Essential Truth about God—Freedom-Cont.
In our last installment of the grace newsletter, we noted the freedom that God possesses as creator, sustainer and sovereign of the universe is revealed through the tiny first person being verb, “I am.” In choosing a name to reveal himself to the chosen covenant people, God chose to use a word that would simply explain his self-sufficient existence. The profound nature of God using the present tense being verb to adequately describe himself is boggling to our meager intellects. In this installment, we are going to think about one dynamic application of the freedom of God, the doctrine of election.
Basically, the doctrine of election means that God chooses those that he makes promises to. In the Old Testament, he chose individuals, families, nations, and even rulers to work in and through to demonstrate his glory, mercy, grace, and justice. Most apply the doctrine of election further than just God’s choice, speaking specifically of a theological concept that God chooses those who believe on him for eternal life. This idea of predestination, contrary to what some might think, did not begin with John Calvin and the reformers of the sixteenth century. The doctrine of election and predestination are clearly taught all through the Old Testament and in the New Testament by a variety of authors. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John are the most obvious New Testament authors that the Holy Spirit used to teach this truth.
The concept of election, that God chooses people, should be considered an undisputed fact of orthodox Christianity. How, when where, why, and who are questions that Bible students have been debating for years. We will never fully understand the doctrine of election or predestination, but to deny that the New Testament teaches such a doctrine is to ignore most of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament as well. Further still, to deny the doctrine of election, most notably by holding God’s will and choices captive to the dictates or desires of mankind is attacking the very concept that God is absolutely free. If God must act in some fashion because man has acted in some fashion is to obligate the Creator to the creation and thus declare that God is not truly free.
Jesus taught in John 6 that all who would come to him were given to him by the Father. He also said in the same context that no one comes to him in faith unless the Father draws him. Jesus then concludes his discourse by saying that the purpose of the Father drawing and then giving people to Jesus to believe on him is so that the eternal, perfect love between the Father and Son would be manifestly poured out upon those who believe. Theologians have debated the point at which the Father draws a person, when people receive faith, and if there are conditions of grace. But most orthodox theologians have affirmed that the freedom of God demands that God’s election is ultimately dependent upon the will of God, not the will of man.
It is my understanding from the Scripture, (notably from my most recent series through the book of Romans), that God mysteriously and providentially has chosen those that are his from eternity past. Not that they existed from eternity past in some pre-existent spiritual state, but that they were known by the God who resides outside of time. And in the fullness of time, God draws those that he has chosen and predestined to believe in him to that point of regeneration where he grants them the faith to believe in Jesus Christ as their only hope of mercy and salvation. Because God has done this merciful work, we respond in repentance and faith, resting fully in the work of Christ on our behalf. And since we are now called his church and since he began this good work in us (justification), he will perform it (sanctification) until he returns to glorify us (glorification). That the work of eternal life is a gift freely bestowed on those who believe is not contradictory to the doctrine of election. That we are responsible to repent and believe in the Christ of the Gospel is not counter to predestination. And that God would choose his church from the immoral mass of sinful, lawless rebels is not “unfair.” For as the free God, should he choose to save all or some of his fallen creation is nothing short of miraculous mercy.