Rejected, Selected, or Accepted?
by Dale Reeves
Last evening at 6:00 pm EST, the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament participants were announced. It’s called “Selection Sunday.” As the CBS announcers stated, “This is the night when we reveal who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the bubble.” Every year (with the exception of 2020, when the tournament was not played due to COVID-19), there are debates as to why certain college teams didn’t make the cut to be able to play in the 68-team tournament field. They might have not had enough “big wins” against ranked teams, they might have had some really bad losses to teams they shouldn’t have lost to, or their strength of schedule might not be comparable to other teams who did make the cut. There are lots of other metrics that the tournament committee uses to determine which teams make it in, but one of them is not the one we base our eternal salvation on: the grace of God.
Every year as I watch the “Selection Show,” I always feel sorry for some team who expresses their disappointment that their season is over for their senior players. The coaches who are interviewed usually seem dumbfounded that their team was not selected to compete in the Big Dance, and they talk about how much adversity their team has overcome, and give praise to their senior leadership. Everyone knows that the first week of April only one team out of 350 Division I basketball programs will be crowned the national champion, but that doesn’t mean losing doesn’t hurt.
Yesterday at Christ’s Church we continued in our “Jesus Walks” series leading up to Easter, and we looked at Luke 4 in the narrative where Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, and he was not welcomed as the hometown hero, but, rather was rejected. After Jesus read some Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, he told everyone in the synagogue that he was the fulfillment of that Scripture. After telling them that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown, they were furious with him, and tried to kill him by throwing him over a cliff. Miraculously, Jesus walked through the crowd because it was not yet time for him to die for all of their sins—and ours!
I don’t know the depth of what Jesus felt that day, but I do know something about rejection. Middle school can be a cruel world. After running cross country in the seventh grade so I could get to know the coach (who also coached basketball), I found my name on the cut list for the basketball team. Then, in the ninth grade, I made the “taxi squad,” which meant I was the sixteenth guy on the team, but had to wear my jersey inside out if I ever got in a game for the last ten seconds because the starting guard for the team also wore my number. The next year, after going through all the running that is part of the preseason conditioning, I found my name on the cut list again in the tenth grade. Rejected. Not good enough. Not fast enough. Not tall enough.
I also experienced rejection after graduating from college. Love can deliver some cruel blows. I had gotten married after my junior year, and in our third year of marriage, my wife decided to reject me in favor of someone else with whom she chose to have an affair. Rejected again. It wasn’t until four years later that I married again, this time to my life partner, to whom I’ve now been married for thirty-six wonderful years.
What about you? How has the world rejected you? The good news is that Jesus loves those who have felt rejected by the world. He chose a bunch of misfits to follow him as his disciples for three and a half years. And, today he still chooses people the world might be surprised to find out can accomplish great things when they are empowered by him.
God rejects no one. He tells us in his Word, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9, NLT).
There has been much written about the doctrine of “predestination” when it comes to who will make it into Heaven and who won’t. I’ve met many people in my lifetime who were “hoping to make it into Heaven by the skin of their teeth,” as if God is sitting up in Heaven playing bracketology, playing with the souls of men and women, determining who will make it into the pearly gates. It’s like they think they are on the proverbial bubble. The great news is that God doesn’t have a “last four out” and “last four in” list based on our metrics, based on our performance, based on the good deeds we have done. And, even though you may know that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, you may have grown up thinking you had to prove your worth, you had to do enough good things to overcome your “bad losses,” or bad sins. There is nothing further from the truth. Here is what God’s Word says:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, NIV).
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:11-13, NIV).
Concerning the interpretation of these Bible passages, I personally hold to the view of “conditional election,” rather than “unconditional election.” I believe that God has the ability to look into the future to see who would freely choose Christ if given the opportunity and those people are deemed by God as “the elect”—but he will not force his will upon anyone. Brian Abasciano, president of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, expresses it this way:
“Concerning election unto salvation, the Bible teaches that God chooses for salvation those who believe in Jesus Christ and therefore become united to him, making election conditional on faith in Christ.”
But I also believe it is not by our faith alone, but only by the grace of God that any human being is capable of seeking after and desiring God. And, it is Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and God’s grace that saves us.
The Message translation says it this way:
“He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements,
all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole” (Isaiah 53:3-5, The Message).
Jesus walked this earth, and he took on others’ rejection of him all because of his love for us. He responds to us just the opposite, not with rejection—no matter what you’ve done—but with love and acceptance.
I’m thankful to God today that he doesn’t reject us, but selects us, and accepts us, just as the apostle John tells us:
“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (John 1:10-13, NLT).
Songwriter and musician Chris Tomlin said it so well in his worship song, “You Are My King.”
“I’m forgiven because you were forsaken, I’m accepted, You were condemned.
I’m alive and well, Your spirit is within me because you died and rose again.
Amazing love, how can it be that you, my king, would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true, it’s my joy to honor you.”