6 Theses on Election

  1. Election begins and ends with Jesus Christ. As Barth has said, Jesus is both the electing God (Col. 2:9) and elected Man (Luke 9:35). He is the origin of creation (John 1:1-3) and its goal (Eph. 1:9-10). Anything else we say about election must trace back to this source, to the election of Jesus Christ as the one predestined to be revealed as God for us (1 Pet. 1:2).
  2. All other “elections” are grounded in relation to Christ. Of course, in Scripture Jesus is not the only one called “elect” or “chosen” by God. The terminology is applied to Israel (Deut. 7:6, 1 Chr. 16:13, Ps. 105:6), David (Ps. 78:70, 89:3), Moses (Ps. 106:23), the followers of Christ during the coming suffering (Matt. 24:22), Christians in general (Rom. 8:33, Col. 3:12, Titus 1:1),  and particular churches (2 Jn. 1:1, 13). Each of these is defined in relation to Christ, who is the goal of Israel’s election, the fulfillment of David’s dynasty, the greater prophet than Moses, the Rabbi to the apostles, and the one in whom believers find their own election (Eph. 1:4). No one could ever be elect except by relation to Christ.
  3. The election of God’s people in history is corporate-relational. Contra classical Calvinism and certain forms of Arminianism, election is not fundamentally an individual reality but one pertaining to groups. Yet this is not simply groups defined generically or abstractly, but the particular peoples are defined by relationships to particular individuals. Thus individuals share in the blessings of a specific election by virtue of their relation to its chosen covenantal head (Gen. 26:24, 1 Kgs. 11:12-13, Rom. 6:4). Israel was defined by a biological/covenantal relationship to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-2, 17:1-14). Noah’s family was chosen to by saved through the Flood by their marital and biological relationships to Noah (Gen. 6:9, 18, 7:1). David’s descendants became a chosen dynasty through their father (2 Sam. 7:12-16, Ps. 89:3-4). Finally, Christians make up a chosen people, the Church, because of their Spirit-grounded faith-relationship to Christ the elected Man (Eph. 1:4, cf. Rom. 8:1, 1 Cor. 1:30). This is essentially the opposite of the Calvinistic view: for Calvinists, we are incorporated into Christ because we have been elected, but I submit that we are elected because we have been incorporated into Christ.
  4. Election in its historical form is primarily vocational and not immediately soteriological. To be elect is not the same as being promised salvation, though the two are associated. The primary purpose of election in human history is for elect men to become witnesses of God and examples of His salvation to other men (Gen. 12:3, Matt. 28:19-20, John 15:16, Rom. 1:5, Gal. 1:15-16). Election is a calling, not a mere present. God’s salvation does not necessarily come to all people who are part of an elect community (Heb. 10:29, 2 Pet. 2:1, 1 Jn. 2:19). This is not a question about “losing salvation” but a statement that election is not automatically salvation. Members of the elect community who disobey their calling and, in doing so, deny their relationship with their covenantal head are removed and face judgment (Gen. 17:14, Exod. 31:14, 1 Kgs. 14:14, Ps. 37:9, John 15:2, 6, Rom. 11:22). Only those who participate in the obedience of their elected heads will finally be blessed, just as their heads obeyed God and were blessed (Gen. 26:2-6, Matt. 7:21-23, Heb. 5:7-8).
  5. The elect community is inherently self-expanding. The limit of the elect community is not a fixed number. Rather, election is meant to expand ever outwards as more people are blessed by the witness of the elect. Those who are not already elect find themselves blessed by the elect (Gen. 12:3, 30:27-30, 39:5, Josh. 6:25, Mic. 4:1-2, Zech. 2:11, Rom. 11:11-12). In this way those who are not a people become a people, and those who were unloved become loved (Rom. 9:25-26). Election therefore has an inherent outward pressure which works like leaven (Matt. 13:33) until through the witness of the elect the whole world is covered with the knowledge of God as water covers the seas (Isa. 11:9).
  6. There exists an outer ring of election which ultimately encompasses all people. If election begins and ends in Christ, then in some way it affects all of the human race. This is because, on the one hand, Jesus is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4, Col. 1:15) in whose image humanity was originally created (Gen. 1:26-27). This image defines humanity, and with it comes a calling which parallels the callings seen in other Biblical elections (Gen. 1:28-30), a calling which is finally bound up with Christ. So human nature and existence are not finally separable from the glory of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Jesus in His Incarnation identified Himself with and lived for all who share the same human flesh and blood (Heb. 2:5-17). The atonement implicates all humanity (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Tim. 2:6, Heb. 2:9). This ultimately means that Christ has chosen all people for Himself, and the Father has chosen all humanity in Christ. This, per thesis 4, is not a guarantee that all people will be saved, but promise that no one lies outside the salvific will and choice of God.
6 Theses on Election

Life Is about the Trinity

In the wake of recent Trinitarian controversies on the Christian blogosphere, I’ve been given to some very interesting study on the topic of the Trinity. (If such controversy interests you, Alastair Roberts has been working on a round-up of the debate at Reformation 21.) I’m not going to bore you with much of it, even if I don’t find this boring at all, but I would like to offer some thoughts.

In my studies about the Trinity recently, I have been reminded of one crucial fact. This is ultimately what life is all about. By that I don’t refer to technical debates about the finer details of orthodox Trinitarianism. Rather, I mean coming to know God. And the true God is Trinity. As St. Gregory Nazianzen once said, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Yet this God who is Triune is the only God, the God who loves us, the God who created us, the God who saves us, and the God for whom and from whom and to whom are all things, including our lives.

This is the subject which I have been thinking about lately. Life is about the Trinity. Life is about God the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ, His only Son. It is about the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life. In all things, then, our faith calls us to bear in mind not just that there is a God, but that this God is Father-Son-Spirit. 

The struggle, however, is to see this not as a detail of Christian dogmatics. We must instead recall that this is the living reality of the God to whom we pray and whom we serve on a daily basis. In our devotion, in our prayers, in our walks before God and man we somehow must live out a Trinitarian reality. This can’t be merely abstract, of course. We must recognize in their individual ways the works and persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We must live and worship accordingly.

But what does this look like practically? How do we will all of our life with the recognition that knowing the Triune God is the meaning of it? Ultimately, it requires intense training, constant reminders to ourselves of who God is. This is why Scripture leads the way for us by teaching us to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), by blessing us with the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:13), by imploring us through Christ and the Spirit’s love to pray to the Father (Rom. 15:30). It is why in our churches many of sing a doxology which concludes with “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Many songs and hymns reflect such a structure. The Apostles’ Creed, which many churches recite each Sunday, is ordered around God the Father almighty, Jesus Christ His only Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In our personal lives, we would do well to consume as much of this as we can. Read Scripture and see the shape of the Father-Son-Spirit works and relations. Pray to the Father in the name of the Son in the Spirit. Acknowledge each of the members of the Godhead in your prayer and devotion every day.

Of course, one might still wonder. Can this really matter that much? But the truth is that it can. It does. For life is all about the Triune God, about knowing and worshiping Him. In fact, this vision of Father, Son, and Spirit is eternity, the destiny of the universe. Everything is from Him and to Him and for Him forever. Amen.

Life Is about the Trinity

Wanting to Justify Himself

The statement that prompted the parable of the Good Samaritan struck me recently. Here’s the account:

Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?” He asked him. “How do you read it?”

He answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

“You’ve answered correctly,” He told him. “Do this and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

That last little line gave me pause. “Wanting to justify himself,” it says. This seems to be a constant, universal human urge. Our response to our sin, or even imagined sin, is almost always, “Let me justify myself. Let me defend my actions.” We are desperate to avoid accusation and condemnation. Our conscience’s jump in fright at any such happening, and we immediately pull up the defenses.

I know I am very guilty of this. Whenever I do wrong, or even if I haven’t done wrong but an accused of it, I drive into overdrive self-defense mode. I try to get myself off the hook with, if necessary, nothing more than a technicality. I’ll debate over semantics to avoid the greater judgment associated with certain labels for my actions. This is what the scribe did, nitpicking on the definition of “neighbor.” It’s what Bill Clinton did that put him at the butt of many jokes which continue today and annihilated any respect that some people had for him.

Of course, this is not acceptable. We have no right to justify ourselves. Most of the time we actually are in the wrong, and even when we are not we will usually end up there in the course of pursuing our justification. In fact, even when we are not in the wrong on the surface we often are still influenced by sin somewhere further down, behind the scenes. There is no justification for us, at least on our own terms or by our own efforts. 

In the end, we must look to Christ to handle this issue. In our lives, we must emulate Him. Though He was truly innocent and just, He did not attempt to justify Himself when accused of all kinds of crimes. He instead sat silent, content to await His justification from God which came at His resurrection. When we are truly innocent, we can and must rely on God to provide our justification, our vindication before those who accuse us. When we are not innocent, we also must rely on God in Christ. We must find our justification in the one who justifies the ungodly through Christ, and the only way to find justification in Christ is to confess that we are unjustified in ourselves.

So do not be like the scribe. Do not seek to justify yourself. Instead, entrust yourself to God, confessing your faults and waiting patiently in your righteousness. He will take care of your justification.

Wanting to Justify Himself

Is the Lord’s Prayer for Jesus to Return?

Is the Lord’s Prayer really an eschatological prayer, a wish for God to usher in the Kingdom and finish all things? Some people have suggested so, and it actually seems likely enough. So here is a possible way to read the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer for Christ to return:

Our Father in heaven – The prayer starts off by acknowledging that God is in heaven, where things are already right and where the authority over earth lies. God alone has the power and right to bring in the age to come, and since He is our Father, we can approach and ask this of Him.

Hallowed be your name – This is the ultimate goal of creation: the worship and glorification of God. To pray “hallowed be your name” is to ask God to finally bring the world to its conclusion where all is prayer and praise, and God alone is known as holy.

Your kingdom come – This is the key and obvious point of asking for God to finish the story and send Christ back to us, but I would also argue that this is in a way the intended context and meaning of the rest of the prayer. We pray for the Kingdom to come because that is what life is ultimately all about and is the only hope for the world.

Your will be done – This is what God’s Kingdom looks like, and what we pray for God to accomplish by sending Jesus back. We want a world which is in conformity to His will, where lies and lust and licentiousness are once and for all done with and instead, the world works in the perfect harmony it was created for under people who live as God designed humans to live.

On earth as it is in heaven – Heaven is the control room and the place of God’s throne where His will is actually executed supremely. The goal of all things is that earth should come fully into conformity to God’s will, just as heaven already is. Essentially, we pray for heaven and earth to finally become one.

Give us today our (daily?) bread – This does not sound eschatological at first, but the consensus these days is that the Greek word translated “daily” does not mean “daily” at all. This word appears nowhere else in ancient Greek texts but here. One theory which has gained some ground is that it means “tomorrow” or “the next day.” In essence, it could be taken to mean, “Give us today the bread of tomorrow,” i.e. the bread of the eschatological feast, the wedding feast of Christ’s union with His bride. Give us, as it were, eternal life. (As a side note, another possible translation might lead to a Communion connection, which would make sense as well since Communion is fundamentally eschatological.)

Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors – While we think of forgiveness of sins as primarily a present or past reality, there is an important future dimension. While our sins are forgiven in Christ, we still bear the earthly consequences of our sins and must submit to death, the original punishment for sin. Our forgiveness of sins in the present anticipates the last day, when we will be delivered from all of sin’s consequences, death will be undone, and shame and guilt will be relegated to this passing age. Yet Christ also reminds us that the forgiveness we receive then will be in alignment with the forgiveness we give out now, a pressing reminder to live a life of forgiveness.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – The word translated “temptation” is also frequently translated “trial” or “tribulation,” and it is in this sense we can see an eschatological dimension here. The Jews expected (just as many Christians do) a severe time of trial and tribulation immediately preceding the end. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to be preserved and protected, not subject to grueling trials but delivered from the evil powers which cause them.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever – In concluding, we ascribe to God all that we ask of Him in this prayer. We want God to bring in the Kingdom using His power and fill the earth with His glory, and so we acknowledge these perfections of God and praise Him for them. By adding “forever,” we call to mind the eternal bliss which waits on the other side of Christ’s return. His reign will never end.

Is the Lord’s Prayer for Jesus to Return?