Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday in our sermon from Genesis 6, we took note of how God purposed to blot out mankind because of the extensive and intensive nature of man’s sin (Genesis 6:5-7). But, Noah “found favor” in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8). That is to say, God chose Noah out of the wicked world and bestowed upon him the gift of electing grace. As a result, Noah became an heir of righteousness which is according to faith (Genesis 6:9; Hebrews 11:7). Noah’s righteousness was a gift that he received from God because God elected Noah. This is our same hope today: God’s glorious electing grace!
R.C. Sproul defines the doctrine of election (or predestination) this way: “From all eternity God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish” (Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, 141). This is the view set out in most all of the Reformed confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries. Following the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the London Baptist Confession of 1689 (LBC) also affirms this doctrine: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice” (LBC 3:3; see also WCF 3:3).
Yet, the biblical doctrine of election, throughout church history and today, has been a source of much controversy. This is unfortunate because as we come to understand this doctrine of election (as we noted on Sunday, as well), it will instill in believers a zeal for good works (2 Peter 1:5-11), the ability to rest in our assurance of salvation (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:1-2), and cause us to praise God for His glorious electing grace (Ephesians 1:3-4).
The Doctrine of Predestination and Election in the Bible
Having seen the doctrine of election and predestination in Genesis 6 this past Sunday, and then briefly defined this doctrine from a couple of Reformed Confessions above, here is a brief examination of just some of the places in Scripture where we see it mentioned, taught, or explained in God’s Word.
[Acts 13:48; Romans 8:28-31] Salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to end.
Paul and Barnabas preached the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the people of Antioch. Afterward, the Scriptures tell us that “when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The faith of these new converts was the result of God’s appointing them to eternal life. In Romans 8:28-31, the Bible explicitly tells us that God foreknew and predestined the elect to be called, justified, sanctified, and gloried. This speaks to the fact that Jesus is the author of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10) – indeed, He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
[Ephesians 1:3-12] Predestination is just one part of God’s freedom as the Creator and Lord over all things.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read that “in love, God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6). God’s predestination to adoption comes with many blessings: redemption (v 7), knowledge (v 9), an inheritance (v 11), becoming the praise of His glory (v 12). God’s choosing some people to be His own is rooted in His love and mercy and bears the fruit of His praise and worship. In fact, His sovereignty extends over all things as He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (v 11).
[Romans 9:13-24] In His sovereignty, God is able to do as He freely chooses.
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul bases his teaching of this doctrine of election in the Old Testament. And, as he does, he addresses several objections that are commonly put forth against this doctrine. In quoting Malachi 1:2-3, he declares that is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13). Then, foreseeing that some may object to the freedom of God’s will to do as he pleases (the attempt to accuse God of injustice), Paul again reaches back to the Old Testament (Exodus 33:19) to show that God has declared that He, Himself, has the right to show mercy and compassion to whomever he wants. Salvation is not based upon the will of man, but upon the will of God to show mercy (Romans 9:15-18).
Another objection that is raised against the doctrine of election is this: If salvation depends on God’s will and not man’s will (a point that is also explicitly made in John 1:12-13), then why does God still find fault with man since man can’t resist God’s will (Romans 9:19). Paul responds in a way that is akin to God’s response to Job when questioned by His creation: God is the Creator and you are the creature; what makes you think that you have the right to tell the Creator what He ought to do with His creation? (Romans 9:20-24). Paul actually uses the language of the clay questioning the potter which is used time and again in the prophets whenever God’s people question Him (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9-10; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-11).
[John 1:12-13; 6:43-44] Men are born of God, or drawn to Him, only according to God’s will.
Speaking of God’s sovereignty in election, the Apostle John writes that “as many as received Him [Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). If one were to stop reading there, it would seem that the right to become children of God is based upon man’s decision to receive Christ, but keep reading. “…who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
Likewise, Jesus presents with the sovereignty of God in salvation when He states that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:34). Some have attempted to interpret the word “draw” in this verse as meaning “to woo.” However, the Greek word means to drag or take by force. Elsewhere in the New Testament, men “draw” swords (John 18:10) and fishing nets (John 21:11), they “draw” (or drag) people into prison (Acts 16:19; 21:30). When one “draws” water from a well, he does not call to the water, “Come up here water” and try to woo it; he uses a bucket and drags the water up out of the well according to his own will, not the will of the water.
[Romans 11:5-7; Titus 3:4-7] God’s choice is by unmerited grace alone.
To say that we are saved by the grace of God, we must confess also that we are saved by God’s gracious, unmerited choice. This is the point that is made in Romans 11:5-7 when Paul speaks to God’s gracious choice in keeping for Himself a remnant of Jews for Himself: “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.” For God the Father “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5).
Obviously this is not an exhaustive study of the doctrine of election and predestination in Scripture. Even in light of these texts, some may still reject this doctrine as objectionable, unbiblical, or a sectarian doctrine manufactured by Calvinists. Again, this is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because the doctrine of election and predestination (along with particular atonement) is simply the gospel according to the Scriptures. As J.I. Packer has written, “…really it is most misleading to call this soteriology ‘Calvinism’ at all, for it is not a peculiarity of John Calvin and the divines of Dort, but a part of the revealed truth of God and the catholic Christian faith. ‘Calvinism’ is one of the ‘odious names’ by which down the centuries prejudice has been raised against it. But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel.” (from J.I. Packer’s “Introductory Essay” to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen).
For further reading, I highly recommend Packer’s essay. You may read or download it: http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/others/deathofdeath.html. After reading that essay (again, I can’t recommend it strongly enough), if you’re feeling especially keen to study the doctrine of the atonement and how it relates to this doctrine of election and predestination, you may read or download John Owen’s work, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/deathofdeath.toc.html.
Let me conclude where we concluded in the sermon from this past Sunday. The right understanding of the biblical doctrine of election and predestination ought to cause all of God’s people to praise Him for His sovereign mercy: “So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the Gospel” (WCF 3:8).
Or, as J.I. Packer says, once again from his introductory essay, “Where the Arminian will only say: ‘I could not have gained my salvation without Calvary,’ the Calvinist will say: ‘Christ gained my salvation for me at Calvary.’” Therefore, let us praise Him for His glorious electing grace!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch