It is terribly easy to use the doctrine of election as a source of pride. Being called into a special relationship with the Almighty One is truly astounding. It really does set us apart from those who remain outside of this relationship. And it really does place us in a different category and gives us special access to our God. So how do we avoid the immense stumbling block of pride which so easily leaves us face-down in the muck?
There is a compelling verse in the prophecy of Amos which can stop us in our tracks and provide some perspective. As a prophet of God, Amos is speaking to a people who fell headlong into the temptation of pride and were on the cusp of receiving their just punishment for it.
The people of Israel had misused their privileged status as the chosen ones of God, even though He had made it well-clear to them that their chosen status was no occasion for boasting. Back in the scroll of Deuteronomy, in Moses’ final address to Israel, he reminds God’s chosen ones of their unworthiness and warns them against the snare of pride:
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.Deuteronomy 7:7
…then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.(Deut.8:14)Deuteronomy 8:14
Despite Moses’ instruction, Israel puffed up their chests and began to forget the grace that saved them. The history of Israel after their entrance into the promised land is riddled with swollen egos and hardened hearts leading to disobedience and moral decay. This is what Amos is speaking against. God’s people had remained smug in their special place as the chosen nation and their pride was leading to their downfall. Israel wrongly assumed that their chosen status was automatic insurance against the wrath of God. They believed they were in a special category which exempted them from punishment for sin. Against this foolish thinking, Amos brings the very word of God.
You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.Amos 3:2
This is the very opposite of what God’s people had thought. God will punish his people for their sins precisely because they were his chosen people. They had forgotten that their special place as God’s chosen was to be an occasion for glorifying God, not for feeling superior about themselves. (Amos 6:1) They had fixated on the privileges of being near to God, while omitting the responsibility of bringing their God near to others. They delighted in possessing the light of God, but tucked it away in their own little corner where it would remain their sole possession
The irony is that in attempting to keep God to themselves, they lost sight of Him. In soothing their consciences with their exclusive calling, they dulled their minds to sin and lulled themselves into a moral nightmare. In hoarding the light for themselves they suffocated it and were left sitting in the darkness.
Surely then, Amos provides us with a clear lesson about avoiding the pride of being chosen. The first lesson is we that must continually recall to mind both the utter darkness of our sins and the amazing grace which transferred us to the light. We are worthy only because God has made us worthy. The difference between the chosen ones and those left in sin, is exclusively and unequivocally the grace of God. A most basic truth is that Jesus died for us while we were yet dirty sinners. If we forget grace, we leave ourselves open to destructive pride, and we will be overrun by the wrath of God.
A second lesson from the pages of Amos is the calling which accompanies God’s choosing. God does not choose a people for himself in order to isolate them from the world. Rather, He chooses a people to bear His light into the dark corners of our sinful world. Israel was to be a shining example of all things holy, righteous, and just. Instead, in Amos’ day, fathers and sons shared the same women, the righteous were sold for silver, and the prophets were silenced (Amos 2). Comfortable in their chosen status, the people drifted into all sorts of evil deeds and became witnesses of depravity of fallen man.
Israel’s role as witnesses to the nearness and glory of God not only remains for us today, it gets expanded; as seen in the Pentecost story. In the wake of the earth-shattering event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the “look-and-see” approach is adjusted to include the “go-and-tell”. Our calling as chosen ones is God’s means of spreading the good news. To dismiss or neglect this calling, as Israel often did, is not simply some deficiency in the Christian life, but may very well prove to be our downfall, as it was for Israel.
It remains true that God’s choosing is a source of comfort for us. To have been called out of darkness into the Light is a tremendous truth and a fountain of courage and security. But we must not let that fact obscure the whole picture. There is the very real danger of sitting secure in our privileged positions and getting bloated on pride and complacency. This leads to moral ruin and lack of empathy, among other things. If we are not careful, we may end up before the judgement seat of God hearing the words of Amos’ prophecy:
You have I chosen of all the sinners of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.