Joy–No Charge Can Be Brought Against God’s Elect: a Reflection on Matthew 13:31-52 and R
Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, has committed her life to building bridges between races in order to foster racial reconciliation. To build racially diverse communities of any kind, particularly faith communities, is not easy, for it requires helping people “move out of old patterns” and empowering others “to deal honestly with the need for healthy systems where issues of trust” can be addressed. Telling stories, while writing a new story, is essential for building authentic Christian communities. McNeil writes, “Sharing stories is a central skill in community building…The ability to self-disclose and listen empathetically is…essential.” Each of us can disclose examples of the highs and lows of life with their accompanying exhilarations and debilitations. When we tell our stories, we can help one another understand better who we are. All humans are members of the same family regardless of race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, because all of us are created in the imago Dei, the image of God. Discrimination is divisive. Reconciliation is God’s desire. And nothing, that is, nothing can separate those who love God from the love of God.
In the story of Romans 8:26-39, Paul argues that the doctrine of election, which teaches that God chooses first, is the assurance that those who name the name of Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord have, that God is faithful to God’s promises; all things work together for good for those who love God. Blair Alison Pogue writes, “The fact that God gave his Son as a love offering on our behalf means that he will do anything, give anything, to ensure our spiritual flourishing.” Garrison Keillor recalls the childhood pain of being chosen last for the baseball teams:
The captains are down to their last grudging choices: a slow kid for catcher, someone to stick out in right field where nobody hits it. They choose the last ones two at a time— “you and you”—because it makes no difference. And the remaining kids—the scrubs, the excess—they deal for us as handicaps. “If I take him, then you gotta take him,” they say. Sometimes I go as high as sixth, usually lower. But just once I’d like Darrel to pick me first and say, “Him! I want him! The skinny kid with the glasses and the black shoes. You, c’mon!” But I’ve never been chosen with much enthusiasm.
I was always picked last. And I never really knew why. I wasn’t the best athlete, speller, speed reader, or the most popular, but I wasn’t the worst either. Even when I thought my qualifications were better than a fellow classmate’s, I was never good enough to be chosen first. So much for merit. With that being the case, wrap your mind around this. We are so valuable to God that God chose us first. You were chosen before the creation of the world to know God and to be holy and blameless in God’s sight.
The doctrine of election teaches that God is the one who chooses the team. God chooses, we respond. Wayne Grudem provides the following definition of election: “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” God chose first. And God’s choice is not based on merit. If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you responded to God’s electing choice for you to believe. God chooses. We respond.
The Bible is clear on the doctrine of election. God chose Abraham to be a blessing to all nations. Why Abraham? Rest assured. God’s choice was not based on merit. Abraham responded. The Lord told Rebekah that she would bear two sons, each representing a nation. The Lord would make one stronger than the other and the older would serve the younger. God chose Jacob not Esau. Why Jacob? Rest assured. God’s choice was not based on merit. Rebekah responded. God, the Most High, gave the nations their inheritance. God divided all of humankind with boundaries. Of all humankind, the Lord’s portion was Jacob’s people. Why Jacob’s people? Rest assured. God’s choice was not based on merit. Jacob responded. The Lord God Almighty saved only a remnant of Israel. Why only a remnant? Rest assured. God’s choice was not based on merit. The remnant responded. The reading in Matthew indicates that God plants the seed and is the treasure and pearl. It is God who gives us the desire to nurture the seed, and pursue the treasure and pearl. We respond. And the reading in Romans reminds us that God has run the marathon of life for us. God has made it to the end of the race and won. God gives us the desire to run the marathon. We run and are at some mile point in the race. We will make it to the end. God chose it to be so. We respond.
The promise is that all things work together for those who love God. Restated, for those who love God, all things co-operate for good. In other words, Paul is emphatic when he writes, “We know that all things work together for good.” The Greek word oida means not only intellectual knowledge, but affective knowledge as well. This is knowledge of the head and heart. Paul’s confidence is wholistic, for he knows the doctrine of God’s sovereignty both cognitively and experientially. Paul was persecuted for his faith and experienced joy in his faith. Paul knew that all things, good and evil, worked for good in his life.
God works all things for good for those who love God. Because of God’s mercy, good is a means to good. Evil is a means to good. God’s electing choice is all about grace. The choice, God’s electing choice, guarantees the promise that all things work together for good for those who love God. God elected humanity to be heirs with Jesus Christ of eternal life. Answering God’s inward call, by responding in faith, is all we can do. God chose first. We respond to God’s choosing. Calvin writes,
It is also a fact, without controversy that Christ came to atone for the sins “of the whole world.” But the solution of all difficulty is immediately at hand, in the truth and fact that it is ‘whosoever believeth in Him’ that ‘shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.’ For our present question is not what the power of Christ is, not what efficacy it has, but who those are to whom He gives Himself to be enjoyed. Now if the possession of Christ stands in faith, and if faith flows from the Spirit of adoption, it follows that he alone is numbered of God among His children who is designed of God to be a partaker of Christ.
The sooner we can be reconciled to the biblical teaching of election, the healthier we will be in our Christian walk. Brenda Salter McNeil writes, “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.” The gift of reconciliation is the Christian’s mission.
God’s eternal election should free us to share our faith openly. For living Christianly is not about us, but God. Only when someone sees and or hears the good news of the gospel is the opportunity available for that individual to respond to God’s choice of them. The doctrine of election reminds us that God chooses and we respond.
Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 32.
Blair Alison Pogue in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 283.
Robert Russell, The Southeast Christian Church Outlook (6-8-00), Louisville, Kentucky.
Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 282.
John Calvin, “The Eternal Predestination of God,” in Calvin’s Calvinism translated by Henry Cole (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), 165-166.
Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation, 22.