worship

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

Easter is the high mark of the Christian calendar. Yes, we have Christmas and its celebration. But Christ’s advent has been shaped by commercialization and media. Even so, it is Christ’s entrance into the world. Christmas is special for the believer, but it is not ultimate. Jesus did not come to the world to live as a baby or as a child. Christmas matters because Easter happened.

Holy Week is our opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Much of the gospel accounts are given to the last week of Jesus (1/3 of Matthew, 1/3 of Mark, ¼ of Luke, and 2/5 or nearly half of John). The last week of Jesus’ life emphasized his conflict with the religious leaders setting up the final act of his life. In this last week, Jesus predicted his future and taught his disciples. He invited them to witness something glorious and eternal. 

We cannot overstate Holy Week’s importance to Christianity. It is the culmination and fulfillment of the salvation we so loudly proclaim.

But this year it feels different. This year it is different. Holy Week 2020 does not feel holy. Many believers across our world will not gather in their churches. They will not dress up in their Easter outfits. They will not celebrate the season with Easter egg hunts, pastel colors, and decorative hats. Because many churches won’t gather, Easter musicals and cantatas will be cancelled or postponed. Easter sermons will take on a different tone. The high attendance day of the gathered church in the West will not be. This year, many of us will celebrate Easter in quarantine and during stay at home orders.

Holy Week does not feel holy. This year it does not feel like a celebration. It feels more like a separation.

We are tense—cooped up in our homes unable to visit, travel, go to school, or even work as normal. We are confused—frustrated at what we’re experiencing. We are afraid—uncertain if we will get sick, if we do, what will happen, and if we can recover from the challenges facing us. We are worried—anxious about tomorrow.

In truth, for many of us, Holy week 2020 may actually be more like the first Holy Week. 

The disciples could sense the tension. For years it had been building between the Jewish religious leaders and their Master, Jesus. Time after time they had questioned him, attacked him, and baited him. With ingenious wit and gracious words, Jesus always managed to silence his critics. This did little but anger them further. 

Upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem mere days before the Passover, the disciples could feel the tension.  Jewish lawyers, Pharisees, and other religious leaders saw this as the opportune time. They arrived with questions designed to trap Jesus in blasphemous statements. Yet as before, they were thwarted and left dumfounded. 

The tension of Passover week elevated at that fateful supper. The Lord’s table that he instituted the night before his trial and the day before his death. Judas was sent on his mission of betrayal. Peter’s denial was foretold. And the party left for a time of prayer. Jesus prayed while his followers slept.

The tension in the garden grew significantly with Jesus’ arrest. Led before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, Jesus faced mock trials that culminated in his crucifixion outside of Jerusalem. During this part of Holy Week, the disciples scattered in fear, doubt, and confusion. 

The tension became passion when Jesus was beaten, crucified, and unjustly punished on Calvary’s cross. Jesus suffered unlike any man before. Not only did he face the physical brutality of Roman execution, but Jesus carried in his body the curse of God for human sin. Jesus became sin, that we might know God and experience salvation. 

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The tension on Calvary became death in a borrowed tomb. Any hope the disciples had that Jesus would come down from the cross and fulfill their vision as a political Messiah, was finished when Jesus’ dead body was removed from the cross and buried. 

The tension of his followers became confusion. How could One who had done so many miraculous things not keep himself from suffering like this? The confusion led to fear. If they would do these things to Jesus, which ones of us are next? The fear led to worry and uncertainty. What will we do now? Jesus was our life for three years. What next? Will where we go? What will we do? 

No, the first Holy Week did not feel holy. The first Holy Week did not feel like victory. The first Holy Week did not feel like a celebration. The first Holy Week did not culminate in fancy hats, pastel colors, musicals, cantatas, egg hunts, desserts, and celebrations. The first Holy Week concluded with an event at first confusing and ultimately more important than any other even ever to take place on planet earth. 

But at the end of Holy Week was a resurrection.

While our situations may cause us to feel isolated and separated this Easter, we can and must still celebrate. Here are some ways you can make this Easter special and unforgettable in your Christian faith.

IMAGINE how Jesus’ followers felt during Jesus’ passion week. Remember how it was during Holy Week for those who first experienced it. But also remember, they met the Risen Lord. Everything changed for them when they saw the resurrected Christ. Everything changed for us when we met Jesus, Jesus who is alive and not dead.

REFLECT on the universal and personal importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was for you he died. Your sins are the reason Christ went to the cross. The sins of the world are the reason Christ died and went to the cross. It was for you that Christ rose from the dead. It was for the nations that Christ rose from the dead. We are right to individualize our salvation experience, but we must do so in light of the billions of other individuals who need salvation.

PAUSE all other distractions to make time to worship Jesus. That first Easter gathering behind locked doors with fearful disciples did not feel holy or full of celebration. But when Jesus entered everything changed. You may be celebrating Easter by yourself, with a spouse, or with your children. You may not be with your church family (in person). But you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is ever present and you can worship him as you celebrate his resurrection.

JOIN other believers (your church) through streaming, radio, or television. While we may not by in the same rooms physically, we can still celebrate together. Here are some links to celebrate Easter with Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can join us for worship through Facebook, Vimeo, or YouTube. If you attend another church, make sure you join them in whatever capacity you are able to worship.

ANTICIPATE gathering with fellow believers again. While our normal may be different after Covid-19, we will one day gather again to worship Christ. As for my church, we will create our own Easter Sunday celebration when we are able to gather again as a church family. Let the distance and separation created by our circumstances motivate you to participate in worship when we are able to gather again.

REMEMBER that Jesus’ resurrection defeated death. Everyone of us will face death. I’m heartbroken for those church members who have lost loved ones recently and have not been able to have memorials and funerals. I’m heartbroken for the thousands of families and friends who have lost someone to Covid-19. But we don’t have to grieve, worry, or dread like those without hope. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Jesus is victorious over death. Death holds no power over the believer for Jesus holds power over death. This is the hope of Easter. And this is truly why Easter is Holy, no matter what it feels like.

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash