Archive for July, 2011

THE CALLING OF GOD

In my last post, I examined the enthusiastic love that God has for Christians (aka declared righteous sinners). But in order to more accurately understand God’s enthusiastic love, we must back up and examine the calling of God.

WHAT IS CALLING?

Jude and other NT writers (Rom 1:6; 1 Cor 1:9, 24; Gal 1:6; Eph 4:1, 4: Col 3:15; 1 The 4:7; 2 The 2:14; 1 Tim 6:12; 1 Pet 1:15, 2:9, 21, 3:9 to name a few)  describe Christians as those who are called. To be called means to be invited or summoned. This means that those God knows are not those who take the initiative to know God. God invites (calls) and those invited (the called) respond to His invitation.

GOD IS CALLING; Man is called!

The called cannot take the initiative to know God because their complete depravity prohibits them from taking the first step toward God (a subject of my next post).  Rather, God MUST take the initiative to make Himself known to them!

Romans 8:29, 30 tells us: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;  and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (NAS).

God, through Paul, is telling us that for a person to enter heaven (i.e. to be glorified), he MUST be justified, and that to be justified he MUST be called. If he is called he MUST be predestined and if he is predestined, he MUST be foreknown by God. More simply put, our salvation is a sovereign act of a graciously selecting God who chooses whom He will call…not because He knows they will respond to His call, nor because they really want to be called by Him but because He graciously and sovereignly, before the creation of the world chose them to be invited. Calling, then, is God’s move to graciously and sovereignly awaken the sinner in order to move him to believe the Gospel. To accept the call is to become a justified or declared righteous sinner.

THE NECESSITY OF GOD CALLING MEN

To better understand this concept, Ephesians 2:8, 9 must be read in the context of Ephesians 2:1. Faith is a gift given by God to man, not an expression initiated by man. Man cannot initiate faith because ‘dead’ people are not capable of initiating action or responding to external stimuli. The spiritually ‘dead’ MUST be made alive in order to respond with faith to the stimulus of the Gospel, and even the faith of a sinner resulting in justification (i.e. to be declared righteous) must be given by God or the transaction for salvation would not take place. Some of the dead are made alive and called (or invited) to believe and be justified (i.e. declared righteous).

It is important to note that ‘why’ He chose and called only some who would believe is not explained. The closest explanation we can obtain from scripture is found in Rom 9:14-18, Ex 33:19, Rom 9:19-21 and Jer 18:4-6. However, the necessity for Him to call is based upon another very important concept regarding our God – HE does not share His glory with ANYONE!  Isaiah 48:11 tells us: ‘For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.’

To claim “I figured out the Gospel, and I accepted the Gospel” is an audacious and arrogant claim that affronts the glorious work of our Sovereign God. But to proclaim that “He (God) caused me to understand and invited me to accept His Gospel for salvation” is a humble expression of acceptance to the truth taught in Scripture. More importantly, God retains His glory in salvation which He will not share with another. Incidentally, God not sharing His glory with another is a major reason that God separated Himself from Satan. He could not tolerate that Satan attempted to surpass God’s glory (Isa 14:12-15; Exe 28: 12-18)!

APPRECIATING GOD’S CALL

A proper understanding of calling should cause us to appreciate our salvation and drive us to holy living with the proper motivation of recognizing His gracious, loving initiatory work in our lives. It also is a better prompter to confess and repent of our sin when we fail to live holy. No longer are we driven to obey God out of fear of losing our salvation or to gain some type of favor,  but we are driven to honor God with obedience in order to show our appreciation for His work in our lives that will ultimately result in our being eternally in His presence. 2 Corinthians 7:1 tells us: ‘Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.’

Once chosen and predestined by God, it awaits the timing of God in an individual’s life to experience the calling of God. It is at this point that the mind of man interferes with understanding the sovereign calling by God because a man struggles to answer the question ‘why did He choose to call this or that person, let alone me?’

Many answers have been proposed – two of which are given above – “God knew I would respond and believe, or “God knows I REALLY want to know Him”.  Both diminish God’s glory and exalt man. Neither ultimately brings a man any comfort because deep inside, the humble man knows he does not deserve to be called or chosen, and that there is not enough he can do before a holy God to encourage even an approving glance from Him. The only satisfactory explanation is found nestled in the sovereignty of God coupled with the enthusiastic love of His Son that spills over on those who are called.

But this love must be carefully defined. God is not emotionally driven toward us as is seen in the 1 John 4:8 & 16 description of God. The love used to describe God in this verse (and elsewhere in the pages of scripture) is  agape  which means  ‘self sacrificial service toward another’. Thus, Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, pg 198) correctly defines the love of God as God eternally GIVING Himself to others.

It is truly unfathomable to understand completely that a holy, sinless God would eternally give Himself sacrificially to sinners. This is why Paul says: ‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways’ (Rom 11:33)! It is why he prays that Christians (i.e. declared righteous sinners) ‘…may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.’ (Eph 3:18, 19). Put another way, it is unfathomable to fully comprehend how the holy Creator could willingly continue to give  Himself to His sinning, ungrateful creation!

Some intellectual relief does come by examining Isaiah 62:5 where God expresses His emotional delight over His chosen ones. But, as the Bible proclaims, God’s love is not the result of our initiatory love toward Him. Rather, it is His initiation of self-sacrificial love that prompts our response to love Him. Even then, our inconsistent expression of love is feeble in comparison to His consistent, unfailing love toward us.

THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING CALLED

What is the reason for His delight over His chosen ones? It is because the called  have been chosen to understand and have bowed their knee to worship the Chosen One – His Son (Psa 2:12)! It is not about us, it is all about Him! What a privilege, then, to be called by God to receive His love!

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GOD’S ENTHUSIASTIC LOVE FOR SINNERS

I have just returned from attending the Resolved Conference in Palm Springs. 3,200 attendees heard the likes of John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Steve Lawson, Rick Holland and CJ Mahaney preach God’s Word. All that was taught from God’s Word spoke to my heart.

In particular, I meditated long on Jude 1:1b taught by CJ Mahaney….Christians are called, loved and kept by Jesus! He reminded us that the LORD has an enthusiastic love for sinners who love His Son.

That the LORD loves sinners is no mystery in scripture. John 3:16 is one of but many passages that describe the love of God. But enthusiastic love for sinners? How can the LORD enthusiastically love anyone who falls far short of His holiness? Holiness is a key ingredient for having fellowship with the Righteous One!

By Divine providence, my reflection upon Jude 1:1b coincided with my reading Psalm 147:10,11 two days after the conference. It reads:

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor His delight in the legs of man;
the LORD delights in those who fear Him,
who put their hope in His unfailing love.

The LORD tells us through the Psalmist that He delights in sinners who do two things: 1) reverence Him (a part of the meaning in this Hebrew word for fear); and 2) put their HOPE in His unfailing love! Notice that the LORD is not impressed by our love for Him but in our hope of His love.

Why does he LORD delight in hoping sinners? In the Hebrew, delight means to find pleasure. This is no casual concept. To find pleasure in something is to experience a high degree of gratification or extreme satisfaction. According to Psalm 147:11, the LORD is extremely gratified and satisfied when sinners reverence Him by confidently and patiently place their hope in His unfailing love promised in the Gospel. Or, putting it another way, the LORD is enthusiastically satisfied with sinners who put their hope in the work of His Son!

At this point it is necessary to clarify our understanding of biblical hope to fully appreciate the reason for the LORD’s enthusiastic love for sinners. The Hebrew word for hope is very interesting. It does not have the concept or meaning of unconfident, wishful, unassured thinking. Rather, biblical hope is a confident, assured expectation patiently waiting to be experienced. Or, expressed in the light of the Gospel, the LORD is not impressed with those who pride themselves in their works of love, but in those who are confident in His work of love through His Son (Psalm 2:12).

But there is a qualification in the LORD’s love for sinners. The LORD has no time for unrepentant sinners – those who live for their pleasure, their will and their own self-righteousness (Rom 2:5). He does, however, delight in justified sinners – sinners who He has declared righteous (the meaning of justification) by the faith He has given them in the work of His Son, Jesus!

In the same way that the LORD’s delight in sinners is not for those who pride themselves in their works of love toward the LORD but in their confident expectation of His unfailing love, the LORD’s delight in sinners is not for those who take pride in their self-righteousness but in the declared righteousness conferred upon them by God for the confidence He has given them in the work of His Son, Jesus! (BTW: repentance means to change your mind about something. Salvation is changing your mind about who Jesus is and what He has done for you – You no longer believe He is just a man who died a tragic death but you now believe that He is indeed the righteous Son of God who died in your place to take the punishment you deserve for your unholy living, and conferred upon you a declared righteousness accepted by God for all eternity. Importantly, Acts 26:20 tells us that all who repent will bring forth fruits of repentance).

God’s enthusiastic love for declared righteous sinners is not based upon their expression of love toward HIM, but in the hope He has given the declared righteous sinner through His Son’s work of love on the cross The privilege of being on the receiving end of God’s enthusiastic love for declared righteous sinners is magnified in the calling highlighted by Jude in 1:1b – the topic of my next post.