ďSometimes Itís Just Nice To Be A GuestĒ
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
††††††††† Today we join with Reformed churches all over the world in celebrating Reformation Sunday as we remember the event, which not only changed the church, but also changed how the church thinks about who God is and what God is doing.
††††††††† In some respects, it is difficult for the average church member to fully grasp the enormity of what took place in Wittenburg nearly 500 years ago, and the impact it had on our way of thinking about God.† Much has happened over the last 500 years to the church both on the Catholic side of the aisle and the Reformed side of the aisle.† The Protestant church has divided numerous times into multiple denominations with differing beliefs and theologies all seeking a new way of being, doing, and thinking as they are lead by the Spirit.† Even the Catholic Church has changed a great deal over the last 500 years seeking to more closely align itself with the Biblical witness, but not as far as claiming that Luther was right.
††††††††† So today, as we look back and remember the Reformation, I want to take some time to reflect with you upon one of our Reformed tenets that developed out of the Reformation, a Reformed tenet that for some, like me, brings with it an enormous sense of joy, relief, and freedom, but for many, many others it brings a sense of trepidation and anxiety.† What is this one Reformed tenet that has become the third rail in theology that no one likes to talk about?† What is this one Reformed tenet that is not spoken about much and is most of the time avoided like a person with chicken pox?† This one Reformed tenet is the doctrine of Predestination Ė the theological belief taken from the Biblical witness, which says that God has chosen or elected, before the foundations of the world, those whom God saves.† Now before you go screaming out the door, let me set the record straight about this troublesome belief by first talking about what predestination is not.†††
††††††††† Predestination is not the belief that every good thing or every bad thing that happens to us and in the world is predetermined by God, and therefore we should just accept everything that happens as the foreordained will of God.† Certainly, we as Christians try to understand all the events, whether small or big, that happens in our lives and in the world in light of Godís loving and just rule over Godís good creation.† But this is not predestination - this is providence.† Predestination is not an attempt to explain all the ways in which God is related to everything that happens.† Predestination is specifically about the question of salvation.† It is not about us at all, it is solely about God Ė that God and God alone is the one who saves.
††††††††† The concept
of predestination comes from scripture, but the doctrine of predestination was
††††††††† The first is called double-predestination.† In this view, some are elected for salvation and everyone else is elected not to be saved.† Some are in and others are out.† Calvin defended this view and it is strongly affirmed in the Westminster Confession.† Double-predestination affirms the sovereignty of God, that Godís love is not earned or deserved, but freely given, that God is loving but just, and that salvation comes from God alone.† However, the whole Biblical witness reminds us that Godís justice can never be separated from Godís love, that Godís plan of salvation is for the whole world, and that there is no scripture which says that there is a divine, eternal decree by which from the beginning to the end some people are rejected.†
We may look at some people and conclude that they are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ, but it would be an arrogant presumption to conclude that Godís choosing or rejecting them corresponds to the differences we see in people.† The God we know in Jesus Christ is a living and active God who desires all people to be free, who even now is at work in the world and in individual lives to bring people into right relationship with Him, who demands and makes possible real human decisions, and who brings new things to pass.†
In the end, double predestination turns the good news of Jesus Christ into bad news Ė at least for some.† God loves you Ė maybe.† Christ died for you Ė maybe.† You may believe and have newness of life now and forever Ė if you are one of the elect.† It would be a terrible tragedy if some people were rejected from the beginning, doomed, and lost forever even if they didnít want to be, which is why double predestination is neither the Biblical nor the Christian answer to predestination.
The second view is universalism, which says that everyone is saved, that God is gracious and loving to everyone, chooses all people, and rejects none.† Everyone is included and no one is excluded.† Universalism also defends the sovereignty of God and maybe even more so than double predestination, since Godís power to save is stronger than the power of sin and unbelief.† How could God be sovereign if in the end anyone is lost?† Universalism also emphasizes the biblical and Reformation insistence on salvation by grace alone, that no one can be saved by works, and that Godís love is freely given to all people.
However, if double predestination has trouble with Godís love, universalism has trouble with Godís justice.† With double predestination, God looks too much like an arbitrary tyrant, and with universalism God looks too much like a sentimental grand-parent.† Itís not good news to say that God loves you Ė maybe, but neither is it good news to say that God will bless you anyway regardless what you do.
God wants a two-way relationship with us.† God speaks to us and wants an answer from us.† God loves us and wants us to love in return.† God commands and wants our thankful obedience.† We must never forget the biblical witness which warns us that our own rebellion against God and our indifference to other people do have eternal consequences.† The Gospels are full of just such examples of biblical warnings; warnings not to those who are on the outside, but to those on the inside, who claim to know and believe in God.
In the end, universalism turns Godís love into Godís indifference, and it turns the good news of the Gospel into a divine edict that says you will love God whether you want to or not, that you will be in a relationship with God whether you want to or not, that you will love and serve others whether you want to or not.† This, too, is neither the Biblical nor the Christian answer to predestination.†
††††††††† The third view is called Pelagianism because it was first developed by a British monk named Pelagius, who spoke out against Augustinesí double-predestination.† Pelagianism says that Godís election depends on whether or not we choose or reject God.† Extreme Pelagians do not believe in the grace of God, but in the belief that we are saved by our works.† Keep in mind that both Reformation Protestantism and Roman Catholicism reject this belief.† However, there is a milder form of Pelagianism that has become the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and is highly believed by many people in the Protestant church as well, including devote Presbyterians.†
Semi-Pelagianism says that we are unworthy, undeserving sinners, who fall short of Godís glory, and who are in dependent upon the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.† We are not free to save ourselves, but we are free to ask God for the faith that saves.† We are free to receive the grace God offers to us.† We are free to turn ourselves toward God and ask for Godís reconciling love.† Semi-pelagiansim certainly emphasizes the importance of faith, the saving power of God to all who ask, and the hope that salvation is for all people.†
However, semi-pelagianism also believes in self-salvation, because everything depends upon us, not on what God does, but on what we do.† God cannot be the powerful, saving, reconciling God unless we ask God to be.† Jesus is not our Lord and Savior unless we want him to be our Lord and Savior.† Unless we make the first move, God cannot and will do nothing.† We cannot be saved until we want to be saved.†
††††††††† In the end, even semi-pelagianism ignores the biblical witness, which says that we are not free, that we are not free to either love God or love one another, that it is God who frees us for God, for others, and for the world.† What kind of loving parent would God be if God said, ďI will love you, if you love me first.† I will save you, if you prove that you really want it, if your faith is good enough.Ē† What kind of loving and just God would there be if God was dependent upon our acceptance, permission, and support before our salvation became real and effective?† Semi-pelagianism is neither the Biblical nor the Christian answer to predestination either.
††††††††† Okay, now that you have patiently sat through my summation of 500 years of Christian theology on predestination, it is time for the big payoff as I share with you my understanding of and belief in predestination.
††††††††† My friends, there are many things in this world we need to be concerned about.† We need to be concerned about our own sinfulness, about the things that we do and the things that we leave undone.† We need to be concerned about how we treat other people, about our alienation with other people, and about how we serve or not serve Christ and others.† We need to be concerned about our own faithfulness and whether or not we are producing fruit for Godís kingdom and whether or not we are living in true faith and obedience to Godís word.† We also need to be concerned about our own calling as Godís chosen people, whether or not we are living up to Godís calling for us, whether or not we are answering Godís call through the giving of ourselves, our time, our talents, and even our money back to God.†† But the one thing we do not need to be concerned about is our salvation, because our salvation is a done deal, because salvation is not about us Ė salvation is about God.†
From the beginning, God chose a people to be Godís people, a people who are elected not just as a privilege or for prestige but to be instruments of Godís loving justice and just love in the world.† We have been elected, chosen, and predestined as Godís people for loving service and faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.† It is Jesus Christ who is for us the chosen one of God, and who is the reason and the assurance of our salvation.† We cannot look for salvation in ourselves, because it belongs to Jesus Christ.† It is in Jesus Christ that we have been made free Ė free to love God, because God first loved us; free to love one another, because God has reconciled us; free to be the people of God as God has predestined and called us to be, because that is Godís promise to us and for us in Godís Word.† One of my favorite sayings is this, ďitís not predestination or human freedom, it is predestination, therefore human freedom.Ē
††††††††† Do we need to take seriously the things we should be concerned about?† Absolutely, yes!† They are the fruits of our salvation, the visible signs that we are truly living as saved people, the faithful and obedient response to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.† But we do not need to continue to worry about whether or not we are in or out, whether or not we are one of the elect or one of the rejected.† We do not need to live our lives of faith under the anxiety and pressure of worrying about whether or not we are good enough or faithful enough, whether or not we are going to be a sheep or a goat on the last day.† If our only concern is about ourselves, we will never be able to be free to do the things God has called us to do, or be the people God has called us to be.
††††††††† What is predestination to me?† It is like the difference between being a host and a guest.† All of us, at one time or another, have been a host, whether for a dinner party, birthday party, or having someone stay over night at in our home.† And we all know what it is like to be a host.† We worry about the food we are going to have, and whether or not it will be good enough.† We worry about whether or not people will be made to feel welcome.† We worry whether or not we will have enough room for people who sleep over, or if they will be comfortable.† We worry about who is going to sit where at the dinner table, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.† And we worry about whether or not our house is clean enough for our guests.† Many times we worry so much about whether or not people are having a good time, that we forget to have a good time ourselves.† I bet there isnít a person in this sanctuary, who after their company leaves, doesnít sit down and say, ďWhew!Ē†
††††††††† This is why sometimes it is nice just to be a guest, because we donít have to go through all the preparation.† We donít have to worry about having a good time.† We can just enjoy the company of our host and the fruits of their loving and caring work.† Predestination is just like this.†
††††††††† With predestination, we do not have to worry about being invited or not, because we are already there in the household of God.† We donít have to worry about whether or not the food will be good, because God has already feed us the bread of life and cup of salvation.† We donít have to worry about where we are going to lay our head, because God has already given us rest for our souls in Jesus Christ.† We donít have to worry about being welcomed, because we have already been called children of God.† We donít have to worry about whether or not we will have a place at the table, because Jesus has already prepared a place for us at his table.† All we have to do is enjoy Godís company, and the fruit of Godís loving and caring work in our lives.†
††††††††† Does this mean that as a guest we donít have to be polite, nice, respectful, or thankful?† Does this mean that we can do anything we want, act anyway we want to, or have a total disregard for the rules of the household?† Of course not.† They are part of what it means to be a guest.†
But we can also be glad and rejoice that the one in whose house we have been invited in, and in whose kingdom we have been included in, is a loving and gracious host; a host who lovingly and justly rebukes and corrects us, a host who willingly teaches us the right way to live, a host who faithfully loves us unconditionally, and a host who powerfully gives us the freedom and the ability to give our love, faith, hope, and gratitude in return.†
††††††††† My friends, predestination is not scary news for us, it is glorious good news for us, because it truly is joyful, comforting, reassuring, and ever so nice to be a guest in the kingdom of the God who saves by grace alone.† Amen.