So what about election? You can’t read the New Testament without noticing it being brought up repeatedly so we mustn’t sweep it under the rug and act like it’s not there. Its impact on Christianity is and has been enormous and profound. In light of what I’ve gathered about my generous and merciful Father in heaven I have to cautiously side with the Open Theists in that I believe the elect is yet another connotation for the body of Christ. God has “chosen” the group of human beings who’ve accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior (thereby guaranteeing they’ll dwell in His presence throughout eternity), not individual people whom the great I AM just happens to want to show grace to for no discernable reason. It seems to me that if my identity has now been absorbed into that of my glorious Messiah’s then, at least in the spiritual realm and God’s eyes, I’m no longer the man known as Rollie but a grateful soldier in the army of Christ. If that’s the case then there is no singular “me” that’s been elected by God to walk the streets of paradise but a soul cloaked in and justified by the holiness of His Son. Therefore I find it hard to believe that the Heavenly Father picked me out of the teeming crowd of sinners at random. Nowadays I’m but a cell in the body of Christ so I now consider myself just one of billions who’s been collectively selected to be forgiven of all iniquity and to be sanctified in God’s reckoning.
Am I saying that God is not completely in charge? No way. He’s the almighty mastermind of all that is and the buck stops with Him. It does seem to me that the Lord works His will through united families. The story the Old Testament tells is that God, through the seed of Abraham, raised up from nothing a nation of people to be His chosen race because none of the primitive and very confused congregations of humans scattered across the earth had the faintest clue about His true nature, sovereignty and majesty. Clans on every continent were running around like headless chickens, worshiping everything from the sun to weird, imaginary deities and committing unspeakable atrocities in their name to gain their favor or avoid their wrath. Mankind’s only hope was for God to establish a race of humans to whom He’d reveal Himself personally and instruct them on how to behave. As usual, God started from scratch by finding one decent man who had the potential to be faithful and letting that man father a separate race that would look only to God for guidance and protection. He later appointed certain individuals like Moses, Joshua and David to lead them and prophets like Elijah, Isaiah and Zechariah to try to bring them back into line but none of those men were deemed more worthy of God’s blessings than any other Israelite. Everything God did was always done with the conglomerate in mind, not one guy or gal in particular. Therefore it would make sense that the “elect” refers to the members of Christ’s church and that all who make the decision to follow, trust in and identify with Jesus become part of the “elect” via spiritual osmosis. In other words, I know I’ve been chosen and accepted by my creator because my king is the Son of God and I answer only to Him.
In my readings of the Bible, however, I’ve become acutely aware that God is not an ever-smiling, robed guru sitting cross-legged while being sprayed gently by a shower of fragrant rose petals and surrounded by cuddly kittens. As is evident from Genesis to Revelations, God is a judge, a constable and an enforcer of His immutable laws who has limits to His patience with stubborn, insolent people who refuse to bow to Him and respectfully stand in His marvelous light. When the offspring of Adam and Eve turned into an uncontrollable mob of ne’er-do-wells and barbarians bent on anarchy He declared them all expendable except for Noah and his immediate kin. God was willing to hit the restart button and He did just that. When the subsequent civilization that sprang from Noah’s loins turned out to be just as malicious and deviant as its predecessor God went another route to save mankind. This time He’d find a worthy and amenable candidate (Abram) to make a solemn, binding deal with. Everyone on earth knew what a covenant agreement was because every culture in existence utilized it as a means of establishing mutually-benefitting peace treaties with other tribes so for God to enter into a covenant with Abram made perfect sense. A covenant agreement was as serious as it got in those days and even a six year old knew what it meant. God promised to bless Abram’s sons and daughters for generations to come with His protection and benevolence if they’d hold up their side of the bargain, obeying His commands and doing everything He told them to do. God’s aim was to transform the rest of the unruly world through the benevolence other societies observed being displayed by His chosen people.
It didn’t take long for God to sadly realize that the Israelites were incapable of doing what He asked so it became apparent that the Jews would have to serve another purpose – that of paving the way for Emmanuel (God with us) to be born into the world and, through His supreme sacrifice on Calvary hill and His resurrection from the dead, provide a way for souls to be redeemed and made holy enough to be admitted into God’s kingdom. Jesus Christ paid the price required for justice to be served. Now, instead of a list of rituals and duties one must perform in order to be included in God’s “elect,” there’s only one condition for membership: Faith in God’s only begotten Son as the Savior of humanity. The great I AM couldn’t have made it any easier. Don’t listen to anyone who says there’s more one has to do. Billy Graham wrote, “Jesus made everything so simple and we’ve made it so complicated.” Through the Bible – the planet’s number one best-selling book of all time – God has made it crystal clear that He created each one of us with an eternal soul and where we spend the rest of forever is up to us. We can opt to humbly acquiesce to His sovereignty and acknowledge that the only lasting happiness and fulfillment we can ever know is found solely in taking part in His glorious plan to carry the message of His love to every corner of the universe and in serving Him in whatever capacity we can. The alternative is that we can insist on having everything “our way” and be left behind in a place where we’ll fend for ourselves in an unwinnable battle against powers and principalities that have no use for God’s love. Jesus called it hell.
For me it all comes down to Christ. I can flaunt my so-called intelligence and quote Bible scripture 24/7 but, in the final analysis, nothing makes sense but Jesus. I accept that many of the writings of the 40 authors who were inspired by God to give the world His truth and nothing but the truth had various things to say about predestination, election and foreknowledge for us to chew on but I consider all their pronouncements secondary to what Jesus taught. I’m sure they’d agree. In my view it’s Christ’s words that carry the most weight and He had very little to share concerning those doctrines and what He did share is subject to a thousand interpretations. My gut feeling is that if God has foreordained everything to happen in a static, unchangeable chronological order from time immemorial (as extreme Calvinists and orthodox Muslims believe) then it seems that Jesus would’ve emphasized that fact in every public sermon and private talk He gave. Call me a shameless heretic if you must but wouldn’t it be illogical for our Lord to offer hope and encouragement to the poor in spirit, to those who mourn and the downtrodden in general if they had no ability to change their hearts and find the inner peace they so desperately longed for? Wouldn’t He have conveyed to His loyal disciples that God had predestined some of their contemporaries to spend eternity with Him in heaven and all the rest to spend it separated from Him dog-paddling in the bowels of hell? So many of the parables Christ left for us to ponder and gain wisdom from have to do with persistence in looking for that which has been lost and attributing that merciful character trait to the Heavenly Father. Thus, I find it unacceptable to think He bothers to search for and reach out to people He’s already damned to be ostracized from His glory forevermore.
The gist of Jesus’ teachings indicate that we’re endowed from birth with an inalienable free will. We can choose to surrender that will and follow Him or reject that He’s who He said He is and lean on our own fallible and short-sighted understanding. He gave the option that if you feel lost, disenfranchised by society, unloved or insignificant you have the wherewithal to make a 180 degree turnabout in your life by accepting God’s incredible gift of grace and believing wholeheartedly in His Son. If I was doomed before I was conceived by my mom and dad then why bother to urge me to repent of my sinful ways and be transformed into a new man by the Holy Spirit if it’s impossible? Jesus told the crowd in His sermon on the mount, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11) Why say those uplifting things if He knew that many in the audience had no choice but to ignore His beautiful words of encouragement and hope? That makes Christ a walking, talking contradiction and that characterization runs counter to everything I’ve come to know about Him through reading the Gospels. I have absolute certainty that Jesus incarnated as God among us to not only save us from ourselves but to demonstrate His Father’s unfathomable love for each one of us. To know Jesus is to know the Father. By simply putting our faith in Christ as our redeemer we’ll be graciously spared the punishment we deserve and blissfully live in His service for eternity to come.
The inevitable question arises, “What about those who never hear about Jesus?” Will their souls suffer from the misfortune of having been raised in a culture that vilifies or outlaws Christianity? There are many things that we don’t know, including the answer to that inquiry. But early on in the scriptures (Genesis 18:25) Abraham said, “Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?” We must trust that God knows what He’s doing regardless of our ignorance of His ways. I quote Dr. Graham again: “I am convinced that when a man sincerely searches for God with all his heart, God will reveal Himself in some way. A person, a Bible, or some experience with believers will be used by God to reach the one who seeks.” (Read Matthew 7:7-11 again) We’re told repeatedly in the scriptures to trust unreservedly in God’s immaculate goodness and if that’s good enough for one of the greatest evangelists of all time then it’s good enough for me.
Now, I don’t know about you but the idea of God planning out my whole life in advance doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, especially in retrospect. I spent most of my life making my own plans and making my own decisions without God being involved and, in the process, I often made an ugly mess of things. In my first marriage I failed miserably as the patriarch to provide a Bible-based home environment for my wife and two children. The fact that I was so preoccupied with my own habits and hang-ups resulted in a distance between my son, daughter and me that I don’t like. And then, rather than learning from my mistakes, I kept secrets from my current wife. When my disgusting obsession with porn was exposed to the light it took us to the brink of divorce. That’s when Jesus and His Celebrate Recovery ministry helped me to turn myself around. I have no doubt that God had a much better plan for my life and if He’d been in charge of it all along I wouldn’t have such a long list of regrets. The good news is that when I did hand the reins over to my Lord my life improved almost overnight. Did my problems disappear like magic? No. Did I have to work diligently and exercise patience to regain my wife’s trust? Yes, indeed. Did my life become a bowl of cherries? Hardly. But what did happen was this: I no longer had to try to figure out what to do, where to go or how to get there. As Dr. Larry Crabb’s excellent book exhorts, “The Pressure’s Off.” God’s running my show from here on out because every day, in the prayer Christ taught believers to pray, I ask for His will to be done, not mine. The great I AM hasn’t forced me into a lifestyle that I have no choice but to adhere to. I’ve voluntarily surrendered my will to His and, because I’ve asked Him to take over, I know His will is being done through me every day of my imperfect life. And what is His will, you may ask? Jesus told us in no uncertain terms how to know what that will is in Matthew 22:37-39; “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So what’s the point of all this conjecturing on my part? It’s implicit in the title I gave this essay. We owe God everything. Without Him we don’t exist. In the Milky Way galaxy (an average-sized galaxy, at best) there are between 100 and 400 billion stars around which orbit billions more material bodies. In one of its spirals a small sun shines its light upon a relatively tiny orb that, against all odds, has the necessary ingredients to sustain life. After God created all of this awesomeness He formed two human beings in His likeness and put them in charge of this special planet we call Earth. Those two people are my ancestors and I carry the same rebellious, sinful instincts in my DNA that caused them to stupidly reject God’s perfect plan. In the generations that have come and gone since their fall none have been righteous enough to deserve heaven. But God, as revealed to us by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and in His Holy Word, is love. Love that stretches out far beyond our capacity to comprehend its implications. Love that’s capable of forgiving our worst transgressions, our worst betrayals, our worst crimes against our families and neighbors. Love that shows us a way to rise above our animal instincts. To escape the grasp of mortal death. To join in the great cosmic adventure our Heavenly Father has only begun to initiate. To gladly serve the most compassionate, trustworthy and merciful king of the universe imaginable till the end of time. There’s only one condition – belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. That’s it. No hoops to jump through, no rigorous exams, no sacrificial lambs to procure and kill. Only faith in what we cannot see but can know and feel is there. In placing our faith in Christ we become part of the “elect” and our destiny is no longer a mystery. Did God know that you’d decide to let yourself be adopted as one of His own? Of course He did. He’s aware of everything. He knows you better than you know yourself so there’s no surprises on His end. He knew you’d make the right choice.