Few theological topics will bring heated debate quicker than a discussion on predestination and election. Trying to grasp the idea that God, in His sovereignty has chosen people for salvation and to be a part of His family can leave people with a deluge of emotions and thoughts. “If God chooses, where does this leave free will?” “How can God be fair if he chooses some and not others?” As I write on this today, I know that a short blog can in no way be sufficient to give a good answer to the question. But I did mention in my sermon Sunday that I would blog, and I want to be true to my word.
On Sunday, I steered clear of the controversial side of the discussion about election and predestination, because the focus of my sermon was to show people the incredible sovereignty of God and the reality that God took the initiative in giving grace. The question that must be answered is this, how can sinful people who love to sin and will not choose God on their own have any chance to be saved? The answer is that God pours His grace on His people, those whom He chooses from His own will and purpose. God was not obligated to save anyone. If God had chosen justice alone, every person would spend eternity separated from God. In grace, God has chosen to give grace and save some.
The easiest thing to do would be to avoid topics such as this one, theological issues that are deep, difficult to comprehend, and hard to reconcile. Yet, avoiding such topics will leave us as a shallow church, unwilling to tackle the deep things of Scripture and unable to delve into the depths of God. Theology is such an incredible topic because it is the study of the most complex, incredible, and glorious being. His very existence is beyond our comprehension, so it should come to reason that the study of God, His being, and His purpose will take a significant amount of study and depth. Yet, no study will yield greater results and deeper satisfaction than study that takes people into the deep things of God. If we could fully understand and grasp theological topics, that would be a clear indication that the God we are seeking is not much of a God at all. My goal in writing this blog (and others on theological topics) is to challenge readers to consider ideas, and then find ways to take the study of God to a deeper level in their own lives.
In this blog, I am going present a few bulleted points on the theology of election, predestination, and human responsibility. These points are limited, and designed to give people a starting point. Once read, I would encourage readers to look up Scriptures, and read others who have written on the topic. If you would like a few resources on this or any theological topic, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]
- The topic is biblical, clearly taught in Scripture. Every good Biblical theologian believes in the sovereignty of God and the reality that he predestined those to be saved, that he chose those who would be saved. The issue really is not whether God chose or not, rather, the question is the basis of His choice. Here are a few Scriptures: (Ephesians 1:3-6, Acts 13:48, Romans 8:28-30, 1 Corinthians 1:28-31, Romans 9:11-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, Revelation 13:7-8)
- While there are variations, there are two basic views of this issue. The first view is that God looked down through history, and made his choice based on the decisions of people. In this view, God offered Salvation, and then looked through history to see who would believe and accept the offer of salvation, and He chose those people. In this view, the free choice of people is the deciding factor determining who would receive grace. The other view, which is the Reformed view and the one held by leaders at Genesis, is that God chose based on Himself, and that those who believe respond to God’s initiative and grace in their lives. In his book, Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem states, “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” The Reformed view understands the sovereign grace of God as the deciding factor, in that those who trust God do so only because of God’s drawing them to himself
- Either view must hold be careful to hold a balance of the Biblical teaching of human freedom and responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Both are taught in Scripture. The Bible has a multitude of passages that deal with God’s sovereign control over all things, even salvation. The Bible also contains a myriad of passages calling on people to believe and place trust in Jesus for salvation. While on earth, completely grasping these two truths is impossible, they are reconciled in the eternal council of God. Someone once asked Charles Spurgeon, a pastor who led a large church in London during the 19th century, how he reconciled God’s election before the foundation of the world, and human responsibility to believe. Spurgeon responded, “I don’t reconcile friends.” This is a great quote because it reminds us that it is alright to hold Scriptural ideas that are in tension, which we may not fully get our arms around.
- Neither view should be held at the expense of participation in the mission of God. Those who emphasize the sovereignty of God can make the mistake of having the mindset that says, “If God wants something done, He will get it done.” The truth is that God ordains the end and the means, meaning that God has chosen His people as the vehicle for sharing the Gospel with the lost world. Any theology must compel followers of Jesus to join God in His mission of taking the good news of Jesus to all people. On the other hand, those that emphasize the responsibility and freedom of people can fall into error when they place too much emphasis on human response. This can lead to strong handed tactics in sharing faith. I’ve been in settings where preachers poured on emotional stories in an attempt to get people to respond. The other side of this is leading people to a simplistic response. People pray a simple prayer, but they don’t understand repentance, and the reality of trusting Jesus alone. As a result, people go through the motions, but they have never truly met Christ, resulting in a false assurance of salvation. Any theology must leave the results of the mission in God’s hands alone.
- We all should hold positions on this issue with grace and humility. I mentioned that the leadership of Genesis leans toward the Reformed view on this issue, but we hold that view with an open hand. This is not a line of demarcation for our church, rather it is something that those with differing views can hold, we can discuss them vigorously, and move on together in love doing mission together.
- I close with a resource. The best book I have read seeking to unpack this subject is Chosen by God by R. C. Sproul. You can get this resource in the form of a book, or a series of teaching lectures from Ligonier Ministries website.