Sunday, May 28, 2006

Chosen In Christ

How do you explain to someone what it means to be "chosen in Christ"? People tie their minds in knots over election. Here goes the tail-chasing: If God gets his way then he picks who goes to heaven and who goes to hell; Christ dies for those he picked; God didn't really love the other people; God does not even intend good towards most people; God could save all if he wanted but does not want ...

This is a popular, popular view of "election" -- but it turns election into something unScriptural. It turns "election" into something Christless, something to which Christ is added later, instead of placing Christ firmly as the cause of election, instead of "Christ in you" as the definition of election. And that view of election also wreaks havoc with any rational and balanced idea of a loving, just, and merciful God -- a trustworthy God -- a God in whom you can actually have faith as opposed to merely submission and obedience and perhaps awe at his power and fear of his wrath.

Some camps take Judgment Day as their starting point and reason backward in time: at the Last Day some people have God's favor and others are condemned. Therefore, they reason, God must not have wanted to save them. But here we have run against the plain meaning of so many Scriptures that the conclusion is untenable. Other camps know from Scripture that God loves all people in a meaningful way and they reason forward from God's love. They reason that in Christ God sends an offer; that some take it and some leave it; that some are capable of taking it. But here again we have run against the plain meaning of Scripture, and the conclusion is untenable. Where did they go off track?

Both have missed the same point, which I'd sum up as, "What does Christ have to do with it?" To be sure those views each have places for Christ -- but not the key place, the decisive place, the place of honor, the cornerstone, the foundation. Both camps look at Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection, ask the question "What does that have to do with me and my salvation?" and answer "Nothing by itself, unless something else is added to it." Some add God's will in favor of some and against others into the mix. Some add man's will into the mix. Neither allows Christ to genuinely be the mediator.

Of course man's will comes into play: but apart from Christ man is incapable of turning to the God who should condemn him. The idea that man turns to God apart from Christ, knowing that a faithful God would destroy him, is nonsense. Of course God's will comes into play: but apart from Christ, God's does not love a rebellious sinner that he should condemn. The idea that God looks on favor towards some, apart from Christ, and then sends Christ to them is nonsense. God can offer a rebellious sinner only death. A sinner remains a rebel as long as he can expect only death. A sinner only turns towards mercy and life. God only turns towards the pure. Outside of Christ, God and man only meet in judgment. Where God meets man with mercy is only in Christ. Where man turns to God for healing is only in Christ.

In Christ, love and faithfulness meet together. In Christ, evil is condemned. Christ dies, and we die with him. God is satisfied with his son, and with all who are in his son. The evil is destroyed and put to death in Christ -- because we are in Christ. In Christ's death, our evil dies and we nail our sins to the cross with him. Christ is raised, and we are raised with him. New life is given us, new hearts, a new spirit, a new birth. God turns to us, and we turn to God.

Time and again, I have heard people ask some version of this: "but how, exactly, does this happen?" Usually this means, "You can't mean it's all done in and through Christ. No, really, what else is there?" Christ is it. Christ is God's wisdom. Christ is God's power for our salvation. The answer is Christ. There is not some other answer besides Christ and outside of Christ. It's all about the encounter with Christ. The Bible discusses at least four possible outcomes of the encounter with Christ in the parable of the sower: Some don't understand and the new life does not take root; some understand well enough for easy times but not hard times, so that the new life begins growing but then dies; some have the new life growing but it is crowded out by the rest of our lives (I think most of us are like this); some rest fully in Christ and become productive and beautiful things to celebrate. To be sure, the parable of the sower does not cover all the varieties of "lost" reactions seen in Scripture. There is also the complete hatred of Christ that comes from the fact that he shows us our sin in all its ugliness. But even such people as these have been known to be changed by the encounter with Christ. Saul of Tarsus springs to mind.

From the viewpoint of an evangelist out to "sow the seed" -- to proclaim Christ -- there are some practical applications. If someone does not understand at first, we are patient. Or we try again after they're more shaken up, more open. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? The best thing that ever happened to him was the famine. Life is like that, we'll all be humbled at times. God gives grace to the humble. If someone is too proud to listen to a message of help and humility now, the day may come later when they are not too proud to listen to a message of help and humility. When we see someone struggling with the hard times -- and that's all of us sometimes -- we shade them and shelter them, but we also help them put down deeper roots. The "name it and claim it" and "victorious life" crowds just set people up for failure at hard times. Suffering, pain, and death are not signs of God's hatred -- they are the birthpangs of the new life. The new life does not come unless the old life dies -- the life at enmity with God. It hurts when the old life dies, and every thing we ever depended on apart from God is shown to be at best a shadow of him and at worst a distraction from him. If we hold onto that old life, we die entirely with it under God's judgment. We are lost. If we hold onto Christ, the old life dies under God's judgment and we are raised to new life with Christ.

The encounter with Christ changes us; it also frees us. Without him, we are slaves to sin. If anyone imagines those are just words, remember the times you've struggled not to do something and have done it anyway. Sin's the boss and we're just following orders. Reluctantly maybe, eagerly maybe, but either way we have trouble resisting. Christ sets us free.

And what about Judgment Day? Still some are saved and some are lost. They are not lost because God did not care to save them. They are lost because salvation was in Christ; the light came and they loved darkness better. Christ saves us -- salvation is from God. But God does not compel that we receive him any more than he compels obedience to his moral law. The phrase "irresistible grace" contains a very bad misunderstanding of what "grace" is. "Grace" is a favorable relationship, or the various results and benefits of a favorable relationship. "Repentance" is a change of heart, a transformation from the encounter with the message of forgiveness, death, and resurrection in Christ. Christ himself, then, is the channel of God's grace to us: grace comes through Christ. But nothing about the grace of Christ compels repentance, compels us to change.

Why does God not compel our repentance, if he truly loves us? Consider how we are made: in God's image. Consider why we were able to fall: because we bear God's image. Again, as best I can see, God took such a risk not because he desired the resulting evil, but because he desired such a great good. If God saves us -- who is it that he is saving? If we are saved by dying and being reborn, renewed in his image, then what happens to ourselves? If God re-creates us by force, either we no longer bear his image, or we are no longer who we were in any sense at all. We would not be "redeemed" by this forceful re-creation; there would be no continuity at all between us now and us then. The "self" that is redeemed would not be itself any longer. The thing that is "redeemed" against its will would be a new creation without any continuity with the old. God might as well have started over on a new planet if there is no continuity between the old that is being redeemed and the new that is redeemed.

Apart from Christ, man is enslaved to sin. We cannot choose God; we cannot want to approach that which will condemn us. God chooses us in Christ, not apart from Christ. Christ sets us free. But from there, we can still live or die. Have you ever heard of "prevenient grace"? Some people use that to mean the grace that comes to us before our conversion. In a view which maintains that grace comes through Christ, "prevenient grace" means that Christ has died for us, Christ has turned aside God's wrath, and there is a safe and holy place to meet God, a refuge for the sinner: Christ. Christ has died for the whole world. It does not therefore follow that the whole world will be saved; this is because salvation is not a mere transaction. Our place is to bring the message of Christ to people so that they may encounter the living Lord. He alone can set them free. And neither is God's will a mystery in this regard: he wills to redeem the world through Christ. He who receives him receives the one who sent him; he who rejects him rejects the one who sent him. That is God's will in regards to judgment and salvation.

And us? We are not chosen in and of ourselves as if we of all sinners had found special favor in God's sight. We are chosen in Christ. Apart from Christ, we have no relationship to God but that of condemnation: we rebel against him and make ourselves idols and selfish tyrants each after our own scale; he condemns this, and rightly. Time and again, the Scriptures link being God's chosen people to being in Christ.

So the answer about our salvation is this: Christ. There is no other answer.

8 comments:

codepoke said...

Thank you, WF, for soldiering through to the end! I, for one, enjoyed every post, even the ones I had questions about. This is no exception. Great post. I may also try this some day.

I attended very closely to these, because I have long been tired of driving people off with the 5 points. It seems like it should be possible to correct a doctrine so universally displeasing as calvinism.

After reading this post, and your next one, I cannot say I see election the way you are presenting it - either from the calvinistic or from your perspective.

Christ firmly as the cause of election

Interesting. It seems to me that Christ is the means or venue of election, but not the cause. The Father was the cause, no?

Eph 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world

"Christ in you" as the definition of election.

It seems, then, as if you put election within time. Christ is not in us until conversion here in time.

wreaks havoc with any rational and balanced idea of a loving, just, and merciful God

Well, I cannot say that I see this. The Father loves the Son, is just toward both unredeemed and redeemed, and is merciful to both as well - causing His rain to fall on His enemies.

A sinner remains a rebel as long as he can expect only death.

I notice that you changed your definition of the fall between your first papers and this. In your first papers, you made the brilliant point that God is our sock puppet - that we are our own gods and that we expect our God to submit to us. We are in rebellion against Him due to our pride, not due to our fear.

Here, though, you have switched that view completely. Now you are picturing man as one who knows that God judges him, and who fears God, and who therefore will not turn to Him.

I believe your first view was correct.

A sinner remains a rebel as long as he can expect only death.

The fear you describe here is a gift from God. The sinner does not fear God until God teaches him to do so.

2 Tim 2:25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,

Why does election before time require that Christ not be involved? Why is Christ's involvement necessarily confined to time?

Usually this means, "You can't mean it's all done in and through Christ. No, really, what else is there?" Christ is it.

Well, yes. It is all done in and through Christ - Who was slain before the foundation of the earth. He knew His sheep even then, and He laid His Life down for them, even then. He encounters us before we are born. We encounter Him here.

This is the closest I have come to being "happy" with an answer, BTW. What do you think?

Now to the bugbear of irresistible grace. I join most everyone in disliking that term, but that is neither here nor there.

You point out that:
We cannot choose God; we cannot want to approach that which will condemn us.

I think you should replace the word "condemn" with the word, "dethrone" per your first papers. We are seated on our own throne, defiant against our Creator and Judge. We do not fear to approach Him, because we are in the depths of foolishness and evil toward Him (though we may be holy folk toward other men.)

How do you think "prevenient grace" logically satisfies the question? I don't see that answer in your post. As I read the your definition of prevenient grace, it seems to match up equally well against a calvinist's "outward call" or a calvinist's "effectual call" depending upon how I read it.

Outward call: The law and its satisfaction in Christ are both freely available to all. All who call upon the Name of Christ will be saved, because He has turned aside God's wrath.

Effectual call: Christ died for you, because you are one of His sheep. He has turned aside God's wrath, so you can call upon the Name of Christ and safely come to the Father.

I don't believe that we can fear God unless He has first made us alive toward Him. I fear nothing toward which I am dead. I don't believe that I can repent of rebellion against God until my heart is in submission to Him. A dead heart will not submit to Him.

So, pushing the discussion back to prevenient grace seems just to lead to the same quandry that we had with grace. Is the outward call sufficient to save? Or must God make a person alive before they can answer that outward call?

That takes us squarely to your comments about God compelling our repentance. I am out of time, so I will be brief (thank you's are not necessary. :-)

Quick summary, though. God did not ask our permission before He made us alive the first time; why must He ask our permission before He makes us alive a second time? He does not compel our repentance - that flows directly from a living heart that awakens to find itself sunk in sin. He simply makes us alive, and a living person always breathes. A person alive to God always repents.

What happens to ourselves?

The same thing that happened to Eve when she was taken from Adam. She was made alive, and made her own person. When God breathes His Life into us, there is no violence to our identity. There is just Life where once there was death. And Life rejoices at the opportunity to repent before a loving and lovable God.

Thank you again.

I really appreciate the holy reverence with which you have approached these issues. I hope my questions reflect that respect.

Weekend Fisher said...

I think you still read with some Calvinist presuppositions attached. For example, God did not "ask permission" before he sent Christ to save us. He does not "ask permission" to send his Holy Spirit. He does not "ask permission" at all. But he did allow us to turn away. That's why we fell in the first place. That's why we are still capable of falling now, listening to the same seductive story of our own godhood.

The "external call" is Christ. The "internal call" is Christ. There isn't one call for some people and another call for other people, there's just Christ.

You also say you cannot see how the Calvinist scenario tells against God's meaningful love for all. C'mon now, the Calvinist scenario is that God chooses to condemn people even though He himself is the only meaningful obstacle to their salvation. That view goes against the "Martin Luther and the Kaiser's Wife" plain-interpretation of Scripture in quite a few places, to say the least. And most people find it fairly obvious how that makes God less loving than he could be. The issue is not whether God owes anybody. One issue is whether God is fully good and fully faithful towards what he has made. The other issue is why those certain sinners found favor -- it wasn't because of Christ, because they didn't have Christ yet.

"I noticed you changed your definition of the fall"

... Um, no, just also incorporated some earlier writings from before I started the series. Haven't gotten around to adding all the links yet. It's true that we make a sock-puppet God. It's also true that the real God arouses much animosity. Note that it was the "most religious" who resented it most strongly when the real God made a showing. Which there's probably a lesson in there for us today.

"Fear of God" is not always a gift. The right fear of God is a gift. The wrong fear of God is what sent Adam scampering away in the garden, looking for a place to hide. The "fear of God" experienced by his children is very different from the "fear of God" experienced by those who distrust him. But they still fear the true God. It's half of why they need the sock-puppet.

On "prevenient grace" I wonder whether I made myself clear. The point is that "prevenient grace" is a meaningless theological abstraction, on the same level as the "secret call" of Calvinism, unless it is properly defined: Christ is prevenient grace. And Christ is the call.

"The same thing that happened to Eve ... no violence ... just the breath of God." Yep. And then she fell away. God loves the whole world, and Christ is the atoning sacrifice for sins, not only for ours but for those of the whole world. It does not therefore follow that all are redeemed because Christ is more than a transaction.

It seems to bother you that time is involved in election, that the encounter with Christ, in this world, in time, is involved, as well as the foundation of the world. But that is how Scripture describes it, even if it is not what we would expect, God being both outside and inside the world's time, and working in each, is not easy for us to grasp. Now and eternity are tied together in ways God has not explained to us. Calvinists insist that all mysteries be settled only in eternity, and as a consequence often belittle what happens inside time. Calvinists insist that all mysteries only be settled according to God's power, but God has chosen weakness, and Calvinists take no account of it, even though it is stronger than our strength, and God's chosen vessel.

Calvinists have some things right: God does not wait for our works, does not ask our permission. And some things wrong: God does allow people to turn away, does choose weakness, does love the whole world. The Arminians have some things wrong, especially those who say that God would foresee some merit of our own and therefore choose us. What God foresees is Christ. God chooses Christ, and all those in him. That's election. Christ sets us free, and Christ is the door.

I'm rambling. I know those who are used to a Calvinist view of election will not really be used to the ideas. But I can hope that you will look again at the Scriptures, see things not before seen, notice things that had not caught your eye.

Knowing God is always going to be a work in progress.

codepoke said...

I think you still read with some Calvinist presuppositions attached.

I worked hard for those presuppositions! Remember, I was a dyed in the wool, aggressive anti-calvinist when all this started. :-)

You have said that you are ready to move on from theology, and you didn't really ask me any questions, but I will ask anyway.

You say, directly to the heart of the matter:
If God re-creates us by force, either we no longer bear his image, or we are no longer who we were in any sense at all.
and
He does not "ask permission" at all.

The second statement is from your reply to my comment, and you are refering to Christ and the Spirit being sent without permission. You do not actually say whether you believe that God asks our permission to regenerate, though you seem to imply that He does not. Surely, though, you think that He does judging by the rest of the post.

Excluding a little quibbling, I think we agree that repentance is the first work of God toward man. Maybe it is a proper fear of God, maybe it is hearing the truth, but basically, the first thing a man does when approaching God is repent.

Where I think we diverge might be that I don't believe that an unregenerate man can repent. I don't believe that any amount of truth poured into his ears will cause him to mourn until he is alive. After the man is regenerated, then he mourns his sin and repents.

Does repentance lead to regeneration, or regeneration to repentance?

C'mon now, the Calvinist scenario is that God chooses to condemn people even though He himself is the only meaningful obstacle to their salvation.

I don't blame you for arguing against the Calvinist scenarios. I differ from classic Calvinism on election, so these points all kind of miss me, but I understand most of them. Election itself is a lesser matter to me than regeneration.

Calvinists insist that all mysteries only be settled according to God's power, but God has chosen weakness, and Calvinists take no account of it, even though it is stronger than our strength, and God's chosen vessel.

I don't understand this accusation at all. Wherein do Calvinists reject weakness? In that Christ cannot fail?

But I can hope that you will look again at the Scriptures, see things not before seen, notice things that had not caught your eye.

That I disagree does not mean that I am not listening.

Weekend Fisher said...

Before I answer, there's one thing that I'm just not getting about the question. Why, exactly, is it you think that my scenario involves God asking our permission in any way? Is it because I affirm that we can fall again and he doesn't force us to stay? Or is it something else?

codepoke said...

Is it because I affirm that we can fall again and he doesn't force us to stay?

No, not that. I don't believe you referenced falling away in your original post, but only in your reply to my comment.

I introduced the phrase, "ask permission" because of statements in the original post.

...But God does not compel that we receive him any more than he compels obedience to his moral law. ... But nothing about the grace of Christ compels repentance, compels us to change....

...If God re-creates us by force, either we no longer bear his image, or we are no longer who we were in any sense at all. We would not be "redeemed" by this forceful re-creation;...


The phrase may show a misunderstanding on my part. I was using it as the opposite of "compel" or "force."

You refer to the encounter with Christ. Your statement is that it is the encounter with Christ that changes us.

Something actually makes us alive. Does Christ encounter a dead man, make him alive, and then he repents? It would seem that you would call this "compelling his regeneration". Or does Christ encounter a man dead in his sins, attempt to convince him of mercy available for the asking (instead of judgement), and sometimes the man then initiates the change his heart by responding with repenting? That is what I would call "asking the man's permission".

I have a hard time buying the latter, because repentance (as you point out with regard to fear) can be right and wrong. Only the Spirit can grant the living heart that is capable of true repentance.

Weekend Fisher said...

Christ trying to convince someone to repent? Nah, I don't see that. Not in the records of Christ, not in our everyday life -- except that I've seen people attempt it, but I haven't seen it work. I think the "convince someone to repent" paradigm may be the most annoying weakness of Arminian evangelism.

"Repentance" is such a churchy word. What exactly does it mean? "Metanoia" in the Greek, from a weak meaning of changing the mind to a strong meaning of transforming of the spirit. So that's what happens to us from the moment we are regenerated until the moment our transformation is complete, we're in a continual state of repentance and healing, give or take whatever hard-headedness and foolishness I can manage.

So how do you go from dead to alive? That's the point of the parable of the sower; that's a parable about how regeneration works in our lives. The ground goes from dead to alive when the seed is planted in it and starts growing. The seed is always good seed; it is the message of Christ. It's always alive. But Christ allows the rest of our lives to come into the picture (I suspect because they were already part of the picture anyway): enemies, misunderstandings, shallowness, worldliness -- all those things really do affect our spiritual walk, how well the new life grows within us, whether it's fruitful or not, whether it's snatched away before it starts to grow. Which is ok, we can always plant another seed. Jesus portrays the new life interacting with us and our lives in what some people like to call an organic way, not just a formula or a decree.

codepoke said...

Gotcha.

I will enjoy walking away and thinking about this for a while.

I think I understand you to say that in Christ all these things are organic, but when we attempt to codify them we end up erring on one side or the other. Your allusion to continuous regeneration is unique. I cannot embrace it yet, but I like the fresh perspective.

Thank you, again. I will look forward to whatever else is brewing.

JCluvsyou said...

Wow, thankyou so much for your post...still to soak, in but my, this sounds right! I asked the minister of my church about what he makes of the idea of predestination thing and while we can say we are all called for sure, can we say that we are all chosen...one thing that has baffled me really...I have had enough information to know that something about the way it can seem is not right....He said he believes we can and that we need to believe that we are chosen/predestined (as do Joyce Meyer and Smith Wigglesworth when I come to think of it). I wrote this in my journal but left out another part of what he said...something about how Jesus is God's chosen one and how it is in Christ that all this stuff occurs. I didn't really get that last bit, so didn't write it down, but it has stuck in my memory since I asked him. I didn’t get the chance to talk to Him very long on it, but it seemed good enough an answer for the time, so thought I’d go away with that for then. The past couple of days this topic has come to my mind and today I thought I would research it a bit more and listen to what God may be trying to reveal to me (not being sent into a spin like it was about 3 years ago when I was trying to work it out [making tables of all the pros and cons Bible passages/sources and ideas] for like 6 months after I went with a friend to her church camp which unbeknown to me really pushed the Calvinistic views).
This also seems to fit with other revelations God has given me, with some of my favourite books, “The Vision” and “The Torch and the Sword” by Rick Joyner.