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Are Our Children Called (part 1)

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Are Our Children Called (part 1)

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Are the children of members of God's Church called now? The answer to this question affects how parents view their children, as well as the expectations they can have of their children. No less important, the answer also influences how children perceive themselves and the self-expectations they will develop. Within the Church's modern history at least, opinions on this issue have ranged widely. Some feel the youth are indeed called by virtue of association with and training in the ways of God. Others, however, question the use of the term "called," wondering if it implies that youth who do not respond to God now may be forfeiting their only opportunity to come to Him. Additionally, many members with grown children who did not stay in the Church feel guilty, wondering if with better training their children would have remained faithful. Others believe parents are neutral in this matter and that it is God's choice alone whether to call the children. When we don't know whether our children are called now, our conversations will reflect this with phrases such as, "I don't know whether God will call my child or not" and "Since our children are not called now, we can't expect too much out of them." When children hear these kinds of statements, they often feel it doesn't matter which way they choose. A biblically based answer to this question is needed in order to know the responsibilities, expectations and type of approach toward children God wants parents and the Church to have. Placing This Question in Its Larger Context It is important to place this question first within the context of God's overall plan for humanity. When God created the first humans, He offered them access to the tree of life. This tree symbolized having access to God's Holy Spirit and potentially receiving eternal life (Genesis 3:22; Revelation 22:14). Other scriptures reveal that the Holy Spirit imparts the mind of God and is concurrently the power and essence of God and "earnest" (or down payment) of eternal life (2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14). Instead of choosing this tree, our first parents chose the symbol of human self-determination, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and were subsequently driven from the Garden of Eden. God restricted Adam, Eve and their offspring from any further access to the tree of life (Genesis 2 and 3). In His plan to eventually replace Satan's rule over the earth with His own government, God has been "calling" and "choosing" selected individuals and training them for leadership in His future Kingdom. Those who are given His Spirit and who remain faithful to Him will receive eternal spirit life at the return of Jesus Christ. What It Means to Be "Called" Romans 8:30 states, "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." The Greek word here translated "called" is kaleo, "derived from the root kal—, whence Eng. 'call' and 'clamor' . . . is used (a) with a personal object, to call anyone, invite, summon, e.g., Matt. 20:8; 25:14; it is used particularly of the Divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption, e.g., Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Thess. 2:12; Heb. 9:15" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, "Call, Called, Calling"). Here Paul describes the process or sequence of events God uses to bring people to eternal life. God determined and planned from the beginning to call people to become "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). The final step, yet to come, is to become glorified as Christ is. Verse 30 does not imply that everyone who is called becomes justified and glorified. Rather, Paul was explaining the sequential steps in the salvation process—being called by God precedes becoming justified. Peter cautioned the saints to "make your call and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). Here the word "call" comes from a similar Greek word, klesis, meaning "a calling,...[it] is always used in the N.T. of that calling the origin, nature and destiny of which are heavenly (the idea of invitation being implied); it is used especially of God's invitation to man to accept the benefits of salvation" (ibid.). While this definition seems to imply a false concept of "going to heaven," it still recognizes that this calling is heavenly, that is, from God. "Election" comes from ekloge meaning "a picking out, selection (Eng., eclogue), then, that which is chosen" (ibid., "Elect, Elected, Election"). Jesus stated in the parable of the wedding feast, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Here the word is kletos and means "called, invited... used, (a) of the call of the Gospel, Matt. 20:16; 22:14" (ibid., "Call, Called, Calling"). "Chosen" comes from eklektos: "signifies chosen out, select (ibid., "Choice, Chosen, Chosen"). Eklektos is used 23 times in the New Testament. The King James Version translates it "elect" 16 times and "chosen" 7 times. Christ used the words "called" and "invited" nearly interchangeably in this parable (verses 1-14) about those summoned to a wedding. The concept of invitation is particularly important because it carries the notion that the invitees are welcomed and their presence is desired, but that they have a choice in how they will reply. God calls—invites, if you will—many people; each one's response determines whether he or she becomes chosen, part of the elect. The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) illustrates the differing reactions among the many called. Some do not give God's truth an opportunity to take root and quickly let go of it. Others start responding but when facing opposition quickly give up. Others, fruitful at first, later make poor choices and become unfruitful. Some, though, bear good fruit that endures to the end. In John 6:44 Christ said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." (see also verse 65). The Greek word for "draws," helko, refers to "dragging, pulling or attracting" (ibid., "Draw.") God the Father is responsible for initiating the actions in one's life that will ultimately bring him or her to follow Christ. Without God's direct and miraculous intervention, no one can pursue His truth and Kingdom. But notice again, Christ did not say that everyone whom the Father draws chooses to come to Him. Christ also showed that a difference exists between the time when God's Spirit is "with" one, and the time when it is "in" one. In John 14:15-17, Christ addressed the disciples before His crucifixion, prior to the giving of His Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Referring to that time when God's Spirit would (future tense) come and be in them, He said, "...but you know [it], for [it] dwells with you and will be in you." God was affecting their lives through the influence of His Spirit, but they had not yet received it as an indwelling presence. A few weeks later, as Acts 2 shows, they learned what it meant to be imbued with the Holy Spirit and saw its association with baptism. Calling necessarily precedes baptism; and for those who are called, the Holy Spirit will be working with them. However, being called does not equate to actually receiving the Holy Spirit. That takes place after baptism with the laying on of hands. Before a person is baptized, he must repent, exercise faith in the sacrifice of Christ for the remission of sins and willingly choose to follow God. From these passages, we conclude that being called is an invitation that does not necessarily involve a positive response to the invitation. Those who respond to God's calling are described in another way. What It Means to Be "Chosen" The Matthew 22:1-14 wedding parable prefigures Christ's return, the resurrection of the elect and their subsequent marriage to Christ. He beckons "the called," giving them access to this glorious opportunity; but most of them reject the invitation. God determines whom He will call, then those called must decide whether and when to accept that invitation. Those who repent and live by faith become "chosen." God calls whom He will, but humans decide how they will respond. Scriptures indicate that people are considered chosen at the time God imparts His Holy Spirit to them. Peter, speaking of God's Spirit-filled children who comprise the Church of God, described them as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people" (1 Peter 2:9). Romans 8:11, 16-17 and 22-23 also show that only a person who has the Spirit of God abiding within him or her, is a literal child of God. Such an individual is God's chosen—His own child. A person whose name is written into the "Book of Life" (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8) would certainly be considered by God to be chosen. Christ reveals in Revelation 17:14 that those saints who will rule with him are "called" and "chosen" and "faithful." Just as people can choose to follow God, they can also choose to change their minds; and even a chosen person is not unconditionally guaranteed to be in the first resurrection. Many scriptural warnings admonish the elect, those who have responded to God's calling, not to throw away their extraordinary chosen status and promised salvation. Scripture does not define how many God has called; but compared to those chosen, the number is "many." The preceding verses show the difference between being called and being chosen. This distinction should be clearly noted in determining whether or how God calls children. Can a Child Be Called? Children can, and should, have a certain knowledge and grasp of spiritual issues. Scriptural evidence leaves no doubt that a child can have a relationship with God. Throughout the ages many have done so. For example, "Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child..." (1 Samuel 2:18), and "the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with the Lord and men" (verse 26). Josiah followed God from the time he began his reign over Judah at the age of 8, and as a teenager, "in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David" (2 Chronicles 34:3). The evangelist Timothy is an excellent example of a child growing up instructed in God's way of life. Paul told him to "continue in the things which you have learned" and further remarked that "from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures" (2 Timothy 3:14-15). It was his mother who taught him, as her mother had taught her—"when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (2 Timothy 1:5). Eunice could not have known, in Timothy's childhood, that he would become a minister of God, but she obviously taught him with the expectation he would learn, understand and practice God's truth. Other scriptures amply illustrate that young people can understand spiritual concepts. The Proverbs were written "to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" (Proverbs 1:4). The father's goal in teaching his son the laws of God is to help the son internalize and never forget them (Proverbs 3:1-3). David wrote, "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Psalm 34:11). Should one be surprised that God would be involved in the spiritual lives of children? Not at all. Indeed, through observing His actions throughout the Old Testament, particularly with the nation of Israel, one sees the value and importance He places on young people. Parallels and Lesson From the Nation-Family of Israel When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt to become His own special people, they were to learn of Him, walk with Him and represent Him to other nations. He said, "If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4-6). The Old Covenant God made with Israel did not include the promise of the Holy Spirit, as the New Covenant does today. But even without the indwelling of His Spirit in most people, God had spiritual expectations of the parents and children. Note the following scriptures: "And teach them to your children and your grandchildren... and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children" (Deuteronomy 4:9-10). "That you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson" (Deuteronomy 6:2). "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). "When your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and the Lord showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household. Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us'" (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). God desired all parents within His special, called-out nation of Israel to diligently teach their children His truths and way. Furthermore, He expected those children would live that godly way, and would in turn teach the next generation the same truths. This generation-to-generation process was a vital key in perpetuating the promises of the Old Covenant. God made a covenant with Abraham saying, "'And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.' And God said to Abraham: 'As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations'" (Genesis 17:7-9). Interestingly, of all the areas of Abraham's obedience, God stressed one particular issue: "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord" (Genesis 18:19). God looked not only upon Abraham, but included his children with an expectation that Abraham would pass on to them the knowledge and practice of His ways. Abraham, "the father of us all" (Romans 4:16), set a precedent for both physical Israel and its spiritual counterpart today—the New Testament Church, which is called "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) and the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). Galatians 3:29 adds, "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Today the Church is a spiritual nation, a family paralleling the original Israel God called in the Old Testament. Are God's expectations for the parents and children in the Church any less than they were for ancient Israel? The apostle Peter confirmed this fundamental principle when he declared at the end of his powerful sermon on the Day of Pentecost: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38-39).