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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Living Like You Are Chosen

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (ESV) 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. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Any Christian who has studied the Bible has probably struggled with God's chosing those whom He loves. For years I waffled on this subject. I wanted to become a strict Calvinist but it just didn't fit so many other scriptures. I could neither come to Calvinism nor could I ignore these scriptures and keep my integrity intact.

I now understand God's chosing is based on His knowledge. He knows all those what it will take to get those who will chose Him to make that choice. He works all the world to save each soul who will be saved. He also knows that there are those who will not be saved no matter what He does. So, in one sense it is God who chooses. In the other, it is "whosoever will" who chooses. I look at my salvation as my choice. God looks at it as His choice for me. I believe in heaven I will see the latter more clearly.

In the above passage, Paul has looked at this in a slightly different way. He says that the way these new believers are being changed by the grace of God proves that they have been chosen. In other words, their salvation is not dependent upon their actions but their actions prove their salvation.

The gospel came to these believers through the power of the Holy Spirit who brought full conviction. I guess I never thought of the recipients having an affect on the power of the Holy Spirit. Their acceptance of the gospel ushered the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about full conviction.

I have seen so many people make a decision for Christ that did not affect their way of living. They agreed that Jesus is the Christ but did not live like He is their Lord. They are superficial in all their faith. They do not understand spiritual things. They can answer the "church" questions correctly but their is no power in their lives. The power of the Spirit is void because they do not welcome Him into their lives.

These new believers imitated Paul and those who were with him. There was a Christian leader who I really admired. He had a deep voice and when I would teach the gospel I found myself using a much deeper voice. I wanted to be like this man because I believed that no one could walk closer to the Lord than he was. Of course, the danger is that I would be living a vicarious Christian life if I was not careful. However, it is important that a new believer has an example to follow and that he or she follows that example. It should be normal for a new believer.

The imitation of Christ found in these new believers led them to the joy of the Spirit. That makes a whole lot of sense. The Spirit desires fellowship with the Son. The new believer imitates the Lord Jesus so that the Spirit is seeing the Son in the new believer. The Spirit's joy erupts within the believer. This has little to do with the circumstances the believer finds himself in. The joy does not come from looking at the circumstances nor from trying to see the good in terrible things. The joy comes from the Holy Spirit as He fellowships with the believer who is imitating the Son.

These new believers were such examples that Paul really didn't have to say anything to preach the gospel. Their lives were saying so much that the gospel couldn't be contained. Imagine that for a moment: believers living like Christ and being so full of the joy of the Spirit that others decide that they must have what these believers possess. Now, that's evangelism!

These believers eliminated the evil which was a normal part of the lifestyle of those around them. They got rid of the idols which all of those around them possessed.  They put their trust in the return of Christ rather than idols.

Many "Christians" are participating in the same sins as those who do not know Christ. They are not participating because they have had a momentary failure in their walk. They are doing so because they don't think the Christian life should prevent them from participating. Thus, their testimony is in a powerless Christ who has made no real difference in their lifestyle.

What would happen if  Christians would live like these Thessalonians? The nature of the gospel would be understood differently. Those who observed believers would know that the gospel is a powerful force that changes people.

I taught school with a man who had played football while in college. One of his teammates had become a minister with a very close Christian walk. This fellow teacher had not made contact with his former team mate since they had graduated from college and did not know what had happened to him. The fellow school teacher was at my house looking at our wedding album when he noticed that this former team mate had done our wedding cermony. He looked at me and said, "So and so (I am leaving out his name because I am sure it would embarrass him.) is a preacher?!" This "preacher" had not lived a very godly lifestyle while playing college ball.

I said, "He is the strongest Christian I know."

"Well, that has to be the glory of the Lord, " was his reply.

And,indeed, it should be for all of us.


Anthony Chia said...

Concerning predestination of salvation, perhaps, this belief of mine is NOT incorrect: There is no GENERAL (general as in generally) predestination of PERSONAL salvation, but there is CORPORATE (corporate as in, on an overall) predestination of salvation. In other words, these two (2) are true: There is a CORPORATE predestination salvation for the people of JEWS, and there is the CORPORATE predestination of salvation for men (men and women corporately).

Accordingly, we will definitely find Jews in Heaven, but NOT all Jews would be going to Heaven. Similarly, men are corporately expected to make it to Heaven, BUT, NOT all men would make it to Heaven. In other words, the “choosing” was referring to CORPORATE choosing. God chose the Jews to be the original people of God, and NOT other nations. God also chose men, and NOT animals or plants to populate the Heaven, from earth.

Did God choose or NOT? Yes, God chose, God chose the JEWS as a group, and God chose men as a group, but consummation takes place when a man then chooses to accept the choice God has made; in other words, the man personalizes the choice God has made. Was it not so, even when Jesus’ death and resurrection were being referred to, in Scripture? Jesus died for the world, all of men, but each person has to personalize Jesus’ death and resurrection – each has to choose to accept the choice of Jesus having died for him.

Is there no PERSONAL predestination of salvation? I believe there were and are (perhaps, the Apostle Paul’s own conversion was one), but it was and is NOT GENERAL. In other words, there is NO GENERAL predestination of PERSONAL salvation by God. From God’s perspective, He has chosen; He has chosen the Jews, and He has chosen men – this is God’s part, and as far as it is a choice, He has done it already, right from the beginning. On our part, we, each, individually, have to do our part, to choose to accept the choice God has made for us.

GENERALLY, God predestined salvation CORPORATELY, we PERSONALISE the salvation to ourselves. Exceptions fall under the prerogative of the sovereignty of God according to His holiness and wisdom. So, when we read of such verses as 1 The 1:4 or Eph 1:5 in which “we were chosen or predestined” was worded in, we are to understand it in the light of the above. We should NOT assume the attitude, “See, God has chosen me, sorry for you, a non-believer, for God did NOT choose you!”

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Anthony Chia said...

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Some may ask if it would be then be oxymoron to state that “God has chosen us or He has predestined us”. No, it is oxymoron only if the statement or question self-contradicts; stating a fact or truth can NEVER be oxymoron; it might be stating the obvious, though! So, was there a stating of the obvious? Yes, in a way, and “No”, when we understand the context!

This is how it is purportedly obvious: You see, we having read the whole (or enough) of the New Testament (NT), would likely to come to the conclusion that non-Jews or the Gentiles, meaning you and I (I am NOT a Jew, and I assume you are NOT, also), have been revealed by God to be also chosen people, from the New Testament era onwards. We know from our reading, Gentile Christians are as much children of God as the Jews. After so many hundreds of years since the gospel or NT was written, and spread all over the years to non-Jews, it is too obvious that non-Jews are heirs as well, of the Kingdom of God. What this means is that we will NOT say or write that God has chosen (unto salvation) some non-Jew people groups here or there, or predestined (unto salvation) some non-Jew people group here or there; for we have already internalized that, ALL non-Jews can be acceptable to Father God as sons; it is of no meaning for us to say one non-Jew group to have been chosen, for all non-Jew groups are chosen; it goes without saying, so to speak. It is meaningful to say the Jews were once the chosen people of God, because other people groups were NOT; similarly it is meaningful to say a certain non-Jew group is chosen only if other non-Jews groups are NOT. Superimposing, unconsciously, of our context into the text, has caused us to want to read that the Thessalonians were special, chosen people (unto salvation), vis-à-vis some other non-Jew groups (say of another city/place). In other words, we would read Paul’s words in 1 The 1:4 as saying that the Thessalonians were chosen OVER some others.

But if we understand the context correctly, the saying of God had chosen the Thessalonians is both NOT too obvious and NOT indicating of a preference over another people group (or even worst, a belief that many specific individuals embodied in the Thessalonians brethrens were specifically chosen unto salvation over others).

Anthony Chia said...

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Where can we find the context? It is in Acts 17:1-12. We must understand Paul considered the main thrust of his mission was to bring the gospel message to the Gentiles; he was wanting to see as many Gentiles as possible getting saved and coming into the churches (synagogues, then). As much as he wanted Gentiles saved, he wanted the Gentiles be accepted into the original people of God communities, i.e. the Jewish community. Typically, Paul would first speak at the synagogues before hitting the streets.

Acts 17:4 said, “SOME Jews were persuaded and joined Paul …. as did a LARGE number of God-fearing Greeks…” Actually, FEW Jews were persuaded….” Why do I say that? From Thessalonica, because of the Jewish community were jealous and plotted to get Paul arrested, Paul moved off to the next town, Berea. See what was said in Acts 17:12 – “MANY of the Jews of Berea believed, as did …. many Greek men”.

See the contrast there. In Thessalonica, Paul had better harvest with the Gentiles, but NOT with the Jews. In other words, the Jews there were NOT accepting Paul’s gospel message of Jesus was the Messiah, and the Messiah’s coming to grant salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. NOT only majority of the Jews there were NOT embracing Jesus as the Messiah, they were NOT welcoming the Gentiles believers. In fact, in the Acts 17 passage, it was stated that one Jason and some brothers were given trouble by the jealous Jews. In 1 The 1:6, Paul wrote, “….. in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy…” So, you see in 1 The 1:4, Paul was trying to encourage the Thessalonians Gentile brethrens, assuring them that the gospel was open them, despite the Jewish community was NOT recognizing the teachings of Paul, that indeed, the gospel was open to the Gentiles there (which by the way, comprised many Graeco-Macedonian inhabitants, mixed with many Romans. Thessalonica was a populous capital and important port in that region). Then, it was NOT yet a common understanding amongst the Jews that the gospel was open to the Gentiles, and of course, it would be even less common an understanding to the Gentiles unless they were persuaded by Paul’s preaching of the Gospel. Therefore, it was entirely in order that the Apostle Paul in an epistle to Thessalonians to state that they, being Gentiles, were indeed chosen by God. It was NOT too obvious THEN, to remind Gentile believers that they were indeed chosen by God. Because the many different Gentile peoples there, there was also NOT the connotation of particular peoples were chosen over others.

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Anthony Chia said...

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It is perhaps NOT so much that Paul was particularly teaching the Thessalonians that one could tell if any people group or individuals were chosen of God by the way the Gospel came to the people, not just with words, but with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. It was more of Paul was encouraging the Gentile believers there that the prevailing (although was changing) belief of the Jews then was NO longer valid, the belief that Gentiles could NOT become people of God. We find a similar account in Acts 10, of how the Apostle Peter was revealed of God’s opening up the Gospel to the Gentiles, and how, after that, Peter went to Cornelius, an Italian centurion’s house (Gentile home), at Caesarea, with a large gathering of Gentiles waiting for him. Cornelius shared he had an open vision about asking Peter to come to his home; and Peter preached the Gospel there, and the Holy Spirit came upon the people gathered there, and they spoke in tongues, and the Jewish believers with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles. Peter, who previously was questioning God about “ingesting” the impure or unclean, metaphorically referring to the Gentiles, ended up baptizing the Gentiles gathered there.

The picture as I understand it to be was that God, from the very beginning desired that that all men be holy and blameless in His sight, and so He has chosen Man in Christ Jesus (Man made in and through Christ Jesus, for Christ Jesus) to be created holy and blameless, before the Creation (Eph 1:4){Jesus was there before and at Creation), and knowing (by forward-looking) that Man would fall in Garden of Eden, He predestined us to be saved and be born-again as sons through Christ Jesus (Eph 1:5-7). On earth, God had chosen to have the Jews as His original people (people of God), but with the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s salvation unfolded with revelation of the salvation of mankind is opened to all, Jews and Gentiles; in other words, God’s desire has remained unchanged, that men be holy and blameless, and that was and is open to all. There are of course still unanswered questions, but I believe Old Testament (OT) men all had had their chance of accepting Jesus when Jesus met them in Hades, in the 3 days before resurrection, if you are wondering about the fate of the non-Jews of the OT.

Blake Anderson said...

This is just the blog I was looking for, so great to see how the Lord is working in the lives of others. Keep spreading the good news!
God Bless
-Blake Anderson