But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
I’ll never forget the time a prominent member of a church of which I used to be on staff said to me, “You don’t believe in predestination, do you?” I’m usually the kind of person who never thinks of perfect answers to questions like that until the moment has passed and I’m driving down the road somewhere. But this time, I responded quicker than normal and said simply, “I have to believe something about it because it is in the Bible.” One may rightly ask “What do you think the Bible means when it talks about election?” Or, “What do you believe about the Biblical doctrine of election?” But the question for the Christian should never be “Do you believe in election?”!
The great Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said,
Whatever may be said about the doctrine of election, it is written in the Word of God as with an iron pen, and there is no getting rid of it. To me, it is one of the sweetest and most blessed truths in the whole of revelation, and those who are afraid of it are so because they do not understand it. If they could but know that the Lord had chosen them it would make their hearts dance with joy.
Spurgeon, C.H. (Charles Haddon),1834-1892. Carter, Tom ed. “Spurgeon At His Best” Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1988.
My desire in this post is that we too might know the joy of a God who rules in the affairs of men. I’m not approaching this topic today as a doctrine to be argued over, but as a truth over which to rejoice!
Why should not this truth cause us to rejoice? If we believe the analogies used by the Holy Spirit to describe the state of fallen human beings as being dead (See Romans 5:12ff and Ephesians 2:1ff), what other hope do we have? If we believe the Scriptures to be true on this point then the doctrine of election will be the only Scriptural solution to man’s dilemma.
Let’s first look at the way in which the Scriptures describe the condition of mankind. Romans 5:12 states,
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
In this verse Paul is speaking of Adam’s sin by which we are all made sinners and the spiritual death that was the result of that sin. Not only did Adam die spiritually, all of Adam’s descendents died spiritually when he partook of the fruit. Everyone of Adam’s race are spiritually still-born, that is they are born with no desire for communion with God their Creator.
In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul elaborates on this topic,
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Paul is speaking to those who have been made alive in Christ and he says they were dead! In other words, they were unable to do anything that would commend themselves to God. On the contrary, they were only able to walk according to the course of this world. Paul uses the image of death for a reason, it is to convey the idea of our total helplessness in the area of our salvation. He must quicken us!
If Adam’s sin totally ruined the human race so that like a dead man cannot revive himself, it is clear God must take the first step in man’s redemption. The Good News of the Gospel is that He did! This step is called election. It is a reason for thanksgiving!
Let us now define what I mean when I use the word election in order that we will all have the same idea in mind when I use this word. I believe the Bible presents election as “the gracious purpose of God by which he chose all those who would be saved, before the foundation of the world, with no foreseen merit on their part.”
The last phrase in the above definition is very important, because many have said that election is based on something good that God foresaw in man. That definition makes election an empty term that says nothing. If election is not on the basis of God’s grace alone, all we have is a religion of works. Salvation is not earned! Even though man receives no credit for his salvation, he does have a responsibility. He must hear and respond to the Gospel message. God chose a people, but He also chose a method to redeem them. God chose to send His Son to die for His people. God chose for the Spirit to draw those people. God chose to send preachers to preach the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world. And, God chose for His people to respond to that glorious message in faith and repentance. The only evidence of a person’s salvation is their outward show of faith and repentance. Furthermore, we must preach the Gospel to every one because God has determined to use it to call the elect (I Cor. 1:18-31) and we are clearly commanded in the Scriptures to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15).
In the Scriptures there were two typical responses to the doctrine of election. These same responses are visible today when the doctrine of election is discussed. For some it is an opportunity to thankfulness to God, for others it is an occasion for anger. When the writers of Scripture talked about election they were compelled to give thanks to God for this gracious act by which He sets His love upon us in Christ. How interesting that the apostle Paul and even our Lord Jesus gave thanks to God for this doctrine which is hardly mentioned in most evangelical circles today. But the other response is more typical of the response that we encounter in this day. This response was a response of wrath toward the doctrine. Let us look at both of these responses and examine ourselves to see what our response is to this difficult doctrine.
1. A Reason for Thanksgiving
Paul clearly sees the doctine of election as a reason for thanksgiving as he gives praise to the Father in Ephesians 1:3-6,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.
Just so we won’t think this passage is an obscure misapplied group of verses we’ll look at some other passages where thanks is given for election. Let’s look again at what Paul said in II Thessalonians 2:13, “But we are bound” (compelled as by debt) to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” No wonder Paul was compelled to give thanks, “God hath from the beginning chosen you”, before I was born, before my parents or my grandparents were born, before God spoke the vast universe in existence, he chose me. Thank God!
Jesus also thanked God for election. In Luke 10:21,
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
Jesus said that the reason some understood, or had truth revealed to them, was nothing other than the good pleasure of a Sovereign God!
When was the last time you heard someone thank God for election? It’s a very Biblical thing to do. Our fear of talking about election has robbed us of a wonderful motive for giving thanks to our God. I think people must think they will sound boastful. Actually, the doctrine of election humbles man and exalts God. These are two important reasons that election is a doctrine that should lead to thanksgiving.
A. Humbles Man
Now that we’ve seen the precedence which has been set in Scripture, let’s consider reasons that this doctrine should cause us to give thanks. The first reason election should cause us to give thanks is that this doctrine humbles man. If we are saved ultimately because He chose us, that leaves nothing for us to glory about in our salvation except Him. Below are a few passages of Scripture which emphasize this idea:
(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Paul says God’s purpose in election is so salvation won’t be of man, but of God that sheweth mercy.
I Corinthians 1:27-31
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Once again Paul says that God hath chosen us so that if we do any boasting, we will boasting about the Father’s great love.
II Timothy 1:9
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
What a humbling thought! None of our works saved us, only His mercy and grace. Now we understand why Paul was “bound to give thanks.” The reason is that God hath chosen a people for himself!
B. Exalts God
We should also give thanks to God for this truth because it exalts God. Just as when one side of a see-saw goes down the other side goes up, so when we are humbled God is exalted. Indeed for us to be humbled is for God to be exalted, or viz. a versa. For our self-esteem to be lowered is for our esteem for God to be heightened. When exposed to this doctrine we are compelled to say as John did in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Throughout the Bible there are examples of this effect caused by this truth.
In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar had begun to feel pretty good about himself. We could say he had good cause to be proud, after all he was the king of Babylon, the empire that ruled the world. But Nebuchadnezzar forgot one thing, namely Psalm 47:2, “For the Lord most High is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth.” King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Is not this great Babylon that I’ve built with my power”, at that time a voice from heaven came saying, “The kingdom is departed from you.” In verses 32 and 33 you see the curse and the fulfilment of it. This great king crawled around with the beasts of the field, ate grass like an oxen, his hair grew like eagle’s feathers, and his nails like bird claws. Now read verses 34-37,
And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
Nebuchadnezzar leaned a great lesson that each of us whom God has called has had to learn. Namely that “those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” Jonah had to be humbled in the belly of a fish. He didn’t want God to save those heathens of Ninevah. But after three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish he confessed, “Salvation is of the Lord.” In other words, if God wants to show mercy to the people of Ninevah its his business.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on the Throne. What was his response to the lofty position of the Sovereign Lord? “Woe Is Me; for I am undone.” What a great cause this is for thanksgiving.
2. A Reason for Wrath
This doctrine has not always been a cause for thanksgiving. In fact, it has been a cause of wrath in the church since the days when Jesus Himself, the founder of the church, taught that God is Sovereign in the bestowal of His mercy and grace. Some of you reading this today may also be filled with wrath at the suggestion that God sovereignly selects some while passing over others. That is not surprising. You see, you are not without precedence in Scriptures. Just as the Bible tells of some who rejoiced in the comfort of God’s Sovereignty, it also tells of those who were enraged at the doctrine. Even as the cloud, that led the children of Israel out of Egypt, was light to the people of God and darkness to the Egyptians, so is this doctrine is light to some and darkness to others.
Luke 4:25-29 gives an incredible account of the depths of man’s rebellion against a Sovereign LORD. In this passage Jesus said,
But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
Wow, in a similar circumstance we might ask, “What did I say?” But Jesus said exactly what he meant. Jesus was saying God is in control of when, where, and to whom he grants mercy. Thank God, He doesn’t show mercy to those who “deserve” it, but he shows mercy on those who were outside of Israel, outside of the covenants of promise. Not only did He show mercy to the outsiders, He showed mercy to the outcasts, a leper and a widow. Society had pushed them aside but God sovereignly showed mercy. What a reason for thanksgiving! However, this crowd was filled with wrath at Jesus’ suggestion that God had passed over some Israelites to sovereignly show his mercy to Gentiles.
Let’s not be swept away the controlling philosophy of our day that says all men deserve mercy (mercy deserved is a contradiction in terms). But let us rather rejoice that a Holy, Sovereign God has set his love upon people as lowly as us.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: II Thessalonians 2:13
Key words: doctrine, theology