forgiveness

Regarding salvation in Christ, Do we choose God? or Does God choose us? Yes.

Let me clarify my purpose in this blogpost. I’m writing this post to help my congregation and readers better understand their salvation in Biblical terms, and to revel in the wonder and glory of a holy God who would willingly send his Son to die in order to save us.

Here’s a key verse in this conversation:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5

Before we write off this verse as specific to Jeremiah, note how Paul describes salvation in rather similar terminology for all of us as followers of Jesus.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30

Several phrases correlate: knew and foreknew, consecrated and predestined/conformed, and appointed/called. The implications are striking.

As a pastor and professor (but mainly as a Christian), it is my duty to be Biblical. God defines the terms and gets to set the parameters for our theology. I recognize there will be theological dissension on some points. But where Scripture is clear, I must be clear. So what do we do with these verses that highlight God’s foreknowledge, election, and predestination related to our salvation? We believe them.

But what about verses that highlight whoever would come to Christ can be saved? (see John 3:16 or Romans 10:13). We believe them as well.

The real question is whether or not these verses and others we could draw from indicate inconsistency in Scripture regarding salvation. In other words, are these passages in tension? Another way of asking the question would be: “How do you reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility?” Charles Spurgeon, 19th century Baptist pastor answered: “You never have to reconcile friends.” The point is that biblically, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are not in tension.

God predestines and elects. If he did not do so, none would be saved. That is clear from Jeremiah 1:5, Romans 8:29-30, and other passages as well. Predestination and election reflect God’s sovereignty. They remind us that God takes the initiative in our salvation. Furthermore, God sent Jesus to die on the cross (his initiative). God sent the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and draw us to himself (his initiative). The Bible declares clearly that our salvation derives first and foremost from God.

God invites and redeems. Salvation is an offer from God to sinners. This offer comes through the Holy Spirit and the communicated gospel.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:13 -15

What is our part in salvation then? Our part in salvation is that we come as as sinners. We bring nothing good that deserves salvation. Rather, we bring ourselves in need of salvation. To receive salvation is to repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10). Salvation then is a gift to be received, not a wage to be earned (Romans 6:23).

These biblical reminders about our salvation encourage several responses from us as believers:

  • We should be grateful that God initiated our salvation. God’s sovereign work in our salvation encourages us to praise and thank him. It leads us to worship.
  • We should be Biblical in our understanding of salvation. Through the centuries, there has been significant tension regarding the order of salvation, divine sovereignty, human responsibility, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Calvinism. This blogpost will not solve those tensions. (We may explore some of those tensions in future posts). However, if we will affirm what the Bible affirms, we will certainly not be found in error regarding our theology of salvation.
  • We should communicate the gospel regularly. The only way someone will receive salvation is to hear and respond to the gospel of Christ. Believer, it is your responsibility and mine to share the good news of salvation regularly.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Originally published as an op-ed here for the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.

Stay at home orders. Social distancing. MerleFest cancelled. Social gatherings banned. Schools and businesses closed. Church meetings cancelled.

The last few weeks have certainly been eventful. Our current experiences cause concern. Our anticipated experiences in the days, weeks and months ahead could cause fear and anxiety.

COVID-19 has arrived in Wilkes, but how many will be infected? How long will it take before the economy recovers? Will the economy recover? Will our lives ever go back to normal?

These questions permeate our thoughts. As a pastor, I feel it is my duty to have answers and bring hope. But let me offer a confession.

I’ve had plenty of moments in the last several weeks where I’ve felt a mixture of uncertainty, fear, and worry. I don’t offer my perspective from a place where I’ve conquered my anxieties but from a platform of hope and peace.

Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, wrote nearly 3,000 years ago, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25). Solomon’s words could not be more prescient today.

Government bans, the panic-inducing news over COVID-19, and subsequent worries breed anxiety, often at a more exponential rate than the virus itself.

Fear and anxiety are enemies that weigh us down. When we are weighed down, we are more likely to live in fear, become depressed, or wallow in negativity. Like Solomon’s original readers, we need a good word. Let me offer three good words that might help make us glad.

Perspective. While these days are certainly unique, they are not universally unprecedented. Humanity has already overcome the bubonic plague outbreaks of the Middle Ages, the Spanish flu of 1918, world wars, and countless natural disasters. This pandemic will pass.

We need to evaluate our perspective. Instead of seeing our situation through the lens of all we are missing, we need to see it through the lens of all we are gaining.

Many of us have been too busy, too frazzled, and too distant from those closest to us. The next month (or longer) will afford us time to pause, rest, pray, and make the most of the days with our families. There may be a lot we will miss during this ban, but we will never forget the time we have with those closest to us.

Connection. People in my church tell me nearly every day how much they miss gathering together. God made us social beings who need each other.

Many of you are missing your normal social interactions. I am as well. But the lack of being in the same space need not keep us from connecting to one another.

Social media, text messaging, phone calls, FaceTime, Skype, emails, notes, and media like the Wilkes Journal-Patriot are all means by which we can connect with others. Make an extra phone call. Send another text message. Facetime a friend or family member. Find ways to connect with other people.

Our connections during isolated days will make our face to face connections that much more meaningful when these days are over.

Gospel. Solomon used the phrase “good word.” In the New Testament the good news is the gospel. The good news that the Bible offers is predicated on some bad news.

The bad news is that we live in a fallen, sinful world. This is one reason why viruses, pandemics, and natural disasters happen. But more importantly, the Bible teaches us that we are sinners. Sin is anything less than what God desires.

Our sin is the bad news, but the good news is that God sent Jesus to die for our sins to offer us forgiveness and eternal life. While our current situation is uncertain, our future does not have to be. The forgiveness offered through Jesus cleanses our sin, eases our anxiety, and offers us eternal life.

My hope and prayer through all of this uncertainty is that these good words: perspective, connection, gospel, will bring us gladness, now and forever.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash