Chosen In Him
Topic: Topical Sermons Passage: Ephesians 1:3–1:14, Romans 8:28–9:18
In the aftermath of this eventful political season you may feel as if you have heard everything you want or need to hear about “election.” If that is true, then let me assure you that this morning’s message has nothing to do with choosing which candidates are to serve in public office. Instead, it has everything to do with a selection having far greater implications for your life and mine. I’m referring to the choice of God in His sovereign determination of who would inherit salvation.
Last Sunday we introduced a new sermon series in which we began exploring the great doctrines related to salvation. Hopefully it served as a preview for these next several weeks when we will be looking together at the various components of the believer’s relationship with God, or what theologians refer to as the Ordo Salutis. I remind you again that this so-called “order of salvation” is logical rather than chronological in nature, meaning that, although salvation may appear to us to come in “stages,” from the divine perspective it is granted by God as a “complete package.”
Today we will be looking at “divine election,” and I would like to begin by turning with you to the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. It is here that we find the most biblically and theologically concise statement on the doctrine of election. We’ll start with verse 3 and read down through verse 14:
“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 the 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. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Although our English Bibles don’t reflect it, these verses comprise a single sentence having one main idea with multiple dimensions. It is a complex description of the many blessings that belong to those who have been chosen by God “in Christ.” The word that is translated “chose”(“εκλεγομαι”) in verse 4 is the term from which we get our English word “elect.” It speaks of “choosing” or “selecting” and when used in the middle voice, as it is here, it means “to choose for oneself.”
As we think about the biblical doctrine of “divine election,” I don’t suppose there is any more controversial subject related to salvation that we will be considering over these next several weeks. Although God means for it to be a sacred truth that unites His people, it can easily divide us if we do not handle it correctly. Stripped to its most basic understanding, it addresses the matter of whether we “choose” God or God “chooses” us.
On Christmas Eve in 1740, the evangelist George Whitefield wrote a lengthy letter to his good friend and fellow evangelist John Wesley regarding a sermon Wesley had recently preached entitled “Free Grace.” In the letter Whitefield excoriated Wesley, charging him with a weak and inferior understanding of the biblical doctrine of election. Whitefield’s views reflected the classic Reformed position, whereas Wesley’s were more Arminian. In their correspondence, Whitefield argued for what is known as “unconditional election”
The primary support for Whitefield’s position was taken from the 8th and 9th chapters of Romans. Near the conclusion of last week’s message we made reference to the so-called “Golden Chain of Redemption” found in Romans 8:28 through 30. This morning I would like for us to jump back into that passage, this time venturing into chapter 9. So, beginning with Romans 8:28, we read:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall being any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28-39).
Now look with me into chapter 9, where Paul begins discussing God’s sovereign selection of Israel, to whom, according to verses 4 and 5 was given “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises...(as well as) the patriarchs” and even the setting through which the Son of God would enter the world. As we know, Israel turned out to be a poor caretaker of God’s blessings, which prompted Paul to write in verses 6 and following:
“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8).
And after explaining how the younger Isaac would be chosen over Ishmael, and later how Jacob would be chosen over Esau, Paul inserts in verses 11 through 18 one of the strongest arguments in support God’s sovereign choice found in Scripture:
“...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—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated.’
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Romans 9:11-18).
Admitting that “we shall never in this life be able to search out God’s decrees to perfection,” Whitefield concluded his exhortation to Wesley on the basis of these verses we have just read. With great passion he wrote, and I quote,
God is no respecter of persons, upon the account of any outward condition or circumstance in life whatever; nor does the doctrine of election in the least suppose to be so. But as the sovereign Lord of all, who is debtor to none, He has a right to do what He will with His own, and to dispense His favors to what objects He sees fit, merely at His pleasure.
No doubt you can already tell that we will be diving into some deep—and for some of you, uncharted and perhaps troubling—waters. So let me encourage you to resist the temptation of surfacing for air too quickly or paddling back to the comfort and safety of the shore line too soon. Allow the capacity of your “spiritual lungs” to be stretched, and hopefully be filled with the truth found only in the cavernous depths of Scripture.
Although we have already alluded to it, allow me to propose a working...
Definition of “divine election.”
I propose to you that “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.”
Whenever the doctrine of election is discussed, there are three related terms that are inevitably raised. They are “foreknowledge,” “predestination,” and “preterition.” An understanding of each assists us in getting a better handle on the doctrine of “divine election.”
When the Bible speaks of God’s “foreknowledge,” as it does in Psalm 139, it refers to more than His advance knowledge of what will take place. Instead it speaks of His certain knowledge of whatever comes to pass because He has determined it beforehand. Those who hold weaker views of election argue that the Lord saves people on the basis of their “foreseen faith.” In other words, God looks down the corridors of time and knows in advance who will respond to Him with saving faith. These then are “the elect.” The problem with such a view is that it limits God’s sovereignty. The Scripture evidence seems instead to teach that there is a reason God knows who will be His, and that is because He has determined it to be so.
As for “predestination,” it means what the word implies. It is God’s sovereign predetermination, in accordance with His divine purpose, of whatever comes to pass. In relation to believers (or the elect), it is the sovereign act of God whereby He guarantees that each one will attain the ultimate goal of glorification and conformity to the image of Christ. Indeed, this is what the “Golden Chain of Redemption” in Romans 8 clearly teaches.
That inevitably leads to the third term, “preterition,” which refers to God’s “passing by” those who have not been elected by Him for salvation and eternal life. Those who dispute the doctrine of “preterition”—sometimes referred to as “reprobation”—do so because they believe that it labels God as playing favorites at best or being capricious at worst. They fail to grasp that for God to save anyone at all is an act of sheer grace. Because we all exist under God’s just condemnation, “preterition” merely implies God’s sovereign preference to save some while “passing by” others. It is important to differentiate this from what is sometimes called “double predestination,” which teaches that God proactively elects some for hell while proactively electing others for heaven. Such an understanding takes the doctrines of “predestination” and “preterition beyond their biblical parameters.
There is indeed a special and privileged relationship between the Lord and those He has chosen to be His own. That relationship has nothing to do with merit, but everything to do with grace. There are numerous examples of God’s sovereign choice found throughout Scripture. Consider that as far back as Deuteronomy 7:6, He told the Israelites, “You are a people holy (or set apart) to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus taught that “No one can come to (Him) unless the Father...draws him” (John 6:44), and shortly before going to the cross added this personal reminder for His disciples: “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” (John 15:16).
As the Gospel was spreading through the Book of Acts and the church was expanding to nations beyond the borders of Israel, we are told that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
In his final letter, Paul told Timothy of the God “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Rather than being a source of anxiety, such words are meant to be engender confidence and courage in God’s people. Because believers have inherited eternal life solely on the basis of God’s sovereign choice, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” or the hand of the Son (John 10:28-29).
Therefore, let me repeat our working definition of divine election before we dive deeper. 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.
So let’s press on by rehearsing some of the...
Characteristics of “divine election.”
Without claiming to be exhaustive, I want to point out five of the distinctive features implied within the doctrine of election. Some of these we have already alluded to, but it does not hurt to repeat them as well as to look at them together.
First, as we have noted, election is an expression of the sovereign will or good pleasure of God. It is not based on anything good or meritorious in the one elected. Nor is it based upon God’s foreseeing that the individual will one day exercise faith and believe.
Second, election is efficacious, meaning that those whom God has chosen will most certainly come to him in faith and, for that matter, will persevere in that faith to the end. It also implies that all of the elect—without exception—will be saved.
Third, election is from all eternity. It is not ultimately a decision made by an individual at some point in time. Instead, it is something God has always purposed to do.
Fourth, election is unconditional. It does not depend upon human beings performing a specific action or meeting certain conditions or terms set by God. It is not that God wills to save people if they do certain things. He simply wills to save them and then brings it about.
Finally, election is immutable. God never changes his mind. Election is an expression of God’s mercy and grace from all eternity. He has neither reason nor occasion to alter the determination He has made.
There are those who will argue that divine election as we are describing it is inconsistent with man’s free will. Martin Luther, that great Reformer, answered just such a charge in his appropriately titled work, The Bondage of the Will, saying (and I quote)...
I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground; but because even were there no dangers I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success. But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.
Every Christian believes in the doctrine of election, but not all believe it to the same extent as Luther and the other Reformers. That is because, I believe, there are certain...
Misconceptions concerning “divine election.”
The first of these is the charge that election represents a mechanistic or fatalistic view of life. Critics claim that human choices and decisions matter little, if at all, if God has already ordained whatever comes to pass. Taken to extreme, this would mean that we live in an impersonal universe which functions in a mechanical way so that human beings are reduced to the level of a programmed machine that simply functions in accordance with a predetermined plan in response to predetermined causes and influences.
The Scriptures teach nothing of the sort, instead presenting the entire outworking of salvation as something brought about by a personal God in a working relationship with His personal creatures. Ephesians 1:5, for example, says that “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” With regard to one’s response to the Gospel, the Bible repeatedly views us as genuine persons who make willing choices to accept our reject the Lord’s offer of salvation. The implication is that people’s eternal destiny hinges on whether or not they believe the Gospel. Furthermore, just as they are accountable to respond to it, Christians are responsible before God to proclaim it.
A second misconception of this doctrine is that God’s election is based upon his foreknowledge of those who would believe in Him. The implication here is that the ultimate reason why some are saved and others are not lies within people themselves, and not with God. While there are variations of this objection, some offering stronger arguments than others, all fail to recognize three very significant facts.
First, Scripture never speaks of our faith as a reason behind God’s choice. Second, election based on something good in us (in this case, our faith) would open the door to salvation being by merit. In other words, we could earn it. Instead, Ephesians 2:8 and 9 tell us that the very faith we exercise is “the gift of God.” The third fact that is frequently overlooked is that, when thought out to its logical conclusion, even if election were based solely on foreknowledge (or God’s having advance knowledge of what will happen), the outcome would still limit man’s freedom to choose. In other words, if God can foresee that one person will come to faith and another not, then those facts would already be fixed and predetermined, would they not? The so-called “choice” a person would make would merely confirm something that was to inevitably take place.
These misconceptions all fall short of what the Bible appears to teach, which is that God’s election is unconditional. It is based solely on His sovereign choice. The reason it is “unconditional” is because it is not conditioned upon anything that God sees in us that makes us worthy of His selection.
In light of these and other misconceptions, there are also several common...
Objections to “divine election”
...including that it implies people do have a “real choice” in whether or not to believe in Christ. That being supposed, it is further charged that unbelievers never have a “real chance” to believe the Gospel. To many, therefore, by electing some and not all God is being “unfair” and “unjust.” I would caution us to be very careful in bringing such a charge, especially since God declares in Romans 1:20 that all of us are “without excuse” before Him.
Another frequent objection to a robust understanding of election is that it seems to contradict God’s desire for “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) and that He is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The dilemma is solved if we are willing to make the distinction between what the Reformers drew between God’s “sovereign will” and his “permissive will.” Verses such as those I have just cited tell us that God invites—indeed, commands—every person to repent and come to Christ for salvation, but they do not say anything regarding who it is that will be saved. If it is true that God sovereignly wills for everyone to be saved, then “universal salvation” would be the result. Everyone then would be saved and none would perish because the will of God never fails to be accomplished.
Obviously there is something else that the Lord deems more important than saving everyone. And that “something” is His eternal glory. Somehow in His infinite wisdom and eternal plan, God’s glory is enhanced by the fact that not everyone will be saved.
So let’s pause to catch our breath. Sincere Bible-believing Christians have never been in universal agreement in their understanding of this doctrine. Even among those of us at Temple Hills Baptist Church, we may not all see eye-to-eye on every point. You and I can agree to disagree, but we must not do so disagreeably. Article IX of our church’s Statement of Faith presents what we believe is a “balanced” and biblical postion on what has the potential to become—where grace is lacking—a divisive doctrine. Permit me read it for us:
We believe that election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which He graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy, and unchangeable; that it excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it may be ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the Gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence.
Augustine is frequently quoted as having said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, clarity.” With that in mind, I’d like to bring this message to a close by suggesting three...
Applications of “divine election.”
In the first place, the doctrine of election is a comfort to believers. Remember the teaching of Romans 8(:28), “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul’s point here is that God has always and will always act for the good on behalf of those whom He has called to Himself. Christian, whatever trying circumstances you are going through right now or may one day face, how reassuring to know that God is for you and that He will never abandon you and leave you comfortless. Your election in Christ is an encouragement in the everyday events of life. If God is the initiator of our faith, then He can be fully trusted to finish what He started. The 17th-century Puritan preacher, Joseph Alleine exhorted his people, “Prove your conversion, and then never doubt your election...God’s purposes may be secret, but His promises are plain.”
The second application is that the doctrine of election is a reason to praise God. In the passage from Ephesians 1(:5) that we read at the beginning of this message, we are told that believers have been “chosen in Christ” “according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace.” In his letters to the Thessalonian church, Paul gives thanks because God had “chosen” them for salvation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13). It may seem a subtle distinction, but it was appropriate for Paul to thank God for them rather than praising them for being saved. Understood in this way, the doctrine of election increases our gratitude to God while diminishing any sense that we have in any way contributed to our own salvation.
And then last, but certainly not least, the doctrine of election serves is an incentive for evangelism. At first glance, this may seem contradictory, so consider what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:10: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul was aware that the Lord had chosen people for salvation, but he was also aware that the means of their being saved was through the proclamation of the Gospel. Knowing that to be the case, he was willing to endure every manner of hardship so that he might share the Gospel. J.I. Packer reminds us that “God has chosen not only whom He will save, but also the means and the method by He will save them.”
I hope you are able to see that rather than being a source of anxiety, the doctrine of divine election is meant to bring great assurance to those who believe.
Do you personally have that assurance? Are you certain that you are among “the elect”? The fact that you would be concerned or would consider such a question is a healthy sign. As he neared the end of his first epistle, John the Apostle told his readers, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). God knows who are His (cf. 2 Timothy 2:19), and He wants us to know that we are in that number.
If you have entrusted yourself to Jesus Christ as your Savior, and are resting in Him alone for salvation, believing that His sacrifice is the full payment for your sins, then I believe I can say to the degree that I am able that you are among the elect of God. But it is God who truly searches the heart. Therefore, just before we conclude this service, may we sit quietly before him for a moment and ask Him to do just that.