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What the Bible says about Calling and Election
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 11:12

Before plunging into what Jesus is saying in these verses, it is helpful to consider what He cannot be saying if Scripture is to remain unbroken (John 10:35). In the various translations and commentaries of these verses, certain prejudices influence how scholars interpret them. The New King James translators chose the phrase "everyone is pressing into it," despite the Greek just barely supporting it. Other translations at least acknowledge the forcefulness inherent within the Greek words, rendering it as "everyone strives violently to go in" (The Amplified Bible; emphasis ours throughout) or "everyone forces his way into it" (English Standard Version). These all suggest the idea that the gospel message was so popular that everyone who heard it was beating down the doors of the Kingdom, as it were. They also contain the idea that everyone could enter the Kingdom at that time.

But both of those ideas are false.

It was not possible for everyone who heard the gospel to enter the Kingdom, no matter how vigorously one might try, and that is true even now. Only those whom God draws to the Son can enter the Kingdom (John 6:44). Matthew 16:17 shows that only by an act of the Father did Peter recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Acts 13:48 says specifically that "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed," indicating that those who have not yet been appointed to eternal life did not (and cannot) believe.

The idea that everyone hearing the gospel of the Kingdom is pushing to get in completely overlooks the specificity of God's calling and election (Romans 8:30) and the fact that He is working with only a few during this age, the firstfruits of His spiritual harvest. A person cannot truly seek the Kingdom or its King until God changes something in his mind (John 5:39-40), and simply hearing the words of the gospel does not necessarily accomplish that.

David C. Grabbe
Taking the Kingdom by Force

Romans 1:16-17

These verses show that the gospel is the means or the vehicle that God uses to save us as long as we live by faith.

We cannot let the idea of "power" slide by without comment. From this Greek word, dunamis, English derives the words "dynamite," "dynamo," and "dynamic"—all of which convey an idea of stored energy that is waiting for the cue to burst into action, sometimes explosively! The gospel Jesus Christ preached contains a dynamic message that is primed to propel a believer to eternal life!

Notice, however, that the gospel is not universal in its application. John 6:44 says that the Father calls specific people to the choice of accepting Christ's gospel. In Romans 1:16, Paul makes this same distinction in the phrase "everyone who believes." The gospel will not save even those who profess Christ if they do not believe. As Christ's disciples, we must believe what He teaches us (compare John 6:28-29, 63).

What is belief? Jesus answers in Matthew 7:21: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Paul says in Romans 16:25-26: "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest . . . for obedience to the faith. . . ." He also writes in Hebrews 5:9: "And having been perfected, [Christ] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Simply put, belief is not just agreement with Christ, but also doing what He says. If a person truly believes Christ, he will live like Him. (Faith, belief, obedience, and doing God's will are all intricately related concepts.)

This is why Paul continues as he does in Romans 1:17: "For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'" The gospel teaches us what righteousness—right doing—is. God reveals it to us by faith so that we can be faithful ourselves. Succinctly, the gospel instructs us in doing or living what is right, godly, and faithful. As he puts it in II Corinthians 5:7, "We walk by faith, not by sight."

From this, we can see that the gospel is far more than "believe in name of Jesus, and you shall be saved" (an oversimplification of Acts 4:12).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel (Part 3)

Romans 5:1-2

Without a doubt, our sins separate us from God (Genesis 3:24; Isaiah 59:2; Galatians 5:19-21). Graciously, our heavenly Father desires a closer relationship with us, His elect (John 17:3, 20-21). In Leviticus 26:12, our Creator promises, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” In John 14:6, that same divine Being—in the form of Jesus Christ—testifies that He provides our ultimate path to God the Father.

In Romans 5:1-2, the apostle Paul flatly asserts that justification brings us access to His grace, the undeserved favor that He grants to His faithful, humble children through Jesus Christ (James 4:6). In Ephesians 2:18 and 3:12, Paul mentions this same access, strongly implying that such access is exclusive to our calling and not available to the world.

By declaring the repentant sinner not guilty, justification helps to remove, not only the disturbing guilt from his conscience, but also the fear of being called before God and condemned (Isaiah 57:20-21; Romans 5:9), replacing the guilt and fear with hope (Romans 5:2; Titus 3:7). Such peace enables the justified to draw even closer to God with a more confident assurance of His mercy (Hebrews 4:16; 7:19; 10:19).

Martin G. Collins
The Fruit of Justification

Romans 9:9-16

Our calling and election by God preceded even the slightest fragment of saving knowledge of God and thus our having faith in Him. Therefore, we could not possibly earn any grace of God, even as Jacob could not. As a vivid illustration for us, God deliberately chose to do this before Jacob could possibly do any works pertaining to salvation.

An almost overwhelming nugget of truth may be gleaned from these verses. If God is revealing here His general pattern which He follows to call all of those He is choosing to save at this time, then it shows that our personal calling and election into His spiritual creation is in no way random but very specific, even as Jacob's was.

Perhaps we, like Jacob was, are called from the womb so that, like him, there will never be any doubt that even the tiniest of our works had a part in saving us. There is precedent for this in Jeremiah 1:5 about Jeremiah's birth and calling; in Luke 1:11-17 about John the Baptist; and in Psalm 139:14-16 about David.

We might think that these were really great personages, people important to God's purpose. They were indeed, but are we not part of the same spiritual Body and part of the same Family as they are? Does not God say that there is no partiality with Him in Romans 2:11? Every part of the Body of Jesus Christ is important. Enough is revealed in Scripture for us to give this serious consideration.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace

1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Because Christianity has the unfortunate reputation of being a religion for the simple, the apostle Paul's comments in I Corinthians 1:26-29 are often misunderstood and misapplied.

In a sense, Paul's words are a snapshot in time; they only describe the reality of the situation when God calls us. Moreover, they are generalities—the norm—to which there are always exceptions. Paul himself was certainly no intellectual lightweight. Early Christian history has several traditions of converts among the Emperor's court, senators' families, and various high-born houses both in Rome and abroad. Still, generally, God calls His potential children from the middle to lower classes of the great mass of humanity.

Since such are our likely origins, our question must then be: "Does God want us to remain foolish, weak, base, despised, and nothing?" No! He desires us to be humble and think of ourselves as nothing, but He does not want us to remain in the spiritual, mental, and emotional conditions from which He has called us. He is working in us so that we can eventually become wise, mighty, noble, glorified, and something humanly incomprehensible.

Anyone reading the Bible should be able to realize that God's every instruction is designed to promote spiritual growth (Malachi 4:2; Ephesians 4:15-16; II Peter 3:18; etc.). Stagnation and backsliding are anathema to God (for instance, Jeremiah 3; Hebrews 6:4-8; II Peter 2:20-22). How often does God say something to the effect that those who do not grow and produce fruit will be pruned, and if they still do not produce, they will be cut down and burned in the fire (John 15:1-8)? God creates and produces, and He wants to see His children do the same.

If God has made us in His likeness, and He is creating His Son's image in us, is it not reasonable to believe that God wants us to learn to think like His Son? In fact, Paul writes in I Corinthians 2:16 that we already have the mind of Christ! He means that by God's Spirit, given to us after baptism, we can begin to think and evaluate as Christ does (see also Philippians 2:5-8). If God expects us to learn to think like Christ, a great deal of growth in our ability to think must occur.

True Christianity is a thinking-person's religion! The doctrines of God may be simple in their fundamental principles, but they are almost inexhaustibly profound in their particulars and ramifications. Applying God's instruction to any situation requires careful and deliberate thought. Paul says, "[T]he Holy Scriptures . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. . . . [They are given] that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:15, 17). Serious study, meditation, and prayer require deep thought.

Additionally, as Christ's return nears, only the truly thoughtful—the deep thinkers—will be able to see through the cloud of deception Satan and his agents will produce (Matthew 24:24; Revelation 12:9). Thus, Peter warns us: "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers" (I Peter 4:7).

God gives Ezekiel a striking vision in which water running from God's Temple is measured every thousand cubits. It is at first ankle-deep, then knee-deep, then waist-deep, and finally too deep to stand in (Ezekiel 47:1-5). Such is the knowledge that flows from God. As we progress in understanding, the depth of God's revelation increases proportionately until we are literally swimming in the limitless expanse of God's mind! It can be overwhelming, but it is also exhilarating and mind-expanding that God has opened such knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to us.

No matter how deeply we have waded into the "water," more depth awaits. We can never plumb its bottom. But is it not satisfying—and rewarding—and right—to try?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Deep Thinkers


 




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