This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at the church we attend in our small Hill Country town, so as to allow the Pastor to take a well deserved week of vacation. The text that I used for the sermon was from Ezekiel 37, the familiar (if anything in Ezekiel is familiar to most people) passage containing the vision God gave to Ezekiel of the valley of dry bones. The bottom line of the sermon, by way of application, was that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins , and that apart from the working of God through His grace, we remain in that condition, blinded to the light the gospel. Further, just as God did in Ezekiel’s vision, He uses His word to awaken the “dead” and the Holy Spirit to truly bring about and confirm new life. With an invitation for the congregation to consider their current “state”, I am trusting that God will continue to use the truths proclaimed, in spite of whatever failings were present in the the means of delivery (yours truly), to accomplish His ends.
For those of you who teach, or preach, do you find yourself continuing to consider, or maybe better said wrestle with a text, even after you have completed your teaching from it? I sure have these past few days. And as a part of that wrestling, I find that I wish I had made a few more applications, or that I had made them more clearly. I have also come to the conclusion that I could use this same text as the basis for yet another whole sermon. My first go centered around God’s grace and the process by which He brings people from spiritual death to eternal life, (i.e.: the preaching of the word and the movement of the spirit). My second pass through would focus on the doctrine of election, and OUR response to that in terms of evangelism.
In verse 3 of Ezekiel 37, God asks the prophet if the many bones on the surface of the valley could live. A similar question could be asked of us regarding the countless numbers of people whose orbits cross and sometimes collide with our own. Are they now breathing eternally, or if not, can/will they be saved? At the risk of oversimplifying that which seminaries and seminarians spend vast amounts of time reading, lecturing and writing about, I settle on the notion that there are basically three points of view on this matter.
One is the Roman view that says that by virtue of the washing away of original sin in baptism, and the periodic renewal of that state of sinlessness through confession to a priest and observance of the sacraments, ALL can live. I am not persuaded by their doctrine and think that there is something dangerously missing when relying on man-made rituals and tradition. I fear for the condition of people’s souls if they are making such a reliance. But God will be the ultimate judge.
Of the other two views, both involve an election on the part of God as to who will be counted among those saved at the end of the age. The Arminian view, vastly and perhaps overly simplified, holds that God looks into the future to see who will choose Him when that person is confronted with a choice of faithfulness to God or not, and for those who do pick faithfulness, He then counts them among His elect. The difficulty I have with this doctrine is that man will show up in heaven being able to take credit for having done something to allow for his presence there. This wrecks my understanding of Eph. 2: 8 & 9, where we are told that salvation is not “of our doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works.” I would argue that even a decision would be regarded as “work.”
The Reformed view (aka Calvinism) says that God, according to the kind intention of His will, elects some to salvation, without any consideration of merit or actions of that person. This is the essence of God’s sovereign grace. God chooses according to His pleasure, and for His glory alone. Again, Eph 2: 8, says we are saved by grace through faith. And that faith is a capability given only by God through the regeneration of a person, who otherwise would be incapable and unwilling to choose God for him/herself. For anyone who is not familiar with me, or who has not read elsewhere at this site, I will take the guess work out for you, my worldview is defined by this doctrine.
So, how does Ezekiel 37: 3 relate to this? Well, back to God’s question to Ezekiel…”can these bones live?” While I have difficulty with the Arminian view, and I do find scriptural support for the Reformed doctrine of sovereign election, let’s just allow for the moment that both views have validity. The truth is, we don’t know any more than Ezekiel did when God posed the question to him about the possibility of life for someone already dead. In the case of Ezekiel, it was the symbolic death of the nation of Israel. In our case, it is the spiritual death that plagues mankind. We simply do not know who can live and who cannot, (or for the Arminian, will not).
So, our answer must be the same as Ezekiel. “O Lord God, you know.” (ESV) or in some versions, “you ALONE know.” Consequently, our mission is to present the good news of the gospel to all the dry bones, we come into contact with just as Ezekeil did in his vision. Because whether by our attempts or those of others who follow us, the elect will hear and they will “live and stand on their feet” (verse 10). We need to reject the teachings of those who corrupt the doctrine of election by saying that there is no need to evangelize if the elect are bound for salvation no matter what. God has clearly taught us about the means by which He regenerates, and that is in part through the preaching and the hearing of the word, and He has also given us the imperative that we GO and TEACH.