Saturday, September 20, 2014

Did God Choose Who Would Be Saved?

As we saw last week, God created us not to be like dolls, but to have free will so that we could choose to be His friends. Because God has perfect knowledge of all things, past, present and future (Psalm 139:1-6), the topic of man’s free will always brings up the question of how God can know who will be saved, and who will reject His freely given offer of salvation, without interfering with that choice. That is a mystery we will not fully understand until we reach glory (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:9; Colossians 1:27).

Nonetheless, let me offer an imperfect example by way of illustration. After 25 years of marriage, I know at least some of my husband Richard’s preferences rather well. I can therefore reasonably accurately predict that if he had an uninterrupted evening of television programming to watch by himself, he would choose a live airing of a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game over a rerun of a “chick flick.” If he were to make that choice, it would not be due to my influencing his decision in any way, even though I had correctly foretold the outcome.

My knowledge of my husband is incomplete, for only God knows the hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 44:21; 139:23, etc.). Yet in His perfect knowledge, He has known from the beginning of time who would be saved by placing their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), and who would be lost and doomed to hell by not believing in Him (John 3:18), instead trusting in their own good works or worldly “wisdom” (Luke 16:15).

Did God choose who is to be saved and who will be doomed? Some believe that is the case, citing Ephesians 1, which says “he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world,” and “He predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself (v. 4,5). A similar verse is 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which says that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”

Yet if God chose some to be saved and others to be damned, that would contradict Peter’s assertion that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It also would be out of character for God, Who is love (1 John 4:8), to decide to send some of His creatures to hell before they even come on the earthly scene and have the opportunity to choose salvation. Paul, also writing under Holy Spirit inspiration, also states that God wants “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Considering the bulk of Scripture in context (2 Timothy 3:16), and rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), I believe we should therefore conclude that God created us with free will in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and that He has known eternally who would trust Christ and who would reject Him, without interfering with that choice. Paul always addresses believers rather than the unsaved, so when he refers to “us,” or “you” he speaks of the church, or believers in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (1 Corinthians 1:2). 

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which says that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,” I believe that the choice made by God was not who would be saved, but the means of salvation. Namely, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to indwell us and make us holy with Christ’s righteousness at the moment we realize the truth that we are sinners (Romans 3:23) and that Jesus died and rose again to save us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

I believe that the “predestination” Paul describes in Ephesians 1 refers not to whom will be saved, but to what is the predetermined destiny for those who will be saved. God the Father has blessed us (believers) with all spiritual blessings (v. 3) “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (v. 4). In other words, God chose from the beginning of time that those who placed their faith in His Son would be sanctified, or made holy, (1 Corinthians 1:2,30; 6:11; Hebrews 10:29; 13:12) and justified (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:24-30), or freed from sin, by His shed blood (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:9)) and His righteousness.

It was for God’s pleasure that He “predestinated believers unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself” (Ephesians 1: 5). In other words, He determined ahead of time that believers in Jesus Christ would become children of God and joint heirs with Christ (v. 11), sealed by His Spirit (v. 13) until He redeems us completely by giving us a glorified body like that of Christ to enjoy throughout eternity (v. 14;  Romans 8:29).

God knew from the beginning of time who would trust His Son, and He predetermined their destiny, which is to be like Christ, to rise from death to eternal life, to be called by the Holy Spirit, to be justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, and to live in His glory (Romans 8:29-30).

Because God knew in advance who would be saved, He also predetermined a unique plan and purpose for every believer. He “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

Does this unique, perfect plan for each of us negate our free will? No, because at every step along the way, we have the choice to accept or reject what He would have us do. Sadly, therefore, we are unlikely to completely realize His preordained purpose, but we will come closer if we consistently yield to the Spirit Who guides us, rather than to our sin nature leading us astray (1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 7:14-25; Ephesians 4:22-32).

Abraham would not have become the father of the great Hebrew nation giving rise to Jesus Christ had he not taken that first step of faith toward the Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-4) or had he not been willing to sacrifice Isaac when God commanded it (Genesis 22). Yet there is hope for each of us, for even Abraham stumbled many times, making wrong choices along the way (Genesis 12:11-13; 16:2; 20:2-3). Through it all, Abraham trusted God, and he was saved because his faith was accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:9-16; Galatians 3:7-14; Hebrews 11:8,17).

I believe that when we face Christ at the judgment seat of believers, we will not have to account for our sins, which are paid for in full by His shed blood (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2). Rather, we will be confronted with every idle word we have spoken (Matthew 12:36), every missed opportunity He offered us, and every door He opened that we declined to walk through (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Adam’s rebellion (Genesis 3) came as no surprise to God, Who has complete foreknowledge of all things. From the beginning of time, He also knew that His solution to Adam’s sin was His plan of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, God taking on human flesh (John 1:14) to be the perfect, sinless sacrifice Whose suffering could reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Colossians 1:20).

Praise God that when He sees believers, He no longer sees our sin, but only the perfect righteousness of His Son, with which we are clothed (Isaiah 61:10) once we place our faith in Him! May we use the God-given blessing of our free will to make the right choices, in accordance with His perfect plan (Jeremiah 29:11) for our lives!

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dolls, or Friends?

When I was a little girl, I spent hours playing with dolls. For me, it wasn’t so much about dressing them up in pretty clothes or taking care of a baby doll – it was about creating drama. I loved making up intricate plots of adventures, mysteries, relationships and intrigue in different historical periods or even in the future, and in exotic locales. When I ran out of three-dimensional dolls to play the many characters in these ongoing narratives, I switched to paper dolls, often using figures from four or five paper doll books to take part in the same story.

The beauty of this type of play was that the dolls were willing subjects in whatever fantasy world I envisioned. I was the master of their universe. They wore the clothes and assumed the identity of the characters I created for them; they spoke the dialogue I wrote; and they had the feelings and reactions I thought appropriate for the relationships and situations in which I placed them.

But the downside of playing with dolls is that they have no life of their own. They could never surprise me, and I had no real affection, or indeed any feelings, for them, because they were under my complete control and incapable of doing anything other than what I made them do.

“Chatty Cathy” was a popular doll during my childhood, as you could pull a string on her neck and she would randomly say one of several prerecorded phrases. I never wanted one of these dolls, as her inane comments paled in comparison to the sophisticated conversations I preferred for my dolls. Yet despite the cleverness of the repartee I invented for these characters, it never enlightened, informed or touched me, as it came solely from my own mind.

In works of fiction we sometimes see dolls or toys coming to life, as in the Nutcracker Ballet. More often, these are horror stories, like Bride of Chucky, as we would perceive any independence coming from a doll as originating from a demonic spirit.

Then I grew older and realized it was time to put aside childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). (I admit to still having a doll collection, but not to playing with it!). Instead of dolls, I had friends – long before the days of Facebook, texting, or BFFs. In this brave new world, I was often surprised, amused, or puzzled by how my friends reacted to what I said or did. Sometimes I was hurt by their indifference, rejection, or betrayal, yet often I was touched by their loyalty, kindness, and generosity.

What an amazing feeling when a classmate you admire says she would like to be your friend! The spontaneity and freedom classmates had in choosing to spend time with me and to be called my friend brought me incredible joy, as I knew they could have chosen otherwise. Those friendships are a source of strength to this very day, and I am thankful for wisdom gained from lessons learned with those friends and from their positive influences on my life.

Unlike dolls, friends cannot be controlled. We can influence one another for good (Proverbs 27:17), as Jonathan did to David (1 Samuel 18:1-4; 19:2-6), or for evil, as Jonadab did to Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22). But “friends” can and do ultimately choose to love (Proverbs 17:17), ignore or hate us (Job 16:20; 19:19; Psalm 41:9). Despite all our best advice and love for them (Proverbs 27:9-10), they can choose to do what we think is best for them, to disregard the benefit of our wisdom, or to openly defy us (Deuteronomy 13:6; Job 6:27; 32:3; Jeremiah 19:9).

Reminiscing about dolls and friends made me think about how God regards us. He created us for His good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5,9; Philippians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11), in a way like a toymaker designs dolls to delight little girls. And yet, we are so blessed that He created us not to be like dolls, but rather to be His friends! (Exodus 33:11; 2 Chronicles 20:7; Song of Solomon 5:16; Matthew 11:19; Luke 12:4; James 2:23).

He not only desires fellowship with us (1 Corinthians 1:9; Philippians 2:1; 3:10; 1 John 1:3,6-7), but He loved us first (1 John 4:19), while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), enemies (Romans 5:10; James 4:4), and children of the devil (1 John 3:10). He is the Friend Who sticks closer to us than even a brother (Proverbs 18:24),

Even when we ignore, disobey, or defy Him, He is loyal, faithful and true (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 89:8; Isaiah 25:1; etc.). He created us not to be His servants, but His friends, entrusted with the wisdom the Father gave to His Son. There is no greater love than His for His friends, because He died to save us (John 15:13-15).

God created mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:27). Just as He has a Triune nature, we therefore do too. We have not only a physical body, like the one Jesus had when He came to earth in human flesh (John 1:14) as Emmanuel, meaning God with us (Matthew 1:23), but a soul and spirit, giving us our unique personality, desires and talents.

Because God created us with the potential to be His friends, He gave us free will to make choices, whether for good or for bad. No matter how realistic in appearance, or how many phrases a doll can recite if you push a button, or how many preprogrammed actions a robot can carry out, they lack the ability to make decisions.

God, Who is all-powerful and infinitely wise (Psalm 139), could have guaranteed that we would always serve Him, pray to Him, witness for Him, and never sin. Had He done that, though, we could not be His friends, but only His playthings.

Instead He created mankind with free will and with the capacity for choice and creative thought, which is why He could assign to Adam the challenge of naming all the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). With free will, however, comes the capacity for sin. Despite the wonderful fellowship Adam and Eve enjoyed with their Creator in the Paradise of Eden, they chose to disobey His commandment and to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6).

When Adam and Eve sinned, they had to face the personal consequences of that choice, namely loss of innocence and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. But even worse, their sin brought the curse of sin and death on all mankind (Genesis 3:7-24).

How amazing that the Creator of all designed us to seek Him, so that we could be blessed by fellowship with Him as His friends, created for His good pleasure! May we wisely exercise our free will with every choice we make, yielding to the Holy Spirit within, and not to our old sin nature! 

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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