Some of the most confusing and often controversial parts of the Bible are in the New Testament where Paul talks about Christians being chosen by God. Why does God apparently choose some and not others? Who exactly is chosen? Do we have any choice in the matter? What about those who aren’t chosen? Is God fair?
These are certainly very difficult questions, but for me this issue highlights how vital it is to understand that the Bible is missional at its core, and that we must read it with this in mind. Chris Wright, in his excellent The Mission of God’s People says
Election [ie the choosing] of one is not rejection of the rest, but ultimately for their benefit. It is as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of their number to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is not so that she alone gets saved, but that she is able to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued. “Election” in such a case is an instrumental choice of one for the sake of many.
In the same way, God’s election of Israel is instrumental in God’s mission for all nations. Election needs to be seen as a doctrine of mission, not a calculus for the arithmetic of salvation. If we are to speak of being chosen, of being among God’s elect, it is to say that, like Abraham, we are chosen for the sake of God’s plan that the nations of the world come to enjoy the blessing of Abraham (which is exactly how Paul describes the effect of God’s redemption of Israel through Christ in Galatians 3:14).
Wright, C. The Mission of God’s People, 2010, p72.
This illustrates for me the vital importance of reading the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, missionally, and of seeing the church as an essentially missional community. We need to understand how and why God chose Israel in the Old Testament in order to understand how Paul relates the calling of the church, both Jews and Gentiles, to that of Israel. If we misunderstand this we may think of God as making arbitrary choices about the eternal destiny of his creatures. We might thank God that we happened to be chosen (not through anything we have done) and either pity or look down on those who weren’t chosen.
But the message of the Bible is that God is reaching out to all nations through his chosen people. In the Old Testament Israel was chosen to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12) and to be God’s priests among the nations (Exodus 19), being God’s witnesses in the world. Eventually Jesus, as the ultimate chosen one of God, was both a priest and a king, but far from sitting in the palace or the temple enjoying his status he gave it all up in order to fulfill God’s mission to the nations. In the New Testament the church (including many Gentiles) had the privilege of joining in with this mission, receiving incredible spiritual blessings and the privilege of having a central part in God’s reaching out to the whole world.
Today I think those who are chosen by God to receive his blessings through Jesus’ death and resurrection must also understand this privilege in the same missional way – their role is not to give thanks that they were “the lucky ones” who were saved, but to humbly and gratefully live up to the calling God has given them as an instrumental part in his plan to bring all nations to himself.
What do you think?