Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saving Predestination #3: Justice and Mercy Meet

 Even if a Martian could speak perfect English, we still would have great problems trying to understand him/it/she if he spoke about his own Martian experiences. There are many hard sayings in the Bible. If the Bible had been merely a human document, there wouldn’t be so many hard sayings, since the writers would have been writing from a human perspective. However, the Bible also represents a foreign and divine landscape. Therefore, we shouldn’t demand that everything is amenable to our understanding. When we do make such a demand, we stop being teachable.

The multitudes demanded that Jesus speak in a way that made sense to them. However, He instructed them that if they didn’t drink His blood and eat His flesh, they would have no life within them. Consequently, many of His would-be disciples rejected Him and wandered away (John 6:60).

The doctrine of “predestination” or “election” can be a troubling doctrine. However, there are so many verses that claim that God has chosen us, and not the other way around, that we need to listen and not wander off.

Jesus explicitly informed His disciples that “You did not choose me, but I chose you!” (John 15:16). He claimed that His disciples had been given to Him from the Father (John 6:37; 17:6). Although we must choose God, ultimately the choice was His:

  • Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
Coming to Christ wasn’t primarily our decision. It was God’s, and, according to Paul, this decision was made even before God created the world:

  • For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Ephes. 1:4-5)
These verses inform us that there is no basis for the idea that we chose God, since the choosing took place even before our existence. However, God also says that He wants everyone to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9), and He does, but we all have rejected Him and have gone our own way (Isaiah 53:6). Clearly, God doesn’t ordain and cause everything that He desires. He wants us not to sin, but allows us to sin. He wants us all to confess our sins, but He doesn’t force us to do so. Therefore, wanting everyone to be saved isn’t the same thing as causing everyone to be saved.

Others argue that He chose us based upon foreknowing that we would be worthy of His choice, and that we would choose Him back.

However, this theory is at odds with God’s plan and concerns. God had purposely intended that salvation would be an absolutely free gift, not dependent upon any of our merit, so that none would be able to boast (Eph 2:8-9). However, the understanding, that God’s choice depends on His finding merit within us even before we existed, puts boasting back on the table! This would enable us to think, “God found something meritorious in me and therefore He chose me.”

However, the opposite is true. God purposely selected the outcasts – the low-life - to preclude any boasting:

  • Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
Predestination-based-on-our-merit actually contradicts God’s purposes by suggesting that those whom God chooses are actually the deserving ones. However, Paul argues that the chosen are actually the least deserving ones. The temptation to boast is so great, that choosing the least esteemed would minimize this danger.

Consequently, God clearly chooses us apart from any merit on our part, and He wants us to understand this:

  • [He] has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5)

Paul explained that God had purposely chosen Jacob over his brother Esau before they were born to vividly demonstrate that the choice was God’s and not theirs:

  • Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 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 man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (Romans 9:11-18)
The fact that God had revealed, before the twins were born, that He chose Jacob demonstrated the mercy of God and ruled out the possibility that election depended on “man's desire or effort.”

Paul asked the rhetorical question, does predestination make “God unjust?” He answers that God can have mercy on whomever He wants. There is nothing unjust about this. The fact that we all had rejected God and refused His overtures justly required our condemnation (Romans 6:23). Consequently, there was only thing we deserved from God – damnation.

Granted, these are offensive words, but there is no question of any injustice on God’s part. We not only sinned repeatedly against Him, but we also had repeatedly refused His offer of remediation. What then was God to do? Justice required damnation! However, God wanted to be merciful, even though we didn’t deserve the slightest smile from Him.

Predestination is an expression of His mercy – His determination to save some of those who had rejected Him. There is nothing unfair at all about this. Jesus told a parable about a vineyard owner who had hired workers at the beginning of the day through the days end. However, He paid all the workers the same wage. The ones who had worked the longest complained that this was not just. However, the landowner reminded them that He had given them the very wage that they had decided upon at the beginning of the day:

  • "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'” (Matthew 20:13-15
Predestination is the generosity of God to those who had hated Him (Rom. 5:8-10; 8:7). We might question why the landowner was merciful to the last workers, but there is no basis to question His fairness. The landowner had the right to be merciful to whomever he pleased. He can throw a party and invite anyone He so chooses.

We might protest that he should have invited everyone. However, none of those that He didn’t invite will cry out, “Forgive me Lord and have mercy upon me.” The Rich Man who died with Lazarus never cried out for forgiveness or salvation when he found himself in a place of torment. He had no interest in being with God. Instead, he merely sought less discomfort (Luke 16:19-31). Ultimately, everyone goes where they want to go (John 3:17-19). Consequently, there is no account in Scripture where someone sincerely asks the Lord for forgiveness and is turned away.

Well, don’t we have to exercise faith? Yes, but it’s a faith that He gives us. In keeping with the idea that salvation is a free gift, faith also is a free gift:

  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9; also 1 Cor. 12:9; Rom. 12:3; Phil. 1:29; Acts 16:14; 18:27; 13:48; 3:16; 1 Peter 1:20)
There are just too many verses that claim that God chooses us. If we ignore or modify them, we do so at our own peril. God chose the cruel Assyrians to bring judgment upon Israel. However, Assyria claimed credit for their military victories:

  • "By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings.” (Isaiah 10:13)
Therefore, God was angry with Assyria and would bring judgment upon them:

  • Does the ax [Assyria] raise itself above him [God] who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors [Assyria]. (Isaiah 10:15-16)
Assyria refused to acknowledge that her achievements were accomplished because God had chosen them. Accordingly, they suffered judgment.

I think that the same principle applies to us. When we refuse to acknowledge, in the face of so many verses, that God gave us salvation by choosing us, we take credit for this choice and bring His displeasure upon ourselves.

One last thought: Some resent this doctrine because they want God but fear that they aren’t predestined. This fear is oxymoronic. If we want God and call upon Him in truth, we are predestined and will be saved:

  • Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)
  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37 )
If we truly esteem the things of God, we are predestined:

  • The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
The non-predestined rejects the things of God as “foolishness.” If we esteem His salvation, it means that we are not non-predestined. What can be simpler!

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