Saturday, November 15, 2008

Called, chosen, and faithful

by John D Ramsey

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During Tuesday morning Bible study earlier this week, I said something about the sovereignty of God. A friend asked me, “How do you explain free will?” Apparently, asking me that question is akin to throwing red meat to a hungry dog. I responded energetically, even to the point of surprising myself.

I believe that men experience free will. However, I am not convinced that men possess free will. Rather I believe that our choices are consistent with our nature.

For instance, one day this week I met a friend for lunch. Before arranging the meeting, I scoped out the nearby restaurants. A Korean restaurant sat right around the corner from my friend’s office. I remembered steaming-hot rice bowls from Shilla, a Korean restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. I would recommend Shilla to anyone. However, I know nothing about this local restaurant. I wish I were adventurous enough to try new restaurants, but my nature is more conservative. I will follow a friend’s recommendation, but I will not gamble on the unknown. Even though I wanted to try the Korean restaurant, I knew that I would instead recommend José Pepper’s.

More information might have persuaded me otherwise, but José Pepper’s was a safe choice. It is not the best Mexican restaurant in Kansas City, but it is familiar. Ultimately, my purpose was to spend a little time with a friend, and as much as I would like to be adventuresome – it is not in my nature.

Did I experience free will? Yes, of course, I did. I chose to recommend José Pepper’s although I was aware of many alternatives. Did I act consistent to my nature? Absolutely. Not only did I recommend José Pepper’s to my friend, after thoroughly reading the menu, I ordered the shredded beef chimichanga. I recall now that I have ordered the shredded beef chimichanga in two previous visits to José Pepper’s. Lisa explains my behavior this way: after studying the menu, I choose the item that I feel gives me “the most beef for the buck.” My decision making process is not rote, rather my nature constrains my free will. I freely choose that which I am predisposed to choose. My predictability does not preclude my experiencing free will.

Man, by his own free will, does not seek God. Paul wrote to the Romans, saying,

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

Romans 3:10 (NIV)

Paul goes on to explain to the Romans, that God has said, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15 (NIV) Paul concludes, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Romans 9:18 (NIV)

Election is a difficult topic to understand; however, man’s nature has been in rebellion against God since Adam sinned in the garden. Our free will, such as it is, chooses consistently with our nature so that we are unable to seek God. For anyone to be saved, God must act. The Apostle John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 (NIV) Paul says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NIV)

For me to come to faith in Jesus Christ, God had to overpower my nature. In other words, God changed the complexion of my free will; otherwise, I could never be saved. According to Ephesians 2, the faith by which I am saved, does not originate with me, it is a gift from God.

Upon realizing that man’s salvation depends entirely upon God, some Christians exhibit a fatalistic attitude. They think that because God’s will cannot be altered, evangelism is unnecessary. They suppose that God will do what God will do regardless of what they do or do not do; consequently, they need to do nothing. This argument is a logical death spiral wherein they experience free will while acting according to their disobedient nature.

Is such behavior and attitudes truly disobedient to God? Yes, Paul was not trying to cultivate this attitude when he wrote the book of Romans. In fact, Paul gave up trying to explain the complexity of election and instead cried out,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (NIV)

Paul essentially says we cannot understand the mind of God; nevertheless, we must respond to him one way or another. In Romans 12, Paul implores us, in light of God’s sovereignty, to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God. God’s glory should compel us to spiritual fervor rather than lull us into apathy.

Yet, if salvation must originate with God, if he must call before we can answer, then we ask, who receives this call from God? Jesus concludes the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” In the parable, the king sends his servants to invite guests to the wedding of his son. Some people ignore the invitation; others murder the king’s messengers. The king ultimately opens the feast to anyone. Yet, when a guest arrives without appropriate attire, that is, not clothed in righteousness, “the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:13, 14 (NIV)

Who then are the many who are called of whom Jesus spoke? When Paul preached to the Athenians at the Areopagus, saying,
Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Acts 17:29, 30 (NIV)
Who are the many who are called? God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” Let there be no doubt, if you are reading this, God is calling you. To Titus, Paul writes, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Titus 2:11 (NIV) There is no one from whom God’s call to repentance is withheld.

Many are called! Who then are the chosen?

For man to respond to God’s call, that is, for man to be included among the chosen, God must first overcome man’s nature. How does God overcome man’s nature to reprogram man’s free will so he can respond in faith? Paul writes, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ?” Romans 10:17 (NIV)

God has done many amazing things to alter the direction of my free will!
Knowing that God has accomplished all this for me alters the nature of my free will. Whereas I once was incapable of choosing God, now because of what God has done, I am instead compelled to repent and to trust Jesus Christ for my salvation. When I could not pursue God, God in his mercy pursued me. When I lacked righteousness, he supplied his own righteousness to me as a free gift. I clothe myself with his righteousness, not because it occurs to me to do so, but because his grace compels me.

Salvation comes to me, not because of what I do, but because of what God has done. Because no part of my salvation comes from within me, but rather all flows from God’s grace, I cannot describe it as my choosing God, rather because my salvation originates with God, I confess that he has somehow chosen me. God overpowered my predilection, and saved me. I wonder at the mystery, that I would be among the few whom he has chosen.

In the course of my salvation, do I experience free will? Yes, I do. However, the seed of faith sown in my heart by the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, transforms my nature, liberating me from my rebellion against God. Knowing what Jesus Christ has done for me, I cannot imagine choosing otherwise than repentance before God. Yet salvation is more than a momentary experience. When God transforms our nature, then we should begin to reflect his nature. Paul tells us,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
God will eventually overcome the stubborn will of all men. Everyone will eventually acknowledge Jesus Christ, but not all will be saved. Many are called, but few are chosen. At the end of the age, when Jesus Christ returns to earth in glory, the rulers of the world will gather to war against him. John says, “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen, and faithful followers.” Revelation 17:14 (NIV)

If God calls me and chooses me, then he calls me not only to believe, he chooses me to be faithful. Just as he compelled me against my original nature to trust him, so his grace compels me to remain faithful. I died with Christ to my old nature, so my new life encapsulates Christ: His righteousness becomes my righteousness, his life becomes my life; his humility becomes my humility; his faithfulness becomes my faithfulness. Likewise, his ultimate victory becomes the victory of his called, chosen, and faithful.

Throughout all this, I experience free will; nevertheless, I marvel that God accomplishes it all for his pleasure and for his glory. I cannot begin to understand God's purposes; however, I am eternally grateful that God intervened in my life altering my nature and granting me faith unto repentance and salvation.

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