Who are God’s people and who is called by His name?
This is the kind of question poised to stir up hot debate in seminary classes and theology books. So, a short article might not address every facet of the matter, but let’s dig into a handful of scriptures together to glean a fuller picture of this concept.
If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14, emphasis mine).
Context of 2 Chronicles 7:14
The context of the passage in focus has to do directly with Israel, both the people and the place. When the people of Israel in the Promised Land committed different types of disobedience, God warned them that He would bring on them certain kinds of discipline, so then they could stop what they were doing and repent! The discipline was meant to get their attention.
Now, for Christians, we have to look at this verse and consider what it means for us.
I’ve sat under very dearly loved professors who adamantly professed the Old Testament and gospels, with the exception of Luke and the Book of Hebrews, held nothing in them for Christians because they were written expressly for the Jewish people.
And I’ve listened to speakers who boldly and literally claimed promises made directly to Abraham and other biblical figures as their very own.
I don’t think God promised anyone except Abraham and his direct descendants, that He would make him the Father of many nations. I don’t think I have the promised crown of David.
Yet, I also could never consider tossing out the very powerful truth of the “Jewish” gospels, Hebrews, and the whole beloved Old Testament.
Somewhere in between these perspectives, I think we find the heart of God. (And if you have listened to teachers who sat at the extreme poles of perspective as I have, I would be the first to say I believe them to be genuine and to be people who truly love God and His word. This is a point many people debate, yet it isn’t one we ought to divide over).
What is certain about Old Testament passages referring to Israel is that we can see God’s heart for His children. In this 2 Chronicles passage, we see that God’s heart is not to smite His children in wrath and vengeance but to get their attention.
He applies the necessary amount of pressure to get a change from people, not a pointless, angry tirade just to vent His power on them. We see forgiveness and healing. This is our Lord!
Now some theologians might chaff under the notion that Christians apply any part of this verse to their life, but I think it wise and appropriate that for every verse written to an individual (like David or Abraham) or to the collective people of Israel we ask ourselves, What is God revealing about Himself for me to know?
We don’t have to make a promise “our own” to know that God is good — and to me that is wonderful!
So, as an American Christian, I don’t look at this verse and think I can name it and claim it that if enough people repent, then a drought or pestilence will be removed from our midst because this is how God set up the theocratic governmental covenant to function with Israel in Israel.
However, I do think that if we are experiencing a pestilence there’s wisdom in following the example in the Chronicles passage laid before us to repent!
I think we can take it to the “faith bank” that God never presses discipline on us without reason and that prayer and repentance are absolutely the first response God’s children (adopted Gentiles and Jews alike) ought to have!
Daniel is a great example of how we can pray repentance not only for ourselves but for others as well (You can read it in the first part of Daniel 9).
In the New Testament, we are told that all the Old Testament was given as an example — and this would be true whether you were a Gentile Christian living outside Israel or a Jewish Christian living in Jerusalem.
God gave us the Torah and the Prophets to teach us about God’s character and give us practical examples of faith journeys before us.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come(1 Corinthians 10:11).
Paul explains that the stories of the Old Testament give all of us an example.
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 9:4-11).
The writer of Hebrews asserts (again) that the Old Testament account was given to us as a series of examples (both good and bad examples) that we can follow.
In this verse, the writer is warning us not to follow the example of disobedience that yokes us to work not intended for us, but rather to be diligent about resting in God’s grace and provision — both practically and spiritually.
The Promises of God
It is important for us to understand what sort of promises God makes to us because promises require so much patience and faith that we don’t want to set our faith amiss.
So, if I look at a verse about Israel (or a specific individual in a particular circumstance) and wrongly create my own set of promises based on that passage to hang my faith on, I end up bankrupting my belief because it was set in the wrong place.
If, however, I look at the above verse and consider who God is in the passage, I can set my expectation on His character and my faith will be secure. When we do this, our faith becomes God-centric and not centered around us or our circumstances.
The debate around, Are Gentile Christians being “called by His name” isn’t one we can entirely set to rest in a short article. But for me, I am satisfied with Paul’s words:
…Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:12-22).
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:14-17).
We’ve been brought near and adopted! We are heirs with Christ, members of God’s household! The promises God extends to us as the adopted children living outside the Promised Land might function a little differently in our daily lives than they have for Jews living under the land — a covenant given in the Law, but the spirit of the Promise remains the same because of the One who made it remains the same.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
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