Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's In A Name?

And Moses said, "Please show me Your glory." Then God said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live."  -- Exodus 33:18-20

During our church's doctrinal intensive on Saturday, we explored why it was the Apostle Paul quoted from the text above when he wanted to defend God's justice in electing some, and not all, to salvation. His answer, from Romans 9, has to do with God's name. The reason, Paul argues, that God is just in His electing choice, is because it is God, and not we, who are free. We, says the Bible, are slaves of sin (Ro 6, 16, 17, 20), dead in sin (Ep 2:1), by nature children of wrath (Ep 2:3), and have hearts that are too twisted to be straightened (Je 17:9). It is the essence of deity however, to be free; radically free; sovereignly free.This is His name. 

When I consider this I think of that scene in Braveheart where Sir William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is laying on the torture table while his entrails are being removed in an effort to have him acknowledge his fault and guilt in leading his people on a quest for liberty in rebellion against the king. William gathers his strength, and with one final act of leadership proclaims with all of his might, FREEDOM!!! It's a wonderful scene.

When God reveals Himself to Moses as YAHWEH -- I AM WHO I AM; and in the above text where He again proclaims His name, He reveals His FREEDOM as an essence of His deity and glory.

God then, says Paul in Ro 9, is not unjust when He chooses Isaac and not Ishmael, Jacob and not Esau, Israel and not Egypt, the Gentiles and not the Jews; because when God chose He chose in perfect freedom. That means He chose with no consideration to the merits or sins of the ones chosen. His choices, Paul argues, are not made with regard to the chosen, but instead, come completely from within the Chooser. They are choices according to the counsel of His own will, so that His purpose according to election might stand (Ro 9:11). So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (16). He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens (18).There is no injustice/unrighteousness with God (14)!

One reason this is such GOOD NEWS is because it means that since there are no conditions to be met by us to gain God's electing favor, neither then are we able to sin beyond His electing purpose. No one may rightly say that he or she has so sinned that they cannot be saved. Before the foundation of the world, when God elected His people, He did not consider their worthiness or unworthiness. His reasons in election are His secrets. But what is clear is that God, because He is God, chose freely. That's His name! That's what free justice and righteousness do! So whatever you or I may have done to dishonor God and harm ourselves and others does not put us out of His gracious reach. Anyone who wants Christ more than all others and objects can and will be saved (Jn 3:14-17, 6:37-40, 10:22-30). This is the wisdom of God.

Being elect though does not mean that a person is a Christian. It means he or she is chosen unto salvation. It does not negate the need to repent and believe the gospel, to be converted. A person that dies believing that he or she is elect, and so needs not to turn from sin to Christ in faith will be eternally condemned. While the need for conversion may sound like an elementary idea, it proves to be widely unknown. It seems that most people who believe in Heaven are convinced they will spend eternity there for one reason - they die. Pastor R. C. Sproul refers to this phenomenon as "justification by death". It goes like this: if I die I go to Heaven, period. Apparently, that's where dead people go. Not necessarily. The Bible teaches repeatedly and clearly that it is only the converted elect that spend eternity with Christ in Heaven. And all the elect will be converted. Jesus says so (see above referenced texts). I recently preached the funeral of a stranger. Nothing his family told me about him, or mentioned while talking about him, led me to believe he died a Christian. Nevertheless, it appeared that they and perhaps all of the funeral guests believed that Heaven was exactly where he went. It was an extraordinarily sad occasion. Hoping in the hopeless always is.

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