short, I remember the speaker, Thabiti Anyabwile, suggesting that the ninth chapter of Romans is meant to suggest that, while we might not wish it so, God is glorified by his choice to pick and choose who does and does not go to Hell without any basis in human response or responsibility. So, he concludes, by the sheer fact that God is in such control, one should respond in worship. I believe that video was what spurred me on to write a previous blog, “Glorified For Our Sakes,” in which I argued that God needs not be glorified by us yet chooses to be so that we might be blessed. I guess this blog is somewhat a continuation of such.

My concern for such topics was once again ignited when I heard another famous pastor pointing out, to the chagrin—so he suspected—of many of his audience members, that election can be found throughout the Bible, and such stories demonstrate that God’s grace certainly is not based on merit of any sort. His main example comes from the OT, which was the topic of his talk, and revolves around the election of Israel, especially some of Israel’s main figureheads.  He began with Abraham and pointed out that Abraham was doing nothing to merit God’s election. Instead, it was by God’s initiative that Abraham was chosen. Likewise, God chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. Certainly, these are biblical examples of God’s sovereign election. No theologian of any orthodox stripe should find offense to such. However, this pastor also invoked the name of John Calvin, which gives the term election a certain spin does it not? Now, in the mind of the listener, this preacher is suggesting that God elected the patriarchs and Calvin taught election, and, therefore, this proves Calvin right.

So, does that settle it? Does God’s individual election of these Israelite leaders prove that there is such a thing as Calvinistic election, predestination typified by double, individualist election of who goes to Heaven or Hell merely based on God’s pleasures, or is there more to the fact of God’s election of these patriarchs? If we are going to use these patriarchs and there counterparts (those who God passed over in order to choose these individuals) as our examples of election and/or double predestination, then let us also get at the heart of what the Bible says about God’s choosing these persons.

Let us begin at the logical starting point, the Patriarch, Abraham. God certainly plucks an unsuspecting man from history with no coercion on the part of the human individual, and if this was all the information we had, we might rightly conclude that all there is to being of God is His mere election, unbiased and without basis. However, the Bible makes it clear that while God’s election is necessary and is certainly of His own accord, it is not the only factor, as if election was an ends within itself to gathering up a people for His own. No, it is a means with another end. While God’s election of these individuals certainly has profound consequences for the elected individual, God uses election for a further purpose:

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you 
And make your name great; 
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you; 
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
(Genesis 12:1-3 NKJV)

Here the Lord’s election of Israel is played out in real human history. The Lord is choosing Abraham, at this time known as Abram, and is calling Him to be set apart for the Lord. But, is this being set apart, leaving all that he knows, simply for the fact of being set apart. The Bible clearly says, “No.” God has elected Abraham for a purpose beyond individual predestination. God has chosen Abraham to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” through a great nation that will come from his seed. So, yes, election of the patriarchs continues. Not only is Abraham chosen, but also is his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob. Can you guess what happens when God chooses these men? He promises them the same promise He promises to their father, Abraham (see Genesis 26:1-4, 23-25; 28:14). To all these men God suggests that they will be blessings. God’s election of individuals throughout Scripture then is surely to be seen as a blessing to the individual, but more importantly, it is to be seen as a blessing to the world, not an in your face, “the elect are in and you are out” statement.

Three elections come to mind when I reflect upon the great blessing of God’s sovereign election.  The first election that comes to mind is the election that was mentioned and sparked this whole blog, the election of Israel. Israel was certainly elected as an unassuming people. They were slaves. They had not merited any right of election. They were not overly pious people seeking the Lord at the time of their deliverance. No, they were simply making bricks, but God had chosen them long before they had even became a people, and not simply from whim. God had chosen them for a purpose that He soon reveals to them.

Picture the scene. A group of slaves have just been delivered from the hands of their oppressor by feats of strength only the Most High could perform. The supposed God-man pharaoh has fallen, and the people of Israel have done nothing but follow the Lord to gain refuge. They are at the foot of Sinai with no reason to boast in themselves, and God reveals His purpose in election:

In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.  For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.

And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”  (Exodus 19:1-6)

God has thus reminded Israel that it was He alone that brought Israel to Himself. Once again, God not only points out that He has elected, but also reveals his purpose for such: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priest and a holy nation.” Israel has a role and purpose to play. They will serve as priest. In other words, the nation of Israel, through their holiness, shall be God’s means of mediating His blessings to all the nations of the earth, for “the whole earth is mine,” says the Lord.

Before we discontinue our discussion of Israel's election, I must, once again, address the original discussion that sparked this whole conversation. Thabiti Anyabwile suggested that Romans 9 is a demonstration of God’s sovereign election of some individuals over others (Calvinistic election), a fact Anyabwile thinks we Christians must come to grips with. However, from what we have been reviewing, it does not seem that election has always if ever been used as an end within itself for Israel or individuals within, and Paul is certainly addressing issues concerning Israel in chapter 9 of Romans (see vv 3,4). In fact, as Mr. Wesley points out in his NT commentary, individualistic, double predestination is far outside the scope of Paul’s purposes here. Paul is addressing the concerns of many who say of Israel, God’s means of salvation, redemption through Christ, seems to fail many of Israel since they do not believe. But, as Paul points out, God’s Word has not failed as some assume. It is not as if God was simply scrapping Israel and starting over with the church. Israel, through election, was meant to serve a purpose bigger than themselves and they had and were still serving that purpose. In fact, Christ came from Israel, the greatest blessing of all. Paul is defending the election of God and its effectiveness to serve its purpose, blessing the world. If there are those among Abraham’s physical progeny that are willingly rebelling, they are not truly Israel, who had been called to be holy so that others would know God as holy. So, their place in God’s fold did not merely depend on God’s election of Abraham’s physical offspring, but upon their response to such. Only the faithful remain, thus God’s words in His original covenant ring true: “…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people.” Thus, Paul is not here focusing on Calvinistic, individual predestination at all, but whether or not God can be understood as faithful to Israel, even when His decisions seem to be precise and some vessels, individuals within the nation, are used for greater purposes over others. Paul suggests that God is faithful and who are any of us to say, “Well, if you would have just willed for me to be as great as so-and-so, I would believe.” Election is not merely about who is in and who is out, but who will be the one to best fulfill God’s will in election. So, once again, election is God’s means of mercy, mediated to the families of the earth, and Paul is out to defend such. Much more could be said about the individual arguments of Romans 9, but I have done that elsewhere and we need to move on.

The second election that comes to mind is that of the church: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9). Like Israel, God has chosen the church to be His, but, once again, this is not an end in itself. There again is a purpose for our election. We called to be a priestly nation, a holy nation that shines light into a dark world. Our calling is not simply a blessing for us, but a blessing for others, a blessing for the lost and hurting world who finds itself in darkness.

The final election that comes to mind and speaks volumes to the present discussion is that of Jesus Christ who “was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (I Peter 1:20). This verse really speaks for itself. The Father did not choose Christ so that only Christ would be blessed through this election. He was chosen and revealed for our sakes. In Christ, the predestined one, those who repent and believe find their redemption.

In the end, election is God’s means to bless the world. Through election, grace is poured out, not merely on the individuals elected for certain purposes such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Those who are chosen are given a great responsibility, to mediate God’s grace to others as priest, Christ being our High Priest.  So, when preachers see election in the OT, there is no need to give a wink to those who cringe at the idea that God gives some no grace to choose Him. There is no need to mention Calvin in passing, so as to suggest, “Well, although I do not have the time to explain all the passages here, election is evident, and, therefore, Mr. Calvin must have been right.” The question is not whether or not God uses election. The question is, “for what purpose does He do so?” It is to demonstrate His grace. We should give Him all praise and glory, for election, even when viewed through this lens, proves our need for God. Without His mediation of grace, we have no hope. He alone decided we could receive redemptive grace, and we all have been given a blessed opportunity to receive grace through those He has elected: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, the Church, the Disciples, the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ.

As your Wesleyan friend, I implore you: Praise God for His sovereign election!