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TEXT: Ephesians 1:3-14
SUBJECT: Midland Confession of Faith #8: Election
This afternoon we will continue our study of the Midland Confession of Faith. First published in 1655, we adopted it as a summary of our own beliefs and priorities in the mid-1980's. Confessions of Faith are not the Bible, and they shouldn't be treated as though they are. Even the most revered human creed is open to debate and revision, and like the Bereans, we ought to--
Search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so.
But to say our Confession of Faith is not the Bible is not to say it's worthless or that we're free to put our own personal whims above it. We're not. For more than three hundred years godly and wise Christians have subscribed to this particular confession, and much of what it says dates back to the Early Church, and has been held to by all Christians everywhere and in every age. In other words, old and widely believed Confessions of Faith demand our respect and the benefit of the doubt goes to them--not to us--when we differ. This is not a human rule made up on the spot by a man who loves church history, but a fair application of Hebrews 13:7--
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
Last time, we studied the Fall of Man. The Confession and the Bible say that man was created good, but by acting on the lies of Satan instead of the truth of God, he became wicked and foolish. And not only he, but as the Puritan nursery rhyme has it--
In Adam's fall
we sinned all.
There is such a thing as Original Sin, and because there is, we are born guilty, corrupt, and liable to the wrath of God, and as a result, in need of salvation which we cannot produce for ourselves. If we are saved at all, it is God who saves us. He is not our partner in salvation, He is our Savior!
This is what most of our Confession is about: God's saving work in Christ. All of it is, in a way, but, in particular, Articles 5-12 and 16. They take us from the planning stages of our salvation to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ.
I'm no carpenter, but I'm pretty sure that if you're going to build a house, the best place to start is with the blueprints. That's what we have in Articles 5-6, God's Plan of Salvation.
The subject is Election, which Article 5 explains and Article 6 defends against people who try to 'explain it away'. Here they are:
5. We believe that God elected and chose, in His eternal counsel, some persons to life and salvation, before the foundation of the world, whom accordingly, He effectually calls, and whom He will certainly keep, by His power, through faith to salvation.
6. We believe that election was free in God, of His own pleasure, and not at all for, or with reference to, any foreseen works of faith in the creature as the motive thereto.
THE MEANING OF ELECTION
I suppose the best place to start on the doctrine of Election is with the word itself. It appears all over the Bible, both in the New Testament and Old, and--to the best of my knowledge--it never means anything except choice. To elect, therefore, is to choose, plain and simple.
Jesus Christ is God's Elect Servant, Isaiah 42:1; Israel is God's chosen people, Deuteronomy 7:6; Aaron was selected for the High Priesthood, Exodus 28:41; Twelve were picked out of a large number of followers to be Apostles, Mark 3:14, John 15:16.
Different people were chosen at different times to do different things, but all the choices have one thing in common: God is doing the choosing!
Do these other uses of Election prove God chooses us and not we Him? No, they don't. But they sure point that way--and they put the burden of proof on people who say it is we who do the choosing, or that God chooses us only because we choose Him.
ELECTION FOR SALVATION
Up to now, I don't think there's much controversy among God's people. We all agree on the meaning of election, and that, obviously, it was God who chose Aaron and the Apostles for their special work, and not they who chose Him. No debate so far.
But when it comes to salvation, the debate heats up and sometimes, overheats. People who sincerely love the Lord and believe His Word think that if God does the choosing He's unfair to the ones He didn't choose and they cannot be held responsible for not believing in Christ because they were not chosen to believe.
There is some weight in the objection, and we do ourselves, our friends, and God, no favor by being dismissive and pretending there isn't
Before we get to issues of fairness and justice, however, we ought to ask ourselves, What does the Bible say about who does the choosing and who is chosen for salvation? I can think of no better place to start than our text, Ephesians 1:3-14.
First, what is it? It's a doxology, an ascription of praise and thanks to God. What is Paul praising and thanking God for? He tells us in v.3, for--
Blessing us with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly Places in Christ.
In other words, for saving us. What does salvation include? Several things, including the forgiveness of sins (v.7), our inheritance (v.11), and the sealing of the Spirit (v.13).
Paul is singing his own version of Toplady's great hymn--
How vast the benefits Divine,
which we in Christ possess!
What's the first blessing he specifies? V.4--
Just as He chose us in Him.
Who's He? The nearest antecedent is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who's Him? It is Jesus Christ. And who's the we? The ones God has chosen to receive every spiritual blessing. In other words, it is God who chooses us for salvation and not we who choose Him.
In the interest of time, I won't labor this; but for further study, see II Thessalonians 2:13, I Peter 2:9, Revelation 17:14--and the big one, Romans 9.
And so, whatever else the Bible teaches about salvation (and it teaches a lot!), it definitely teaches that it is God who chooses us for it and not we who choose Him.
THE TIMING OF ELECTION
If God does the choosing, when did He do it? The Confession says He did it before the foundation of the world. If the wording rings a bell with you, it's because you read it in the Bible. That is exactly what Ephesians 1:4 says, word for word.
Some have tried to avoid the force of this argument, have said that God chose to save in eternity or that, in eternity, God chose Christ to be the Savior. What they say is true, God was not caught off guard by Adam's sin and scramble to come up with a way to save sinners; nor did He ever consider saving by anyone but Christ.
But, as true as these things are, they're also beside the point. Ephesians 1:4 does not say, 'God chose to save' or that He 'chose Christ to save' (though He did both), it says--
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.
Following Paul--I think--the Confession underlines the eternality of God's choice to make it clear to us that our salvation is by His grace only, and has nothing to do with what we deserve.
Paul makes this very point in Romans 9, where he explains the reason Jacob was chosen over his twin brother, Esau, Romans 9:11--
For the children, not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls...
THE REASON FOR ELECTION
The Confession next gives the reason for election, a reason many people find unsatisfying, but it's all the Bible tells us and we should be content with that--and not speculate! Election, it says is--
In His eternal counsel.
In other words, God had a reason for choosing whom He chose and for passing by the ones He didn't, but He's not telling! It is His counsel, not ours. Referring to the same subject, Paul reminds us that God did not seek advice for making His choices, but made them in the depths of His unsearchable wisdom, Romans 11:33-34--
Oh the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord and who has become His counselor?
The implied answer is 'no one'! No one knows why God chose some for salvation and not others, and He's not obliged to explain Himself! Many Christians become Reformed because 'they like having answers', and they foolishly think the Reformed Faith has them all. We don't! Not only because we're as fallen and ignorant as our brethren in other traditions, but also because God has reserved some answers for Himself, and He commands us to live with it!
If a man of Paul's learning, experience, and calling won't go beyond what is written, who are we to speculate and make things up as though the Bible should have had a little more in it than it does?
THE GOAL OF ELECTION
Next we have the goal of election, and here, Reformed Christians sometimes confuse 'the plan' with 'the final product'. If God has eternally chosen us to be saved are we saved in eternity? Or, practically, are the Elect really lost?
The Bible says everyone is lost, guilty, polluted, and under the wrath of God--including the Elect--until they repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. In other words, we are eternally chosen for salvation; we are not saved in eternity.
What Election does for us, you might say, is 'set the wheels in motion'. Because God chose to save us before the foundation of the world, He does other things for us as well, the most important of which are to send Christ to the Cross to atone for our sins, and raise Him from the dead to start the New Creation. There is no salvation outside of Christ and what He did at a real time and a real place! If God had chosen us for salvation, but then spared His Son, His purposes would fail. Not even God can save us apart from the saving work of His Son, because only it saves us in such a way that is consistent with God's character.
The Elect, then, are chosen before time, but in time, we are born lost, until God--the Confession says--effectually calls us, and then keeps us through faith to salvation.
Everyone who hears the Gospel is called by God to repent and believe and be saved. But not everyone responds to that call; only some do. Why do they and not others? It is not because they are somewhat better, more pliable, or less resistant than the others, but because God calls them--not only through His audible or read Word, but also by the secret working of the Holy Spirit. This is how people are converted: by Word and Spirit.
Is conversion full salvation? It isn't. We have to persevere in the faith and not just start in it. Why do we do this? Again, not because we're more disciplined than others, but because God continually communicates faith to us, and in that faith, we live our lives in the world and inherit the world to come.
This is what Article 5 teaches, but I wish it had added one more line. The final goal of Election is not our salvation (as wonderful as that is); it is the glory of God, and in particular, to the praise of His unimaginable mercy, Ephesians 1:6--
To the praise of the glory of His grace.
God knows He is gracious, but His creatures don't--many of them don't at least, and none know the fullness of His grace, and that's the problem salvation solves.
Article 6 brings up one last thing which was a hot button issue in the 17th Century, and still is. Classical Arminianism agrees pretty much with everything I've said. They believe that Elect means to choose; that God does the choosing; that in choosing us to be saved, God has also provides for our salvation; and that God's choice results in our salvation and His own glory.
They break with the Reformed Faith, however, on one question: On what basis does God choose some and not others?
Their answer is: God chooses us because, in His foreknowledge, He saw that we would choose Him. This, they believe, does justice to Ephesians 1, Romans 9 and other passages that speak of Election, while at the same time maintaining man's free will and God's justice in saving and condemning whom He will.
Let me speak personally for a moment: from an apologetic and emotional point of view, I very much wish they had it right. It would make the preacher's and witness's job so much easier! It would also unite brethren who are uneasy with each others' fellowship.
The thing is: it's not what the Bible teaches, and the more you think about it, the more you see it causes more and worse problems than it solves.
I just told you the argument: God chooses believers because He foresaw that believers would choose Him. They don't believe because He chose them; He chose them because He knew they would believe.
Two verses are always used in support, Romans 8:29 and I Peter 1:2--
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
The former teaches that God predestined us (which includes Election) because of His foreknowledge of our faith. The latter says we are Elect according to (or because of) His foreknowledge of our future faith.
The trouble with this view is, the object of God's foreknowledge is not our faith (or repentance or perseverance) but we ourselves. Though God does foresee all we do or don't do, this is not what the verses say; they say He foreknew us.
Does God foreknow that we will believe the Gospel? Sure He does. But if that's what Peter and Paul meant, why didn't they say so? Knowing in the Bible is often a synonym for approving of or loving. In Psalm 1:6, God is said to--
Know the way of the righteous,
but the way of the ungodly shall
God is no more 'aware' of the righteous than He is of the ungodly, and so whatever 'know' means it means more than 'is aware of'. Plainly what it means is He approves of the righteous and He loves their ways. This is what foreknowledge means, in the Bible: that God favors us and loves us. When did He start doing this? Before He made the world. What does His favor and love lead to? Just what Peter and Paul says it does: to salvation. The Golden Chain of Salvation is something like this: (a) God loves us, (b) because He loves us, He chooses us for salvation, (c) because He has chosen us for salvation, He calls us to it, (d) because He has called us to it, He gives us the faith to persevere in this life, and (e) to gain our final salvation which is complete conformity to Jesus Christ.
The two verse that are always used to support Election based on Foreseen Faith simply don't teach it.
And besides, there's a theological and an ethical problem with this view. If Election is based on something in us rather than something in God, salvation is no longer fully by grace and God does not receive all the glory for it. If our salvation is even partly based on what we do, we have some grounds for boasting--not many, perhaps, but some. But echoing the whole teaching of Scripture, the hymn says--
The glory Lord, from first to last,
is due to Thee alone,
Aught to ourseleves we dare not take,
nor rob Thee of Thy crown.
Please understand: I am not suggesting that people who base Election on Foreseen Faith are intending to diminish the glory of God in the least or to burnish their own credentials. I know that's not true! They are often among the most sincere, zealous, and humble Christians. But that's the practical effect of basing Election on anything but the loving and eternal counsel of God.
One last thing and I'm done. Election is not an Evangelistic doctrine. One of the worst things you can tell an unbeliever is that he may or may not be chosen by God for salvation. He is sure to use it either to blame God for his unbelief and damnation or to relax and 'Let God do it all'.
Election, therefore, does not speak to the unbeliever; it speaks to the Christian. It doesn't tell a lost man what he must to do be saved, it tells a saved man why he is saved. Not because of what He did, but because of what God did, in time and eternity.
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