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Election? Oh, Boy!

I mentioned in a recent sermon that the word Peter uses for "elect" means “to pick out” or “to select out of a number.” Paul uses this verb in Ephesians 1:4, “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…” Peter chooses this word to remind us that we are part of God’s chosen people. In the Old Testament God chose Abraham and from him began a great community named Israel to follow him and be his covenant people. By calling us "elect" Peter is connecting us to the covenant people of God.  In our election God makes the first step in bringing us to salvation.

Peter doesn't say what we might expect to hear. Something like, "…stick together, hang in there and it will get better!"  Or "Stand strong... you can do it!"  Paul does not tell them these things at all.  He tells them that they are the elect of God. So. very. interesting.  Why would he say that?

I know that this doctrine -- the doctrine of election -- make some of your hairs stand up on the back of your neck.  Especially around these parts.  The doctrine of election has become a thorn the side of those of many who live in the post-enlightenment, western individualistic world of our day.  The common belief is that we are human to the degree that we are truly free to chose our future.  This is a principle upon which our democratic way of life is built.  It is part and parcel of the Holy Trinity of the West: Christian morality, capitalism, and democracy.  So, let me unpack election for two differnt groups of people.

For the Christian

Remember when the gospel first gripped your heart? Do you remember when Ephesians 2:1 (cf. Col 2:13) hit you, “and you were dead in your trespasses and sins…”  You were dead in your trespasses and sins? Do you believe that?  If you don’t, let me ask you a question:  What did Jesus accomplish on the cross for you?  If you are not dead in your sins, then you still have time to achieve salvation on your own without Jesus. Stop reading this and get to it!

But if you do believe that you were dead in your trespasses and sin (and I assume most of you do), then tell me how does a dead man choose to live?  He doesn’t....because he can’t. Only a Physician can revive him. In the same way, only God the Father could have possibly opened your eyes by his Spirit to believe the gospel. God resuscitated you, opened your eyes or you would have never believed.  

Ephesians 2:5 goes on to say, "even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” That coming to life, being made alive is God’s election.  You’re hope is not that you get it right, its not that you understand everything perfectly. You’re hope is that God has come into the world in Jesus Christ, he’s come to redeem you, he’s come to save you, he’s come to bring this new creation. That’s your hope.

Here's the key: Every time election is mentioned in Scripture it is always mentioned to those who have become Christians. It is mentioned to those who are the elect already.  Listen to other passages of Scripture in this regard:

In the longest sentence in the New Testament, Paul goes to great length to make it crystal clear that God chooses those who will be his. Ephesians 1:4-6, 7, 11 says,

He [God the Father] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

 Paul was sure footed with the church of Thessalonica,

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:4).

 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God choseyou as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Our election always leads to action:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:12).

Jesus believed in the doctrine of election. In His high-priestly prayer Jesus asked the Father for those the Father had chosen to be the Son’s. John 17:24 says,

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

 Two Implications  

This practical implications of this doctrine shows up in two ways in our lives. 

If we don't believe God first elected us, then when things are going well, whether spiritually or materially, we begin subtly to think we’ve done it.  We become smug. 

And on the other hand, when things are not going so well, we fall into despair. Our failure is too much to share and we sink into ourselves.  In the context of failure we realize we don’t have what it takes to live obedient lives and we fall apart.

What smugness and despair show us is that we’ve shifted our hope, we’ve shifted our focus, we’ve shifted our energy not around what God has done, what Jesus has done, but around ourselves.  We find our identity in our own sufficiency. As Stanley Hauerwas has said, "Our identity becomes based upon the actions of history’s worst tyrant, the self."

Peter calls this suffering church the elect of God, and he connects this Gentile church with what God has been doing throughout history in his chosen people, in Israel… and God says, you are part of my people not because of anything you’ve done, not because of anything you’ve brought to the table, not because of your name, your resources.  Your are part of my people because of my choice.  And he says that’s true of the church in the New Testament. He says that you’re the elect. You’re the chosen of God.

For the Non-Believing Seekers or Religiously Burned-out

Now, let me talk to those of you who are curious about Christianity, who may not yet be Christians, or have moved on from Jesus-y stuff.  The doctrine of election is the good news that God does not abandon us to our choices.  Rather He makes the choice to move to us in our time of need.  God does not leave us without hope in the world. He does not abandon us to the choices we’ve made.  It is the comforting truth that God the Father sets his love on us. 

We were built to be like him…to reflect his image… to find our identity, our truest self, our deepest self in relation to him. But the Bible tells us that we are born into this world avoiding God.  This is mankind’s fundamental problem.  We avoid God. We read about that story in Gen 3.

We’re told that Adam and Eve made choices against God. They chose to define their lives by the word of another, rather than the Word of God. So rather than believing God and listening to God and trusting God, they believed loved and trusted another.  They put something else at the center of their lives.  Something else defined their identity.

But not only is there this problem that we pull away from God, that we stake our identity in something other than God…the good news of the Gospel message is that God is a god who moves toward us. God doesn’t abandon us to our choices.  He’s a God who chooses. He’s a god who moves toward us in Jesus Christ.

In Gen 3…even as Adam and Eve are avoiding God, are hiding from God, God comes to them, he comes looking.   And he gives them a promise.  And he promise is this: that one day, one day someone will be born. A person will come into this world and by him and through him our problem with our avoiding God will be dealt with. But not only that…but all the harmful effects of that, all of the damage of sin, the deep problem will be gone, it’ll be banished.

And so when we read in Revelation 21, for example, there is a picture of a new heaven coming down... out of heaven. And when it comes down we are told that God wipes away every tear, he dries every eye. Because there’s no sorrow; there’s no pain anymore. And the answer to that fundamental problem is shifting our hope from the things of this world, back to God, to believe that he has sent that someone into the world to reverse the curse, that Jesus Christ has come lived and perfect life, died, and was resurrected to give you hope.

There’s a story of Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher in London, who had a visitor come up to him after a sermon and ask, “Dr. Spurgeon, I’ve listened to you sermon on election but I want you to know that I don’t think I’m elect. How do I know?” To which Spurgeon replied, “Believe the gospel. Believe the gospel. Believe and you will come to see that you are the chosen of God.”  

And Paul says that exact same thing in 1 Thessalonians 1:4,

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:4).

Peter here says in our text that you’re hope is more defined by the choice that God has made rather than the choices you have made. You’re hope is not that you get it right, its not that you understand everything perfectly. You’re hope is that God has come into the world in Jesus Christ. He’s come to redeem you. He’s come to save you. He’s come to bring this new creation.  That’s your hope.

Keeping coming to Trinity and bring your questions.  Anything is game to talk about here.