Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 9/28/1997
" . . . Just as He chose us in Him before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love."
Last week we began to see what tremendous blessings God has granted to those who are in Christ: every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Today we begin to follow the chain of events which actually brings those blessings into our lives. The first link is the doctrine of Election.
Election is a difficult and a controversial doctrine. One reason for this is that it combines two ideas which are each individually beyond our comprehension: the Sovereignty of God and the Freedom and Responsibility of Man. For the Bible teaches unequivocally that God is sovereign absolutely but that Man's choices are still significant, and we cannot see how they both can be true at the same time. Only familiarity has dulled our wonder at the mystery of the omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, and hence the Sovereignty of God. Before we attempt to deal with Election we need to be humbled afresh by Job 38:4-13a, 16-17, 19-20, 28-33; Rom. 9:20a; Is. 55:8-9. Who are we to question Him indeed? We are men of unclean lips, whose ways and thoughts are not as His. But the Freedom and Responsibility of Man are equally mysterious. Who knows his own motives perfectly? As kids we were often asked, "Why did you do that?" And we replied, "I dunno." It was only partly an evasion. On a purely secular level we get lost in debates over the role of environment, conditioning, heredity when discussing the human will. We do not understand it nearly as well as we pretend to.
If the two basic ideas which are at the heart of the controversy are beyond our comprehension, why should we expect to be able to combine them, to explain how they relate to each other? Even the Bible never attempts to explain it. As Francis Schaeffer put it so well in an unpublished lecture on what he called "Soverignty and Significance," "The Bible simply states both and walks away." The thing is simply beyond our experience. We either have complete control over the actions of another by attaching strings to a puppet, or without the strings we do not have complete control (as with our children). God has complete control without any strings; He is absolutely sovereign withou making us into puppets. How? I do not know. After all, if this is one of the deepest insights we are given into the eternal counsels of God, why should we expect to understand it fully?
Therefore, the essentials of a proper approach to this doctrine are two attitudes often sadly lacking on both sides in the discussion of it: Reverence and Humility. We should remove as it were the shoes from off our minds, for we are thinking on holy ground. This is not a time to be argumentative; it is not a time for a controversial spirit; it is not a time to be defensive. Therefore I must ask you to try to hear what the Bible has to say without being distracted by your own inferences from it and the problems they raise. There is no light down that path! That way lies madness--and heresy.
To understand the doctrine of Election, you must ask yourself this question: How is it that I, a sinner by nature, possess such exalted spiritual blessings? How is it that you are here worshipping God, rejoicing in forgiveness, experiencing peace, and being inspired by His glory, when so many others with equal opportunities to hear the Gospel are still in darkness? Are you smarter than they? Were you any less a sinner? Were you any less blinded by the God of this world? Less dead in your trespasses and sins? Less unable as a Natual Man to receive the things of the Spirit?
There is ultimately only one adequate answer that will not lead us into conflict with the rest of biblical soteriology: BECAUSE GOD CHOSE YOU. If it had depended on your choice, you would still be dead in your trespasses and sins like them, because dead people cannot choose and the natural man cannot receive. Therefore if you are a Christian it is because GOD chose you for these blessings, because GOD therefore sent His Son to die for you, because GOD then sent His Holy Spirit to convict you and call you and regenerate you, changing your heart and enabling you to believe. God gets ALL the glory for our salvation. Not most of it, not 99% of it--all of it.
So far so good. But then we ask, "What about the unbeliever? Did God choose him for Hell?" And we quail at the apparent picture of God as arbitrary that we seem to have created. But wait: This doctrine is not about unbelievers, and it is not for them either. It is only for the Sons and Daughters of the King. The strait path leads up to the narrow gate of the Kingdom, and on the outside the sign reads, "Whosoever will may come." Only when we have passed through can we turn around and see the sign on the other side: "Chosen before the foundation of the world." The non-Christian does not believe because he, in accordance with his own nature, choses not to. The Christian believes because God chose to bless him. So do not ask, "Why is he lost?" Ask rather, "Why am I saved?" And then the only answer you are going to get is that it does not depend on the one who wills but on God who calls. It depends on Grace alone, and that depends on Election alone.
Still we cannot resist asking, "Why did God choose me? Was it because He foresaw that I would believe?" Well, we simply are not told why we are chosen, but we are told quite plainly what the reason was not: not because of any good in us. Unless God had chosen to grant us faith, what could He have foreseen in us but sin and unbelief? For we were spiritually dead. We know that Julie Andrews was dead wrong in "The Sound of Music" when she speculates, "Nothing comes from nothing; / Nothing ever could." [So far she is right.] "So somewhere in my youth or childhood, / I must have done something good." If it couldn't have come from nothing, it couldn't have come from there. Salvation is by grace though faith, and that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). So the one things we do know is that the answer is not to be found in us, but in God--in His Grace. Grace is the only answer we are ever going to get. And that answer was not given to perplex us with conundrums of determinism versus free will or to disturb us with speculations about God's plan for the unbeliever. It was given so that we might understand and marvel in the totality of our dependence on God and his Grace, that we might glory in nothing but the unsearchable depths of the Grace of God toward us. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!
We are blessed then not because God foresaw that, unlike the non Christian, we would hve the good sense to believe, but because God chose us before the foundations of the world. But we must not stop short of the last phrase. For it gives us the purpose for Election: We were chosen so that we might be holy and blameless before Him in love. And this radically changes the way many of us think about salvation. God did not choose to save us and then, as an afterthought, decide he'd better make us holy too so we would be fit for Heaven. No. He chose to make us holy, and then sent His Son to save us so that this choice could be fulfilled. Holiness is the end, the central purpose of salvation, not a fringe benefit of it that seems almost optional. So: are you holy and blameless before Him in love? Are you more so than you were a year ago? Are you more so than the day you were saved? Do you want to be? IT IS YOUR DESTINY! So if it is not happening, albeit imperfectly now, if it is not even a concern for you, then you must question whether in fact you have been saved at all. Your alleged salvation certainly does not fit well with biblical descriptions of God's purpose in saving!
Let us imagine that God tells a little boy, "You are chosen to play baseball in the major leagues." Will he loaf, skip practice, not hustle, because God has told him he will be successful anyway? That is what many people seem to think this doctrine leads to. But they have never been that little boy. Imagine him well. Will this be his response? NOT IF HE LOVES THE GAME! For if he is really elected, that election works itself out by implanting that love in him. And if he loves the game, his election to the major leagues will be a great incentive and encouragement to play his best and give a full effort, for he knows that even if he stumbles in the short run his efforts are destined to be rewarded.
This then is the final test of your election: Does the news of it spur you on to holiness, to a closer walk with the Lord, to godly living and service? If not, you are still on the outside of the Door, and this teaching is not for you. But lookl! On your side of the Door, the sign says, "Whosoever will may come." Come in while there is yet time, and you will discover that you too were chosen. If so, then rejoice, and bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ--beginning with Election.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams