Tag Archives: Cross

Heroes and Villains – Touko and Shigeru Fujiwara

“As I had encountered kindness, I wanted to be kind myself. I wanted to be able to do something, just like others had done for me.”

-Takashi Natsume

Shigeru_&_Touko

The Natusme Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends) series follows a boy named Takashi Natsume who has the ability to see youkai (spirits that feature prominently in Japanese folklore).  However, those around him find his behavior disturbing as he often appears to be frightened by or talking to no one (since most people cannot see youkai).  As a result, he is considered to be a bizarre or “freaky” child.  His parents died when he was young so Takashi spent his childhood being passed from home to home.  However, this changed when he was taken in by the Fujiwaras.  Touko and Shigeru are never really involved in the youkai antics which make up the bulk of the storyline.  As a matter of fact, they very much appear to be your average middle-age couple.  What makes them exceptional is the love and kindness they show Takashi by making him a part of their family, a fact they constantly remind and assure him of.  The Fujiwara’s provide a loving base and foundation that Takashi has never known before and which helped him to, in turn, show kindness to others.

The Apostle John writes the following:  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His soon to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)  John makes the bold statement that if we do not love, we do not know God.  Why?  Because God is love.  John goes on to further flesh out this idea by explaining how we have seen the love of God in action, namely:  that He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins that we might be reconciled to Him.  Paul puts it this way:  “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)  The love which God shows us is profound in that He loves us for ourselves, not because of ourselves.  By this I mean that God’s love is not dependent upon us.  God’s love does not come to us because of anything we are, say, or do, but because of who He is.  Love is an integral part of God’s character and we cannot know God without knowing His love.  To put it in more human terms, returning to the Fujiwaras, love and kindness is so much a part of their characters that we as observers behind the fourth wall, as well as Takashi, don’t know them without knowing that love and kindness.

After making his statement about the love of God, John goes on to say that we ought to love one another.  Why?  Because God loves us.  If God has showered so great a love on us despite our being in rebellion against Him, what excuse are we to give for not loving others, be they our siblings in Christ or not?  The same God who speaks to us through John telling us to love one another also tells us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Where can such a love come from?  John provides us with an answer when he proceeds to write:  “No one has seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected (made complete) in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him , and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:12-16)  It is through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to not only partake in this great love, but also share this love with others.  Love is one of the spiritual fruits which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives by virtue of His presence. (Galatians 5:22-23)  It is also the Spirit who enables us to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. (1 Corinthians 12:3)  When the Spirit abides in us and does His work upon our hearts, we cannot help but to love others because love is the fruit of His labors.

John is not the only one who exhorts us to love one another, Christ, when He is eating the last supper with His disciples speaks thusly:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  Now here is a remarkable thing:  Jesus says that the love we are to have for one another will be a distinguishing mark that we are His disciples.  This is because we are not to love as the world loves, but as Jesus loves, as God loves.  This unconditional and unwarranted love is an outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s work within us and if we love as Christ loves it shows that we are truly His disciples because it is apparent that we know Him.  And if we know Jesus, then we know God because Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus. (John 14:7-11)  However, we mustn’t go thinking that this love is something that we can wear as a mask and pretend to be Christians.  For if we pursue such a venture it will soon become apparent that our love is just as hollow as a mask as well.  We can only fool others for so long and we can never fool God.  The love of God is not something that can be replicated or faked which is another reason why it is a distinguishing mark of Christians.  While he was still being passed from relative to relative, it was not unusual for Takashi to stumble upon a hushed conversation between his foster family as to how to get rid of him to someone else.  This is not the case with the Fujiwaras.  There are no whisperings of disapproval or planning behind closed doors as to how to rid themselves of him.  As far as they are concerned, he is and will always be part of their family.

Looking at the Fujiwaras’ relationship with Takashi shows us a number of things.  First, it serves as a metaphor for the way that God welcomes us with open arms into His family.  The effect that their love and kindness has on Takashi, encouraging him to do likewise, serves as a reminder of the way that God’s love kindles and nourishes a flame of love within us.  This flame can be used by God, if we allow Him, to light and feed the same flame in others.  The Fujiwaras remind us that one being a hero sometimes means choosing to love and to love unconditionally on a daily basis.  As Christians, we know that when we do something as seemingly mundane as loving as God loves on a daily basis, it is showing God to others on a daily basis; for God is love.

Food for Thought:

  1. In what ways is God calling me to love as He loves?
  2. How might I better cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit on my heart?
  3. Consider how marvelous it is that God loves us so much as to cause His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and fill us with His love to the point that it overflows from within us.
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Heroes and Villains – The Ringwraiths

“Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them.  Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”

-Gandalf concerning the Ringwraiths

Nazgul_1

They cast a shadow far before them and seem to materialize out of the rumors whispered throughout Middle Earth.  The Ringwraiths’ sinister presence leaves an impression on any audience.  Originally humans, the Ringwraiths, or Nazgûl, were each given a ring of power by Sauron (the chief antagonist of Tolkien’s trilogy) which corrupted them and eventually led to them being enslaved to his will.  Despite their former glory and vivacity, they have been rendered mere shades that lead a nightmarish existence between worlds.  They ruthlessly and tirelessly serve their master and inspire fear and despair wherever they tread.

Dark as the Nazgûl are, their story casts light on the nature of sin in our lives.  James writes:  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)  James states that sin has its beginnings in desire.  This is why we cannot be right with God just by doing the right things (being a “good person”, following the Law, etc.).  Despite our outward appearance, our first loyalty is still to ourselves and sin rather than God.  Our own efforts are not able to get deep enough to reach sin’s root.  Thus, though we may chop and hack away at the branches, they will quickly grow back, tougher than ever.

In the case of the Nazgûl, their desire for greater power and prestige led them to accept the nine rings from Sauron.  It was at this point that their fates were sealed because they had given him the foothold he needed to corrupt them.  It is worth noting that we find ourselves in the same straits because our desire is already in rebellion against God, leading us away from Him and indulging our pride, greed, and base sensuality.  The difference is that we have a Savior who has broken the power of darkness over us and given us a way of escape that we may “have life and have it more abundantly”.  Part of the renewing work that God does within us is to reclaim our desires so that they are conformed to Christ.  That is to say, we come to desire the same things as God:  we are pleased by the same things which please God, we are saddened by the same things which sadden God, etc.

Sinful desire, in its due course, eventually gives rise to sinful action:  the outworking of that desire.  The rebellion that began as desire has diffused throughout our body like a poison and manifests itself as words, deeds, and thoughts.  In the Book of Romans, Paul admonishes:  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.  And do not present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:12-13)  When we fall into sin, we surrender to our sinful desires and allow them to rule over us.  As Christians, the times when we stumble ought to serve as a stark reminder that we must seek the grace of God daily and constantly strive to remain in His love, for sin only requires a small foothold to scale the walls of our heart.  The Ringwraiths did not become shades overnight, but were slowly and steadily consumed by the power of the rings they held and brought under Sauron’s dominion.  It is often said of them that they are slaves to his will.  The desire in which they took the rings led them, inevitably, to give their very beings over to serve the will of Sauron.

Sin ultimately leads to death, and not mere physical death.  The death that we die through sin is more extensive than that:  sin leads to our spiritual death.  It may be the misery that we find under the veneer of sinful pleasure or it may be the emptiness that we are left with when the moment of sinful delight is gone.  Regardless of the form, sin always leaves us less of who we are.  God creates us all to be beautiful mirrors who each reflect His likeness in a unique way.  (How else can finite creatures begin to show the likeness of the infinite Creator in the world?)  The result of sin is to warp and tarnish us so that we are no longer what we’re created to be.  We become bent upon ourselves so that we reflect nothing and take part in nothing other than our continuing destruction until sin is cast into hell to be infinitely destroyed and us as well because we cling to it.

What is perhaps most horrifying about the Ringwraiths is what they are, or rather, what they are not.  They are vacuums of existence, having been gutted and hollowed out by the power of the rings and filled with Sauron’s evil.  They really are personifications of darkness, being mere extensions of Sauron’s will.  When we allow sin to reign in us, it hollows us out and we are consumed rather than conformed.  Life becomes death to us and death, our existence.  “…when desire has conceived, it give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Ringwraiths provide a representation of what we become when we allow ourselves to be consumed by sin.  We lose ourselves and become a mere shadow within a greater shadow.  This is the end that awaits us and we ourselves can do nothing about it.  It appears that we are destined to be wraiths.  We cry with Paul “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  However, a door is open to us that we may leave our death-defined existence and enter into life.  Through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ has made a way for us.  Thus He says, “I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

Food for Thought:

  1. What is the sin in my life holding me back from?  How can I better pursue those things by making Christ my top priority?
  2. What does it mean to have life in Christ and have it abundantly?
  3. Consider what an excellent thing it is to receive life in and from Christ.

Temptation is no Laughing Matter!!

Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ドウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!) is a popular Japanese variety show the name of which translates as “Downtown’s ‘This is no task for kids!!’”.  It is hosted by the comedic duos known as Downtown and Cocorico along with comedian Hōsei Yamasaki and features a variety of skits, games, and other antics.  Perhaps the most intense of these is the annual “no-laughing” batsu (punishment) game that the cast engages in to ring in the New Year.  During these games, the hosts undergo a 24-hour “training” session for some job (such as spy, reporter, or hotel man) during which they are strictly forbidden to laugh.  If they do laugh, they are immediately punished (usually with a swift whack to the posterior).  However, the “training” that they receive is a series of skits and set-ups designed for the sole purpose of making them laugh.  The winner is the one who receives the least number of punishments.  Needless to say, the final tallies are all always in the triple digits.

While the show primarily provides wild and often unpredictable entertainment, it also gives us a mirror of sorts that shows us how things turn out when we try to stop sinning using our own willpower.  Just as the hosts are told to stop laughing one day, we also are tempted to think that we can just decide to stop sinning.  The problem is that our decision is to stop sinning, not to submit to God, which is at the heart of the matter.  We cannot overcome sin except by God’s grace.  Without resting in this grace we keep ourselves at the mercy of sin just as the hapless hosts are at the mercy of the pranks and skits they encounter.  No matter how hard they try, they will inevitably break down and laugh.  Similarly, we can fight temptation as hard as we want, but it will always win in the end if we don’t have God in the equation.

James sums up this dynamic by writing:  “Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep!  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift your up.” (James 4:7-10)  Submission to God comes first and foremost.  When we humble ourselves before God, then and only then are we able to rely on His strength to resist the devil and temptation.  When we think about what James means by “Let your laughter be turned to mourning…” we shouldn’t be lead to the conclusion that being humble before God means that we should never laugh or be joyful.  Jesus presents what this humility is about in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. (Luke 18:9-14)  The tax collector who “went down to his house justified” sounds a lot like James’ description of humbling ourselves.  The key lies not in any particular emotional state, but in recognizing God as our savior, our justifier, rather than ourselves.  “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

So it is that when we trust in God rather than ourselves, we meet with better results in avoiding sin than the Gaki members do in their ill-fated attempts to avoid laughter (and the subsequent punishments).


WTH 4 – The End

Over the last couple of weeks, we have considered what hell really is, how it fits with God’s holiness, and how we fit into the mix.  Now we return to our original question of how God, who is love, could also be the same, unchanging God who created hell.

God’s love for us is perfect, therefore, by definition, it is not half-hearted and He also desires for us to know and love Him to the fullest extent possible.  As long as there is sin in and around us, we will never be able to know and love God to our fullest potential.  Sin (unlike the sinner) is irredeemable and breeds only death.  This is where hell comes into play:  it is the result of God’s righteous anger and disgust towards sin with respect to His holiness.  But God’s holiness gives rise to love and mercy in addition to righteous indignation.  It is in holy love that Christ came to earth and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that we may be credited with His righteousness and spared the wrath of God laid up against us.  It is also holy love that motivates God to give us the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and walks alongside us; quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) revealing the things of God to us and interceding for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.”

If we were to hazard a short answer the question we began with, it would be that God is holy.  In all things He is holy.  He is holy in love and in wrath, in mercy and in judgment.  Hell is the outworking of His holy wrath and judgment while the cross is the outworking of His holy love and mercy.  Everything about God is holy, which is why it is such a remarkable thing that He chooses to create and associate with us.

Many times, God’s holiness is something that we view as cold and alienating.  It is true that His being holy puts some distance between us and Him.  However, we must not forget that it is this same holiness that He is drawing us closer to as we grow and develop and Christians.  His holiness is not something that we ought to view negatively, as if it were some lifeless barrier.  Perhaps a better way to view it would be as the perfection of being that burns so hot and so bright that we cannot draw too close to it right now, for it burns up all that is unclean with unquenchable fire.  However, we nonetheless move towards it along the trail blazed for us by Christ, the firstborn from the dead, guided carefully and lovingly by the Holy Spirit.  This is, at least in part, why Christian growth is not a fast-moving affair.  It is like coming out of a dark room into the sunlight.  It takes time for our eyes to adjust to the brightness.  Likewise, our hearts and souls, after being warped by sin, must have time to be shaped and sanctified according to the righteousness we are credited with in Christ.

Why can God create a place as terrifying as hell and also perform the greatest act of love the world has and will ever know?   It is because He is “holy, holy, holy”.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior,

Who alone is wise,

Be glory and majesty,

Dominion and power,

Both now and forever.

Amen.

-Jude 24-25

Practical questions:

  1. Have you ever thought of God’s holiness including His love or mercy?  Why or why not?
  2. How can putting God’s holiness at center-stage change our perceptions of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together as a unified whole?

A challenge:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that block of time reading, re-reading, thinking, and meditating on the passage from Jude above.  Let this reading and thinking lead you into prayer about whatever you are led to say to God.


WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?

WTH 2 – God, Holiness, and Sin

Last time we saw that Jesus describes hell using a perpetually burning city dump (gehenna) as a metaphor.  It is a place where unclean things are disposed of.  Christ speaks of it as a very real consequence that we face rather than as a figure of speech.

Sin is the unclean thing that is disposed of in hell.  In order to better understand the relationship between God and hell, we must first spend some time considering the relationship between God and sin.  God is holy.  As a matter of fact, He’s so holy that the four living creatures around His throne have to constantly say the word “holy” 3 times in a row to even begin to express how holy He is.  (Revelation 4:8)  Skimming the rest of Revelation 4 gives us a further glimpse at just how Holy God is.

The Greek word translated as “holy” that the four living creatures say designates something being most sacred or pure.  The Hebrew word that is often translated as “holy” carries similar meaning.  The overall sense that we get from the words translated as “holy” is something that is set apart as being pure and without blemish.  To say that God is holy is to say that He is set apart from all things because of His pureness.

God is so holy that the place where He dwells is also holy.  When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, He tells Moses to, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”  (Exodus 3:5)  Much of the law regarding the priests in Israel dealt with them being sanctified to minster before the Lord.  In the New Testament, Paul reminds us that we are the temple of God because His Spirit dwells within us and that temple is holy (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).  (This is why it is important that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the perfect and all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins.)  Heaven is also a holy place since it is where God dwells.

This idea of God’s dwelling being a sinless place comes into focus best when we consider John’s description in Revelation of the New Jerusalem where, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.”  (Revelation 21:3)  It says of the city that, “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:27)  “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)  Nothing that is sinful will enter into the city where God dwells with His people because God’s dwelling is holy by virtue of God’s holiness.  So what happens to sin if it is unable to be where God is?  It is disposed of in hell, the perpetually burning dump.

That is all well and good, but where do people (and angels for that matter) fit into the equation?  That is something that we will address next week.  For now, here are the main points:

  1. God is holy; meaning that He is set apart or separate from all other things on account of His purity.
  2. Because God is holy, the place where He dwells is holy and nothing that defiles can enter into it.

Practical Questions:

  1. How do you feel when you think about God’s holiness?  Fear?  Awe?  Indifferent?
  2. Have you ever thought about hell in the context of God’s holiness?  Why or why not?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He, who is “holy, holy, holy” makes His Spirit to dwell in us?

Called to be Chosen

The parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) tells of a king who prepares a feast for his son’s wedding and sends servants to invite the guests.  However, after refusing the invitation once and being invited a second time, the guests either blew off the invitation and went about their business or mistreated and killed the king’s servants.  After sending out his armies and wiping out those who were originally invited (them and their city), the king sends out servants once more, this time to invite to the feast anyone and everyone they can find.  The servants do so and gather many people, bad and good, so that the wedding hall is full.  When the king comes out to see the guests, he notices a man who is not wearing a wedding garment (that is to say, he is not dressed for the occasion).  When confronted by the king, the man has nothing to say for himself and is cast out of the hall into the outer darkness where, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Christ concludes the parable with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen”.

When Christ says that many are called, He refers to the open invitation to life with God and living out the kingdom of heaven.  In the parable, invitations to the feast were ultimately given to everyone regardless of who they were, their status, etc.  Likewise, through the gracious and mighty work of God on the cross, everyone has been invited to be with God.  John 3:16-17 reads,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Consider also the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) in which as many as possible are gathered and later separated, being either placed in vessels or thrown away.  The door to salvation stands wide open despite being on the narrow path.

Now, it is also true that the Bible contains much talk of “the elect” or “the chosen” and this must be addressed if one is to credibly speak about there being an open invitation to salvation and the kingdom of heaven.  The word used in these instances carries the connotations of being a higher quality; similar to choice cuts of meat or choice parts for a car or computer.  Perhaps, then, we might say that the elect are those chosen by God because they are of a certain quality.  However, we know that we not saved by works or achievement (Ephesians 2:8-9), so what is this quality and how is it found out?

While not a comprehensive study, the parable can help us to begin to get our minds around this.  We can first conclude that the man who was thrown out was called but not chosen while those who remained were called and chosen.  The man was thrown out because he did not wear a wedding garment and therefore he was not dressed appropriately.  (FYI, this is not a lesson on what we should or shouldn’t wear to church.)  He did not put off his old clothes and put on those befitting a wedding feast.  Likewise, we are called to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Although the man was called and came to the wedding feast, he did not respond to it.  He did not allow himself to be conformed to the nature of the feast.  We may show up at church or Bible study, but that alone does not mean that we’ve responded to God’s invitation to us.  To respond to that invitation is to believe in Christ who God has sent (John 6:27-29) and whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  So it seems that the quality that separates the elect, that makes them God’s chosen, is to believe in His Son which means to submit to His lordship over our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into Christ’s image.  That is what it means to be called and chosen.