Salvation. Who chooses who?
What is God’s plan of salvation? The set readings used by many churches, for Sunday, January 3, give us three perspectives
Article linked to Bible study post of January 3, 2021. Based on these Bible readings:
OT: Jeremiah 31:7–14
NT gospel: John 1:10–18
NT letter: Ephesians 1:3–14
God’s plan of salvation
From the earliest times, God has had a plan of salvation. Well, nearly the earliest times… In the creation story, set in the Garden of Eden, fellowship between God and man was good, and no salvation to restore it was necessary. But Adam was incited to act independently of God — that’s a good definition of sin, right there — and the perfect fellowship between man and God was broken. Adam was banished under a curse and everything became hard work. From that time, God’s overriding strategy was seen. The stories of Noah, Abraham’s covenant, Moses leading the deliverance and giving the law are all salvation stories.
God is looking for people who to turn back to Him and agree that independence apart from Him is not good. And that’s the story of Jeremiah 31:7–14. Jeremiah whose courageous preaching of God’s truth failed to prevent the downfall of Jerusalem, saw in the Spirit how God would turn that disaster to salvation, bringing His people back from exile. He urges the people to praise Him and pray, “Lord, save Your people”. But the emphasis is on what God does — His grace in bringing them out from their exile in Assyria and Babylon: ”I will bring them… and gather them… as I bring them back… I will lead them…”
“Lord, save Your people” is a good, biblical prayer. It meets God in His intention of saving. If we bring people in our family or neighbourhood before God, prayerfully giving Him charge, then we can legitimately pray for Him to save them.
The NT reading from John’s gospel, John 1:10–18 also emphasises God’s initiative in His plan of salvation. Some theologians like to explain grace as being all of God and nothing of ourselves. This is an almost-correct counter to the religion that has accumulated around Christian faith which (in the way of all world religions) presents all kinds of obligations that the Church apparently requires. Grace is God’s unmerited action, but it is usually accompanied by faith. Faith rises in us as a work of the Holy Spirit, bringing new spiritual life to our human spirit — so faith is something we are aware of, on the inside of us. However the exercise of faith — choosing, believing, trusting — is an intention we make. It is an act, an act of the will. So if we want to say that God does it all, we still have to acknowledge the response needed from us, to make the connection.
“…The world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” John 1:10–11
The big thing in this [passage is how God made Himself nearby and approachable. He came and camped out right where we are living! In that sense, we can see God and be aware of His glory. In the OT, only the priests who went into the tabernacle or, later, temple, would have any sense of God’s presence and glory. Jesus gives that privilege to each and every person who believes in Him.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
He gives us the right, like an adoptive privilege, to be part of God’s family, born again spiritually as His children. In the ancient Greek-Roman world, a child adopted by a rich, influential family was on a path to become rich and influential too!
“…To all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent… but born of God.” John 1:11–12
Jesus explained this later to the renowned Bible teacher Nicodemus. If anyone didn’t need a new start, it was him. Yet Jesus explained that for Him to see the kingdom of God, to invite God’s order into his very ordered Pharisee life, he needed to be born again. That happened by believing and receiving Jesus as His Messiah.
So it is for us. God does the choosing, but we need to respond by opening the door to Jesus and asking Him in.
The New Covenant in Jesus
Under the covenant that Nicodemus knew, God had revealed Himself through the law, a lot of dos and don’ts, and only to His particular nation. The intention was that by their example, others would be attracted to the light. It was always His intention to save, beyond the Jewish nation, and the words of the prophets confirmed this. Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant to come. No one understood how it could work — until Jesus came. He taught people that He fulfilled the law and established a new covenant, no longer about religious rules, but through faith in Him and personal relationship with God.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God… has made Him known. John 1:17-18
- Jesus Christ was God, but came as a regular person into our world, vv.10–11
- He showed us exactly what God is like by living among us, vv.14, 18
- He did more than teach God’s grace, He was God’s actual means of grace, vv.16-17
Hardly surprising, then, that Paul should be moved to an effusive outpouring of praise for the salvation God has given us through Jesus, Ephesians 1:3–14. In it he details seven expressions of God graciously giving us salvation in Jesus:
- He chose us in Him, v.4
- We were predestined for adoption to son ship, v.5
- In Him we are given forgiveness of sins and redemption through His blood, v.7
- He has freely given us grace, vv. 6–7
- In Him we were chosen, v.11
- We were included at the point of us receiving t he message of truth, v.13
- When we believed, we were given the spiritual signature of the Holy Spirit. vv.13–14
Who chooses who?
So who chooses who? Scripture emphasises God’s int ention, leading and power in bringing us salvation through Jesus. But there is part we play as well. It is like the small lever which controls the massive roadway spans of Tower Bridge which are raised from time to time to ships with masts to pass through. We have to be in position to do the small but essential part, like working the lever, of believing and receiving Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. At the point of us “hearing the message of truth”, in other words having hearts changed by it, a spiritual transaction took part, we were forgiven, included and marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit
We were saved. Clearly this is in God’s enduring plan, it is His gift to us, not something we could ever earn, and a life-changing miracle of the Holy Spirit. But we also shifted from scepticism to heart belief — the modest action which caused a mighty chain reaction of change to change our identity for ever.
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