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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

What kind of people does God choose?

Over the last year or so, my wife Jill and I have had the privilege of ministering in a women's and men's prison with a transition program called CHILL OUT (the prisons are next to each other, so we make it a regular "date" to go together once a month or so). Recently I was asked to speak at the graduation ceremony for the "kinmates," as we call them, so I had to decide what to share with thirteen prisoners (some of them Muslim) and their families, as well as the program staff. Because I didn't want to talk too long, I wrote out a message for them on my tablet, which unfortunately I was not allowed to take in to the prison. So I ended up with no notes whatsoever, and I'm not sure exactly what I said (or how long I said it)! But the following is what God led me to prepare for them. (Incidentally, on a theological note, these things are true and biblical regardless of whether you believe in conditional or unconditional election, though obviously I favor the latter.)

God has given me a true love for you guys in my heart, and that makes me want to give something to you, anything I can, with the limited opportunity I have. Last cycle God led me to give you a little play to act out—that was fun—now this time, other than my prayers, couple letters, and a visit, all I have the opportunity to do is take a few minutes to share something with you here upon your graduation from CHILL OUT. So I thought and prayed about it, and I realized that the best thing I could give to you today is some good news. We can all use some good news, right? So I want to tell you about what we Christians call the good news, or “the gospel,” which is an old word for it.

But I’m gonna do it in a different way that you probably haven’t heard before. I want to tell you about what kind of people God chooses, because it will surprise you. I’m assuming a few things in what I say, by the way, that I won’t take the time to prove. One is that there is a God and the other is that he speaks to us in the Bible. I know that you all don’t believe those things (yet), but I believe that when you hear the good news God is able to open your hearts in his timing and give you that faith, which he does for all the people he’s chosen. And you are just the kind of people he chooses.

What kind of people does God choose to be his children, forgive all their sins, use them for a great purpose in this life, and take them to heaven when they die? 

One answer is God chooses losers. I told you you’d be surprised. You thought I was gonna say God chooses winners…people who are successful in life, who have a lot going for them, or who fix themselves after they go wrong. But listen to this passage: “Consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:26-31). 

You’re just the kind of people God chooses. You’re losers, not that you don’t have great things about you, because you all do, but because you’ve lost a lot in your life. You’ve lost your freedom, for instance, for a time either because of your own bad choices or the injustice of others, or both. And I am one of those people too, by the way, in case you think I’m calling you losers while thinking of myself as a winner. No, far from it, I’ve lost a lot, believe me, for both those reasons I mentioned. In fact, I call myself a loser often, and my wife is always trying to correct me, because we don’t want to walk around calling ourselves that, especially once we know that God chooses and loves people like us. But it’s okay, and even good, even necessary to acknowledge that we don’t deserve anything good from God—if he chooses us, it’s not because we’re so wonderful or successful. It’s really the opposite. 

Another way to say this is that God chooses people who repent of their sins. In fact, the Bible actually says that God causes repentance in the hearts of those he chooses. Repentance simply means to recognize how we’ve been wrong, to be sorry for it, and to commit ourselves to change, for the purpose of pleasing God. But you can’t repent of your sins if you don’t realize and admit that you're a sinner. Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He said elsewhere that no one is really righteous, at least by God’s perfect standards, so he must mean that he didn’t come for the people who think they’re righteous, but for the people who know they are sinners.” That fits with something else he said: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13). 

Speaking of Jesus, the kind of people God chooses are those who believe in him. The Bible says that “those who were appointed to eternal life” believe in him (Acts 13:48). I know many of us here don’t believe in Jesus right now, but who can tell what will happen in the future, right? Not us, but there is someone who can, and watch this—this is really interesting. Did you hear what that verse said: “Those who were appointed to eternal life believed.” They had been appointed to eternal life—that’s another word for chosen—and that appointment or choice happened before the foundation of the world, as it says a bunch of times in the Bible. So people are chosen by God before they believe in Jesus! So you might be chosen even though you don’t believe yet, and one day in God’s timing, when you’re ready, you will call on him and be saved. And you’re just the kind of people that God chooses and that Jesus came for, so guess what? You can have every confidence in the world that he'll be there for you when you need him. 

This is why Jesus died on the cross, by the way, in case you wonder what the big deal is about that. He knew we would be losers and failures in so many ways in our lives, so he allowed himself to be treated like a loser and failure so that his spiritual riches and success could be given to us. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made righteous in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). 

Again, that’s why you can have every confidence in the world that he will answer if you call on him. I
t could be right now as you’re hearing these words—that’s happened many times to many people. It could be tonight when you’re laying in your bed and thinking about it—that’s what happened to me. It could be when you get out of here, or get a job, or become a dad or granddad, or some other cool thing, and you are so grateful that God has blessed you in that way. It could be when things go really wrong and you feel like a loser and you remember somebody saying that God chooses losers to be his children, forgive all their sins, use them for a great purpose in this life, and take them to heaven when they die. 

That kind of future hope is good news. Thank you for letting me share it with you. 

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