Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sovereignty and human responsibility in the post-conversion Christian life

Hebrews 13:20-22 "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly."

The Christian life is a life that is to be lived out by the Christian and at the same time can only be lived out by Christ working in the Christian. Hebrews 13 is a very practical chapter that illustrates this two-fold truth of Christian in the post-conversion Christian life (i.e sanctification): namely me living in Him and He living in me. In the opening verses above, we see not a contradiction, but complementary truths regarding our responsibility in God's grace and God's grace working forth the desire to be responsible in the Christian life. 

With regards to the Christian's responsibility in sanctification, we are to show Christ's love (13:1-3), honor our marriages (13:4), cling to God's promises (13:5-8), center on the cross (13:9-14), worship Him with our life (13:15-16), prayer for the pastor (13:17-19), rely on His strength (13:20-21) and study the scripture (13:22-24). All of these important activities could not be done apart from Jesus Christ equipping us with every good thing to do His will according to His grace. (Hebrews 13:20-21,25) 

To demonstrate that this two-fold reality is not restricted to the New Testament, Ezekiel 17-19 teaches this same principle of the life of faith needing to be lived out by the believer and yet being only done so as God grants His grace of presence to do so. Ezekiel tells a version of a parable of soils and seed being sown in fertile soil, much like Jesus would do centuries later in Matthew 13. In Ezekiel's version of the seed planted in soil, God is the only one who can sustain the vine that has sprung up and grown. Unless God is sustaining the believer, no matter how strong them may seem, they will wither and die. (Ezekiel 17) 

What Ezekiel writes in Ezekiel 17 sounds similar to what Jesus taught his disciples nearly 600 years later in John 15 about He being the vine, and they the branches.  As Jesus teaches in John 15, apart from Him, no believer is able to do anything of spiritual value that contributes to their salvation or sanctification.  The Sovereign grace that sustains in Ezekiel 17 is put alongside the believer's responsibility to live the life of faith in Ezekiel 18. 

What happens if a person fails to heed God's word? Whose fault is it? It is the person's fault. We learn from Ezekiel 18 that God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked.  Even though He is the Just God, He also is not willing that any would perish, but would love to see all come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9-10) The mystery of God's Sovereign grace working in a person's life is the reason why anyone remains in the faith. Likewise when anyone rejects or turns away from the faith, truly that person, not God, bears the blame. 

I would urge us all to pray the words of Hebrews 13:20-21 and 13:25, recognizing that it is Christ the Great Shepherd of the Sheep that sustains and leads His sheep. May we heed His voice through His word, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)