Monday, June 16, 2008

How Can Cretans be Christians? (2)

In the first article, we found that Titus 1:1 makes clear that it is faith-knowledge that can make Cretans to be Christians. But the next question is, “How does one get this faith-knowledge?” The answer is at least partly contained in the phrase, “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1).

We are in the midst of an election year. Candidates will promise all kinds of things, hoping to convince and compel fickle voters to pledge their electoral commitment. We will find that the candidates are willing to say and do almost anything to collect votes. Let’s be clear here: God is not running for office. He is not up for election. God is the One who elects.

People often counter: But don’t we have free will? Jonathan Edwards thought so (The Freedom of the Will), if I read him correctly. My illustration (gained from reading him, but for which he bears no responsibility) is as follows: My car has a free wheel

That’s right. It has a steering wheel. And that free wheel determines the direction the car goes. But the free wheel is also stupid. It is completely dependent upon the character of the person behind it. And if the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear that the hearts of men and women are sinful – so much so, that apart from the grace of God, not a single one of us would direct our free wills to turn to God. There would be not one single Christian if it was up to human free will as directed by sinful hearts.

Let’s think of a Bible illustration. God had promised to Abraham lasting life through the gift of a son. So was Isaac, born when Abe was 100, the product of Abraham and Sarah? According to Romans 4:19, not really. There was a time, 13 years before Isaac’s birth, when Abraham attempted to assist God in the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose. The result was Ishmael, and Abraham could say, “Look what I did,” and God said, “No!” But by the time Isaac came around, the verdict on Abraham was “as good as dead,” and the description of Sarah’s fertility was “barrenness.” And guess what? A baby was born – a gift from God, wholly of God.

We sometimes think that in salvation God gives the grace, and we supply the faith. But just as God supplied both the seed and fertile egg for the life of Isaac, so also God supplies both the grace and the faith for spiritual life. When we are born again, our first response is that cry of faith in Christ, similar to a baby’s first cry, and yet no one thinks that the baby was the cause of his/her own existence, or contributed to his/her birth in any way other than showing up.

When Jesus spoke those phrases in John 6: “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (v.37); “No on can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (v.44); and “no one come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (v.65) – the people grumbled (v. 41), and the disciples grumbled (v.61). Why did they grumble? Perhaps for two reasons:

On the one hand, and more generally, people resist the idea of a God in charge. It is strange, because if God is not in charge, then can we really call him God at all? But on the other hand, people grumbled because Jesus was describing the radical nature of the relationship that one must have with him in order to be raised at the last day, that is, to have eternal life. We must get Christ into us somehow, almost like ingesting and digesting. We need to get him into us, almost to be us.

That is not the kind of relationship that most people want with Jesus. They want a mutual consent relationship. You give me bread, and I’ll give you a measure of loyalty. You make me happy, and I’ll attend church, or give away something, or give up something. You make me promises, and I’ll vote for you as Lord and Savior.

But remember, neither God nor Jesus are running for office. No, that is not Biblical Christianity. Paul talks to Titus about Cretans who are wonderfully changed by a radical relationship with Jesus Christ that they could never have come up with on their own. It must have been something that God did, because He chose them for salvation.

This subject brings up so many questions. I’ve already answered the “whosoever will” questions. The answer is, that the world is filled with “whosoever won’t” kind of people. But what about this response then: if God is going to do all the choosing, then why bother to pray or witness?

The answer is that God is pleased to use means to accomplish His ends. And if God is pleased to use my prayers or my witness to be a vehicle or instrument in causing a light to shine into a darkened heart, or in causing spiritual truth to be apprehended by an obstinate mind, so that for the first time a person sees Christ clearly, or understands the Gospel for the very first time, though they may have heard it many times before – then praise the Lord. And what a privilege to be involved in His eternal plan and purpose. I need not worry about who is elect and who is not. But I know that, were not God so good and gracious, all would be condemned.

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