Saturday, December 27, 2008

Destined to suffer

"Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed." (Luke 2:34)

It is obvious when we read passages like Luke 2:34 that Jesus' rejection and death, foretold from the time He was dedicated as an infant in the temple, was part of God’s predetermined plan of reconciling the world to Himself. What surprises some to learn is that the suffering and rejection of Christ's followers is equally a part of this plan. This is clearly seen in such passages as 1 Thessalonians 3:3 where Paul reminds the believers in northern Greece that God’s messengers were "destined" to suffer affliction for their faith (3:3) and this is exactly what had happened to Paul and his colleagues (3:4).

Because of their historically controversial nature, many Christians avoid discussing the biblical doctrines of election and predestination. I can understand this desire to avoid controversy that has too often ended with harsh words, misrepresentations, and, in some sad cases, ridicule. But this should not keep us from looking at doctrines that are very much scriptural and from seeking to understand them. Like all doctrines, these two have significant applications for the life of the believer, particularly in reference to the resistance to the gospel that the messenger of God faces.

While I recognize that not all will accept my definitions and much more could be said than what I will address in these few words, it is my understanding that election is the choosing act of God in which He determines whom He will entrust with certain responsibilities and privileges. The focus of election is on the people whom God has chosen to be the instruments of His purposes. Election, however, is not merely a title or a position. Election is for privilege and responsibility.

Predestination, on the other hand, is the planning act of God in which He determines what privileges and responsibilities the children of God will enjoy and do in order to accomplish His purposes and how they will do it; what He will do for them and what they will do and become. The focus of predestination is on God’s plan and purpose. The emphasis is not who the objects of predestination are but what are the elect predestined to.

Before creation, God predestined Himself to be mankind’s Saviour through His Son and determined to choose all who accept His work on their behalf to join Him in His plan to bring the blessings of this act to all people everywhere (Genesis 12:3). Through Israel, the plan of God, determined before the creation of the world, found its expression in time and space, unfolded and reached its fulfillment in Christ. After Jesus' ascension, this gospel was taken to all nations, according to God’s plan, and it became clear who God’s chosen people were; all those who trust in Christ. This is God's good news and reveals the mystery that God desires all nations to be His chosen people. This is the message that the elect are commissioned to share with all people everywhere. Jesus said that He chose his disciples so that they would be fruit-bearing messengers (John 15:16), a witness through which others might be saved.

As they bring this blessing to the nations, made possible because of the death of Christ, His chosen people follow in His footsteps and suffer together with Him in accomplishing His purposes of reconciling the world to God. Thus Paul can say that, like Christ, we are destined to suffer for the sake of the gospel (1 Thess. 3:3-4). This is part of the predetermined plan of God. God’s destiny for man could only be accomplished in Christ. He knew that the price for man’s salvation would be the death of His Son. He also knew the price of taking this blessing to the nations would be the death of His adopted sons and daughters. But in His wisdom, God knew that this was the only way that the world could be saved and all nations reconciled to Him.

The question that stands before you and me is this - what am I doing to fulfill my predestined purposes as one of God's elect? What characterizes my life; sacrificial love for Christ and His priorities, or conformity and indifference to a dying world? Do I read about how God is working through His rejected, persecuted people around the world and respond by falling on my knees pleading with God how I might stand together with them in this God-given task? Or is my response primarily one of thankfulness that I do not have to make such sacrifices for God? Am I actively occupied in pursuing the eternal purposes of God, at great cost to myself, or am I a bystander watching God's purposes unfold without ever really getting involved?


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