After bible study last night, I got home and watched the late night news. The CEO of FairTrade Australia and New Zealand was being interviewed. Once again I was tempted to despair as I was reminded of the evils of the chocolate industry. I was reminded that today there are more slaves than ever before in history, that children are still trafficked for harvest labour on the cocoa farms. According to Peter Whoriskey from the Washington Post, “Mars, Nestlé and Hershey pledged nearly two decades ago to stop using cocoa harvested by children. Yet much of the chocolate you buy still starts with child labour.”
Last night on the news, I learned that Nestlé has decided not to do business through the FairTrade system. What that means is that for Nestlé, child labour will continue and the farmers will be paid less for their cocoa than it costs to produce. On the Nestlé website they say that they are the, “World’s leading, Nutrition, Health and Wellbeing Company”.
I don’t think so, Nestlé.
One of the harvest kids is quoted by Peter Whoriskey as saying that “he’s hungry, tired and he has a very sore back”. Needless to say, there’s no Mum or Dad to bring comfort, food, rest and healing. No family for a sense of belonging and value. Just the next bit of scrub to clear. Just the next swing of the machete to look forward to. The kids hardly talk apparently. Their distinctive faces have the commonality of utter emptiness. Nestlé couldn’t care less about nutrition, health and the well being of those kids. I think I’ve had my last ever KitKat and glass of Milo – I won’t miss them a bit.
I promised you that I’d write this blog on the biblical tension between God’s total control over our salvation and our need to genuinely respond. Why on earth would I start with the gut wrenching story of child labour in west Africa? Is it because I want to remind us of the job God has given us as a church family? To reach the ends of the earth with the good news of his Son Jesus Christ and to seek earthly justice for the poor and the marginalised? Yes! Definitely. Arawang Anglican is not about us. Arawang Anglican has been put here for a purpose. That is, you and I have a purpose. We are here to make disciples of all nations and all generations. We are to seek first Christ’s righteousness in ourselves, in our community, territory, nation and world. As much as I am totally committed to that, it’s not why I started this blog with west Africa.
I started the blog with west Africa because I was devastated to think of those kids not having any assurance of where they really belong and if they’re loved. Personal assurance is vital to our sense of well-being and health. Imagine if someone you loved deeply came to you and said, “Are you my friend/wife/husband/father/mother/brother/sister because I’m not actually sure that I am? That question would be devastating to both parties.
See, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over our salvation boils down to our assurance. Can I be sure that I’m loved, I belong and I’m a child of God? Can I be sure of that? Is there any chance the spiritual equivalent of west Africa could happen to me where I don’t know where my Heavenly Father is, or I can’t be sure even who my Heavenly Father is? I can’t be sure of where I belong because I’ve been taken from my ‘spiritual home’?
God’s sovereignty is therefore not just abstract, geeky, philosophical, academic theology. If it remains like that, we’ve missed the point! God’s sovereignty over my salvation is about whether I know that I am safe at ‘home’. It’s about my assurance of my safety now and my safety in eternity. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it: “What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…” I can be assured because God is sovereign, God is faithful and God keeps his word.
In this blog, I’d like to start by showing you from the Scriptures how God is sovereign over our salvation. He is the initiator, he makes it happen and he will keep his people safe for ever and ever and ever.
God is Sovereign over my salvation because he chooses who are his. Have a look at these select verses. There are plenty more I could use too:
A “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Genesis 17:4ff
Here we see that God chose Abraham.
B “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” Exodus 6:7
Here we see that God chose his people and saved them out of Egypt.
C “All things have been handed over to me by my father, and no one knows the Son except the father, and no one knows the father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matt 11:27
This text shows us the tension between God’s choosing and our responsibility to respond. The text goes on to say, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So God chooses us and therefore we ‘come to Jesus’. We cannot come to Jesus unless God chose us first.
D Jesus said, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 11:27-28
Once again this text is helpful in trying to understand the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Jesus says that he has sheep that are known to him and he gives eternal life and they are safe. At the same time Jesus says that his sheep follow him. They are responsible for the action to follow.
E Jesus said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you or harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:10
This text is important because we might be tempted to think that because God is sovereign over salvation and he knows where his people are, we don’t need to tell people the good news about Jesus. The opposite is true though. Precisely because Jesus said that his people are in Corinth, Paul is told to go and find them, speak and not to be silent. Paul didn’t know which one were which. I don’t know which ones are which, but God does! Imagine if Jesus said to you, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you or harm you, for I have many in Kambah, Tuggeranong and in Canberra.” I think there is truth in that and so we are reminded of the job we have to do in God’s strength.
F Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:3-4
G Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
H Paul wrote, “and you were dead in the trespasses and sins……But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great Love with which he loved us made us alive in Christ.” Ephesians 2:1ff
Christianity has never been about making good people better people. Rather it’s about making spiritually dead people alive in Christ as totally new creations. Needless to say, spiritually dead people cannot initiate salvation. We need to be made alive by a Sovereign Saviour.
God is indeed sovereign over our salvation. From these texts we can see that God knows whose are his people since before the foundation of the world, he makes them known to Jesus who then sends his disciples out into the world to find them. When they are found, they come (not necessarily immediately) and their souls, even if their bodies die, are kept safe in God’s care for eternity. God never loses his sheep. Praise Him.
A good friend of mine, David Greeff was a missionary for many years in Namibia. He is now the General Secretary of the WA branch of CMS. David always signs off his emails like this:
“Until His nets are full,
I love this sign off. It reminds me that God is Sovereign over the salvation of his people. He knows how many fish will be in the net and he knows them by name – not one will be lost. David’s sign off reminds me that as Jesus called the first disciples to be ‘fishers of men’, we must serve and serve faithfully until all his nets are full. Some are teachers and pastors, some evangelists, some governors, some financially provide, some work behind the scenes. We all must play our part. Only then, when his nets are full, will Jesus return, roll up the pages of history and say “enough’s enough let’s all go home”.
There are important questions that arise out of this. What about the people who are not ‘chosen’, what must I do in response to what God has done? For those, you’ll have to wait until next week.
Those poor kids in west Africa were taken from where they belong. They had no parents and no hope in this world. Because God is sovereign over the salvation of his people, this will never be the case for our souls. We can be assured. We will never be taken from where we belong. We will never find that our Father can’t be found. We are safe. God planned it, bought us, sealed and keeps us. Not one of God’s people will be lost and God keeps his promises. Eternal life means eternal life!
We will always know where we belong and we will always know we are loved.