Thinking about Predestination and Freewill

Moses calls the people to choose the way of life (following the instruction of God) or the way of death (serving the false gods of the pagan peoples around them) 
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Joshua tells the people to choose to serve God or the idols of their neighbors.
"And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all people and wants all people to come to repentance. This does not mean that Jesus' death affects salvation for those who resist God's call.
  • "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
  • "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." (John 12:32)
  • For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God." (Romans 6:10)
  • "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22)
  • "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." (2 Corinthians 5:15)
  • "For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." (1 Timothy 4:10)
  • "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men..." (Titus 2:11)
  • "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
  • "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit..." (1 Peter 3:18)
Yet, as we have faith to share the gospel with every person, we have to admit that the will to call, the act of saving, the justification of sin are completely in the hands of God and administered at His will.  It is at this activity of His divine will that we are called His "elect:" 
  • "And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. (Matthew 24:22); 
  • "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24); 
  • "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." (Matthew 24:31); 
  • "And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days. (Mark 13:20); 
  • "...for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray. (Mark 13:22);  
  • "And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth, to the farthest end of heaven." (Mark 13:27);  
  • "...now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?" (Luke 18:7)
In as much as we are instructed in the scripture to choose between God and the the ways of the world, the enemy, false gods; we are also told that it is Christ who chooses us.  
  • "Jesus answered them, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70); 
  • "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you." (John 15:16);
  • "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will..." (Ephesians 1:4-5)
I don't intend to give you a fully developed theological position here.  I'm mostly sharing some of the things I have been thinking about lately.  I have a couple of friends who occasionally like to plumb the depths of this particular subject with me.  I thought it might be worth sharing some of the verses that recently came up in our studied conversation.
One thought that I have on the subject is that most of us don't like the tension that this subject brings on.  But, I think that in the same way that we have to accept some tension in our faithful belief in the triune God in order to bring harmony to God's revealed word, we also have to accept that this discussion of predestination, election, and free will is a matter of divine mystery.  It inherently beholds tension for us and wherever we land on the topic, the tension should keep us in check, so as not to wonder either into legalism or into license.  ('License' is a blanket term that refers to exercising sin because of a perception of guaranteed grace.  This is another tense subject all together.)
Please share some of your thoughts.


Grading Ourselves as Christ-Followers

C. Peter Wagner, brilliant teacher and leader in the arena of Christian discipleship compiled a survey of measurable factors in Christian growth.  I recently came across some of my notes from my college days and took some time to reflect on these things for myself.  I thought you might like to spend some time meditating on them and giving yourself a spiritual check-up.

Wagner assembled the data from a nation-wide interview process in which he discovered these similarities in Christ-followers who claimed to experience a stronger faith and a closer connection to Christ.  Wagner asserts that these factors both contribute to and result from that experience.  

1. Bible knowledge. Growing Christians are increasing in their grasp of the teachings of the Bible. They can integrate this with a theological system that enables them to apply the Bible's teachings to their life situation.

2. Personal devotions. Growing Christians spend time daily in prayer, Bible reading, meditation, and other personal spiritual exercises.

3. Worship. Growing Christians regularly participate in the worship services scheduled by the church.

4. Witnessing. Growing Christians regularly attempt to share their faith in Jesus Christ with unbelievers.

5. Lay ministry. Growing Christians are involved in such ministries as teaching and discipling. In some cases this happens through consciously discovering, developing, and using their spiritual gifts.

6. Missions. They actively supports missions, participating in and financing home and foreign missionaries.

7. Giving. Growing Christians give an appropriate portion of their income to the local church and/or to other Christian causes.

8. Fellowship. Growing Christians are growing in their personal relationships with each other through regular participation in church fellowship groups of one kind or another.

9. Distinctive life-style. Growing Christians generally manifest their faith in Christ by living a life-style clearly and noticeable distinct from that of non-Christians in the same community.

10. Attitude toward religion. Growing Christians regard their involvement in the church primarily as a service to God rather than a means to fulfill personal needs.

11. Social service. Growing Christians are serving others outside the congregation. This includes direct personal involvement with the poor and needy, or in programs designed to help the needy.

12. Social justice. Either through the congregation as a whole or through specialized Christian agencies, growing Christians are striving to make changes in sociopolitical structures that will contribute to a more moral and just society.

I give myself a C.  I have been too focussed on my own struggles to flourish in my Christian growth for some time now.  I am experiencing healing and restoration over time and in increasing volume.  As God gives me strength, I hope to improve my social service, fellowship, social justice and my distinctive lifestyle.  How about you.  Which of these indicators will you focus on God's calling and empowerment in order to see growth?


A Grace Parable

John was a university student: brainy, eccentric, unkempt, and solitary.  Unaware that his personality was a put off to those around him, John was a bit of a character on the campus.  Everyone knew him, chuckled a bit at the mention of him, but when it came to competing for the grade, they all respected or even feared him.

Near John's campus was a well-respected church with a long history in the community.  A decade before John came to school, the church had incorporated the name of the university into it's name in an effort to launch a ministry to the students there.  However, the church remained mostly effective in ministering to established, wealthier, conservative, people.  Sundays were characterized by people dressed in their best attire and following a well-known, yet unspoken code of Sunday behavior.

One Sunday John decided to turn his attention away from academic pursuits and examine the condition of his own soul by attending church.  He walked into the church late, after the pastor had already begun to preach.  He wore his personal uniform of grungy jeans, a holey white T-shirt, and sockless Birkenstock sandals. When he arrived, the sanctuary was full to capacity with people in suit and skirt.  He tried to find a seat near the back to begin his spiritual search in anonymity, but none could be found.  Unwittingly finding himself in the center aisle, he slowly continued forward looking for the first available seat.

Eventually, John commanded more and more attention from the congregants and the environment of the room became uncomfortable as this obvious outsider upset the delicate balance of the church's culture by his mere presence.  John continued forward looking for a seat and stealing more attention from the minister.  Eventually the minister himself struggled to continue with his sermon as he wondered what would transpire next. 

John did not find an available seat in the rows of pews and finally gave up.  So, John picked up his head and turned his attention to a seat that no one expected.  John walked up to the pulpit and sat down about four feet away, cross-legged on the ground.  

The congregation could feel the oxygen in the room become suddenly thick and their padded seats become increasingly uncomfortable.  And then a church deacon from the back of the room began to make his way forward, up the same aisle that just moments before had ushered John to the very front.  After all, something had to be done.  Everyone knew it and everyone knew what IT was.  

The deacon, along in age, moved slowly toward John and his keys jingled in his pocket in cadence with his slight limp.  With every jingle a new tension was born in the room ans the congregation looked on in expectation of IT.  The situation would soon be dealt with and soon all would feel relieved.

The minister saw what was about to transpire and struggled to keep to his notes, eventually giving way to the silence that had already enshrouded the rest of the room.

When the deacon got to the front of the room, he painfully climbed the steps to the stage, laboring with each climbing step.  Then finally reaching John, he reached over and put his hand on John's shoulder and using the stability he gained, lowed himself to a seated position next to John, took off his coat and tie, and motioned to the pastor to continue.

The minister looked up at the members of his flock.  He wept.  And eventually gaining his composure said, "Nothing I could say to you would measure up to the sermon on grace that you have just witnessed. " And with that he dismissed them all and took John to lunch.
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10)

(This is a well known story and the telling above is my version.  I first heard it in college and heard it recently re-told by Rick McCullough.)


Christians Need a Good Attitude

Joe Theismann enjoyed an illustrious 12-year career as quarterback of the Washington Redskins, ending in the year I graduated from high school. He led the team to two Super Bowl appearances--winning in 1983 before losing the following year. When a leg injury forced him out of football in 1985, he was entrenched in the record books as Washington's all-time leading passer. 

Theismann is quoted in Reader's Digest Magazine (1992) describing an insipid descent in his attitude that reminds him to this day about the role of attitude.

"I got stagnant. I thought the team revolved around me. I should have known it was time to go when I didn't care whether a pass hit Art Monk in the 8 or the 1 on his uniform. When we went back to the Super Bowl, my approach had changed. I was griping about the weather, my shoes, practice times, everything.

Today I wear my two rings--the winner's ring from Super Bowl XVII and the loser's ring from Super Bowl XVIII. The difference in those two rings lies in applying oneself and not accepting anything but the best."

Now, I don't mean this to be a motivational moment, or some kind of self-help pep talk.  I do mean to discuss a problem that we face in the Kingdom of God.  I do mean to call us to move beyond self-centered church shopping.  I do mean to inspire us to continue fighting the good fight and to fight that fight against darkness and the Father of Lies with dedication and renewed vigor.  Look what the Holy Spirit says to us about excellence and self-assessment.

     For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.  (Romans 12:3-8)

Are we stagnant?
Are we too self-significant?
Are we satisfied with being a mediocre servant in our church?
Are we focussed on the things that bug us more than the things we are called to?
Are we using anything as an excuse for these attitudes?

Let's ask God to show us if we have done less than our best in serving Him and His kingdom.  Let's allow His Spirit to reveal our negative attitudes that keep us from fully committing ourselves to our ministry in our churches and in our communities.  And lets cultivate an attitude of humble commitment to our team and to personal excellence in our expression of God's gifts.

In Romans 12 the Holy Spirit teaches us that excellence in serving begins with a right attitude.  Our attitude seems to operate as a valve for the operation of the Holy Spirit through us.

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