Throughout my years of ministry I have entertained not a few questions from Bible readers about the doctrines of predestination and election. Romans 8:28-30 is one of the several places in the Scriptures where these doctrines are mentioned, “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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)”
Predestination and Election are true, biblical and mysterious and refer to God’s ancient choice of His family whom He marked out before hand to eternal life. The Scriptures tell us that:
- God elects according to his eternal purpose which means that He’s a God who plans and does what He wants.
- God elects according to the counsel of His will like a Sovereign King who has every right to develop his own military strategy influenced by no one, receiving no advice or input outside of His Triunity.
- God Elects for His own glory which means that He’s the One who gets all the credit and congratulation and through those whom He elects to salvation everyone will see How Great He really is.
On an experiential level, Christians can rest in the fact that the God of Creation has set His affection on them before the world began. There is no deeper love and affirmation, no greater freedom and courage, than resting in the fact that God loved you before your days on the earth even began, before you had the opportunity to do anything good or bad.
I can comprehend this in small degree as a father who recalls loving my first born child before she was born, even before we saw an ultrasound image of her inside of her mother’ womb. No parent waits to see what the child looks like or how she will behave to decide whether they would choose to love or not. Predestination and election are then God’s Plan of Love; His method to apply His grace.
So those whom God elects, He also calls as calling is the effect of election. Calling not like an invitation to a birthday party where you can choose to say yes or no. It is more like a Royal Command by which we must say “Yes.” Though it never feels authoritarian it is authoritative. In His calling, God’s Spirit convinces of our sin and misery. And yes, we have to be convinced that we’re miserable. There are many happy pagans around who frankly just don’t realize that they are miserable in their sin. God then imparts spiritual light to our minds in the knowledge of Christ, renews our wills, which have not been free but are in bondage and His Spirit irresistibly persuades us to embrace Jesus who is freely offered to us in the gospel.
Before the foundation of the world, by His Grace He made a covenant of Redemption with the Son and Spirit. The Father was the architect of the plan who set His decree which included the elect on whom He had set His affection. The Son, the builder, would take the plans and do the work of redemption then by His Grace would send the Holy Spirit, the real estate agent, to call the elect by chasing them down in time and space to seal the deal. Apart from such a plan of grace and love, Heaven would be empty and Hell would be bursting at the seams because men and women are not righteous and do not seek God without the gift of the seed of God in a regenerated heart and the gift of faith. People on their own are therefore unable to make the most righteous decision man could ever make: to choose to follow the Righteous One.
Though still these doctrines are hard to understand and maybe even harder to accept. We raise questions like:
- “Why not them?” – by which we charge God with unfairness because He doesn’t choose some others or demand that He choose everyone.
- “Why not me?” – by which we somehow wrongly feel that we are worthy in ourselves of being among the elect. But really the only question we are allowed to ask is…
- “Why me?” – by which we rightly look at ourselves and see not only an undeserving sinner who is not entitled to heaven but an ill-deserving sinner who has fairly earned hell. In this we marvel at God’s grace and mercy.
Ultimately the first question “Why not them?” is often compassionately motivated as we don’t want to see anyone enter into an eternity apart from God. But taking that question too far puts us in a position far above our pay grade. We can take it too far and by the implcation, “God, I would do a better job at being God than you are doing.” In the movie Rudy, which is based on a true story of a young man whose lifelong dream was to play football at Notre Dame but lacked the size, speed and ability. As he wrestled with the lack of fulfillment of his dream he confided in Father Cavanaugh who shared these immortal words,
“Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not Him.”
The words are so simple they are profound. When it comes to life and difficult doctrines we just simply need to trust God with His Godness.
The Apostle Paul reminds us to work OUT our salvation with fear and trembling which is certainly not a working FOR our salvation but simply living it out (Phil. 2:12). This presents for us the Full Gospel teaching that Christ came to give His Life for us so that He could live His Life through us to the glory of the Father. One of my former seminary profs, Dr. Simon Kistemaker, rightly exhorts us in his commentary on 2 Peter, “Even though the initiative in salvation comes from God, he works out our sanctification by putting us to work.” We are rightly taught the doctrine of the full gospel when Ephesians 2:8,9 is taught with verse 10…
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Walking according to the Spirit is the grateful response of our hearts to the gospel as God’s Spirit operates in us to produce uncoerced virtue and spontaneous activity to glorify Him.
We’re familiar with Jesus interaction with the man known to us as the Rich, Young Ruler (RYR) who comes to Jesus looking for Jesus’ seal of approval for a life well lived. The RYR asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Then, in an attempt to challenge the man’s entire Life Program of human and moral goodness, Jesus gives a surprising answer regarding the one thing that the RYR lacks in order to inherit eternal life, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
What do you think about Jesus’ answer to the man’s question? How would you answer the query of your neighbor who asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I would answer my neighbor by pointing him to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. That He died to pay the penalty for our sins and to satisfy The Father’s holy wrath that was due to us. I would say you must repent and believe the gospel. In fact, in all of my years of sharing the plan of salvation, I have never told anyone that they needed to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.
There is also no record of Jesus giving this same salvation plan to another. He tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born again, but doesn’t mention money. He tells the woman to go and sin no more but fails to mention the poor. He tells money-loving Zacchaeus to give half of his money to the poor before announcing that salvation has come to his house, but he doesn’t have to give everything to the poor. Jesus certainly doesn’t command everyone to give it all away in order to inherit eternal life but the RYR must give it all away in order to go to heaven. Christ tells THIS man that he must give up his earthly inheritance to receive eternal inheritance.
So does Jesus create a customized salvation plan for each individual? Kinda Sorta! Looking back, the bare recital of the law had no effect on the RYR, so Christ employs other words for detecting the hidden disease in the man’s heart. He places his surgical finger on the precise place of self-rightness in the man. The RYR is not just self-righteous about his morality, he is self-righteous about what he has. His confidence, trust, security and identity are wrapped up in his money and possessions. So, with crisp, clear and steely vision Jesus sees through the projected image of moral rightness and exposes the man’s true savior! No man can serve two masters and Jesus will not be your savior if you have another.
Think about it this way, the call of the gospel is never just start Trusting Christ. The call of the gospel is stop Trusting Other Things and Start Trusting Christ. Repentance and Faith are the twin sisters of our gospel response which lose their meaning and context when seperated. Jesus’ customized salvation plan for individual people is always this: “stop trusting in your false savior and start trusting in Me.” Because Jesus knows our hearts, he sees through our false piety to the place where our basic spiritual justification and identity originate.
So what is the one thing you lack? What is the one thing that you trust in to make you feel RIGHT in your heart, in relationships, in the universe, before God? What is the one good thing about yourself that justifies your Life in the universe? Repent and Believe!