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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Is God Inclusive or Exclusive?

(I don't normally do this, but this is most of the text from my latest message. If you heard it, skip it- there's nothing new! But in case you don't got to EHA or missed last week, here's our first week of the series. Warning: It's kind of long! Read and enjoy!)

Ask anything- we invited you to turn in your questions and many of you did. Thanks for that. You turned lots of good questions! It was difficult to distill those down for our series here in January.

What I like about this series is the reminder to us that God is not afraid of hard questions. He is not afraid to be challenged with our hardest questions. That’s really important for us to realize at the beginning here, because many of you grew up in an environment where asking questions was highly discouraged. Brining up sticky points about faith or how the Bible worked was generally looked down on because it was feared that if we asked too many questions it might show that we weren’t really faithful. If we ask to difficult a question, it would show that we didn’t believe strong enough. We were told to just go along, don’t disrupt things, don’t challenge things, just trust.

But we need to know that God isn’t afraid of hardest questions. As you have heard me say before, faith is not belief in the absence of doubt, but belief even in the presence of doubt and uncertainty. It means saying, “God, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m following you anyway”

As another point of introduction, I want to make it clear that I am not the answer man. I heard a radio ad that said “You asked your hardest questions, and now Dr. So and So answers them! Tune in each week.” Nu-uh! If that’s all we have, is some guy answering our questions, we’re in trouble. You asked your hardest questions, and now we’ll turn to Scripture and ask God to answer them.

Some questions He will answer- you’ll come away with conclusions that will change your life. But some don’t get answered- yet even in the asking and wrestling, we’ll learn a great deal about God and our faith.

I will try to be clear when I believe God and His Word speak definitively on a subject, but I’ll also try to be clear when I think there’s uncertainty. People have asked the tough question about bad things happening to good people for thousands of years. And there’s no easy place in the Bible to turn to and say, “Oh, here’s why.” But even in the asking and wrestling, the struggling and seeking, God uses it all to help us grow.

My girls and there cousins were playing a game of “house”, when for some reason my youngest, Maddie, was pushed out of the room. She sat there crying, “they won’t let me in”. From a very young age, we know what it feels like to be on the inside and we know what it feels like to be on the outside.

So, our first question: Is God inclusive or exclusive?

  • Israel as God’s chosen people... Does this mean He excluded all other people? Is God inclusive or exclusive?

This is a great question because not only does it help us get to the heart of who God is, and if you’re here today and you’re not sure you believe in God, you’re seeking, this question, this issue may be a real stumbling block:

  • Christianity is so hypocritical- they claim to love everyone, but then they condemn anyone who believes differently than they do. Is God really like that?
  • Am I a part of the in crowd with God?
  • Do I really belong, or is God just willing to put up with me?

So in attempting to answer this question, we’re going to learn a great deal about God.

But we’re also going to learn about ourselves. This question also helps us know who we are to be- how we are supposed to act or treat others, because that certainly should be in line with God.

From the first glance, it would appear that God is fairly exclusive- picking the Jews, yet listen to what he says to Abraham in this first promise of blessing:

-Genesis 12:1-3

1 Then the LORD told Abram, "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will cause you to become the father of a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and I will make you a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you."

God blessed Abraham so he could be a blessing to all people. The reason he seemed to exclusively include Abraham and the Jewish people is so that through them he could include ALL people.

Listen to how this theme gets carried through the Bible. Peter connects the dots in Acts:

-Acts 3:24-26

24 "Starting with Samuel, every prophet spoke about what is happening today. 25 You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, 'Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.' 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways."

Here is the same promise, including the inclusive promise of all people, being applied thousands of years later.

And just so we don’t think this promise is confined to Jews, listen to what Paul writes to a large group of Gentiles (non-Jews) in Galatians:

-Galatians 3:7-9

7 The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God. 8 What's more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, "All nations will be blessed through you." 9 And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith

And just in case we haven’t quite got the picture yet, listen to Paul again in Colossians:

-Colossians 1:20-22

And through Him (Christ) God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in this physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

Here’s the truth we get out of these passages: God opens the door to everyone. No one is left out.

I know, you might make the argument, “Yeah, but Jesus said he’s the only way. (John 14) Isn’t that being pretty exclusive?”

Think of it this way: if Target had coupons for every person in town to get a free flat-screen HDTV and we didn’t get around to getting one, would we argue that Target had been exclusive? No, we would recognize that we made choices to not receive the offer.

This is a very important distinction: God is inclusive of all people, but not of all beliefs. He has provided a way and it is up to us to choose it.

We choose whether or not we will enter.

We must personally decide if we will walk through God’s open door and trust him with our lives. Peter even writes about this being a reason that God holds off the return the Christ-

II Peter 3:9

9 The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.

Now, just in case you’ve been sitting there thinking, “Yes, I’ve walked through that door, but I hope so-and-so is listening! I can’t wait to give this CD to so-and-so. They need this!” There is actually an additional truth that we need to apply to our lives. And it’s this:

If God has included you, it is for the purpose of including others.

If you find yourself on the inside with God, it’s not so you can sit around and enjoy his blessings until you die. You have been blessed so that through you others will find the open door.

Listen to what David says about being restored to God. What is the purpose of his restoration?

Psalm 51,

12 Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. 13 Then I will teach your ways to sinners, and they will return to you.

The purpose of his restoration is that OTHERS would return to God.

So, today we need to ask ourselves two critical questions.

Two Critical Questions:

-Have you entered God’s open door?

God’s got a better deal even than a free plasma TV. Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but through me. You can take that negatively to mean Jesus is being exclusive, or you can see it positively as Jesus I believe intended- I am holding open the way to life for every single man, woman and child- I am showing the way, full of truth and life- will you follow me?

-Do you live to bless and include others?

Blessed to be a blessing, or blessed because I deserve it?

What have you been blessed with? Do you use a skill, a hobby, your time, your resources, your wisdom and experience as a way to bless others? If you’ve been blessed, if God has included you in his wonderful plan of salvation, it’s so you can turn and do the same with your life.

Who could you include in your day, your week, in the hope that they too might one day walk through the open door and be included in God’s family?

“And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming” Luke 15. No matter where you are, your heavenly Father looks out the door and waits to see you coming. And when you turn to Him, no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, he opens the door wide to you and says, “Welcome Home.” May your faith be completely in him today.


Britt said...

I still don't think that your free TV analogy is accurate. In order to obtain your free TV, it only requires a disruption of your life and schedule for one day. After that, it provides nothing but gratification for free. Accepting Jesus' "free TV" is a LIFETIME commitment to changing how we think and act. And it's no cake walk. It'll be gratifying but also extremely painful and difficult.
It is true that the OFFER is inclusive of everyone, but the heavenly rewards are not.
You can't get around the fact that God is exclusive. You can make it sound "so simple" but it's not. I think that for someone such as yourself it does just seem so simple and obvious and easy, but for someone who wasn't immersed in it from birth, who has seen the worst "Christians" have to offer, or who might be simply afraid of what entering that door might mean for their lives, this decision is no free TV.
Does God WANT everyone to be with Him? Absolutely. But does he ALLOW everyone to be with him?? Well, you and I might come to different conclusions, but I know that as far as you stand, the answer to that question is NO. Thus I conclude that he must be exclusive.

Pastor Nick said...

I'm glad to hear you say that Britt! You are completing the point- that it does require a lifetime commitment. I was just making the simple point that the offer is there, but useless unless we accept it.

I would still say God is inclusive- he makes the offer to every person, and he did it in the most dramatic fashion in giving his own life. No one is excluded from his offer, nor is anyone on earth excluded from living on the great earth he gave us. IN his nature, God loves to include.

The issue you bring up is accurate- it's a big decision to walk through the door. But it is OUR decision. So in that sense, we self-exclude. I would say that we (humans) are exclusive because we decide we know better than God.

Darn those bad examples of Christianity. Don't they just make you mad! :-)

Britt said...

Yes Nick. Those "bad Christians" make me mad on a daily the point where I don't even tell people that I am a Christian. I hate all the negative connotations it brings with it.

Like listening to that couple tell the story about their son in church this week. I was surprised at how completely and totally ticked off I was at the people in their lives/churches that would condemn or judge them because of the decisions their son had made for himself. I actually was almost as ticked off at those same people for judging the son for his decisions.

So yeah...sorry, that was just a tangent rant there :)

I understand the point you are making about us choosing to "self exclude" and not God excluding us, but I think that it's sort of splitting hairs. In the end, when we reach the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter is there to check the guest list, not everyone will be on it, right? (I love this imagery, by the way...because it almost makes my point for me seeing as this is precisely how many non-believers view the exclusivity of Heaven). To me, for God to be truly inclusive, he would accept ALL people, under ALL circumstances. Period. No exceptions. No hoop jumping.

Pastor Nick said...

So even if people didn't want anything to do with God, he would make them be included anyway? Even if they spent their whole lives wishing God would leave them alone, he'd force them to come in? I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with that kind of God.

BTW- the Biblical support for Peter standing at Pearly Gates is pretty weak. I think in eternity, our lives will be allowed to continue along the trajectory we followed on earth- those who are moving towards God, no matter how faltering or weak, will continue to move towards him for eternity. And those who have been moving away from Him will be allowed to continue doing the same.

You make it sound like God is unfair because he lets people choose. Really?

Britt said...

I'm not saying that God is "unfair", I'm just saying that he's not inclusive, if I believe as you do. Truthfully, I don't think I would be comfortable with a God who excludes those who want nothing to do with him. I think at the heart of most people, they DO want something to do with him, they just don't trust what they've seen and heard about him, so they make their own way. Also, I know a great many people who don't know God, but who act more Christlike than some followers I know. Maybe what God has shown to these people hasn't been sufficient to convince them that he is worthy (death, loss, pain and destruction is a great barrier to people finding God). Maybe they've been hurt by some christians in their lives, maybe they see the wackadoos on the news that claim to love Jesus, but seem to hate so many people. Maybe they think they have to become a republican if they start going to church (since that party seems to have hijacked the faith). Can you really blame them for not wanting anything to do with God?? So, yeah...if God excludes people like that, then I do have a problem with it.

Britt said...

Oh, and I was only poking fun at the pearly gates thing...I really don't think that God needs to have someone checking people off a list :D

After I got to thinking about it, why would it bother you if those who dislike/distrust what they know of God (or who have never really even heard much about him at all) got in to Heaven? I know it can't be that you feel they don't deserve it...after all, it's not that any of us do.

So I'm just curious why you wouldn't be o.k. with it. I think you are assuming that people who don't believe in Christ wouldn't want anything to do with God, and thus, should be left to their own devices for all eternity. I don't think this is true at all! I think most people do believe in "something"...God, Buddha, sky spirits, etc...they just haven't professed faith in Jesus. It doesn't mean they have turned their backs on God and want nothing to do with him. I think people who truly hate god still want to know him...they have just been so hurt that they are incapable of returning to him. But that's here on Earth. What about after death? What about when we are made perfect? What about when these people meet God face-to-face (using this term loosely as I know God doesn't really have a "face" unless you are talking about the personification of him in Christ)? Don't you think that when even those who hated god, turned their backs on him, etc. actually know for certain that he is real and that he loves them more than any humanly possible way, that they will be humbled and happy to be accepted in spite of their faults and short-comings?

I'm not saying that this is how it is. You and I have talked about this before :) This is how I am HOPING it is.

So then, perhaps, your question is, "If we all get in, what's the point of knowing Christ at all?" I think you can answer that yourself, right? Walking with God (or trying to), having the Holy Spirit indwelling, having that personal relationship with Christ, reading the Bible, etc. are all access to the POWER of God right now...daily. To make living life on Earth manageable in spite of the horrors that life can bring. That's the point of knowing him now.

Wow. Sorry this got so long. See what musing all day can do?? :D

Pastor Nick said...

Britt- Glad to see you wrestling with these ideas. A couple of quick responses.

Yes- I do HOPE God is accepting of more people, but I don't see Scripture giving much room here. That's why our need to proclaim good news, and perhaps more importantly to actually live it, is such a focus of the New Testament. I might be splitting hairs a bit, but I was trying to make that point that is inclusive of all people- he loves them all, his heart is for them all. But he is exclusive of beliefs. For His reasons, he has said that Jesus is the way, and so perhaps from your point of perspective this makes him exclusive. I can live with that.

My issue with people going into heaven who have lived their life to ignore God is that it seems to make our human free will a farce. If we have free will to choose our own way only in this life, but then God overwhelms us with his presence and goodness so that people choose him and heaven, are they really free at all? I think our human free will would seem to suggest that EVEN IF God gives them opportunity post-earth to choose Him, most people won't.

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