Five Challenging Bible Facts
Challenging Fact #2: Unconditional Election
The Cycle of Sovereign Grace
by Bob Burridge ©2012
In our last study we learned that because of the fall of mankind in Adam, humans suffer from a serious moral defect. All are born with a nature corrupted with guilt which offends the Creator.
Being alienated from God, there is a resulting emptiness in the heart that must be filled. There is a moral guilt that must be forgiven. There is a distorted outlook that needs to be corrected. To complicate the problem further, humans are unable to repair their broken fellowship with God on their own.
People can’t help but sense that there is a serious problem, and since the problem involves an inability to understand their condition, fallen humans have invented a most impossible and man-centered idea of salvation.
They imagine that God lays out conditions which, if met, will save them. They picture God waiting helplessly to see what each person will do. They see heaven as the reward of those who earn it by doing right things. They see Hell as populated by those who fail in this effort.
However, salvation, as its presented in the Bible, is absolutely not conditional. No passage of Scripture supports the idea that we contribute anything to the grounds of our salvation. To justify the humanist view it is necessary to twist the Bible around. They take verses in ways they were never intended.
What we hear today, all around us, is a doctrine of salvation by human effort and good works.
Before we go on, two false ideas about salvation from our condemnation should be set aside.
1. People are not judged by their good works.
Many believe that moral obedience is a condition that must be met for salvation from the consequences of our sins. They often quote from passages of Scripture which seem to support that idea.
Revelation 20:12-13, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.”
Yes, indeed! All will be judged according to their works. But our works are not the cause of our salvation. Rather our salvation is the cause of our good works. Works are the evidences of a soul made alive by Christ. Those chosen by God are credited with the righteousness of the obedience of Jesus Christ, and enabled by the Holy Spirit to actually do things for the glory of God.
A parent may determine that a child is ill by taking his temperature. However, it would be foolish to say the temperature caused the illness. God likewise judges by works. They are evidences that we have been saved by grace. The deeds and choices we make are not the causes of salvation. The Lord reveals his eternal determinations by showing the changes produced by Christ in each person’s life.
2. Belief on the Lord, repentance, and confession of sin are not the “causes” of salvation.
Clearly these are very good things to do. They are works in that we do them. It is what we are to call people to do when we present the Gospel. However, these are neither the conditions of salvation, nor are they its cause.
God regenerating the person upon the merits of Christ alone is the cause of these acts of faith. By this instilled faith we are prepared for the day when the Creator pronounces his judgments. Justification comes by grace, through faith. Grace brings life and enables a true faith. The newly regenerated soul will believe, repent and confess. These are the results of a changed heart, not its cause.
With these issues clarified, we come to the main question: Why are some saved, while others remain lost?
The Bible gives a revolutionary answer, and it is very good news! The Creator Himself, has eternally determined to redeem for Himself a people. He has done all that is necessary to save them. In Him alone, they are saved. There is nothing left undone!
John 1:13 tells us that they are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Ephesians 1:3-12 says:
“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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. “
God is declared to be blessed in verses 3.
The main point of this whole passage is the blessedness of God among those who are blessed by him. Predestination is introduced not as an isolated, impersonal or harsh doctrine, but as a central reason moving us to see the wonders of our God.
There is a cyclical structure that ties these verses together. God is worthy to be blessed. He blesses us by loving and choosing some freely in Christ. When those chosen understand the blessedness of Grace, they turn back to God with praise and blessing.
This blessed God actively blesses His children.
The actions of God are the basis for this blessedness.
Notice the things God does in this passage.
God has blessed us, his redeemed children, with every spiritual blessing (1:3). He bestows goodness upon us. He causes us to benefit spiritually. We are not the cause of our blessing, God is.
God has chosen us in Christ (1:4). The word translated as “chosen” is the Greek word eklegomai (εκλεγομαι). It means “to elect, select, choose out.” God has picked us out to be in Christ. The context shows that Paul means He “predestined us to salvation.”
This choosing of some from among the rest of humanity is repeated through out the passage.
verse 4, “He chose us in (Christ)”
verse 5, “He predestined us for adoption as sons”
verse 11, “having been predestined” to an inheritance
God honors us by his grace. The verb “honors” in verse 6 is translated in various ways. The ESV says that God has “blessed” us in the beloved. But the Greek word in the original text is not the same word translated as “blessed” in verse 3. It is the word charito-o (χαριτοω). It derives from the word for “grace” which is charis (χαρις). God graciously bestows his blessings upon those he has chosen. The flavor of the word is that he heaps special honors upon them. The same concept appears in verse 8 where God “lavishes” or “heaps bountifully” upon his children the riches of his grace.
God brought to completion his redemptive work of Grace (1:6,7). Jesus fulfilled the promises of the Covenant of Grace completely. His blood secured our redemption. By grace alone he forgives us for our trespasses against him.
God has made known to us the mystery of His will (1:9). We do not yet know all the details of that mystery. Here he assures us that what happens is in accordance with what God has willed.
This passage shows that God’s blessedness arises from His own intentions. (1:5, 9, 11)
1. God always acts according to His own desires.
He is not driven by things external to him, and he is not limited by the choices of his creatures.
Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
The choosing of Jacob over Esau is used as an example of how God’s choice, not the acts or choices of humans, determines blessings.
Romans 9:11, “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 him who calls.”
2. Fallen man is not able to restore himself to God.
He cannot come to Christ by faith since that is a gift of God only given to those chosen by the Father.
John 6:65, “… no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Our salvation is always credited to God’s free choice:
2 Timothy 1:9, “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,”
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Believing in Christ is not the cause, but the evidence of election.
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.”
We are not chosen because of anything foreseen in us by God.
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.”
Comparing these passages, it is clear that our election by God was determined before we had done any good or bad.
It takes a strange logic to make our yet future actions the basis of God’s decision to elect us. Did God look into the future to see what we would do if he didn’t do anything, then he decided to elect us to do what we would have done anyway?
That’s clearly not the meaning of “foreknew” in passages like Romans 8:29. There it assures us that all those foreknown will be glorified in the end. It doesn’t say because of what he foreknew, but whom he foreknew. The word there means that God “knew” them specially in advance. All those he foreknew he predestined, called, justified and will glorify (Romans 8:29-30).
The Bible shows that no one is able or willing to come in repentance and saving faith unless God first restores that person to spiritual life.
It does nothing to solve the imagined problem by saying that God based his past determinations upon a future independent of his past determinations. If it wasn’t so self-contradictory, the best it could do is add another loop in the circular reasoning that imagined the problem to begin with.
This is certainly good news! Our hope does not rest upon what we do our would do if we could. It is based upon the good pleasure of God who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4).
3. God has acted in love toward us (1:4-5)
Undeserved love was His motive. In explaining election to the believers in the Old Testament the Lord said His own purpose and love was the cause.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers …”
Our benefits flow from our restoration into fellowship with God by his grace.
It again is God’s blessedness that is the foundation for our blessings and the motive behind our offering up our blessing of gratitude to our Redeemer.
When we are declared innocent by the sacrifice of Christ in our place, we are said to be “in him”, identified with him through the promise of God’s covenant that he paid the debt for all who evidence regeneration. The evidence is sincere repentance and faith. Being forgiven, we are clothed in Christ’s own righteousness and made ever alive by his living presence in us. Our position in Christ is referenced in this passage in verses 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12.
Because of this undeserved electing grace which we have through Christ, we have every spiritual blessing. We are restored in holiness and declared blameless (1:4). We are adopted into God’s spiritual family (1:5). We have redemption and forgiveness (1:7), spiritual wisdom and insight (1:8), and an inheritance of glory (1:11).
Because of our undeserved blessings
we live to praise our Blessed God.
Verse 12 of Ephesians 1 turns back our blessings to their source. Our salvation is entirely the work of our Sovereign God enabling and stirring our otherwise dead and uncaring hearts. It is his work of grace that causes every good thing that comes to us and that we do.
- God’s grace brings his word to the sinner.
- God’s grace gives us our spiritual understanding and conviction of sin.
- God’s grace stirs godly fear and concern in the convicted sinner.
- God’s grace brings us in humble repentance before our offended Creator.
- God’s grace stirs the heart to cry out for mercy.
- God’s grace brings the flood of joy over the work of Jesus on the cross.
- God’s grace instills an unquestioning trust that He paid it all in our place.
- God’s grace brings relief to the soul that we are secure forever as a child of God.
Do we ask, “Why did I respond to the message of grace while so many others did not?” Setting aside all human pride and foolish imagination we are left with the simple and direct words of Scripture: “He choose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (1:4).
God did not choose the best, the most worthy. We are all totally unworthy. He chose according to the good pleasure of His will alone. Grace alone, not works performed or imagined, make us children of God.
So what is our response to this amazing grace? Do we take his blessing but neglect to give thanks? Do we take his love for granted without a sense of gratitude? Do we push our Savior aside to some minor place to make room for things more important to us in our daily lives? Do we compromise His law and neglect our duties to our Redeemer? We ought to respond by turning back to Him in blessing and praise.
The Blessed God blesses us richly, and we respond by blessing him. That is the blessed cycle of sovereign grace!
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)