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.
Meatloaf sang the popular song, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” which became an instant classic when Dr. Pepper picked it up for their commercial a few years ago. The commercial pictures a young man who would do anything for his girlfriend including the purchasing of her feminine products, the folding of her laundry and accompanying her to Yoga class and on shopping trips. But when it came to giving up the thing he loved most, his 12 oz. can of cold Dr. Pepper, he chose to draw the line there and break off the relationship. She just wasn’t worth it.
At the beginning of the events of the Passion week of Jesus Christ, the Gospel-writer John gives Jesus’ purpose statement:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1ff
John’s gospel deliberately omits many things which he knew were covered by Matthew and Mark but here in the scene of the foot-washing of the disciples as in other places he explains a narrative which was left out by the others, one which clearly had a deep impact on him. John saw this foot-washing not just as an example of servanthood, but a gesture of the deep love and affection that Jesus had for His own. This was the beginning of an extended weekend where Jesus would give many visible signs of His firm, lasting love that would never be quenched not even by death. John understood that the totality of the humiliation of the Son of God from his conception to taking the form of a servant in the foot-washing to His suffering, death and burial was all motivated by tender love.
We ought also to fix our hearts on this conviction for he bears the same tender affection for us.
Jesus’ love motive is in full operation in the foot-washing, which is an integral moment with the whole of His Life of Humiliation which began in His conception and ended in His death, burial and descending before His exaltation in resurrection, ascension and the sitting at the right hand of the Father. The purpose of all of this was to merit salvation for His people. Jesus refused to draw the line of the extent of His love for us. A love that extended from the washing of our dirt all the way to his suffering and death. Jesus says to all who believe and trust in Him, “You’re worth it! I would do anything for love, even that!”
It was likely late December 5BC when the time came for another Census to be taken and everyone, including Mary and Joseph, was directed to go back to their ancestral homes to be counted. The First Couple traveled 90 miles to Bethlehem where they found the residences overflowing with family members and the local hotels filled with Roman government workers who had come to count the people and assess their taxes. From this scene comes one of the most familiar lines of the Bible, “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Also from this text comes one of the most familiar and adequate preaching applications, “there was no room for them in the inn, is there room in your heart for Him?”
But I’m more struck by looking at this scene through a wider-angle lens. This is the Son of God who came from His Father’s heavenly mansion which included a comfortable, spacious room, yet according to the plan of redemption which involved punching a hole in the top of the world and lowering Himself into it, the Son of Man would have no place to lay His Royal head. While temporary lodging was refused to the first family we are reminded that he came to prepare a place for us through the opening of an eternal door of heaven in order to increase his family. In this scene we encounter a Savior who was refused lodging so that heaven might be opened to us, not as temporary lodging but as our eternal home. So maybe it would be better to say “there was no room for them in the inn, so that He could prepare a room for you in Him.” Jesus comforted his disciples some thirty years later with the words,
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. John 14:1-3