I’ve been reading through Romans, chapter by chapter, savoring every line, verse and thought explosion. I can’t imagine a skeptic of Christianity reading this ancient document and not being at the very least deeply intrigued by it. It is sheer lunacy to believe that a document like this is a figment of one’s imagination. Just a few short years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul’s writing evidences startling depth of theology, cohesion of thought and radical affirmation about an all-powerful God of grace that gifts people, the crown of creation, with simple faith.
It was Romans, chapter 9 that got me this a.m. In it, Paul is outlining a paradoxical truth of Christianity – the doctrine of election. Basically, it teaches that some are chosen by God for salvation, while some are not. Consider the following verses:
- As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (9.13)
- I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (9.15, a reference to Exodus 33.19)
- So then, he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (9.18)
Most believers have an immense problem with verses like these and hastily seek to balance them out with other verses in the New Testament that reference God’s grace and mercy, claiming that because God is love, he would never predestine someone to condemnation. They will use verses like the following:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3.9)
They will emphasize the words “any” and “all” in the previous verse (and in others like it) to urge you to consider that God loves all people. After all, there’s John 3.16 which says that God so loved the world… isn’t there?
Wherever you come down on this, I think you honestly have to wrestle with Paul’s words in Romans 9 (and in other places in the New Testament; Ephesians 1.5, 11; 2 Peter 1.10, Matthew 24.22, Luke 18.7, John 13.18, John 15.16, Titus 1.1). You certainly can’t discount them.
I want to suggest that perhaps why we get so deeply bothered with the doctrine of election is that we don’t like to be reminded that we’re creatures. The Bible asserts throughout that we have been created by God. Very few folks have reached a state of humility before their Creator that they are fine with that.
We would rather rise in rebellion and assert that we matter, that we have something to offer, that we are as good as… God, perhaps? Whatever you have previously thought, a person’s issue with being “chosen” by God, with being “created” by God, with being “elected,” means that they primarily don’t like to be reminded of their littleness, their helplessness, and the humiliating truth that we have nothing to offer God other than what He has given us to begin with.
Humility before God is required to digest and accept by faith the doctrine of election.
Paul understood all too well people’s objections to this teaching. Consider:
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! …So then it (salvation) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (9.14, 16)
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this? Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory?” (9.19-23)
When Job was seeking to understand God’s “unfair” treatment of him, he was subjected to a machine-gun fire littany of questions that are similar to these. (“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?…” (Job, chapters 38-40)
Wrestling with great truths and teachings such as these, at the very least, remind us of our littleness before the Creator. It puts us in our place. We are not God.
I think another perspective is also called for. Those who continue to reject the concept of being “chosen” by God for salvation often seem to indicate that somehow that makes God less loving, less merciful, and less objective. They claim it robs man of his “free will.” That’s one of the great paradoxes of the Gospel.
I know in my own life that I responded to Christ by commiting to follow Him as my Lord, Savior, and God. I did so when I was 7 years old, and I have imperfectly been in pursuit of His pleasure for 32 years now. One thing I’ve discovered with each passing year of following Him and loving Him: I still choose to do so. He has never forced me.
However, I also believe in all my heart that He chose me. Before the creation of the world, He chose me for salvation. I am one of the myriad elect. I can’t resolve that tension, but I know it.
Rather than make me belittle God or attempt to redefine Him or ignore clear scriptural teaching, the doctrine of election humbles me and makes my spirit soar in grateful exultation. I had nothing to offer Him. He was not enriched with the creation of Jeff Noble. The world did not stop turning at my birth, nor will it shudder at my passing. Yet, through no merit or work on my own, the Father above chose to love me and grace me with salvation through faith. I have nothing to offer Him except my humble, ever-grateful, love.
One last thing about this truth of immensities… some who struggle with it often remain quietest about their own faith. It’s rather strange. You’d think that someone who intensely dislikes the doctrine of election because it seems to refute free will would be the busiest evangelist on earth.
In addition, I think most Christians take for granted the salvation of God and grow content simply to enjoy its benefits without sharing its blessings.
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