15 So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.’” (Acts 26:15–16, NKJV)
Saul was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus with authority to seize Christians in the synagogues when Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:1-6, 13-14). Saul will go from being faithless to being faithful, from a persecutor to a preacher, from an antagonist to an apostle. His conversion is a touchstone of God’s mercy, grace, and longsuffering. It serves as “a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him (Christ, JRP) for everlasting life” (1 Tim. 1:12-16). Therefore, it is essential to expose and reject the assumption that Jesus saved Saul on the road to Damascus. That was not the purpose for which Christ appeared to Saul. Jesus plainly stated why He appeared to Saul: to make him “a minister and a witness” of Christ (Acts 26:16; 22:14-15; 9:15). Jesus appeared to Saul to appoint him as an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-11). Saul was a believer after this miraculous event. And he was repentant toward God, as demonstrated by his praying and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). But in Damascus, three days later, his sins still needed to be washed away. Ananias said to Saul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). If Jesus saved Saul on the road, what sins needed washing away? Since Saul still needed cleansing from his sins, it is apparent he was not saved on the road. To follow the pattern of Saul’s conversion includes being baptized to wash away sins (by Christ’s blood, Rom. 6:3). Why are you waiting?
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. 11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. (Psalm 33:10–12, NKJV)
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is often cited as a benediction on behalf of nations today (for example, America). It is true that any nation that honors God will be blessed (Prov. 14:34). But, please note the contextual application of the great declaration of this passage. It sets the plans of the nations in contrast with the plans of Jehovah. The Lord rules over the nations of men, and no counsel prepared and executed by men will ever overthrow His sovereign counsel (Jer. 18:5-11; Dan. 4:25, 34-35). The nations and their rulers vainly plotted against the Lord and His Anointed, Jesus Christ, whom He raised from the dead and crowned at His right hand as Ruler over His people (Psa. 2:1-9; 110:1-2; Acts 2:30-36; 4:23-28). The people God “has chosen as His own inheritance” in today’s passage no doubt initially applied to the nation of Israel (v. 12; Exo. 19:5-6). But now, with Jesus Christ ruling as King of God’s kingdom (the church), “the nation whose God is the Lord” is the church (Matt. 16:18-19; Heb. 12:22-23; Gal. 6:16). The church of Christ is God’s “holy nation,” and therefore, we must honor and obey the Lord’s will to be His blessed people (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Jno. 18:36).
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, 4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. (1 Thessalonians 1:2–4, NKJV)
Paul, Silas, and Timothy expressed thanks to God for the Thessalonian saints. Their memory and knowledge of the brethren generated thanksgiving. As they remembered the saint’s faithful lives, they perceived their election (selection) by God. They were God’s chosen ones. This is not the Calvinist perversion that says God unalterably decreed damnation or life before times immemorial (The Westminster Confession of Faith, III, 3-4). God’s elect is those who are saved by the gospel plan of redemption (2 Thess. 2:13-14). God chose the plan of redemption; those who choose to follow His plan are His elect (Eph. 1:3-4). The Thessalonians showed their election by their 1) Work of faith. Their faith was alive due to their obedience (Jas. 2:17-20). If God’s election is unconditional, why would their faith affect their election? 2) Labor of love. Love is responsive, not dormant (Jas. 2:14-17; 1 Jno. 3:16-18). Love’s activity demonstrates one belongs to God; something unconditional election ultimately denies. 3) Patience of hope. Enduring faithfulness is a mark of God’s people. Yet, why endure if God’s election has been “unchangeably designed” from eternity? Unconditional election is a false doctrine that denies free will and gives false hope by perpetuating false faith. Beware!
4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation, 5 That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, that I may glory with Your inheritance. (Psalm 106:4–5, NKJV)
God’s historic goodness toward Israel is recited in Psalm 106. From Egypt, to the wilderness, to the land of promise, and to their exile among the Gentiles, Israel repeatedly repaid God’s favor with rebellion. “Many times He delivered them; But they rebelled in their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity” (Psa. 106:43). Yet, God “regarded their affliction,” remembered His covenant when they cried to Him, and showed them mercy among their captors (Psa. 106:44-46). The unrelenting goodness of God compels us to learn from Israel and live faithfully in His blessings under the covenant of Christ. Today, the Israel of God is the church – those who are of the faith of Abraham, not of the flesh of Abraham (Gal. 6:16; 4:21-31; Rom. 2:28-29; 4:12, 16). Those who serve the Lamb of God share in His powerful victory over Satan and his cohorts, for we are “called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). God offers this salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. In Christ we are the recipients of God’s grace, we gladly rejoice as His nation, and we glory in our inheritance (cf. Psa. 106:5; Eph. 1:3-7; 1 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). Just as God gathered a remnant of Israel from the Gentiles, the church is gathered by the gospel as a remnant of grace from the nations. We thank God for His power and triumph in His praise (Psa. 106:47; Rom. 11:5; Isa. 11:11). Truly God’s mercy is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psa. 106:48).
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NKJV)
Those who stand victoriously with Jesus Christ are “called, chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). This relationship with Christ is precisely what the apostle Paul began to lay out for why he gave thanks to the Lord for his brethren (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Today’s verse concludes his point with an exhortation to be faithful by standing fast and holding the apostolic traditions. We are not faithful to the Lord when we fail to seize and retain the teachings of His apostles. Their teaching (first spoken, then written) is the doctrine of Christ in which we must stand fast and not go beyond (2 John 9). It is the “pattern of sound words” from the apostles that is our standard of faithfulness (2 Timothy 1:13). To relinquish it for the creedal confessions men developed through the centuries (and the diverse doctrines they generated) is to abandon faithfulness to the “word of the truth of the gospel” that the apostles preached under Christ’s authority (Colossians 1:5-6; Matthew 28:18-20). Who ever said “church traditions” establish truth? Not the Lord Jesus, and not His apostles. Neither do we. Let us not be Catholic or Protestant, but simply Christians like followers of Jesus were in the New Testament. Like them, let us be faithful to Jesus by standing fast in the teachings of His apostles. Called by the gospel, we are chosen by God for salvation in Christ, and faithful to apostolic traditions.
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28–29, NKJV)
The gospel of Christ makes no fleshly distinctions when identifying the chosen people of God. The text before us is very clear. The gospel of Christ does not identify a Jew by outward circumcision, but by the inward circumcision of the heart. In Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God’s “chosen generation” today is His church that is composed of Christians, whether Jew or Gentile in the flesh, it makes no difference to God (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 15:9). Scripture says, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Romans 9:7). Any doctrine that elevates any race of people above another has distorted the gospel of Christ and the salvation it extends to all, regardless of whether they are a Jew or a Gentile (Romans 1:16-17). Fleshly Israel was told to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). In Christ, it is the circumcision of Christ – the cutting away of “the body of the sins of the flesh” (which occurs in baptism) – that identifies a person as a child of God (Colossians 2:11-13).
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9, NKJV)
Peter describes Christians in vivid contrast to those who, “being disobedient to the word,” stumble upon Christ and His gospel (1 Peter 2:8). These descriptions drive to the heart of who we are as disciples of Christ. First, we are a “chosen generation” (“elect race,” ASV). Just as God chose Jesus Christ to be the “chief cornerstone” in Zion, a generation has been chosen to precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 2:4, 6). With foreknowledge, God elected this generation of “living stones” that compose God’s “spiritual house” (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:5). Calvinist (Reformed) theology says God unconditionally chose (elected) the individuals who are saved. Millions have adopted and adapted this false teaching. Scripture says God “chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world,” not that God unconditionally chose each individual (Ephesians 1:4). God desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Those who meet His conditions are “accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35). These are saved in Christ and are a chosen race of people, “who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13; 3:1-5). All who believe in Jesus Christ have the power to become a child of God, and thus be among this chosen generation (John 1:12).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,” (Ephesians 1:3–5, NKJV)
Notice in this wonderful passage the unsearchable riches granted Christians. God has “blessed us” (v. 3), He “chose us” (v. 4), and He “predestined us” (v. 5). All of these spiritual blessings are “in Christ.” None of these spiritual benefits are possessed without Christ, and unless one is “in” Christ. Every blessing is spiritual, existing in the “heavenly places” in Christ. Christians are not promised “health and wealth” in this material realm; our treasures are found in the “heavenly places.” Because He laid the foundation of the world, God chose those in Christ as His own heritage. He thus purposed that Christians be holy and blameless in His sight. Before creation, He determined that those in Christ would be adopted into His family. The children of God are not so due to flesh, but faith (Rom. 2:28-29). All flesh shall see the salvation of God (Lk. 3:6; Isa. 52:10). Believe and obey the gospel of Jesus, and all these rich blessings of forgiveness will be yours. Ah, “seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19; 2:38)!
26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29, NKJV)
Arrogance before Almighty God is indefensible. Yet, since the days of Noah to the tower of Babel, from the defiance of the Pharaoh to the presumption of King Nebuchadnezzar, from the unbelief of Pilate to the contempt of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the disdain of the Greek philosophers, men and women have raised themselves up against God. Without fail, sinners have succumbed to the righteous judgments of God. Still, through His Son Jesus Christ, God calls every sinner to come to Him. Yet, only those who completely humble themselves to Him will be counted as the “called, chosen and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). God’s redemptive plan in Christ assures that nobody can boast before God. We are thoroughly dependent upon His mercy and grace. That is why we put our faith in Jesus and do His will, not our own.