Chosen, Not to Be Frozen, But …
A Sermon Preached on the Occasion of the Eighth Founding Anniversary of the Reformed Christian Life Church in Maragondon, Cavite, Philippines
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Readings: Deuteronomy 7:6-11; John 15:12-19 (text); Ephesians 1:3-14
December 11, 2011
Have you ever heard of the song, â€œI Have Decided to Follow Jesusâ€? I am sure that those of you who grew up in evangelical churches in the 1960s remember this song:
I have decided to follow Jesus (3X)
No turning back, no turning back.
This popular revival song has its origin from a story of a Christian convert in a village in Assam, northeast India in the 19th century. The story is told of how he and his family were persecuted by the Hindus, and before he was martyred, he declared, â€œI have decided to follow Jesus. Though no one joins me, still I will follow.â€ His faithfulness to Christ unto death led to the conversion of many in his village.
Since your church is Reformed, you should learn the Calvinist version of this song:
I have decided to follow Jesus (3X)
I had no choice! I had no choice!
This version has a ring of truth in it: our decision to follow Jesus did not from ourselves. But these words may also imply that a person may be dragged into faith in Jesus by God, kicking and screaming against his will, a common misconception among many about Reformed doctrine.
Reformed, Calvinistic believers are known for their unwavering belief in election, known also as predestination. We affirm Paul’s declaration, â€œ[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the worldâ€ (Eph 1:4). Our text tells us that Jesus himself said to his disciples, â€œYou did not choose me, but I chose youâ€ (John 15:16).
As you commemorate your church’s 8th anniversary, remember how God was sovereign over your church’s pilgrimage from Pentecostalism to Reformed Christianity. In December 2000, Pastor Bernie and Pastor Arnold started this church, but to register the name of the church, the word â€œReformedâ€ had to be added to the name, hence: â€œReformed Christian Life Church.â€ Did theyâ€”and any of youâ€”know that the word â€œReformedâ€will become, not just a label, but a reality in your church?
But this turn of events were known to our Sovereign God before time began, as Isaiah 46:10 says, â€œ[God declares] the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.â€ It was only four years ago that Pastor Bernie learned about Reformed Christianity, but how your church has matured spiritually in this newfound faith!
But it is disturbing that Reformed churches are labeled by other Christians as the â€œfrozen chosen.â€ Yes, all true believers are chosen by God, but do we deserve to be called the â€œfrozen chosenâ€? We must ask ourselves: Do we talk and behave in ways that give rise to the â€frozen chosenâ€ idea? Sadly, we who are Reformed are sometimes too complacent about our salvation, so we fall into temptation because we have assurance of eternal life. We slip into apathy and coldness towards the unsaved because we know that God will save them by any means he has ordained. Our Reformed worship turns into too much reverence, but not much joy and gladness. We even become proud because of our knowledge; after all, the best theologians and the most doctrinally-savvy churches belong to the Reformed camp.
In short, we sometimes deserve the â€œfrozen chosenâ€ label. But our text tells us that one of God’s purposes in election is â€œthat you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.â€ Jesus spoke these words to his disciples to move them into action, â€œyou should go,â€ the Great Commission. Did you know that in the history of the church, most of the missionary pioneers and great preachers were staunch Calvinist believers? God used them in many amazing ways to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world.
During the Reformation, the Reformed faith quickly spread from Martin Luther’s Germany to all of Europe through Reformed pastors and teachers. John Calvin’s church in Geneva sent missionaries to Brazil, and the first Protestant missionaries to Indonesia were from the Dutch Reformed church. The first successful mission to American Indians was accomplished by John Eliot in the 17th century and later by David Brainerd. In the 18th century, William Carey established the first Protestant mission in India, and in the 19th century, David Livingstone gave his life to African missions. All of these pioneers were confident that God has chosen people wherever they went. Great preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon were Calvinists as well.
So historically speaking, Reformed Christians are not the â€œfrozen chosen.â€ Thus, you should live by the reputation of Reformed believers as zealous for the gospel of Christ. They were on fire, not icy, because of Christ’s commands to his chosen ones. What are these commands? First, go and bear fruit and remain fruitful. Second, pray to the Father in faith. Third, love one another. And last, be hated by the world.
To Bear Fruit
Our text is part of Jesus’s allegory of the vine and the branches. In the Old Testament, the vineyard or vine is frequently used to represent God’s covenant people Israel (Isa 5:1-7; 27:2-6). Israel is pictured as a vineyard planted and cared for by God, but it only bore bad fruit, resulting in God’s judgment. The vineyard was cut down and destroyed.
In contrast, Jesus tells us his disciples that he is â€œthe true vine,â€ and those who are true disciples are the branches who bear much fruit. Those who are not genuine believers do not produce fruits so they are cut down and thrown away into a heap to be burned. This a picture of the visible church, to which belong both believers and unbelievers alike. The parallels between Israel and the church are obvious: there are true branches that are fruitful, and false branches that are fruitless.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are true branches only because he first chose them to be his own, â€œYou did not choose me, but I chose you.â€ The Greek verb used for â€œchooseâ€ means to choose or pick out from a group. It is the same word used in Ephesians 1:4, where Paul declares that God â€œchose us in him before the foundation of the world.â€ Next to Romans 9, Ephesians 1:3-14 is probably the greatest passage expounding on predestination. In this one long sentence in Greek, Paul answers many of our questions about election. Who made the choice? God the Father. Who were chosen? Some people out of the whole fallen human race. When was the choice made? Before the creation of the world, in eternity past. These are the easy questions.
The question, What is the basis of his choice? is more complicated and controversial. Although Paul kept repeating the answer, beginning with verse 3, that this election is based only â€œaccording to the purpose of his will,â€ many Christians claim that man participates in this election. But Paul repeats this phrase about God’s complete sovereignty in election several times in this one long sentence. God’s choice is â€œto the praise of his glorious graceâ€ (verse 6); â€œaccording to the riches of his graceâ€ (verse 7); â€œaccording to his purposeâ€ (verse 9); â€œaccording to the purpose of him… according to the counsel of his willâ€ (verse 11); and â€œto the praise of his gloryâ€ (12, 14). The Father’s sovereign grace in salvation is one of the great themes of this doxology. The basis of his choice is not dependent on anything outside of God, but entirelyâ€”100.00 percentâ€”on his own gracious purpose and will.
Where does the human decision come in? Did Paul mention our own â€œfree willâ€anywhere in the text? The only mention of man in this text is in the benefits acquired by the elect: adoption as children, redemption and forgiveness through Christ’s blood, a heavenly inheritance, and the seal of this inheritance by the Holy Spirit. All of these blessings are given to those who are â€œin Christ,â€ another great theme in this passage. The phrases â€œin Christ, â€œin him,â€or â€œin the Belovedâ€ are found in ten times in verses 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. This means that there can be no election without Christ coming down to earth to die on the cross, to be raised from the grave, and to ascend back into heaven.
Some Christians react when they hear of election for the first time, â€œHow do I know if I’m elect?â€ Jesus gives the plain answer: anyone who is â€œin Christ,â€ united to the True Vine, and therefore one of the elect, bears much fruit. Paul says that we are chosen not be â€œfrozenâ€ into fruitlessness, but to be â€œholy and blamelessâ€ (Eph 1:4). Those who are chosen in Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and will produce the good fruits of the Spirit.
So the argument that the doctrine of unconditional election encourages licentiousness falls flat against the evidence of fruitbearing of the elect. Since the elect are indwelt by the Spirit, they are enabled to persevere in this life through temptations, sufferings and persecutions. Because the Spirit preserves us, we persevere in remaining connected to Christ the True Vine. This is why Jesus tells us in verse 10, â€œIf you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.â€ Like sheep, we can do nothing without our Shepherd. In John 10:3-4, Jesus says â€œthe sheep hear his voice, and… follow him, for they know his voice.â€ Those who are his own know his commandments and they obey, and are kept safe in the sheepfold from devouring wolves. Our Great Shepherd even laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-15).
To Pray to the Father in Faith
Those branches who continue to remain connected to the True Vine not only bear much fruit. Jesus also promises that he will hear and answer their prayers. In verse 7, he says, â€œIf you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.â€ Does this mean that we could ask for riches, a big house, a nice car, or a nice iPhone, and God will gladly hand them to us? What about winning the lotto or a game? Many athletes have the strange idea that they win their games or fights because they prayed to God to give them victory, as if they are more deserving than the other competitors. What about healing from disease, even terminal cancer? Sometimes believers think of Jesus as a divine butler, ready at their beck and call to give them all the desires of their hearts.
â€œWhatever you wish,â€ or â€œWhatever you askâ€ or â€œAsk, and it will be given to youâ€ are qualified by several things. First, Jesus says we are to petition God â€œin my nameâ€ (John 14:13). Why do we pray in Jesus’s name? In the Great Commission, Jesus prefaced his command to go and preach the gospel by saying that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him by his Father. Thus, he is able to grant us our requests because of this authority. Invoking his name in prayer also means that we acknowledge all the good things gifts that Jesus promises to send our way, especially his abundant and steadfast love, grace, mercy and peace.
Second, â€œif we ask according to his will he hears usâ€ (1Jo 5:14). This does not mean that we have to discern God’s will for us before we pray. If this is the case, then we will never be able to pray, because there are many things of God that are hidden from us (Deut 29:29). We can definitely pray in accordance with what God has revealed to us in his Word, such as the salvation of our loved ones. But when it comes to his secret will, our prayers must be patterned after Jesus’s own prayers: â€œThy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,â€ and â€œnot my will, but your will be done.â€ Praying â€œYour will be doneâ€ means that you are praying in faith that God is able to fulfill his promises (Matt 21:22).
For example, we are to pray that God’s will be done in choosing a husband or wife, or for a job so we can feed our families. These prayers are pleasing to God, because it is praying in submission to God, such as when Jesus prayed in the garden before his death. But if you pray for the salvation of the man you love so you can marry him, it is not God’s will you are praying for, but for your own sinful desire, so God will not listen (Psa 66:18). So when your prayers are answered because they are according to God’s will, you rejoice and thank God for his grace and mercy.
How is this related to election? If God has already ordained from eternity everything that will come to pass, why even pray? The reasons are many, so a brief summary of a few will suffice to answer this very common question.
We pray because we do not know the mind of God: we don’t know who is and who isn’t elect, who we are to marry, what job or career he has in store for us, who’s going to be president, or why someone died so young. But God commands us to pray persistently and without ceasing that his will be done. As well, he uses us as instruments to accomplish his purposes, many of which are unknown to us. This is why Christians often say, â€œPrayer changes things.â€ For example, from our limited view, we see someone healed after praying day and night. This does not mean that God changed his mind and decided to heal the person; only that God has ordained so, in order that his name might be glorified.
Finally, prayer keeps us dependent on God, and on each other in the church. Praying for one another is one way of showing our love for one another.
To Love One Another
God chose us before the foundation of the world not to make us cold and callous toward our brethren or other neighbors, but in order that we may love one another (vv 12-17). This is a reiteration of his â€œlove commandmentâ€ in John 13:34, â€œA new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.â€
Loving one another or loving your neighbor is not really a â€œnew commandment.â€ It is the deepening of the Old Testament commandment (Lev 19:18): we are to love not only our brethren, but also our enemies, â€œYou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge.â€ More than that, we are to pray for them! (Matt 5:44) Loving our neighbor must go beyond loving them as much as ourselves. Jesus’s commandÂment is that we love our neighbor as much as he loved us.
But how much does Jesus love his disciples? Verse 13 must have been a shock to them, â€œGreater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.â€ Jesus’s standard for loving our friends is his own sacrifice for them on the cross. In fact, while his friends were still his enemies, he gave his life for them, â€œGod shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for usâ€ (Rom 5:8).
This is mind-blowing: Christ loved us when we were still his enemies. After he loved us and saved us from our sins, he now calls us his friends. Not enemies, not servants, but friends. Do you deserve this love because you are good people, or wise or strong or beautiful? No, no one deserves God’s love, not even Israel, as God repeated his reasons why he chose Israel, â€œIt was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves youâ€ (Deut 7:6-8). God also chose us not because we deserve his love, but because he loved us and had mercy on us. So Paul can say, â€œIn love, he predestined usâ€ (Eph 1:4-5), and his choice â€œdepends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercyâ€ (Rom 9:16). Election is based on God’s gracious and merciful will alone.
Therefore, are you going to be proud and complacent because you were chosen by God? Two things should happen to you because you are elect. First, you are to be forever thankful to him, unable to fathom how deep his love is for wretched sinners. In meditating on these things, Paul couldn’t help but exclaim in doxological praise, â€œOh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!â€ (Rom 11:33).
Second, John says that loving our brethren is evidence of our election, â€œWe know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothersâ€ (1Jo 3:14). Our love for our brothers must be a reflection of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. Since he â€œlaid down his life for us… we ought to lay down our lives for the brothersâ€ (1Jo 3:16).
To Be Hated by the World
Often, we see that the intensity with which we believers love one another does not match the intensity with which the unbelieving world hate us. Because we are loved and chosen by God, Jesus has a warning for us: â€œyou are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates youâ€ (v 19). We are not to be surprised in any way that the world hates, ridicules and persecutes Christians (1Jo 3:13).
Since war between the godly seed of the woman and rebellious seed of Satan began in the garden of Eden, the world has never ceased hating believers. This is because the world follows Satan and the devil hates Christ. Do you notice how the unbelieving world is more and more anti-Christian? Movies, TV, magazines and newspapers are filled with immoral and violent shows. Homosexual lifestyle is acceptable, so is same-sex marriage. In fact, more and more churches are ordaining gays. And if you do not join the world in the pursuit of worldly pleasures and desires, you are labeled a killjoy and old-fashioned.Â This is why the apostles also warn us that friendship with the world is enmity with God (Rom 12:2; Jas 4:4; 1Pet 1:14; 1Jo 2:15-16).
Being faithful to the Word of God is also more and more difficult because of the abundance of false teachers and false gospelsâ€”health and wealth and liberalism. More than this, evangelicals hate Reformed doctrine, worship and practice, and love the pragmatism, universalism and pluralism of megachurches. This is why truly Reformed churches like yours are very small and few compared with all other evangelical churches. Today, faithful believers have a difficult time finding biblically-faithful churches and frequently have to travel a long way to find one.
This spiritual warfare between Christ and the devil will never end until Christ returns from heaven and destroys all evil, including Satan and his fallen angels. Meanwhile, we are to always be ready to face the trials of life, â€œDo not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to youâ€ (1Pet 4:12), because â€œin the world, you will have tribulationâ€ (John 16:33). On account of your faith in Christ, remember his words, â€œBlessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my accountâ€ (Matt 5:11). The world’s standard of success is diametrically opposed to that of true Christians. When the world sees your suffering, they conclude that you’re unlucky or that you have bad karma. But Jesus says when you suffer because of him, you are blessed!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are you a â€œfrozen chosenâ€? Our Lord Jesus Christ says that there is no such thing, because he has chosen you and ordained you to bear much fruit. Instead, you are to be a â€œbrazen chosen,â€ which means you are to be bold, zealous and fiery in bearing good fruit for Christ.
You are to pray persistently and without ceasing according to your Father’s will. Pray for your church, for your brothers and sisters so they may mature in their calling and election. Pray that many will be saved and added to your number. Pray for your pastors, elders and deacons, that they may continue to preach the gospel boldly and faithfully to the congregation and to the community. Pray for the universal church, especially those who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ.
Love one another, as Christ loved you and laid down his life for you. Love your enemies and pray for them, for Christ died for you while you were still his enemies. This is evidence of your election.
Rejoice in your trials, tribulations and persecutions, because the world will continue to hate you as they hate God and Christ. They persecute you because they know that you were chosen by God for eternal life. Rejoice and be glad, because when Jesus returns, your reward in heaven will be great.