6th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 584, 573, 750:1-3
Text – John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you…
THE HEART OF DECISION THEOLOGY
If you were forced to make a choice that could lead to the life or death of your family, how much confidence would you want to have when making that decision? Would 50/50 be good enough? How about 60/40? Even 90/10 would probably leave most of us extremely nervous.
A decision like that would be very uncomfortable because most of us recognize, at least subconsciously, how often we make mistakes or even fail completely. In most of our failures the stakes aren’t as high as the life or death of our family. The result is this – we get complacent regarding decisions that lead to spiritual life or death.
Faithful Christians get frustrated with friends, church members & family who are oblivious to the dangerous situation they commonly put themselves in. Last Sunday the sermon focused on the most important thing you can do. This week the sermon will focus on why the that is the most important thing we can do.
Abiding in the Vine is the most important thing we can do in all of life here on earth. That thought, however, is still rather abstract, especially to anyone who has not grown up around, or working in, vineyards. The vine is an OT picture of Israel. It was planted as a good & productive vine, but had gone sour & degenerate. It was producing worthless fruit.
In essence, the vine had chosen death over life. So God came to earth in Jesus, the true & good Vine, & He is all that God’s Vine was supposed to be. Since mankind has been replaced as the vine, it was left dead & useless, cut off & no longer connected to the source of life. Human beings now find life & bear fruit through being incorporated, grafted or adopted into the new Vine, the one that gives true life. That decision cannot be made by the branch. Once cut off it is dead & powerless to do anything but rot & decay. If the gardener does not graft the branch back into the vine it will remain dead, forever. The joyful news of the Gospel is that the Holy Spirit is working in the world to graft dead & useless branches back into the Vine to give them life.
As Jesus stated to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you…” All human beings are born to this earth dead in sin. Sin has disfigured & marred our existence as surely as Jesus was marred & disfigured through His suffering & death in our place. Apart from Jesus you & I bear no resemblance to the fruitful branches we were intended to be.
Even after we have been grafted back into the Vine, sin has a hold on us. Our flesh is still wild & corrupt, needing constant correction & pruning so that it might produce fruit instead of simply wasting the blessing of life we have received. Christians & even pastors are tempted to measure another person’s faith, or lack of it, by the sins they see.
Then, they draw what seems to be a logical conclusion – those branches that still have a wild appearance, though grafted into the Vine, cannot truly be alive. They teach that the branch must still be dead & therefore has to make a decision to live in order to be truly alive. In effect, they’re saying that the supposedly dead branch, must re-graft itself back onto the Vine.
The danger in this misunderstanding is that a person may end up believing that their sinful flesh, & its disfigured appearance, disqualifies them from heaven. This takes us back to the opening illustration, “If you were forced to make a choice that could lead to the life or death of your family, how much confidence would you want to have when making that decision?”
50/50 is nowhere good enough. Our hearts & minds are always confronting doubts & fears. That’s a side effect of sin, yet, it is an accurate diagnosis of our condition. If we are left to relying upon our own efforts at making a decision to live, then rightly so, we should be afraid. Just look at your life history, & all the decisions that turned out poorly. Would you want to base your eternal salvation on you & your abilities? Our Creator & Savior knows the predicament you would be in. For Jesus too, 50/50 or even 90/10 is nowhere good enough. He wants you to be certain that the glories of paradise await you. So God Himself chooses you to be His own!
Now, it’s true, if you look at your life & at yourself, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that you have truly decided to follow Jesus. What you see does not conform to His words, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 ESV) Because what we see does not conform, St. Paul taught us these words:
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV) In our sinfully self-centered view of life, we easily believe that it’s what we see that counts. Paul knows that in so many cases we need to ignore what we see & walk instead by faith.
That’s not easy to do either. We rarely choose to live in that way. We want to see results. And with that independent attitude we see a perfect example of why God had to choose us in order that we might be saved. No one else chooses us as we are simply because they love us, unless they are from God.
Because God chose us for life, it is important to remain connected to Him & drawing life from Him. A branch that has been broken off the Vine cannot graft itself back in. The Gardener has to do it for the branch, the Gardener has to choose to do it for the branch. Yahweh did choose & that’s why you & I have life. Corroborating Paul’s earlier point, he wrote this as well:
“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV) That good work which our Lord & Savior began in us is the re-creation of our heart & soul & mind & body. It is the creation of a faith that trusts in Him to save us from all that is wrong with me, myself & I, & from all that is wrong with the people & the world around us. In verse 11 of the Gospel reading Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, & that your joy may be full.” (15:11 ESV)
Jesus chose us from the foundation of the world, to be saved, so that our doubts & fears would not take away the joy we have in being saved from sin & from death & from the devil. These words of God were given to us for comfort when our sins are causing us to doubt that God loves us.
Unfortunately, people try using these words to explain why some are saved & not others. That is not their purpose at all, & it is not our calling to judge the fate of others by their decisions for or against Christ. We cannot see what’s truly in their heart in order to know.
When people have been crushed by the weight of their sin, they need to know then the heart of decision theology – & that is always & only the heart of the heavenly Father who would send His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. Amen.
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed & cleansed & set me free & unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee. It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart & mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind. Now I worship none above Thee; for grace alone I thirst, knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen. LSB 573:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet