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Empowered by Election

At the weekend I made some remarks about the doctrine of election, in the context of teaching the book of Titus. Titus describes Christians as God's elect - those who were promised the hope of eternal life before time.

My remarks were:
  • Personal responsibility to believe is not excluded by election. In fact it gives hope in evangelism. People look like they wont believe, but God chooses not us. Do evangelism! Persevere with hard hearts. God changes lives. The gospel is powerful.
  • Faith is a gift from God to prevent our boasting in it. Do don't boast that you're a Christian. You can't take credit for it. Give God the credit.
  • We're chosen by grace not desire or effort. Know that God chose you for his glory rather than for your sake. Christian life is about God not about me.
  • Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not two equal sides of an equation, or two sides of the same coin. The balance is in God's favour. God is not limited by our weaknesses or faithlessness or sin. Worship the sovereign Lord. Be amazed at his sovereign grace!
This document from sovereign grace ministries is helpful for further thought. As would be the writing of John Piper who has helped me see clearly about this doctrine. His book The Justification of God is particularly helpful if you can get past the Greek and Hebrew.... As we've begun to study Ephesians at our church I'm increasingly seeing the practical and life-giving implications of this glorious doctrine of election. We are poorer if we deny it.
"Far from undermining evangelism and church planting, a
proper understanding of the doctrine of election invigorates both
these activities and assures us of their ultimate success. How good
it is to know that the gospel of the crucified and risen Savior does
not return void."
- CJ Mahaney


  1. If salvation is entirely by grace, entirely from God and not in the least teensiest eensiest part from us - that we literally have no choice in whether we are saved or not... Then why not everyone? Why does God only pick a few? Paul often talks as if all will be saved - see Romans 5 for example.

  2. hiya Helen Louise - since by this hour Bish is indubitably offline and since I had a strange urge to work on my French so still am, I'm going to throw in my thoughts :) I'd be surprised if anyone doesn't struggle to understand this! I think it's like eternity or infinity - it's outside our world so we can't quite get it to fit in our head. Salvation is all of God and we have responsability to repent and believe the gospel, and we can't quite see in our heads how they meet.

    Specifically, in our experience we've formed the little view that choice = complete freedom so non-complete freedom = non-choice. But this isn't even true in our finite world - in every free choice we make we're constrained by circumstances, cultural background/setting, hormones, etc, etc. Yet that doesn't mean that it doesn't count as a real choice for which we're responsible.

    I think it was Spurgeon who said that divine sovereignty and human responsability run alongside each other as parallel lines. Being a mathematician, I can see this cos parallel lines 'meet at infinity'! But maybe that doesn't help... They aren't contradictory even if hard to understand.

    The language used in Romans 5 does seem like you suggest if you look at it from the framework of our question about the salvation / election of all / some. But that's not what Paul's addressing at that point in his argument. He's explaining how the category of being 'in Christ' redeems that of being 'in Adam' - comparing and contrasting. He's in the middle of a huge argument about Jewish believers not being elite - first he's gone to Abraham and said, "Look, a child of Abraham is one justified by faith, so it depends on faith, not Mosaic law" then he's gone further back and gone, "Look, let's go back to the beginning - before Abraham father of Jews (if you're not accepting the 'father of the faith-full' thing yet) we have Adam, father of all of us! And he's a 'type' of Jesus - Jew or Gentile, we're all dead in Adam, so in Christ, Jew or Gentile, we're all alive!" He does specify the basis of being in this 'all' category in v17 - "those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness... through the one man Jesus Christ". Note the 'those who' - there's a specific group. Does that make sense? He goes on to address your questions. It might be hard going, but it'd be a helpful thing to read through all of Romans in one go, cos he really works through an argument thoroughly and often we only read it in bits. There are truths there which can be understood without seeing the big argument, but the big argument gives us the framework to understand what he's referring to in the individual places.

    My (very much briefer ;-)) answer to "Why does God only pick a few (to save)?" Would be that I've a different question in the light of Genesis 1-11 and Romans 1-3: "Why does God pick any to save??"

    Now I'm going to sleep - God bless :)


  3. Brief thoughts on Romans 5:

    “If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (v.17)

    Obviously Paul is comparing Adam and Christ in Rom 5, and seeing as Adam’s sin affected all of humanity it is a fair question to ask why Christ’s one act of righteousness does not save all of humanity too. The clue is in the phrase ‘one act of righteousness’, that is his death. In the next chapter Paul explains how in Christ’s death brings life in fallen humanity. He argues that we participate in Christ’s new life by taking part in Christ’s death - that is by putting to death sin in our mortal bodies. If you remain a slave of sin in this life, then you cannot claim the promise contained in 6:5:

    if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

    It is the fault of the church that it has lost a lot of the already-not yet tension of the Gospel. It has done all right focusing on what Christ has done, and the judgment that is to come but it has forgotten the work of the Spirit. The NT is totally infused with the idea that what was true for Christ, is now true for his body, the Church, now (although it is to be completed). So it is inconceivable for Paul (and Jesus) that you can benefit from Christ’s death and resurrection in the future, without also experiencing a little of the suffering and the new life now.

    Top tip: don’t try and have a conversation about who is and isn't saved without simultaneously discussing what it means to be ‘in Christ’. The NT writers certainly would not dare...

    Of course as Jesus, Paul and all the apostles were always saying, it is the most unlikely people that God draws to himself (but again that is because those 'in Christ' are just like their brother).

  4. I guess my problem with election basically boils down to unelection. Election is a very exciting doctrine if you've been elected. It means that you can't screw up being saved, and it also means that even if you do make a total mess of evangelism, God will save everyone he wants to save. This is very comforting and helpful.

    And although it is extremely comforting that God has already decided to save us no matter what, we're chosen by grace not desire or effort, we then say that not all will be saved, and this is because God doesn't want them to be saved - he made them to be destroyed. He doesn't love them... ah, but he wants us to love them!

    If you want to know why God didn't make people perfect, or why God doesn't save all, some will say that Adam had to have the choice, and we have to choose God. Adam chooses and we choose, and that's why some are damned (And conversely, if Adam had chosen rightly, and if we choose rightly, then we will be saved). But there's no such ground with election - we can be saved forever but only if God calls us. And God will not call everyone. He knows we have no choice but to be "in Adam", and he will still leave some there. He punishes people for being sinners when there was no chance that they could be saved. In essence, he made people just to punish them. God won't save all because he simply doesn't want to - and that Jesus didn't die for everyone, just for the ones God wanted to keep.

    Forgive me if I sound harsh. Lately I've met lots of loving Christians who seem to be more loving than the God they believe in... We know that we shouldn't be partial even if we're tempted to be - but we believe that God is partial - he just likes some people more than others. I don't believe this can be true, and I find it hard to accept that the actions of Adam will have more far-reaching consequences than the sacrifice of Christ.

    Consider these verses (NIV)
    1 Timothy 4:10
    we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

    1 John 2:2
    He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

    1 John 4:14
    And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world

    John 1:29
    The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

    Psalm 22:27
    All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him

    1 Timothy 2:3-4
    This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

    2 Peter 3:9
    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

    Romans 5:18-19
    Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

  5. I feel intimidated by your honest questions. I do not want to give the pat answers if they have not convinced you, true as they may be.

    I wrote out a reply to this comment, but I’ve binned it as it was unhelpful, and forgot the very maxim I pushed in my previous comment. So here goes…

    Choice and impartiality seem to be you main concerns and I will try to address them. But first I want to address this god you have described in your comment. This is not the God I believe in; I do not believe it is not the God of the bible either. The only other time I have felt similarly unsettled by a depiction of God was when I read Phillip Pullman’s description of his ‘almighty god’. The language is so similar to what the bible uses but in comparison to the God behind it just you are left longing for the real thing. Time and again you say things that are logical corollaries of the biblical description of God but are not themselves the biblical description of God, and this distinction is important. John Calvin was famous for his doctrine of election but he realised how easily it could be made to appear that God was a tyrant, so he time and again warned that we should be careful where we tread and not exceed the descriptions provided by the only sure guide in a place where one false step could lead to massive error.

    We are not told in the bible that: God ‘made [the reprobate (nasty word)] to be destroyed’; ‘there's no such ground [as choice] with election’; God simply ‘leave[s] some’ in Adam; that ‘Jesus didn't die for everyone’; or even that ‘God is partial’. They are all logical corollaries of the biblical description of God, but the biblical writers do not state them, and I believe that is for a reason. The bible, and Jesus’ incarnation, are all an infinite God’s accommodation to finite us. They are not a source book for theology, they are his word to us, and our role is to listen to them, not use them as raw materials to move onto a better understanding of God. If you embrace the ‘logical’ corollaries of God’s word you will soon find they are contradicted by other parts of God’s revelation. This means either that the bible is inconsistent, or that your extrapolation was not a fair one.

    That was my prolegomena but as I have said I think you will be better seeking your answers to your questions in the bible itself rather than within post-reformational theological categories.

    When I read your first paragraph my immediate thought was that if we are comforted and complacent like you describe because we are elected, we are perilously close to the sin of Israel. They assumed that their election meant that they need not care about the rest of the world, and that God only cared about them. They thought this meant they had licence to act how they like and still have the right to call upon God’s salvation on demand. Reading the OT time and again I symphathise that this must have been an easy trap to fall into considering their history with God. Similarly your first paragraph is wonderful truth, but we must not forget the lessons of Israel while rejoicing in it. Read Romans 9-11.

    Returning to your logical corollaries, you assert that God made some people to be destroyed. The biblical story describes that God created humanity to be fruitful and multiply – to be blessed. Both Adam, and every individual, chose destruction; and although we often told it was God’s will we are never explicitly told that they were created for the purpose of destruction. You state that election means that God simply leaves some ‘in Adam’, refusing to choose to embrace them ‘in Christ’. However the Gospels display the lie to this. Jesus came for all those ‘in Adam’ and even the bad news he had for many who thought themselves secure were designed to provoke change. You could argue that the ‘logic’ of election meant that his numerous sermons of hope he preached to crowds he latter denounced in John were insincere, but that is your logic not God’s. God reaches out to all, and even if he only grasps some that must not be allowed to make his reaching out to all an insignificance.

    The god you have described is not the God revealed by Christ, or even his still imperfect body (as you yourself have noted). Perhaps that should suggest your description is flawed as you suspect. I certainly think it is, and though bits of the description of God in the bible can be hard to swallow they satisfy more than the constructions of universalists, or hyper-Calvinists, or any other bunch of theologians – even me and you.
    And in case we dwell too long on damnation, I want to shout that Christ’s sacrifice had consequences far outwaying the sin of Adam even in a framework including the expectiation of the punishment of some. Christ’s death AND resurection effected the New Creation. And this New Creation is infinitely supperior to the old one even in its uncorrupted state (note the parallels in Rev with Gen, and how the new exceeds the old), and there is with the destruction of the devil there is no chance of a second fall. The wide-angle lense shows us the truth that Christ trumps Adam every time.

    This is a ridiculously long comment and I am still very unsatisfied with it. Perhaps, seeing as we live in the same city we should meet up and talk about it, and you will be able to pin me down if you think I am dodging the issues.

  6. Hi Dave,

    Sorry I didn't realise which Dave was posting :)

    Thanks for your reply, I'm having a think about it now :) But perhaps there is a better forum than this particular thread in this particular blog.


  7. Feel free to have the conversation here.

  8. Any wisdom from yourself Dave or Rosemary?

    I think I am running low, and you both have more to give than me - although probably less time.


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