Friday, September 22, 2006

good news

This started out as a reply to a comment posted on an earlier post of mine, and morphed into this as I was encouraged to think a little more about the concepts of salvation, the gospel message, and about God. My decision to put this up as a blog post rather than a comment relates to how important I feel this conversation is to me, and I believe many other people as well.

I am very much aware that the topic of this post can heighten emotions, positively or negatively. Whatever your convictions may be, I pray that the differences between mine and yours will be treated in the bond of love as we work towards "unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God".


I also pray that you will not be too quick to presuppose my entire spectrum of principles and beliefs based on a single statement about my aversion to "exclusivism". My discomfort with exclusivity has nothing to do with the exclusivity of Christ's work in the salvation of man. A careful reading of my post will clarify my position on the uniqueness of Christ as "the way, the truth and the life".

My problem with exclusivity lies in the conventional understanding of salvation, hell, and the gospel, and how this understanding can sometimes be used to create exclusive clubs where some are simply "predestined" or "elected" to be lifetime members and some on the other hand will simply never be able to make it through the pearly gates.

While proponents of this position often cite God's absolute sovereignty over creation as the basis of their arguments, I believe not enough justice is being done to passages such Luke 15, which gives us such a vivid image of God, first seeking out the sinner with seemingly reckless abandon as he leaves 99 sheep to go after the single lost one, to eventually welcoming the sinner back home with great rejoicing.

How then does "turn or burn" or other hellfire rhetoric fit in this image of God? Have we reduced God to a deity that rejoices in exacting "deserving" punishment on sinners?

Of course not! God doesn't derive any joy from meting out judgment on sinners. However, God's holiness is as inherent a part of him as his love, and a holy God cannot tolerate sin. God after does tell us to be holy, just as he is holy.

But doesn't this holiness thing seem cold and harsh then? After all, doesn't God love us?

Of course he loves us! And more than that! John 3:16 tells us that he loves the world! And this great love for us was demonstrated when God himself, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, assumed the punishment due unto us by dying on the cross, therefore meeting the requirements of God's justice and holiness and thus reconciling man and God.

The completeness of Christ's redemptive work in the salvation of man is undisputed. Nevertheless, questions still abound.

To say that God is sovereign and is in absolute control over all creation, in light of the conventional understanding of salvation, is to ask then whether God actually planned "heaven" and "hell" from the very beginning. Did he predestine before the creation of the world, some to be eternally blessed in "heaven", and some to be eternally tormented by the "fires of hell"? How consistent then is this God with the God of Luke 15?

The alternative to this is to assume that God created the world to be perfect from the very beginning. Man was created to have an interactive relationship with God but man simply messed up. Sin enters the story and hell pops up along the away. God is then faced with the problem of fixing the situation. But this scenario calls into question God's sovereignty and his omniscience. How could God not have anticipated this from the very beginning?

There is a third alternative, which sees God as having a single purpose for man from the very beginning; that singular purpose being ultimate reconciliation with God. In Genesis, Abram was chosen to be blessed by God. But God does not stop there. God also uses him as an agent to bless the rest of the world. Effectively, God chooses to bless Abram so that he can in turn be a blessing to the nations.

Jesus also builds on this when he tells his disciples to be salt and light to the world; flavouring communities with the taste of God's Kingdom and bringing light where there is spiritual darkness. Jesus too calls us to be agents of God's Kingdom in this world.

Could it be possible then, that we have misunderstood what it means to be predestined or elected by God? Is it not too impossible to see that we may have mistaken this calling to be one of privilege or blessing, when in actual fact, it is a commission (Matt 28:19-20) for us go into the world to be a blessing to others?

And while I have not mentioned "repentance" so far, I hope that one can see repentance as a necessary part for people to become beacons of God's light, to be able to flavour or influence their surroundings positively, and to be channels of God's blessings. None of that can be accomplished without a genuine turn of our hearts to seek after God's Kingdom and his righteousness.


adrian said...

You mention certain alternatives and you question the classical interpretation of certain passages. I do not question the motivations for doing so, but I am still unsure which one of the 3 alternatives do you embrace as it seems to be a gush of "what if's".

In the case of the 99 sheep, would it be wrong to suppose that the shepherd left them such that they were in no danger of wandering off in the wilderness and were safe when he went off in search of that one? Certainly we cannot simply extrapolate from one parable without consideration of the weight of other supporting scripture. There are 2 other 'lost and found' parables for you to consider the aspects of God's dealings with sinners. I see nowhere in scripture that indicates God in reckless abandonment in search of a lost sheep, i place that alongside the reading of John 10:1-18.

Consider these 2 passages:

Eph 1:4 "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love"

1Pe 1:18-20 "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,"

In the phrase "Before the foundation of the world", what does the plain rendering of scripture mean?

Yes, i understand that the sovereignity of God is difficult to comprehend. Men should rightly tremble and even struggle with such a revelation of the divine nature of God. But may i lovingly say that it is vital that we come to terms with it. Also may i add, that While we maintain that God is sovereign, never do we divorce that from men being responsible and held accountable for their sin and also their response to the gospel.

Understanding that God is indeed sovereign, can we truly evangelise with conviction. Knowing that it is merely our responsibility to preach the gospel faithfully, and it is God alone who seals the word to the hearts of men. Only a work of divine grace can turn the perverse hearts of men to desire salvation through Christ alone. We do not invite men to join an elite club (clearly unbiblical terminology), but we do our part and carry out our entrusted ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). As ambassador's we plead with men "be ye reconciled to God" because God has ordained such means (feeble converted men) to perform such a task. Scripture spells out that it is only by the work of the Spirit of God that is able to quicken men (Eph 2:1,5) who are dead in their trespasses and sin. Spiritually dead men don't have it in them to become alive thus it is must be the grace of God.

Does not even the word grace imply sovereignity? God has mercy on whom He will.

Exo 33:19 And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy."

Rom 9:13-16 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

i quote you saying "Did he predestine before the creation of the world, some to be eternally blessed in "heaven", and some to be eternally tormented by the "fires of hell"? How consistent then is this God with the God of Luke 15?"

We may be tempted to surmise that there is a great inconsistency with a God of Love and His sovereignity. It would do us great good to understand Paul as dealt on that same issue in Romans 9. At the end of the day, as difficult as it is to fully comprehend it, we know that God's appointing some to judgment in hell and graciously only saving some (who are undeserving of it), that there is no injustice, there is no unrighteousness on His part, that there is no inconsistency.

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