December 13, 2016
Through Old Testament Eyes 4: Who Are the Chosen Ones?
Election is controversial. Of course, I'm talking about the Christian doctrine, not any recent political events.
For five hundred years Protestants have gone back and forth on the topic of predestination and all its implications. The effect for sensitive souls, however, can be to worry and wonder, "Am I one of the elect? Am I one of the chosen, or will I somehow fall outside the bounds of grace?"
Something that could set many hearts at ease in all these discussions is what the Old Testament tell us. Yet many Christians ignore what three-quarters of the Bible has to say. This is unfortunate because the Old Testament understanding was the starting point for the New Testament writers. They weren't particularly thinking in terms of sixteenth-century theological debates.
While we rightly should base our theology on Scripture and take seriously the interpretive traditions of the church, we should also be careful not to impose our twenty-first century perspectives on particular first-century language. Sometimes too many layers of varnish can obscure the grain of the wood instead of protect and enhance it.
In the Old Testament the elect are God's people. In 1 Chronicles 16:13 four phrases are run together which are to be read as synonymous: "You his servants, the descendants of Israel, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob." Who are his chosen ones? God's people.
And what is the purpose for which God's people were chosen? Not to be those who are exclusively saved but quite the opposite. As Christopher Wright points out in The Mission of God (pp. 262-64), they were elected to show God's blessing and make him known to the nations so they also could be received by God (Gen 12:1-3; Ex 9:16; 1 Sam 17:46; 1 Kings 8:41-43, 60-61; Ps 67:1-2; Isa 19:24-25; Jer 4:1-2).
In the Gospels Jesus redefines the nation of Israel around himself. He called twelve disciples, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. Who is part of Jesus's family? Jesus asked and answered this question himself: " 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother' " (Mk 3:34-35).
God's people are not defined by ethnic origin. The new community in Christ is defined by those who delight to sit as the feet of Jesus, who want to be in his presence, who do God's will, who are selected by God for the special purpose of bearing witness to the kingdom in word and deed.
All his disciples are the chosen ones--chosen to make God known.