Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."
There were two distinct ways that God had put before his chosen people. Be my people in obedience and faith and you will enjoy the possession of the land. Be disobedient and faithless and you will know death and curse. Anyone who knows the history of Israel realizes that Israel was a disobedient and unfaithful people. They suffered exactly what God had promised and saw the devastation of death and exile from the land.
The fact that God gave this command to “choose” one way over the other seems an uneasy consideration for some. If we accept that there is a responsible choice to be made, are we denying the sovereignty of God in his electing grace? In the case of Old Testament Israel, one might attempt to argue that this people were already the elect of God. It is true that God had chosen Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that this people was a product of his electing love, but it is also true that Israel as a national people of God was filled with both believers and unbelievers. The individual responsibility for each person to live in obedience to God’s covenant was an undeniable reality. While the call to Israel is a national call to choose life, it had to be enacted individually. To faithfully obey the command of God is an individual responsibility even if it is a corporate call.
We who live in the New Covenant live in the reality of Jesus who is the only human being to have kept God’s covenant and he did so on our behalf. We stand before the judge of the universe and we are all individually responsible for our sin and our acceptance of Jesus who has kept the covenant on our behalf. Jesus is our only way into the promised land. He is our only gate to life. Therefore, just as Moses said to wandering Israel, Jesus says to us, “Choose life.”
Jesus used different words than Moses, but it is the same call and appeal to our responsibility before God. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. ” (Mt. 7:13). The appeal of Christ is for us to forsake all else to trust and obey him as our King.
We know that in the wider teaching of Scripture that Jesus also tells us that all that the Father gives him will come. He tells us that he already knows each of his sheep by name and that his lost sheep must be found. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that this is not of our doing. Yet, none of the Scriptures that emphasize the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation undermine his instruction that we are responsible before him and called to choose and enter the only way of life.
Biblical balance is the only balance we can maintain. The fact that humans cannot understand how to make human responsibility and God’s sovereignty meet does not mean that one must triumph over the other. Every human being is responsible before the Lord. The Lord saves by his electing love those who he has predestined and called. Human responsibility points us toward response. We stand before the God of the universe and we must choose life and we must enter. This is an impossible task except for the grace of God, but it is not our responsibility to consider whether that grace has been applied to us. It is our responsibility to enter. It is our responsibility to repent and believe. In doing so we must thank God for his grace.