Sunday, November 20, 2016

God's Purpose in Election: 4 things we do. 6 things God does


The question of God's sovereignty and our freedom in salvation (and life more generally) is no easy question. On one level it's an unresolvable tension. In his book "How do you know that" Ellis Potter suggests something of a solution - to not try to fit the two things into a pie chart - a percentage to God and a percentage to us... there's no satisfactory solution there. Rather than flattening to a 2D plane, what if we consider them as two intersecting discs, our experience of freedom and God's purpose.

Both real, certainly experienced as real. What can we say?

Limiting ourselves to Romans 9-10... Our angle on the painful dilmma of friends and family who don't know Jesus when you do... and then God's.

What do we do?
1. WE HAVE ANGUISH AND SORROW (9v2) Paul has "unceasing anguish" and "great sorrow". There is no permission to go any further in this conversation if we're not similarly affected. There is a right emotional tenor to this doctrinal wrestle and it cannot be cold and detached. One imagines the original manuscript of Romans 9 is tearstained.
2. WE HAVE DESIRE AND PRAYER (10v1) Paul has great desire for his friends and to come to Christ. And he prays for that to happen.
3. WE SPEAK OF CHRIST (10v14) Paul preaches the gospel word that brings Christ near to anyone who hears it.
4. WE ARE HUMBLED (9v29) "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us... we would have...". But for his grace we know there would be no hope for us. We were at the end of ourselves, hopeless except for the grace of God. Confessing our own sin isn't a first step to trying harder, nor to write ourselves off... but rather to turn and receive his compassion and mercy though we'd rightly deserve to be hardened and cast aside.
What does God do?
1. HE DEALS IN GRACE (9v6-21). He has a purpose of election. People who find life in the Triune God are not excluded or included on the basis of birthright, DNA, genealogy, nor on works - good or bad, effort or desire. We call this grace. It seems outrageous - that God would visit his love on anyone, or not, should provoke us to cry injustice!
2. HE GIVES NEW NAMES (9v22-26). God's purpose is to take vessels of wrath and call them vessels of mercy, to take not loved and make them loved, to take not his children and call them his adopted children. The best, and only candidates, to become part of God's people are those who aren't.
3. HE DEFIES EXPECTATION (9v27-32). Those who find Christ weren't even looking for him, whereas you can be zealously religious and miss him. But for his intervention we'd all be gone. That's a shocking change in perspective, but an honest one. Though grace makes that scandalous, works-based religions just make it impossible, for who can be good enough?
4. HE SETS FORTH CHRIST (9v33). God's purpose of election puts a stone in the road. Some stumble over this stone, some believe in him. The issue is always, always, always: what do you do with Christ. CH Spurgeon said this gave him great encouragement - when he preached Christ no-one would have good reason to reject his message - no one could claim ethnicity, or track-record, or class as an excluding principle. The only 'valid' response is to say "But I don't want Christ" -- to which the preacher can't help but say, look again, look again at him!
5. HE SENDS PREACHERS (10v5-15). God's purpose is to come near in his gospel word. You don't have to sack heaven or exhume a body to get to Christ, he comes near in his word. He "richly blesses" all who call on him, and everyone who calls on him... calling requires hearing, which requires a preacher, which needs someone to send preachers. God sends preachers - like Paul to the people of Spain who haven't yet heard. Public preachers and conversationalists, people with 'beautiful feet' to speak of Jesus.
6. HE HOLDS OUT HIS ARMS (10v16-21). God provokes hard-hearted people by having those who aren't even looking for him find him... and he holds out his arms all day long. The issue always is that people become obstinate, they don't want the humiliation of a saviour like Jesus Christ, they don't want the weakness of a crucified saviour. 
The same 2 chapters yield these observations. Rather than tension, we should see fresh depths of grace, motive to introduce people to Christ and to cry out in prayer to the God of grace.

Image - FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD: LETTERS TO EXILES - Episode 4 (Jean Valjean)

1 comment:

  1. SOME FOOTNOTES

    1. Predestination and Election are Bible Words – if you take the Bible as authoritative, then you need to believe in them. The question shouldn’t be: will I believe, but what are they?

    2. Calvinism vs. Arminianism. John Calvin (1509-1564) was a key player in the Reformation. A warm-hearted pastor in Geneva whose ministry led to the planting of 2000 churches across France. Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Hermanszoon) 1560-1609 was a Dutch theologian, commended by Calvin’s successor Beza. The dispute between Calvinism and Arminianism occurs after the deaths of both Calvin and Arminus. In 1610 some of Arminius’ followers (‘The Remonstrants’) raised five points of disagreement which were formally answered at the Council of Dort in 1618-19 which have become known as ‘The Five Points of Calvinism’. It’s helpful to remember is that these are not a full picture of “Reformed Theology” (as Calvin’s legacy is often described) but the answers to five specific points of dispute often summarised in the 1905 acronym T.U.L.I.P. There are Calvinists and Arminians at Beeston Free, men and women who take the Bible seriously but lean to different emphases. The best of Arminian thinking is not far from Calvin and Reformed Theology – though it is easy to be sloppy in our articulation of our beliefs, and to caricature others. Further study: Grace, Faith and Free Will (Robert. E. Picirilli, ‘Reformation Arminianism’), Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (Michael Horton, ‘Reformed’). Both views have extreme distortions that veer away from evangelicalism and eventually into heresy. From Calvinism to a cold unevangelistic Hyper-Calvinism that is out of step with the Bible, not least the missionary letter to the Romans! Arminianism can tend to Semi-Pelagian / Pelagian views that deny sin & sovereignty to elevate humanity (c.f. British heretic Pelagius, 360-418).

    3. Romans 9-10 which address ‘God’s purpose in election’ (9:11) – (Predestination is in chapter 8.) Romans is a magnificent letter, written by Paul, delivered by Phoebe while Paul took financial gifts to Jerusalem to give relief to Jewish Christians, before travelling on to Rome seeking help to take the gospel to Spain. It’s a church-strengthening letter, particularly designed to unite Jews and Gentiles who belong to God’s new humanity in Christ, and to show the extent of God’s great kindness to humanity, driven by Paul’s deep missionary-heart to see unreached people come to faith in Christ. 4. Romans 9 is a Q & A – that walks through the Biblical story in Genesis and Exodus before landing in prophets Hosea & Isaiah in chapter 9, and then a meditation on Deuteronomy and Isaiah in chapter 10. If we’re getting Paul’s question and answer right we’ll start asking the next question and feeling what he’s feeling. We will have unresolved questions but it’s vital that we go away feeling what Paul feels and doing what Paul does.

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