Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise. Remember how it was put: “Your family will be defined by Isaac”? That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-determined by promise. Remember that promise, “When I come back next year at this time, Sarah will have a son”?
And that’s not the only time. To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics. When she became pregnant by our one-of-a-kind ancestor, Isaac, and her babies were still innocent in the womb—incapable of good or bad—she received a special assurance from God. What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don’t do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing steadily from his initiative. God told Rebecca, “The firstborn of your twins will take second place.” Later that was turned into a stark epigram: “I loved Jacob; I hated Esau.” (MSG)
I want to break this to you as gently as possible yet as straightforward as I can: My friend, neither you nor I are in control! Any semblance of control we think we have is merely a delusion. Now, before you push back its important to make the distinction between control and responsibility. We are to own our decisions and take responsibility for their outcome. The Bible describes this as “self-control.”
God’s saving kindness has appeared for the benefit of all people. It trains us to avoid ungodly lives filled with worldly desires so that we can live self-controlled, moral, and godly lives in this present world. (Titus 2:11-12, GW)
Attempting to control others is not our job – never was, isn’t now, and never will be – that’s God’s business. God makes his choices. This was the Apostle Paul’s point to the church at Rome. The congregation was a volatile mix of both Jew and Gentile. There was some bad history between them that stretched back centuries. Yet, here they were together in one church worshiping Jesus.
Paul made a responsible choice to step into the mess between them and let each group know something important: It is neither their choice about who’s in and who’s out as God’s people, nor their choice about how someone gets in to start with. Again, this is God’s choice.
The Jews needed to know that Gentiles are in the kingdom because God does his work of choosing, calling, and including Gentiles just as much as Jews. The Gentiles needed to know that they were not replacing Jews as chosen people. The point? God chooses whomever he darn well pleases to choose, and the choice is not up to you or me.
This speaks on so many levels about how to conduct ourselves with one another in the church. The foundation of all good church dynamics is the recognition that God is the one who calls and gathers people together in the church. This always needs to be the starting point in our relations with each other. The church is not a random collection of persons who happen to be in the same place at the same time. God puts us where we are.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)
The Church is a covenant community. Believers in Jesus are receiving the blessings first promised by God’s covenant relationship with Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith. God has graciously committed himself to acting on their behalf through election, adoption, and redemption. The new covenant community, the Church, receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things. The Church is not a voluntary society, like every other human institution. Rather, it is the divinely called community of the redeemed whom God has joined through his Spirit to Christ. Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.
The Nicene Creed describes the Church with four identifying marks:
- The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from God’s covenant people being in fellowship with him through Jesus in the Spirit. This unity is expressed through the bond of love and a common worship that includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments. Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
- The Church is The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work. Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth. As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do. Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
- The Church is This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together. The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
- The Church is Apostolic means “to be sent.” The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who are in darkness. Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that the gospel is spread to all nations.
Sovereign God, you choose whomever you want to include in your kingdom. Allow me to see Jesus in each person you call and save so that I can love and encourage them in the faith which is mutually and graciously given to us all; through Christ our Lord, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Amen.