In our egalitarian society in the United States we tend to shy away from things that hint of inequality. As a nation fighting for independence from England, we fought for freedom from aristocracy. The United States was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal [by God].” However, “equal” did not necessarily mean the same thing as how many use it today – it was mainly commentary against the idea that the “common man” is entitled by God to have the same right of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that aristocracy or royalty have. Unlike during the French Revolution, the idea of equality was not one where the weak debase the strong, it was the idea that the weak (i.e., common) can become strong.
Because of our general aversion to aristocracy many people have difficulty with the concept of “chosenness” or being a chosen people or nation. That sounds too much like royalty and surely leads to oppression. How can people be equal if some people are chosen? The seeming contradiction lies in misunderstanding of both equality (which I will not discuss further) and chosenness (which I will discuss).
The Apostle Paul gave a discourse to Jews in Rome about what being a chosen people really means.
“Behold, thou art called a Jew [God’s Chosen People], and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” (Romans 2:17-20).
The Jews were and are the Chosen People of God. They were given His law by covenant and as such are really Covenant People. Being chosen by God comes in the form of covenants with God. Covenants are two-way agreements, meaning that great responsibility rests upon those with whom God has covenanted to uphold their covenants. Paul continues with his sermon to those who are “guide[s] of the blind” and “light[s] [to] them…in darkness”.
“Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:21-29).
Being circumcised, being one of God’s covenant people, does not mean anything if the laws and covenants are not kept. Hypocrisy is much worse than ignorance.
The Apostle Paul then continues on in a beautiful exposition on the necessity of the grace of Christ that at first almost seems to contradict the idea that works (our actions) are important, but such a reading of Paul’s words is errant and ignores much of what Paul had just finished teaching and goes on to teach. Without deviating more from the topic of this post, I’ll come back to the topic.
“And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11-12).
Abraham first had faith and then received circumcision – a sign of the covenant he and the Lord made with each other. The children of Israel, of which the Jews were a part, were the children of this covenant and circumcision was a sign of this covenant. However, just because the Jews were covenant – chosen – people did not make them part of an exclusive club. Abraham can be a father to all who have faith [in Christ] and “walk in the steps of [the] faith of our father Abraham.” All who are willing to exhibit that faith in Christ can become chosen, they can partake in God’s covenants.
Simply being chosen is not enough. Being chosen does not make you better than another or more blessed than another if you do not also keep the laws of God. Further, all who desire to walk in the light of Christ can become chosen. Chosenness is a call to covenant, service, and responsibility. Equality comes from raising up, not tearing down.