“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
For Lutherans when it comes to the topic of choice we typically have a very narrow focus. The only choice that matters is that, purely by grace, God has chosen us in Christ to be his beloved children. We are confident of this choice not because of our feelings or because of any other subjective basis but because of Holy Baptism.
There is no way we could choose God because we are by nature, sinful and unclean. We are turned away from God and would never choose him. But the Holy Spirit, calls us by the Gospel and brings us to saving faith in Jesus. Typically this is where any Lutheran discussion of choice ends. We shy away from in-depth discussions of choice since it could give the impression that if we are going to become Christians we have to make the choice to believe.
But Scripture in many places directs us to take a more comprehensive look at choice. Yes, it is true that the only choice that truly matters is that God has chosen us as his beloved Children in Christ. But as we live our lives as God’s beloved children we need to train ourselves to make good choices. This blog post will focus on some portions of Scripture that help us do that.
The words of Moses quoted above from Deuteronomy remind us that God gives us opportunities to make choices. We are not mindless robots. He gives us actual, real choices. Our choices can have eternal consequences: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” These are real choices God is giving us.
Unbelievers don’t have this opportunity. They can only ever choose death.
Another principle about choices for us as Christians is that we are seldom allowed to make the easy choice. Jesus talks about that in Luke 14: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
The world is always trying to get us to take the easy way. That is the way that leads to destruction. Jesus certainly did not take the easy way when it came to our salvation. He willingly went to the cross to suffer and die there for our salvation. As believers we will often have to choose between those nearest and dearest to us and our faith.
It is true God allows us to make choices but he is pretty clear about the commandments. The same Moses who says above, “choose,” is the one who gave us the Ten Commandments. We are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is no choice about that.
We know that our choices are not to make us proud. We dare not have the attitude, “I made better choices therefore I am a better person, or I deserve more blessings.” Jesus speaks about this in Luke 14:7-11 when he talked about humbly choosing the lowest seat when we are invited to a banquet.
In his letter to Philemon, the Apostle Paul gives his good friend a choice. Philimon’s slave, Onesimus, had run away from Philemon. While Onesimus is on the run, he meets Paul and becomes Paul’s helper. This is especially important since Paul is old and in prison. Then Paul finds out that Onesimus is Philemon’s runaway slave and realizes he must send Onesimus back to Philemon.
Before sending him back, Paul writes a letter to Philemon, asking Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother. Paul makes it very clear; Philemon has a choice. He can do what Paul asks or not.
The interesting thing is we don’t know what choice Philemon makes. This is never mentioned again in Scripture and so we don’t know what Philemon did. Of course in our day it would seem like a no-brainer to free the slave, especially if he was a valuable, fellow Christian, but that is not the way people thought back then.
It’s like the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. We don’t know what Martha did after Jesus explained to her that her sister Mary had made a better choice than she had. Did she stop cooking and sit down next to her sister and listen to Jesus’ words? So too in the parable of the forgiving father in Luke 15. The father welcomes his younger son back after he had wasted all his money. When the older son hears about it he does not feel like joining in the party to welcome his brother back. The father goes out and talks to the older brother and encourages him to join the party but we are never told if the older brother joins the party. All these stories where we are not told the outcome emphasize that fact that we have choices.
We will not always make the right choice. It is going to happen. Far too often we will make the easy choice over what is most God-pleasing. That is when we immediately go back to the beginning: God chose us as his children in Christ and for the sake of Christ forgives our sinful choices.
So that is some Scriptural guidance on choice.
There are real choices that God gives us. We are not just robots.
We are seldom allowed to make the easy choice. Our Christians choices often involve the people and things that are most dear to us.
The Commandments are still to be followed. There are no choices when it comes to loving God and loving our neighbors.
Making good choices are not a reason to make us proud.
And when we make the wrong choice we always go back to the beginning; God’s gracious choice of us as his beloved children in Christ.