What does it mean to be one of God’s chosen people? Some people think back to middle school gym class and how they might have been last-picked for the team. In this sermon, Greg talks about the idea of being chosen by God and how being chosen isn’t the same as predestination.
In this passage, Paul is using an image of changing clothes. He is telling us to take off our old selves, the ones that lived as a part of this world, and instead to put on our new selves. Our new selves are identified as God’s chosen people. But God’s chosen people has been misunderstood in the past.
God chose the Israelites as his people. When Abraham was faithful to God, God decided that Abraham would be the father of God’s people. But this choosing of Abraham and his people, the future Israelites, can bring up some fearful ideas in people. In fact, this brought up the image of gym class in middle school.
In middle school, you probably experienced the choosing of teams. The gym teacher would choose two people, usually the “jocks”, to be the captains. The captains would then take turns picking the most athletic people down to the least athletic people. In the end, there would be a few people that were always picked last. They were the least favorite people to be on the teams. When we talk about God choosing people, it can seem like this type of gym class atmosphere.
It seems like God is the one choosing some and passing over others. This view is expressed by John Calvin. He called this predestination. He understood predestination as God’s eternal decree that some were created for eternal life and that some were created for eternal damnation. And, he understood this predestination as happening before anyone was born. Everyone’s future was already decided before they were born.
Calvin drew this understanding from the book of Romans. In Romans 9, we see that God is the potter and we are the clay. Some people, like Calvin, think that God makes people to feel his wrath. And, because God is the potter, we should be ok with it. But there is another understanding of this passage that fits better with our moral code.
Our own moral fibers tell us that this is wrong, and God is the one that gave us our moral ability. We understand that it’s not moral to create people to be judged. This idea of predestination just doesn’t make sense when we think about it. And John Wesley said this picture of God is worse than Satan. He said that a God who creates people just for eternal damnation is worse than Satan. Luckily, there is more to the Romans 9 passage than just those who are given eternal life and those who are damned for eternity.
Romans 9 presupposes a picture of God that isn’t Jesus. The very essence of God, according to the New Testament, is that Jesus shows us the true picture of God. And, Jesus on the Cross shows us God’s true love. Jesus, however, didn’t die on the cross for just a few. He died on the cross for every human. God wants everyone to be saved and does not predestine some to be damned.
Also, the message of predestination that Calvin talks about is not what Paul was talking about in Romans 9. Paul was explaining why many Jewish people weren’t following Jesus. He wasn’t trying to espouse a doctrine of predestination as understood by Calvin. Finally, Paul was using the analogy of the potter and clay from Jeremiah 18. In that passage, God is talking about shaping clay that has been ruined and not ruining clay for his own delight. Paul was saying that God reacts to what people do with the message of the Gospel.
We should get rid of any conception of God as an evil, controlling deity that arbitrarily fashions people for destruction and punishment. This is not the picture of God revealed by Jesus. God does not play favorites. He’s not choosing some for his team and others not for his team. Rather, he wants everyone on his team. But, to be on his team, we must surrender to him and begin to let him work within us. He already chose us through the cross, and now it is up to us to choose him.
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