Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Primer On Election - Part 1

Explaining the doctrine of election to another person is usually very difficult for me. My analogies are grossly inadequate and my exegesis of Scripture leaves much to be desired. I can safely leave it up to those who do the topic justice and point others to their articles. Steve Shank covers divine election in a portion of his book "First Steps of Faith".

First Steps of Faith, written primarily for the new Christian, uses vivid images and personal illustrations to lay a simple yet solid foundation for a lifetime of spiritual growth. But don't be misled — in its clear presentation of the timeless truths of Scripture, this book contains plenty of meat for the mature Christian as well. In the next few posts we'll move through Chapter 1 as the author explains the "Eight C's of Salvation"

Who Makes The First Move?
by Steve Shank

My family and I live twenty minutes from the ocean. Several times each year we’ll gather up our sand pails, plastic shovels, boogie boards, sunscreen, towels, chips, sodas, and six pairs of flip-flops and head off to play in the sand and surf.

The younger children love playing in the waves with me. With Daddy, big and brave, they can venture out farther than they ever would alone. (Little do they know that Daddy, big and brave, is really Daddy, chicken and paranoid, when it comes to young children and the ocean.)

One day my daughter Janelle and I edged out to meet the incessant, rolling swells. Having done this with her many times before, I wasn’t surprised when she began her ritual, high-pitched squeal/scream combo—right in my ear. “No, Daddy, let’s go back. Daddy, we’re toooo faarrr!!! Oh, here comes a wave. Daddy, it’s too big. I’m scared!!! No!! NO!! EEEEEKK!!! … Wow, Daddy, that was neat! Let’s do it again!” And we did, over and over and over, with Janelle shrieking hysterically each time (and loving it).

After a few minutes, however, I noticed another routine in my daughter’s behavior. Just before getting slammed by a wave, Janelle, who at the time was seven years old and 40 skinny pounds, would pull her wrist from my grasp and insist she hang on to me. Each time I got a fresh grip, she pulled away in order to grip me. It quickly became obvious that she had more faith in her ability to hang onto me than in my ability to hang onto her.

Now I happen to be six and a half feet tall. My long, bony fingers can almost encircle Janelle’s waist, let alone her wrist. But in the face of danger, my little girl felt more secure holding onto my slippery, lotion-smeared fingers than she felt when being held by her Daddy. As I thought about this, the Lord gave me an insight. “Son, many of my children relate to me the same way. They trust in their ability to hang onto me rather than trusting that I am holding onto them.”

Splashing in the waves with Janelle illustrated a critical truth for me. As fallen creatures, we tend to think we’re responsible for hanging onto our Heavenly Father. If we have successfully fought the waves of temptation and trial, we feel at peace with God. Our relationship with him seems secure. But when we fall short of God’s standards, we can feel distant or even cut off from him. The question boils down to this: Who is hanging on to whom? Are we hanging on to a reluctant God who will turn in disgust the moment we mess up? Or is he hanging on to us?

The night I submitted my life to Christ, I assumed I was the one who had made the first move. I thought I had reached out and grabbed God’s hand. Like many new Christians, I thought I had “found the Lord.” I didn’t even consider the fact that perhaps God had reached out and found me. And yet a careful study of the Bible reveals that God makes the first move in bringing people to himself. He sent his son Jesus to die on the Cross for your sin. It is his gracious activity on your behalf that led you to the point of salvation, and it is his hand that holds you securely now. Though you responded to his initiative, even that response was made possible by what he had already done in your life. God deserves all the credit.

Who is hanging onto whom? Answering that question is of foundational importance for your new life in Christ. It could make all the difference between whether you are secure in God’s love or striving for his acceptance. That’s why these first few pages of this book will explore the events underlying your conversion—the “Eight C’s of Salvation.” By the time we’ve finished, I hope you are encouraged to rest in the loving grip of God.

#1: Chosen by God

The first step of your salvation occurred ages before you were born:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Think about that for a minute. Long before you were conceived, God looked down the corridors of time and saw your life. He set his affection on you before you took your first breath. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” wrote David (Psalm 139:16). Before your grandparents were born—before Adam and Eve themselves were created—God saw the day you would exist and chose you to be his child.

Why did God choose you? It wasn’t because you showed potential. It wasn’t because your parents presented you to God at the altar while you were an infant. It wasn’t because you frantically cried out for help from under the garbage of your sinful life, nor was it a reward for anything you had done. In fact, as we’ve just seen, God chose you before you or anyone else influenced his decision in any way. Scripture says God “saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…” (2 Timothy 1:8-9, emphasis added).

It would be nice to think our own wisdom or insight caused us to follow Christ, but it just isn’t true. “As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God’” (Romans 3:10-11). Human hearts don’t naturally seek God or submit to him. Quite the opposite. So even though it may be a little hard to swallow, please understand: your longing to know God and be reconciled to him didn’t originate in your own heart. It originated with God. It is wonderful evidence that he had chosen you and pursued you, long before you even thought of searching for him.

In his infinite mercy, God chose you for himself and set in motion the events leading to your conversion. As Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Allow your mind to bask in the truth that before time began, the Sovereign God of the universe graciously hand-picked you to be one of his children.


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