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Archive for the ‘Calvinism’ Category

I firmly believe that the doctrine of unconditional election encourages us to evangelize.  As John Piper likes to say, it puts holy fiber in our bones, strengthening us with the knowledge of a big and holy God to take the gospel boldly to the lost.  In this post, however, I want to show the reverse–how preaching the gospel without a deep sense of God’s sovereignty leads to one of two places:  to despair or to universalism.  If you haven’t already, you may want to first read part 1 which is much shorter and a much easier read.

I want to look a little more closely at Romans 1, because I think if we take Romans 1 to teach that everyone can choose God based on what they see in creation (or everyone gets an equal chance to choose God), then we will likely not evangelize and engage in missions like the Bible clearly commands us to.

Romans 1:18-23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

This text says nothing about people being able to be saved by seeing God in nature.  It simply says that everyone knows inwardly that there is a God and so they are without excuse. Romans 1 says that everyone knows that there is a God and they have rejected him.

If you read on into Romans 2, Paul teaches that Jews and Gentiles alike are under the same curse of sin.  Here is an example from Romans 2:

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

You see God doesn’t judge us based on whether or not we choose him, instead God judges us based on our works.  We will be judged because we have chosen to do what is evil and our evil deeds deserve to be punished.  Jews will be judged on the basis of the law-so it is possible to say that they will be judged with a stricter judgment than the Gentiles who did not have the law.  However, the Gentiles not having the law doesn’t exempt them from God’s judgment as Romans 2:11 makes clear that God shows no partiality-for all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law.  Further, if you go back to Romans 1, Gentiles “suppress the truth” in their unrighteousness.  Rom. 1:21 tells us that everyone knows God because His hand is obvious in nature and yet they do not honor him as God.  What man can see in nature is revelation enough for him to face judgment but it is not revelation enough for him to be saved-every man looks at creation and sees God’s handiwork and yet while knowing in their heart that God has done all this, still chooses to worship created things rather than the creator.  Romans 1:18-23 tells us that every man is an idolater and every man deserves God’s just punishment. When we read Romans 2, it makes clear that Jews are included in God’s just judgment for sin-the Jews had an advantage, they had the Law and yet they are still under sin.

Romans 2 ends by clearly stating that Jews are under the same curse of sin as Gentiles and that whether one is a Jew doesn’t matter if their heart is full of sin:

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

Romans 3:19 makes clear that “the whole world is held accountable to God under the law.”  How can that be true if the Law was only given to the Jews?  This can be true because what is in the Law is true. The content of the Law is God’s divine, perfect, inerrant revelation to man.  For instance, just because the 10 commandments were given to the Jews doesn’t mean a Gentile is free to murder and commit adultery.  God will judge gentiles for breaking these commands because “the whole world is held accountable to God” whether they have received the Law from God or not.  Look at Romans 2:14-16 again.  It says the “work of the law is written on [Gentiles'] hearts” meaning that every Gentile has a conscience and deep down knows they have broken God’s law even though they have not received it (i.e. they haven’t received the written law).  Everyone knows deep down it is wrong to lie, murder, steal, and commit adultery-but by God’s standards we have all fallen short, we have not kept God’s law and Romans 3:9 says that both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin-Paul asks “are we Jews any better off? No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.”  Thus, “none is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  Jews and Gentiles alike “have become worthless” and none of them do good, “not even one.”

The climax of Romans 1-3 is found in the statement in Romans 3:23 that. “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Paul’s point here is that Gentiles (Romans 1) and Jews (Romans 2) are all in sin and do not measure up to God’s standard of holiness.  This is even clearer when you realize that in the verses immediately preceding Romans 3:23 Paul is quoting from Psalm 53 which clearly indicates that Paul felt that Jews and Greeks are under sin.  If Jews or Gentiles are to be saved, it is through the grace of God in Christ.

Romans 3:23-31. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This text makes clear that Jews and Gentiles are under the same judgment apart from Christ and they both find redemption in the same way-through faith in Jesus’ act of propitiation (i.e. his act of atonement-taking the penalty for our sin) on the cross.  Thus it does not make sense to say that Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way but only Jews are elect and Gentiles are saved by choosing Christ.  How could we possibly consider a Jew “elect” who rejects the messiah?  Further it is clear that any Jew who fails to put his faith in Jesus will be damned.

I am worried that such a distinction between Jews and Gentiles will keep us from evangelizing to Jews and to the nations.  If we believe that God gives everyone a chance to believe in him from what we see in nature, then what need is there to take the gospel to the ends of the earth?  Romans 1 gives no such offer.  Romans 1 merely says that everyone knows that there is a God from nature and they are therefore guilty because “they have not honored him as God but worshipped created things rather than the creator.”  Romans 1 merely says that everyone knows that there is a god and everyone has rejected him.  To know there is a God isn’t enough to be saved.  You can know that there is a God but if you don’t believe in Christ then Christ’s sacrifice is not applied to you and you are still in your sins.  Everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike are justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  Further, it is clear in Matthew 28:18-20 that Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations and to teach them all that Christ has commanded them.  Furthermore Romans 10:13-16 makes clear that all who call on the Lord will be saved and how can they call on him unless they believe?  How are they to believe unless they have heard?  How will they hear without someone preaching to them?

It is our responsibility and divine calling as believers to be obedient to God’s call to take the gospel to the nations.  Though someone may come to know Christ from reading about Jesus in the Bible on their own, that is not the normal pattern of how people come to know Christ.  The normal pattern is through the preaching the gospel as Romans 10:14-15 makes clear.  Thus we ought not to hold out hope that the nations will find God in nature but we must see it as our calling as believers to preach the gospel to the nations-to all men here in the U.S. and to the ends of the earth!

The simplest way I can describe what is happening with the Jew is this-the Jews were God’s chosen people in the Old Testament.  All of the Old Testament is preparing for Messiah.  Jesus says this in Matthew 5:17-all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Him.  Also he explains everything concerning himself from the OT in Luke 24:27.  Thus any Jew who doesn’t believe on Christ as messiah is not elect and is in sin and faces the judgment of God for their sin.  Further it should be noted that neither the OT nor the NT hold out that all ethnic Jews were elect.

Here are a few examples:

Romans 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Ezekiel 18:30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.

1 Kings 19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

In the case of Elijah here in 1 Kings 19, Elijah thought that he alone was left as the only one remaining faithful to the Lord (1 Kings 18:22), but here in 1 Kings 19, God reminds him that though Israel has fallen into deep idolatry, God has preserved for himself a remnant of 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.  Clearly not all Israel is “elect.”

Daniel 9:11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.

Jeremiah 35:17 Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”

Romans 11:2-8 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

The Biblical pattern for evangelism is people saved by grace preaching the gospel of grace to those who have not heard it.  That’s it.  That is how people are going to hear and respond to the gospel-by us preaching it to them.  The reformed view of evangelism is much stronger because it rests on God’s command rather than on human impetus and it is motivated by God’s matchless glory rather than human ability.

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Romans 10:12-17 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Clearly this text tells us that we are called to preach the gospel to the nations.  We can say both that God is sovereign over evangelism and that people will not be saved if we do not preach.  This is because God has ordained his children as the means by which his gospel will be preached.  I preach the gospel because God has worked a deep love and passion for Jesus in my heart and I cannot help but to tell people about the hope that is me (1 Peter 3:15).  Evangelism is an issue of obedience-we are all commanded as believers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  Further, as I mentioned earlier, Acts 18:10 indicates that when we go preach the gospel there is always the sure hope that “there are many” in the places we preach who are God’s people.  In other words, if we know that God has chosen those who would believe before the foundations of the world, then we can be sure that our preaching is not in vain-God will use it.  God’s Word is powerful and His gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  God’s Word will not return void, it will always accomplish what the Lord sets it out to accomplish (Isa. 55:11).  If we love God, we will long to see His name honored and glorified among the nations and we will long to be obedient to him by making disciples of all nations.  Evangelism is obedience issue-those who love the Lord and long to be with Him will speak His name to the nations!

Thus it is completely foreign to Reformed Theology (or Biblical Theology for that matter) not to evangelize, because the man who is reformed realizes that God has been gracious to him beyond what he deserves and he realizes that if he has truly been saved that he will long to tell others of the “excellencies of Christ” (1 Peter 2:9).  Thus if you have someone who says that they are saved but has no desire to tell others of Christ, it might be that they are not really a Christian.  Because those who are born in Christ will not live in a continual pattern of sin (1 John 3:9) and if someone refuses to evangelize-they are living in unrepentant sin as they are directly disobeying a clear mandate in Scripture (Matt. 28:18-20) and may not be a Christian.

So far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks. So far from being weakened by this faith [faith in the absolute sovereignty of God], therefore, evangelism will inevitably be weak and lack staying power without it (J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 10).

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We may invigorate our faith and renew our courage by reflecting that divine power has always attended the preaching of doctrine when done in the true spirit of preaching.  Great revivals have accompanied the heroic preaching of the doctrines of grace–predestination, election, and that whole lofty mountain range of doctrines upon which Jehovah sits enthroned, sovereign in grace, as in all things else.  God honors the preaching that honors Him.  There is entirely too much milk-sop preaching nowadays–trying to cajole sinners to enter upon a truce with their Maker–‘Quit sinning and join the church.’  The situation does not call for a truce, but for a surrender.  Let us bring on the heavy artillery of heaven and thunder away at the stuck up age as Whitefeild, Edwards, Spurgeon and Paul did and there will be many slain of the Lord raised up to walk in newness of life (J.B. Gambrell, Baptist Principles Reset, 247).

J. B. Gambrell was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1917 to 1920.  Gambrell also served as editor of the Baptist Standard and as a professor of ecclesiology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Interestingly enough, Gambrell is expressing the same concern about easy-believism and Christianity-lite preaching that many reformed preachers today are expressing concern about.

I am not suggesting that we make election and predestination our soap-box, but I do want to say that we should not be afraid of these doctrines.  If they are found in Scripture (and I think that I have shown in my recent posts that they are) then these doctrines have been given by God to us for our good.  Personally, I have experienced firsthand the effect of these doctrines in invigorating my faith and renewing my courage to preach the gospel!  I hope they do so with you as well.  Once we let our hearts settle into the enormity of God’s Holiness, we can then begin to rejoice in it and to go out into the World knowing that Christ reigns and will reign unto eternity and He has sent us out with this confidence–that His gospel is powerful and His Word will accomplish everything He sets it out to accomplish–we merely need be faithful to the call!

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2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Ezekiel 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Do these texts contradict other texts on election?  Isn’t it possible that there are two wills in God?  Even Arminians must admit that there are two wills in God:  God desires all to be saved and yet God chooses that only those who believe will be saved.  Even for an Armininian only those who believe will be saved and thus they must admit that there are two wills in God.  So the first will could be summarized by these texts above–that God desires no one to perish in unrepentance and the second will could simply be summarized by saying that God only wills that those who believe will be saved.

It is true that God, in a narrow sense, doesn’t find pleasure in the death of the wicked but when you look at the wider scope of things in Scripture, God clearly hasn’t willed that everyone will be saved.  In a cosmic sense, we know from Scripture that God has not willed that everyone will be saved.

It is very clear that God chooses only some to be saved but it is also true that God, looking at someone individually does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in the wider scope of things God has not willed that all will be saved.  Why is this the case?  I am not exactly sure–God is massive and complex and I don’t know why he does things the way he does things.  When God looks at the whole of what he has ordained, he does take pleasure in it.  Though God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of wicked individuals, he does look on the whole of what he has determined and find pleasure or glory in it.  Here are some examples:

Deuteronomy 28:63 And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

The best way I can square Deuteronomy 28:63 with 2 Peter 3:9 is to say that God clearly doesn’t take pleasure in the damnation of individuals but when he sees the wider/larger picture of everything He has done, He does take pleasure in having always done what is right and good and just.  What is best in God’s big-picture-view of things is not that all would be saved (Matthew 7:13-15).  I don’t know why this is–it is a mystery.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This text is difficult because we know that God else where (Ex. 20, 1 Peter 2:1-2, Col. 3:5, Rom. 8:13, Psalm 24, Leviticus 11:45) commands us to be holy and do what is right and yet God both foreknew and planned that his Son would be crucified and killed at the hands of wicked men.  There are endless possibilities of things that could have happened at the time of Jesus’ death, but none of them happened because it was God’s definite plan that His Son be crucified at the hands of lawless men.  Furthermore it should be noted that foreknowledge is linked with God’s definite plan which seems to again indicate that foreknowledge means more than just awareness of future events–God was sovereign in seeing this come to pass.  We need to recognize here that  Judas and Pilate both could have made right decisions and not betrayed and crucified Jesus.  If this were the case, Jesus would not have been crucified and if Jesus is not crucified our sin would not be paid for.  Jesus had to die and God saw that to completion.

The right thing for Pilate to do would have been to release Jesus because he was innocent.   The right thing for Judas to do would have been to stay in the upper room and refrain from the temptation to betray Jesus.  Neither or them do so.  Both Judas and Pilate defy God’s desire for them-God did not desire for either of them to act sinfully the way they did.  God does not desire any man to sin, sin is always against His prescriptive will.  They should have done God’s desirative will and yet God’s definite plan involved these men disobeying Him and crucifiying the Lord Jesus Christ.  And yet, God rightly and justly holds them accountable for disobeying God’s commanded will.  I can’t answer why God did this, but it is clear that he did and it is clear that God ordains for evil events to occur and yet holds those who do those evil things accountable.  Let me be clear–God is not responsible for these evil events, these men chose to act wickedly and crucify Jesus–God does not sin and tempts no one (1 John 1:5; James 1:13), but it is also clear that He soveriegnly allows these evil events to come to pass and even works good out of them.  It is the people who chose to do these things-God is not an evil puppet master. James 1:17 clearly tells us that God is not and never will be guilty of wrong doing.  There is great mystery in God.  God is sovereign over everything (Eph. 1:13) and yet He is good and works all things together for good for those who love him (Rom. 8:28).

One more example:

Acts 4:27-28 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Christ’s crucifixion was not an afterthought of God.  God didn’t think up redemption on the cross after failing to get Pilate and the Jews to release Jesus from prison–this was God’s definite plan and all these men (Herod, Pilate, the Jews) acted in accordance with what God has planned and predestined to take place.  Again–God sees the big picture of things that we do not see.  God’s sees His marvelously good purposes coming to pass even in the midst of the most horrific evils being allowed to come to pass.  Let’s be honest–the cross from our human perspective was the most evil event in history–the only truly innocent man who was God in human flesh was brutally killed at the hands of evil men.  And yet somehow God was soveriegnly working even in the midst of this event to manifest His glory and shower His grace on undeserving sinners.  The cross is mysterious, but praise God for the wonderful mystery of the cross!

These truths are the basis for our prayer and evangelism–in my next post on election, I will explain this further.  If you really understand radical depravity, the only hope is for God to save people.  When we pray we all become reformed-“God save my friend.”  We believe God hears our prayers and in His perfect wisdom answers them according to His will.  God has ordained prayer and evangelism as the means by which the nations will be saved.  We devalue God’s holy name when we neglect to engage in those means!

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1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

There is much that could be said here as well, but I will just say that this text cannot be referring only to the corporate election of Israel as each of these provinces in Asia Minor were predominately Gentile provinces.  Further, Peter clearly connects election to foreknowledge and sanctification.

Further, if you read on in 1 Peter 1:20-21, Peter says that Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”  Again, this foreknowledge must be more than just knowing beforehand as God relates it to Christ’s resurrection which was certainly foreordained by God.  All this was done so that our faith and hope are in God and thus not in our own ability to believe or our choice to believe.

1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Again, this is clearly election language that is applied to Gentiles.  The purpose for which these gentiles were chosen was to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”  Don’t you see God’s pure unmerited grace here being poured out to Gentiles based simply on God’s choosing.  I don’t know why God chooses some and not others but I know that these texts say he does and I know that God is good and right in doing so.  I know that I didn’t deserve to experience such grace but I have and now I am free to proclaim his excellencies!  How good and gracious our God is!

James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?

“The poor” refers to believers (c.f. the Sermon on the Mount–Matt 6:1ff-blessed are the poor in spirit) and God has chosen them be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.  Further, “those who love him” makes it clear that James has believers in mind here, it is those who love God (believers) to whom God has promised the kingdom.  God chooses them for this.  God has chosen believers to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.

Over the course of these posts on election, I hope it has become abundantly clear that the Bible has a great deal to say about election.  While my posts have not dealt with every text concerning election, I think it should be noted that the Scriptures speak clearly on election and without doing an exegetical backflips, we see that God’s elective choice is not conditioned by anything in man but rather it is only conditioned upon His own good pleasure and will.  At the heart of unconditional election is the all-to-important reality that God is loving, gracious, and good and God saves sinners!  In fact, if I could sum up the Doctrines of Grace in three words they would be this–“God saves sinners!”

Praise God for his glorious grace to us in Christ!

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ESV Galatians 1:11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone

God “set [Paul] apart before” his birth and called him “by his grace.”  God revealed his Son to Paul because it pleased Him to do so (v. 16).  The language here is very similar to Matthew 11:27 where Jesus says, “no one knows the Father except the son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (c.f. Luke 10:22; John 17:1-2). The Lord did this in Paul’s life so that he might carry the message that transformed him, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the Gentiles.

The most common argument leveled against the fact that Paul was set apart before he was born is that Paul is a special case because he was an apostle and therefore his conversion was predestined whereas others’ are not.  The major problem with such an interpretation is that the Bible never makes such a distinction between the election of the common man and the apostle.  Paul speaks of the entire church at Ephesus as having been “chosen in [Christ] before the foundations of the world” and “predestined [them] for adoption as sons” (Eph. 1:4-5).  Paul also sees Timothy as having been chosen in Christ “before the ages began” and Timothy was not an Apostle (2 Tim. 1:9).  In fact Paul doesn’t mention his Apostlehood here in Galatians 1:15-he simply says that he was set apart before birth and called by God’s grace and that the Son was revealed to him by the Father–is that not the gospel of Jesus Christ?  I fear that if we give into the idea that God elected only the apostles, there is nothing to keep us from thinking of evangelism as a task given to only to a special group of people in the church-i.e. certain church leaders similar to Apostles.  However, if we see God electing all men in the same way, then it is clear that all who are elect are given this same charge to take the gospel to the nations.

2 Timothy 1:8-10 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

God saved us because of his grace and purpose which He gave us before the ages began.  These verses clearly refer to those who have faith in Jesus Christ and therefore cannot be referring merely to the corporate election of the nation of Israel.  God saved and called us to a holy calling–not because of works but because of His own purpose and grace.  Therefore if you are a Christian and you are reading this–the grace you have received in Christ was purposed for you before the ages began!  Salvation lies in the hands and purpose of the God of the universe–God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ!

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Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This chain of foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification cannot be broken.  Each of these are done by the Lord.  Some interpreters have tried to get around unconditional election here by saying that foreknowledge merely refers to foreseen faith such that God merely knows who will believe but he does not choose them.  Such an answer does not make sense of the chain which includes predestination which literally means “predetermination.”  Further God’s foreknowledge refers to more than only his foreseeing things.  When the Bible speaks of those whom the Father knows it refers to those upon whom God has set his covenant affection.  It refers to those whom God loves and has begun a relationship with.  For example Amos 3:2:

Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

This text cannot be merely about those who God literally knows otherwise it would say that God doesn’t know any of the other nations of the earth.  Thus this knowledge refers to God’s covenant love that he has chose to set upon Israel.  Thus in Romans 8:28-29, foreknowledge is applied in a similar way to those who love God.

Further, all those whom God foreknew, he foreknew them to be predestined to be conformed to the image of his son. In other words those who God has foreknown he also ensures that they will be sanctified.  Salvation without sanctification is never taught in Scripture.

Romans 9:11-24 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

These verses are pretty straight-forward (for more info on the Old Testament passages that Paul is quoting, see my previous post, Matthew, Moses, and Malachi on Election.  They are difficult for us to accept but pretty clear.  I simply want to point out that this text is clearly not just about Israel as those who are called are not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles (v. 23).  Clearly election is not conditioned on anything in man.

This doesn’t always sit well with me, I don’t understand why God choose some before the foundations of the world for salvation and not others.  I don’t know why God set his covenant love upon Jacob and not Esau.  Paul essentially expects such a response to God’s election of some to eternal life in v. 19, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  Paul answers his own question with stunning bluntness-” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?”  This is tough stuff!  As to the exact reason why God chose some and not others, all I can say is that apparently God doing so brings Him glory (v23).

Romans 11:2-8 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

Romans 11:2 indicates that those whom God foreknows he does not reject.  What else could these verses mean other than there are Gentiles who were foreknown and elected?  Where Israel failed, the Gentiles succeeded, but not because of anything in them–not by works otherwise grace would no longer be grace!  In fact 11:7-8 tells us that God is even sovereign over hardening and the rejection of the gospel.  This is very similar to what you see in Romans 1 (see the Side Note in my previous post on election).

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I decided to break Paul’s teaching on election into 3 posts–because Paul spoke of election quite often–I hope it has been seen and will be seen in this series that Paul is far from the only Biblical author that speaks of election in unconditional terms.  I have already shown that each of the gospel writters cite Jesus speaking of an election unconditioned by anything in man, and we have seen that the apostles bore this same understanding of election in the book of Acts.  Before this series is over, I intend to show how both Peter and James articulate that God sovereignly chooses prior to man coming to faith.  I will also address some of the verses that are commonly assumed to contradict the doctrine of unconditional election in posts to come.

This post will center in on Paul’s teaching on election in Ephesians 1–again these posts were written with Christians who have not had theological training in mind–I am just shooting for a straightforward reading of the text.

Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

God here has chosen the believers in Ephesus before the foundation of the world.  He predestined them for adoption according to the purpose of His will.  This is clearly more than foreknowledge because he not only chooses but also predestines.  Paul makes no indication that he is talking about Jews here.  In other words Paul is not speaking merely of the corporate election of the nation of Israel.  He cannot be talking about Jews because he says God chose “us.”  Thus he is addressing both himself and his readers who in Ephesus were predominately Gentiles.  The vast majority of commentators today understand the church at Ephesus to be made up primarily of Gentiles.  See also Acts 18-20–the church at Ephesus was clearly made up Gentiles.

Some have said that these who were chosen were simply chosen to be holy and blameless and not chosen to eternal life, but that doesn’t make sense of the New Testament which clearly teaches that those who are saved must be holy and blameless (Psalm 24:3-4; Isaiah 59:2). You cannot just say that this is a choosing unto blamelessness because all believers are saved in such a way and called to live holy lives upon believing (c.f. Eph. 2:8-10).  Further in these verses those who were chosen, were also adopted.  Adoption is consummate with salvation is it not?

Again, I want to say that I don’t know why it is that God chose who would believe before the foundation of the world, but apparently He did.  In my limited human perspective, I don’t know why God chose some before the foundation of the world and predestined them for adoption through Christ, but I know that Ephesians 1 says he did so.  All I know is that he is gracious to do so and that he does so “to the praise of his glorious grace.”  In other words, in the wisdom of God, the election of sinners to salvation brings Him glory and magnifies His glorious grace!

These doctrines are difficult and require patience, prayer, and unflinching dedication to the Scriptures.  I think, however, they are difficult because they are hard for us to accept, not because they are not clear in scripture   Please feel free to ask question in the comment meta–I will be glad to answer them as time allows.  If I have been less than clear on anything, feel free to let me know!

*Side Note: For the record, I do not believe in double predestination.  If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.  I simply want to say that I think that the way that God saves sinners is different from the way that God sends unbelievers to eternal judgment.  God soveriengnly and graciously intervenes in the life of the elect to open their eyes to His glorious grace and bring them to faith.  The elect didn’t deserve this in any way–salvation is all of grace, it is completely a gift.  If everyone got what they deserved we would all be in Hell because apart from the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts, the Bible tells us we are God-haters and we worship creation rather than the Creator.  The unbeliever, is handed over to the lusts of his/her flesh.  To understand the difference between how God handles the elect and the unbeliever, you have to read Romans 1-3 and note the phrase God “gave them [unbelievers] over to  the lusts of their flesh” etc.  This seems to indicate to me that the way God deals with the unbeliever is different from the elect in the fact that God simply sovereignly allows the unbeliever to puruse exactly what he/she wants to pursue, namely more sin.  Thus God merely gives them what they want–apart from Christ’s work on our hearts we all want more sin, we all want to be in charge, we want to be “god” and thus for those who die in sin–they are merely left in the state in which they want to be.  Grace is the beautfiul reality that God chooses to wake up some of us to the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord and has paid the ransom for our sins on Calvary.

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In my first post on election I looked at Matthew 11:25-27 which is essentially the same as Luke 10:21-24 which speaks of “no one” knowing the Father except those to whom the Son “chooses to reveal Him.”  In this post, I want to briefly look at Luke’s teaching on election.  Since I have already essentially covered Luke 10:21-24, I want to focus on some profound verses in Acts (Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts).  Again–I am shooting for a straight-forward reading of the text–no textual gymnastics here, I am just trying to read the Bible for what is says.

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

This word “appointed” is a synonym for ordained.  Again, notice these are Gentiles clearly being described as having been first appointed and then believing.  This text could not be clearer.  It is those who were appointed to eternal life who believed.  There is a point in time on this earth when people believe unto salvation but this verse sees them as having been appointed before that point of coming to faith.  It is also worth noting that this took place after Paul and Barnabas told the Jews, “it was necessary that the Word of God be spoken first to you.  Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).  Thus Paul and Barnabas understood the Jews rejection of the good news about Christ as making them “unworthy of eternal life.”  Election language being applied to Gentiles could not be clearer in this text.  Election based merely upon foreseen faith would make no sense of this verse.

Acts 18:9-10 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

The Lord encourages Paul by telling him that He is with Paul and that He (God) has many people in this city.  If you read on you find that many people in this city end up believing in Christ upon hearing Paul’s preaching.  This was in Corinth another heavily Gentile area.  In fact it was here that Paul ran into heavy opposition from the Jews and proclaims to them “your blood be on your own hands!  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6).  Thus these “people” in verse 10 must be Gentiles and not Jews.  It is also worth noting that Paul’s harsh words to the Jews seem to indicate that he fears that they face divine judgment for their rejection of Jesus.

We should not think, however, that Paul was bitter toward the Jews for their rejection of Christ.  In Romans, Paul profoundly says he wishes he were cut off from the Lord for the sake of the Jews that they might be saved:

Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit- 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

The reality that election depends “not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16), ought to encourage us to be fervent evangelists.  Where ever we take the gospel we can trust that “God has people” there–for there will be a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation in heaven.  The results of our evangelism are not up to us–they are up to “God who has mercy.”

The primary reason why people (including myself) do not share the gospel is because they fear man or they treasure their own reputation too highly.  They fear how people will respond, they fear rejection, they fear that they will not perform adequately to God’s standards.  I believe that these fears are stilled with a robust understanding of God’s soveriegnty that says–“God commands me to evangelize, promises to be with me, and will work all things according to the council of his will (Ephesians 1:13)”!  I can’t mess it up–I am simply called to be faithful!

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In my previous post, I looked at Moses, Malachi, and Matthew on the doctrine of election.  We saw that the God’s electing choice in each of these biblical authors’ writting is not based on foreseen faith but rather simply on God’s love and soveriegn choice.  Today I want to challenge you to hear out what Jesus says in the gospel of John concerning election.  Again, I am shooting for a simple, straightforward reading of these texts–I do not think these are difficult to understand–they may be difficult to accept, but they are clear and speak for themselves, so I have kept my commentary to a minimum.

John 5:20-21 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

The Son gives new life, eternal life to whom he will.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Many say that this verse is about service and not salvation.  But you cannot separate bearing fruit from being a believer.  There is no such thing in Scripture as a believer who does not bear fruit.

John 10:25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Jesus says you do not believe because they are not part of his flock.  In contrast those who are Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and Jesus knows them and they follow him.  Notice the text does NOT say you are not of my flock because you do not believe.  It clearly says that the reason these people do not believe is because they are not part of his flock.  And it’s worth noting that these people are Jews!  These are Jews that Jesus says are not elect.

John 17:1-2 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

Verse 2 clearly states that God has given Jesus authority over all flesh.  Its worth stopping there and simply noting that Jesus has authority over all human beings to do with them what he will.  If we go further, we see that Jesus clearly claims that this authority is authority in giving eternal life to those whom the father has given him.

John 17:6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

Jesus manifests God’s name to those whom the Father gave Him out of the world.   They were God’s and God gives them to Jesus and they have kept God’s word.  Again the Father is choosing and giving and we don’t have people choosing.  If it were up to man to choose God based on some offer wouldn’t we see some indication of that in these sayings of Jesus where he is clearly talking about those who will be saved?  John 17 continues with such language:

John 17:9-12 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Again, it is those who the Father has given to the Son that the Son prays for.  Jesus is glorified in these ones who the Father has given him.  Further Jesus keeps these ones and guards them so that they will not be lost.  Jesus’ prayer will be answered.  Jesus will keep those who believe to the very end.

John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Again, it is those the Father has given to the Son who will see His glory.

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