Message – Is Choice a choice?
Is Choice a choice?
Last week we ended with Paul and Barnabus telling the Jews of Pisidian of Antioch that they were now turning to the Gentiles. To which the Gentiles rejoiced and then the passage said something I want to address this morning before we go on to Acts 14.
Let’s go back and read that passage,
“(44) On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. (45) But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him.
(46) Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously,
“It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first.
Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles.
(47) For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
(48) When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed.”
Now, who has a question about this last verse?
I’ve contemplated and studied passages like this several times during my Christian walk and in those studies what anyone will find unavoidable are two long held and opposing doctrines of Calvinism and Arminianism.
However, even these two beliefs, as they are put forth today, are not clear representations of the thoughts of these men when they were alive.
It is SO important to remember that languages are living things – meaning they change. So, for example, when Calvin used words like sovereignty and depravity in the 16th century, they held different meanings than they do when used today.
I would LOVE to go through the differences between these two classic belief systems – both as they existed in the 16th century when the men whose name they bare first stated them and now as they have come to be understood. However, I am not sent to be a Christian historian, but a shepherd teacher, so I will stick to addressing this passage alone.
Without question the primary problem which raises most eyebrows and concerns is the words “appointed” or “ordained” to eternal life. What does that mean?!
The general reading of the verse for the unlearned would lead to the belief that at least in this case, those who believed were appointed to believe as if they had no choice.
This has more difficulties than can be reconciled with scripture and in all truth, even if the word does mean “appointed” or “ordained” unto eternal life were understood as “predestined” – it really does not introduce any difficulty regarding the rest of scripture.
We already know that those who are appointed to receive grace… is it not those who are humble?
And who is God resisting? Is it not those who are proud?
So it could be said that ANYONE who is humble and seeking reconciliation with God is in fact “appointed”, “ordained” and even “pre-destined” for grace and salvation!
So even if the words “can” be accurately translated as meaning “predestined” to eternal life, it does not mean they had no choice, only that the condition of their hearts and the desire to have union with God placed them in the position of being 100% guaranteed recipients of His grace and His drawing to Christ so that they could come!
So the real question should be… is humility or pride forced and predestined conditions of heart or are they choices we make?
The modern presentations of Calvinism would say yes they are forced, because God is sovereign and His will and grace are irresistible. Arminian would argue the opposite view.
Well, I quite honestly couldn’t care less what either of these men believed or what they are represented as believing today – because what really matters is what scripture says.
So…let’s let scripture tell us, shall we?
We are proceeding with the understanding that God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud.
So what does scripture tell us regarding humility?
James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
1Peter 5:5, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “GOD RESISTS THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
1Peter 5:6, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,”
I am always a little suspect of any answer in scripture that does not come with witnesses – meaning it only occurs once in all of scripture and is not attested to by 2 or 3 other mentions so that the word might be established as truth and cannot be said to be contextually locked.
In this case, 3 is precisely how many verses we have regarding whose decision it is to be humble or not.
It is clearly in the power of man to be humble or not – at least at first.
If, like we discovered in our studies of this regarding Pharaoh, we harden our hearts time and again, we do run the risk of God pronouncing judgment on our hearts in agreement with our stubborn inclinations and therefore make that hardness – final, for He as Creator and Owner is in fact Sovereign and therefore has both that power and that right!
I found that Adam Clark has a very helpful commentary on this verse in Acts 13 which we are looking at this morning…
“As many as were ordained to eternal life believed – This text has been most pitifully misunderstood. Many suppose that it simply means that those in that assembly who were fore-ordained; or predestinated by God’s decree, to eternal life, believed under the influence of that decree.
Now, we should be careful to examine what a word means, before we attempt to fix its meaning.
Whatever [ordained] τεταγμενοι (toassoe) may mean, it includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind.
But, leaving all these precarious matters, what does the word τεταγμενος mean? The verb form ταττω or τασσω signifies to place, set, order, appoint, dispose; hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation, such as the religious proselytes mentioned Acts 13:43, who possessed the reverse of the disposition of those Jews who spake against those things, contradicting and blaspheming, Acts 13:45.
Though the word in this place has been variously translated, yet, of all the meanings ever put on it, none agrees worse with its nature and known signification than that which represents it as intending those who were predestinated to eternal life: this is no meaning of the term, and should never be applied to it.
Let us, without prejudice, consider the scope of the place: the Jews contradicted and blasphemed;
the religious proselytes heard attentively, and received the word of life:
the one party were utterly indisposed, through their own stubbornness, to receive the Gospel;
the others, destitute of prejudice and prepossession, were glad to hear that, in the order of God, the Gentiles were included in the covenant of salvation through Christ Jesus; they, therefore, in this good state and order of mind, believed.”
So whether you examine this passage in light of the free will to have or reject humility or simply delve into the specific meaning of the words employed – the idea that certain people were or are predestined through no choice of their own to believe and therefore come into relationship with God through Jesus cane be set aside as patently false.
Now another issue this presents is – does belief alone save?
Well again, James comes to our rescue. By inspiration of the Spirit James tells us that yes faith is enough, so long as your faith produces actions consistent with what you say your believed.
In other words, faith + time = produces actions consistent with belief. So faith NEEDS endurance to be effective.
Here are a few examples:
“On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.” – The Message
These believed, but were NOT saved, for Romans tells us that “if you confess with your mouth that jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raise Him from the dead, you will be saved. FOR with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.”
This is why in scripture baptism is all but synonymous with believing faith because the baptism WAS the means of openly confessing Christ back then.
While it still is today, it is FAR LESS so than at the time because being baptized into a belief system was common practice in that part of the world back then and was a clear indicator of one’s beliefs and convictions leading to behavior.
Jesus affirmed the need for steadfastness for eternal life to be a permanent reality.
Matt. 10:22, “And you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved!”
Matt. 24:13, “But the person who endures to the end will be saved.”
Mark 13:13, “You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Rom. 11:22, “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”
1Cor. 15:1-2, “(1) Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, (2) and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.”
Heb. 3:6, “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in.”
Heb. 10:32-39, “(32) But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. (33) At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. (34) For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. (35) So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward. (36) For you need endurance in order to do God’s will and so receive what is promised. (37) For just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay. (38) But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him. (39) But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
All of this plus one of the most famous of teachings and exhortations of Jesus in His ministry where our relationship with Him is compared to that of branches with our Vine. WE ARE TOLD to remain in Him. Why tell us to do something which does not depend upon us in the first place? If we cannot undo it, how could we be asked to maintain it?
The surprise of this is honestly…mostly a modern one. Historically, the church has regarded and understood salvation in relational terms. This is appropriate because salvation IS relational and when viewed through that lens it protects the true meaning of doctrinal statements regarding salvation and eternal life.
Life is to know God intimately and inside the context of relationship according to Jesus’ Own words in John 17:3.
If we say that when two people recited their vows to one another before God and witnesses that they are then married and are no longer two but one, do we not imply that this requires at least a certain adherence to the vows they took which constituted their oneness?
If not, then why the witnesses? (this is a shout back to baptism)
Even in Christian doctrine, the idea is set forth like this –
“What God has joined together let no man separate.”
Is this to mean that it is outside of man’s power to separate what God has joined together or that man should never seek to separate what God has uniquely created and joined as one?
According to Jesus Himself, if one lives in unrepentant adultery it creates a separation which the faithful party may act upon, since they are in fact already separate – being no longer exclusively one!
This makes sense to us within the context of human relationships, so what is it about our relationship with God which makes this unbelievable if not our bias and desire that it not be possible or true?
…and what of the fact that God will not be mocked?
“(7) Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, (8) because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (9) So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Gal. 6:7-9
If one is honest – a relationship cannot claim to be a relationship if one is not free to leave it. It then, by definition becomes bondage!
“Though chains be of gold, they are chains even still!”
The simple facts of this matter can be explained and illustrated by common sense.
If relationship with God is entered into by nothing more than mental agreement to a set of facts -then it isn’t relationship at all. Such doesn’t even rise to the status of a contract – for even in a contract one does not just agree to a thing – some future action outlined in the contract is required.
You have to wonder what it is that people believe happens when they say the magic words, “Jesus is my Lord” or “I invite Jesus into my heart” or whatever they are told to say.
- They are told they become new creations.
- They are told they become children of God.
- They are told they have passed from death to life, from darkness to light.
But if any or all of these things are true – would it not be evident in the way they live their lives?
If beforehand I had been an offspring of the devil and now I am the offspring of God – would not my character and likeness be more akin to God than the devil now?
If I am a new creation, would I not look so or is being the new so much like the old that they are indistinguishable and if so – why change at all?
Furthermore, if relationship with God is predetermined and unalterable, then all humans who are NOT in relationship with God were created, merely to exist in a state of total destruction forever – His heart never desiring them in the first place. If this is true, one could hardly attribute love as God’s primary character.
You see – the only doctrine that makes sense and agrees with all God created, is one where one chooses out of a free will and then lives a life consistent with that choice. If at any point they choose against it (whether all at once or over a long series of uninterrupted choices) they return to the state from which they left.
As the Peter said, “(20) For if after they have escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first. (21) For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been delivered to them. (22) They are illustrations of this true proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A sow, after washing herself, wallows in the mire.” – 2Peter 2:20-22
Now to finally finish up Acts 13 after 3 weeks there remains one more point of interest which again the days we live in make necessary to draw attention to.
“(49) So the word of the Lord was spreading through the entire region. (50) But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high social standing and the prominent men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their region.
These verses are very helpful when countering some of the misconceptions and poor investigations of theological egalitarians or biblical feminism, for they often conclude that Paul’s statements regarding women in positions of authority in the church were inspired by his culture, upbringing and the general bias’ of society on that day, rather than by the Holy Spirit as Paul himself claimed.
Of course if this is true, then that places ALL of New Testament doctrine in question, not just those portions which pertain to women and their roles in the church.
Here in this place, the Jews of Synagogue are said to have incited women of high social standing as well as prominent men in order to stir up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.
Why women of high standing?
According to egalitarians there WERE NO women of high standing in that day – no women that people would listen to and be influenced by, since they were no better than cattle in the eyes of society.
Yet, here we see them as not only included in the list of those the Jews tried to stir up against Paul and Barnabus – they were the FIRST they targeted to stir up persecution by the Jews. A very interesting choice indeed!
“(51) So after they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, they went to Iconium. (52) And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Yet another teaching of Jesus, still practiced by His followers under the New Covenant. This teaches us a few things.
Jesus’ words were 100% pertinent to New Covenant believers. His words were not “Old Covenant” they were “kingdom”!
Paul and Barnabus did not waste their time with the hard hearted, but shook off the dust of the feet against them and pursued the Gentiles whose hearts were welcoming the Good News of the gospel. As I have told you many times, we do ourselves, the Lord, the Gospel and our partner in ministry the Holy Spirit a severe disservice when we doggedly pursue those lost individuals who are determined to stay lost. You should shake off the dust and keep walking… after all, the time is too short to waste the time on the belligerent and unrepentant.