The Doctrines of Grace, Part 3
INTRODUCTION – God is such a wise and all-sovereign ruler that His control and determination extend to the details of the lives of individuals. God has so determined the course and direction of human history that even the acts of sin performed by free moral agents are woven into His plan. Man’s sin justly calls for the fierce wrath of a holy God. Though sinful human acts will receive God’s thorough justice, they do not jump the boundaries of His purposes in history. God decrees what shall come to pass, yet men are guilty and responsible before God for the sinful choices they act out of their own will and desires (Acts 4:27,28; Deut. 32:39).
When it comes to the subject of God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation, it is the Arminian who says that God’s gracious choices must be conditional (i.e. God’s choices must be conditioned by what a person is, does, or will do).
For God to make conditional choice would mean that He looked ahead to see who would be receptive to the gospel, and then chose that person.
This may sound reasonable, but Scripture NEVER makes foreseen faith a cause of our election. Instead, it is always attributed to God’s gracious purposes in Christ.
SCRIPTURE CALLS UPON BELIEVERS TO LOOK AT LIFE FROM AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE (from the divine vantage point “DVP’)
God’s ability to work all things together for the good of the believer is rooted in the following fact:God’s purposes are certain from eternity to eternity. There is no place for chance. (Romans 8:28)
The fear of the Lord is joined to a reverence for His sovereignty (Gen. 45:8; 50:20; Prov. 16:9; 21:1; Eph. 1:11).
Application: Fleshly value systems are attracted to religious dogmas that credit man with a measure of control. By nature we feel most secure about that part of our future where we have exercised control in planning and deciding. Is it any wonder that people react with offense to the doctrines of God’s sovereignty? (See John 6:27-66 and note the response of the multitudes to Jesus’ message).
GOD’S PURPOSES IN ELECTION ARE TO GLORIFY HIMSELF
Election is the belief that a personal, loving, holy, just and wise God is behind salvation and all of history. In His Word, God communicates with believers telling them that they are “predestined” according to His purpose who works all things after “the counsel of His will.” (Eph. 1:11)
God’s saving choice glorifies His own character. God has the undisputed right to display His attributes by saving some of the lost race of humanity (Rom. 9:21-23).
God’s glory is the worthy end or goal of our election. It would be wrong for our election to have any other end exclusively in view (Rom. 11:36; Rev. 4:11; Is. 43:7,21).
SINNERS ARE NOT VICTIMS UNDER GOD’S REIGN, BUT CRIMINALS AND REBLELS IN THE SIGHT OF HEAVEN
God is the One who is sinned against. He grieves over man’s sin (Gen. 6:6; Eph. 4:20; Luke 13:34,35).
God commands men to repent that they might have life. God is ready to forgive the penitent. But, what He offers, they will not receive (Jer 18:11,12; Is. 1:18-20; Ez. 18:24-32).
IF GOD ELECTED UPON THE BASIS OF FORESEEN FAITH, NO ONE WOULD GO TO HEAVEN
When God looked down the corridors of future time, He saw universal depravity without exception (Ps. 53:2,3; Rom. 3:10-18).
If foreseen faith were the cause of our election, then we would have something to boast about. But, God says that His gracious choice is intended to eliminate every instance of boasting concerning salvation (see 1 Cor. 1:26-31; 4:7).
Application: Believers exalt God’s grace when they affirm that they owe their faith to their election, not their election to their faith. Heaven is an eternal monument to God’s sovereign grace. Unlike human love, God’s love is not motivated by the virtues of its object. God’s love to His own is an exotic, other-world kind of love that is foreign to our experience (see 1 John 3:1).
THE CAUSALITY BEHIND BELIEF IS GOD’S UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
The believer is able to affirm, “One other than myself has marked me out so that I would believe.” Jesus refers to His elect as “sheep” even before they believe and are saved (John 10:16).
Those who die in unbelief are left to their own powers of choice and desires. Jesus addressed those who rejected Him indicating that they do not believe, “because you are not of My sheep.” (John 10:26). If election were conditional, Jesus would have inverted the order of causality saying, “you are not of my sheep because you do not believe.”
THE CLEAREST STATEMENT ON UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION IN THE SCRIPTURES IS IN ROMANS CHAPTER 9
9:6-13 – In this passage, Paul answers the troubling question of Jewish unbelief. God’s saving choice does not include all people.
God’s Word toward Israel did not fail because His saving promise was directed to only some, not all Jews (v. 8). God’s saving choice was made irrespective of merit or demerit (v. 11). God’s saving choice was based upon His own good pleasure, the basis of God’s predetermination is His own purpose.
9:14-18 – God’s saving choice reflects His mercy, not injustice. Men naturally applaud their own choices and self-determination. They gladly take credit for the personal abilities that shape their destinies. What would seem logical, fair and democratic to us would be to have each person ultimately determine his own destiny. Question: How can God choose one person and not another without regard for their actions? This inquiry tempts us to question God.
The temptation to question God at this point usually stems from a misunderstanding of two things:
1.) What is it that all fallen people deserve? (ans. Eternal punishment). That alone is what God owes us. God is under no obligation to show mercy to sinners. There is no injustice with God when sinful people are condemned.
2.) We misunderstand God’s mercy. The mercy God shows the elect is totally free mercy (without obligation upon God). The mercy God shows the redeemed is not a transaction, it is not a payment of a debt, it is not a reward for virtue, it is not a response to works or to foreseen faith.
9:16-18 – God’s saving choice does not depend upon or hinge upon our choice. God is sovereign over all people and is clearly sovereign over salvation.
9:19-20 – The Apostle Paul anticipates the reaction of his readers. Expecting them to launch a charge of fatalism, Paul by inspiration writes in an imaginary objector. (Notice, Paul is NOT alleging that God compels people to sin and reject God).
The imaginary objector charges God with injustice. Paul’s answer is swift and poignant. We are not capable of judging God by a system of justice designed by our conceits. The issue is God’s saving prerogative must not be questioned (He has the right to form what He will from the same lump of clay! Remember, there is only one kind of clay, but two kinds of vessels formed from it. v. 21).
Fatalism embraces the idea that chance, blind fate and impersonal forces determine life. Fatalism suggests that because people have no self-determination, they have no motivation for faith, love mercy or holiness; apathy, despair and lawlessness prevail. The charge of fatalism reveals an ignorance of God’s great plan in election.
UNLIKE FATALISM, GOD’S PLAN OF ELECTION IS FILLED WITH WISDOM AND PURPOSE
God is intimately involved in all of history and in the lives of His people. He is working through all things to accomplish His purpose.
God gives us a summary of the dimensions of unconditional election in Ephesians 1:3-6.
The SOURCE of our election – He, (the Father) chose us.
The SPHERE of our election – The Father chose us in Him (in Christ). When God elected a people from the fallen mass of humanity, He never intended to save them apart from His Son, but only by means of the Son (Jesus is the means and goal of God’s electing purpose. 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 8:29). We are saved by union with Christ.
The TIME of our election – We were chosen “before the foundation of the world.” God made His gracious choice of us in eternity past.
The PURPOSE of our election – “That we should be holy and blameless,” adopted as sons. Our becoming holy and blameless cannot be the cause of our election, it is the purpose of our election (see Eph. 5:27; Col. 1:22; Jude 24; Rom. 8:29).
The MOTIVE of our election – “In love He predestined us…” Election is motivated by God’s love for us before time. He loved us before we knew Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
The BASIS of our election – “According to the kind intention of His will.” This is a statement that our election is unconditional. If His election of us were according to something He saw in us, it would be according to our will. But it is not according to foreseen faith or to works.
Election is the eternal purpose of God in redemption made certain.
AN UNDERSTANDING OF ELECTION IS THE CONVICTION THAT SALVATION STARTS IN THE HEART OF GOD
God’s love to His elect is infinitely more than cosmic benevolent feelings. It is His commitment to save us accompanied by the exercise of His power (1 Cor. 1:18). God set His love upon us in eternity past and determined to save us in time (see Rom. 5; and Eph. 2).
THE SAINT WHO IS GROWING IN GRACE AND HOLINESS IS CONSTRAINED (CONTROLLED) BY GOD’S ELECTING LOVE
The growing believer is “rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph. 3:17). The knowledge of God’s own free electing love is a powerful motive to produce personal holiness (Romans 12:1,2; 1 Thess. 1:3,4; 1 John 4:9-11,19; 5:2,3).
THE N.T. MEANING OF THE WORD “FOREKNOWLEDGE” IN CONNECTION WITH SALVATION
Romans 8:28-30. Foreknowledge is not merely a knowledge of the future, or bare prescience.Foreknowledge means “whom God set His regard upon” or “whom He knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight.” It is always used of persons not events. Those foreknown by God have their lives affected by that foreknowledge rather than the other way around (see 1 Peter 1:20).
Those whom God foreknew were predestined to salvation (Rom. 8;29; Eph. 1:4,5). Every person in heaven was first loved by God in eternity past. God’s saving purposes can never be thwarted.
IF GOD’S PARTICULAR, PREDESTINATING LOVE IS ALL-POWERFUL, WILL THE ELECT BE CARRIED TO HEAVEN NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO?
The answer is no. God’s saving choice included the means through which an individual is saved. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14 and Romans 6:21,22. Christ’s work for His elect included the purchase of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power (Phil. 2:12,13; Heb. 8:10; 2 Pet. 1:2,3).
Those who understand the Biblical doctrine of election will not be apathetic, but will show diligence in the use of means. They will follow after Christ as His disciple unto godliness. They will “make their election and calling sure.” (2 Pet. 1:10). They understand that God accomplishes His foreordained purposes through the use of means (Heb. 6:11,12). God has joined the assurance of salvation to the use of means.
The world’s “gospel” suggests that a person may live as they please and not see damnation. Scripture warns that those who live for pleasure and leisure will lose their souls eternally (Phil. 3:18,19; 1 Tim. 5:6; Heb. 12:14).
We were created for something higher than sensual pleasure. We were made for God’s love (Eph. 3:17-19).
THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION ENCOURAGES BELIEVERS TO PURSUE HOLINESS WITH CONFIDENCE
Romans 8:29 – The elect of God are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Ephesians 1:4 – His choice of us in eternity past was that we should be holy and blameless.
1 Peter 2:9 – Our election is for the purpose of forming us into a holy nation for God’s own possession.
John 15:16 – Christ’s choice of us is unto fruitfulness.
Philippians 1:6 – God’s electing love will result in believers fully finishing the course. We will pursue sanctification to the end because God will finish the work He began in us (Phil. 2:12,13).
SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
How does the doctrine of election help us understand who God is?
Name some of the ways election manifests God’s glory.
How would you answer the charge that election an “iron door” that blocks the way to heaven for some people? (Hint – The Bible says that Jesus is the door. He will not cast out any sinner who comes to Him. Jn. 6:37; Matt. 11:28-30).
How would you answer the charge that election is a “feather pillow” that removes the incentive for the pursuit of sanctification?