by Mike Ratliff
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:20-21 ESV)
I was a teenager in the 1960’s. My generation, the Baby-Boomers, are known for their rebellion against authority. I was no flaming radical, but like most in my generation, I did question the right of those in positions of authority over me. However, I enlisted in the US Navy in 1973 and quickly found out what submission to authority was really all about. All through boot camp and data processing training in the Navy, I discovered how important it was to obey commands and work under the authority of those over me. This hit home to me in a big way when I went to fire fighting school as part of my basic training in San Diego.
I was the Company Yeoman so, like the other petty officers in our company, I was a nozzle-man for one of the main teams. My team was chosen to be one of two that would fight a simulated boiler-room fire. We wore no breathing gear. All the protection we had were some rubberized raincoats with a cowel-like hood. We sat on bleachers as our instructor told us what was going to happen. Two teams would enter the boiler room from opposite sides. We would work together to put out the fire that was actually burning oil that covered the bilge water that was below the grating on which we would work. I was put on the nozzle and the rest of my team held the hose one behind the other as our instructor grabbed the nozzle by the other handle. The fire was started, the alarm rang, and we entered the building.
This was the first time I had ever been that close to a serious fire in an enclosed structure. I remember being totally surprised by how difficult it was to breathe. Our instructor and the one on the other team had us open the nozzles up to force the oil that was burning to be pushed to one spot where it could be extinguished. We were to sweep our hoses from side to side, working together like this we made short work of it. However, just as it looked like we had it all under control, the flames increased in magnitude to the point that those of us on the nozzles were cut off from the exits. I remember feeling like I was about to pass out from lack of oxygen. My instructor and I were coughing and gasping for air. The heat was bad and I could not breathe without filling my lungs with the smoke. This seemed to go on forever, but I think it was only about 30 seconds or so when our instructor blew a whistle he had around his neck. This was the signal for the fire to be foamed out, which happened immediately.
The instructor helped me sweep the nozzle from side to side to wash the foam out of the bilge. It seemed very difficult for us, but after a few minutes, he had me shut off the nozzle. I turned around and then understood why it was so difficult. All of my “team” had abandoned the hose when the fire flared up. It was just the instructor and I on the nozzle. He helped me drag the hose back out of the building. My “team” was gathered at the door surrounded by instructors. They would not look at either of us. A Corpsman came and looked at both of us. I had minor burns on my face, but my hands were okay. My instructor and I had black faces and hands, which was from the smoke I suppose.
It turned out that someone had mistakenly turned on the switch to ventilate the smoke from the simulator while the fire was still burning as we worked. This caused it to flare up uncontrollably. My “team” had dropped the hose and fled. As I was taken to be cleaned up, I saw that my “team” was going to have to go through it again. I was excused from all further exercises. My Company Commander came over to me and asked to look at my hands. I showed them to him and he said that as long as I could still write and, therefore, function as his Yeoman then that was all he cared about. Of course, he smiled when he said it. Some men simply cannot express certain emotions. :-)
The example above of my “experience” on authority in fire fighting school in Navy boot camp back in 1973 was to show what happens when “men” are not submitted to the authority that is over them. The one who turned on the ventilator as we fought the fire endangered the lives of two nozzle teams and two instructors. My “teammates” who fled when the fire got too hot revealed that they would not follow instructions when things became crucial. We could have used their help in trying to control that nozzle, which wanted to jump all over the place. I learned that even when we do what we are supposed to do in submission to the authority over us, things could still get rough.
Our ultimate authority is God. He is sovereign. God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three members of the Godhead works together in our salvation, which the Apostle Paul lays out for us very clearly in Ephesians 1. The Work of the Father is expressed in our election in vv3-6, the Work of the Son is expressed in our redemption in vv7-12, and the Work of the Spirit in our protection in vv13,14.
3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV)
The word “chose” in v4 above is the Greek word εξελεξατο, which means, “to choose for oneself.” The grammatical form of this verb usage here enforces this. It is in aorist tense, infinitive mood, and middle voice, which refer to a non-continuous action for or concerning oneself. In other words, God selected His children for Himself, for His glory. The doctrine of election is emphasized throughout Sacred Scripture (Deut. 7:6; Is. 45:4; John 6:44; Acts 13:48; Rom 8:29; 9:11; 1 Thess. 1:3,4;2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim 2:10). God chose His children by Himself and for Himself to the praise of His own glory (vv6, 12, 14). However, for those who become incensed at this clear and direct interpretation of these verses, this does not mean that this nullifies man’s responsibility to believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour (Matthew 3:1,2; 4:17; John 5:40).
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:7-12 ESV)
In these verses, we have the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Our predestination is to be conformed to the image of the Son. Why? It is all to the praise of God’s glory. All in Christ are called to be submitted to God’s authority through the Son. We don’t “choose” this like we are shopping and must choose to be Christian or Hindu or whatever. No, we are elected and effectually called by God. However, in our religiosity, there is a form of Christianity that is not valid. It is all according to the designs and will of the men who are running it. It has nothing to do with the true Church, which is made up of those elected and called by God. These are reserved and preserved by God and will not bow the knee to these false forms of Jesus that are man-made.
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV)
Here we have the role of the Holy Spirit in our salvation. He seals us in Christ. He is the guarantee of our inheritance. All in Christ will persevere to the end because of this. Those who appear to be genuine, but fall away were not sealed nor did they receive this guarantee.
In these passages from Ephesians 1 we have who we really are and how we got that way and why we will continue. We are blessed v3, chosen v4, predestined v5, adopted v5, accepted v6, redeemed v7, forgiven v7, enlightened vv8-9, given an inheritance v11, sealed v13, and assured v14. I find that the more I study the sovereignty of God that I am even more assured, more joyful, more firm in my convictions, and am filled with an overwhelming desire to bring Him glory and to shine the light of these truths into the hearts of all of His children that they may see who they really are in Him.
We are Christians because of what God has done. Not one of us were chosen because of any merit or actions on our part (Ephesians 2:1-10). No, we are in Christ because He did all that is required to make sure that we would believe at the proper time and thus be justified and forgiven. He has sealed us and preserves us. What a blessing!
Soli Deo Gloria!