Overwhelmed By His Grace: Chapter 3 Electing Grace
By Brian Anderson
We have seen that the lost man's condition is so desperate that he cannot save himself or even cooperate with God in his salvation. His case, humanly speaking, is hopeless. If he is ever to be saved, God Himself must decide to reach out and save Him by His own grace and power. The decree of election is the truth that God has sovereignly purposed to reach out and save a vast number of lost and perishing souls, and that He has decided to do this from eternity past without reference to man's works or choice. A decree is simply an official royal decision. God is the King of the universe who has made an official royal decision to save a definite number of the human family.
I have found from personal experience that whenever a person speaks or writes on sovereign election, he is sure to get a response! He will find that his hearers or readers are either passionately in love with this truth, or recoil from it in horror. To some people, God's sovereign election is the most wonderful thing that they have ever discovered from the Scriptures. When they come to understand it, it is like getting saved all over again. To others, it is a devilish doctrine straight out of the pit of hell. I am sure that as I write upon this theme, there will be many different responses. I know that I am taking a risk by bringing up this subject at all, but I do so that it may enable us to gain a greater appreciation for our salvation than ever before. My only request is that we all carefully and objectively weigh what the Scriptures teach on this subject. Remember, we must never base our beliefs on human opinion or speculation, but on the clear teaching of the Word of God. If an individual will read his Bible with an open and honest heart to see what it actually says about this subject, I believe God's truth will overwhelm him.
One thing is certain -- an individual cannot avoid the subject of election if he accepts the Bible as the Word of God. The word "chosen" or some derivative thereof is found some thirty-six times in the New Testament. The word "elect" is found eight times. The word "predestined" is found seven times. In all, these words occur over fifty times in the New Testament alone. The truths of election and predestination are found in nearly every book of the New Testament. The doctrine of election simply cannot be avoided. A Christian must deal with it in one way or another. In order to do that, let us turn our attention to one of the premier texts on election in the New Testament -- Ephesians 1:3-6.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just 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 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."
The phrase "He chose" is from the Greek verb "eklegomai" which means "to choose or pick out of." (New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, Hendrickson, p.196.) The word "chosen" implies that not all are included. If I choose a banana out of a fruit basket, the rest of the fruit remains behind in the basket by default. Likewise, when God chose His people, some were selected while the rest were passed by. Furthermore, this Greek word is in the middle voice which means that God did it for Himself. God chose out of the mass of mankind a people for Himself to display His own glory.
The Preeminence Of Election
In Ephesians 1:3 Paul launches into a 202 word sentence in the Greek of praise to God. He tells us that God is to be blessed because He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. What are these blessings? The very first one that is mentioned is the blessing of election. Before mentioning our adoption, redemption, forgiveness, inheritance, or sealing Paul mentions election. Election is mentioned first for the simple reason that every other blessing is dependent on it. If God has not appointed an individual to eternal life, that person will never receive any of these other blessings. Election is the foundation of every other blessing of God. All of the spiritual blessings God freely grants us have their source in His electing love. The whole process of salvation is the unfolding of God's electing love and predestined purpose. Election depends on God alone; all other blessings depend upon election.
The Author Of Election
Our text informs us that "He" chose us. Who is the He mentioned here? Verse three answers our question by telling us that it was the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The author of election is God the Father. The Bible does not attribute our election to Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. The Father fulfills that role. Peter records the same in 1 Peter 1:1-2 by saying that his readers were "chosen by the foreknowledge of God the Father." Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 states, "knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." Each member of the blessed trinity has a role to play in God's eternal plan of salvation. The Father is the architect, the Son purchases the materials, and the Spirit builds the house. The Father chose those who would be saved, Jesus Christ purchased their salvation, and the Holy Spirit infallibly applies the purchased salvation to their lives. If we are God's elect, we have God the Father to thank and bless for it.
The Objects Of Election
Our text says, "He chose us." Who is Paul talking about? Well, perhaps it would be helpful to note three different kinds of election found in Scripture -- national, vocational, and salvational. National election is seen in God selecting the nation of Israel to fulfill His purposes (Deut. 7:6-8). Vocational election is seen in God selecting different persons such as Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Peter or Paul to fulfill a particular role such as leader, high priest, or apostle. The third type of election found in Scripture is salvational. This is what God does when He chooses individual persons to receive the gift of eternal life. Our text in Ephesians cannot be referring to national election because Paul was not writing to a nation; he was writing to the saints at Ephesus. Therefore, the persons who make up the "us" must be particular, individual persons -- not a nation. He also could not have been referring to vocational election, because the people he wrote to were not chosen to be apostles, pastors, or other leaders; they were simply ordinary "run of the mill" Christians. The object of election in this text, therefore, is not a nation, nor a people called to a specific task, but rather God's people scattered throughout Asia Minor whom He chose to eternal life.
The Sphere Of Election
Our text clearly states, "He chose us in Him." This phrase teaches us that the decree of the Father does not take place apart from the person and work of Christ. It is accomplished only in Him and by virtue of His work. The finished work of Christ is the means by which election becomes effectual in human history. Election alone saves no one. It determines the who, but not the how of salvation. The cross of Christ carries out the Father's eternal plan. That is why, after describing the Father's role in election in Ephesians 1:4-6, the apostle Paul goes on to describe Christ and His work in carrying out the Father's plan in Ephesians 1:7-12.
The phrase "in Him" also teaches us that God chose us by uniting us to His Son before the foundation of the world. In other words, before time began, the Father chose Jesus Christ to be the Redeemer of His people (Is.42:1) and gave these people to His Son to be the reward of His obedience and suffering (Jn.17:2,9,24; Is.53:10-12). The elect were placed into Christ's hands from eternity (Jn.10:28-29). Christ came to be their representative - to be born, live, die and rise again on their behalf. All that the Son did, He did for His people, because they were "in Him" by a spiritual union from before all time.
The Timing Of Election
When were these individuals chosen to salvation? Again, we find the answer to this fascinating question in our text as it declares, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." The mind-boggling truth is that before the universe existed, God Almighty had already laid out a plan which included the exact number and identity of every person He would ever save. Notice how the following texts define the timing of election:
Revelation 17:8: "And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come." In this passage we find that certain people's names have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. In contrast to much popular teaching then, it is not true that a person's name is inscribed in the book of life when they "accept Christ." On the contrary, their name was recorded before the foundations of the world were laid.
2 Timothy 1:9: "who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." God's purpose to save us arose from His own sovereign will, not when we believed on Christ, but from all eternity.
2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." In this passage Paul again emphasizes that God did not choose to save us as a result of our choice of Him, but rather chose us from the beginning.
Matthew 25:34: "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
These texts of Scripture show us that God does everything in time according to a preconceived plan, or as the Scripture puts it, "He works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph.1:11). From eternity past, the whole plan of redemption down to the most minute detail was designed of God. Thus, all is certain. There is no possibility of failure or a change of plan.
Augustus Toplady, the 18th century author of the well-known hymn "Rock Of Ages", illustrated the timing of election in these words:
The book of life, or decree of election, is the marriage-register of the saints in which their everlasting espousal to Christ stands indelibly recorded by the pen of God's free and eternal love. . . .The elect were betrothed to Christ from everlasting in the covenant of grace. They are actually married to Him and join hands with Him in conversion, but they are not taken home to the bridegroom's house until death dismisses them from the body. (The Works of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle, p.544-545.)
The famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon once quipped, ". . .I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterward!" (John Blanchard, Gathered Gold, Evangelical Press, p.78.)
The Results Of Election
The results of God's eternal decree of election are two-fold:
- That We Should Be Holy And Blameless Before Him: This wonderful two-sided blessing begins to take place at the moment of our justification. When a sinner believes on Jesus Christ, God clothes him in His righteous garments. It is as though he had never sinned, but is instead covered by the righteousness of Christ. Nevertheless, the believer will not demonstrate perfect righteousness until he stands glorified in Christ's presence. Then he shall be absolutely holy before Him in practice as well as position. Christ's blazing eyes of holiness will not be able to detect any sin in him at all. This is the truth of Ephesians 5:25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless." That is the culmination of God's work in us from the moment of our conversion -- our absolute and complete conformity to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Also note that holiness is a fruit of election, not the cause of it. He chose us that we should be holy, not because we already were. God does not choose us because we are holier than others. He chooses so that we will become holy and blameless before Him.
- That We Should Be Adopted As His Sons: Adoption is the act of God whereby He brings men from Adam's ruined family into His own, making them His own children, and granting them all the rights and privileges of His own sons. All men are born into the family of Satan. No one has a right to be in God's family. However, God, of His own sheer mercy and grace decided that He would not permit the whole world to perish in hell, but would adopt a multitude of sinners, conform them to the image of His Son, and bring them to eternal glory. This is the truth of Romans 8:29 where it states, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren."
The Motive Of Election
Our text in Ephesians goes on to state, "In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself." Here we are told the reason God chose us to be holy and blameless and to be His adopted children. It was because of His eternal, unchanging and sovereign electing love. God loves all His creatures with a general love of benevolence, but He loves His elect with a special, discriminating love which is much higher and greater. It is interesting to note how often in Scripture the love of God and His decree of election are coupled together:
Colossians 3:12: "And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
1 Thessalonians 1:4: "knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you."
2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth."
Augustus Toplady in referring to this great theme of God's electing love wrote, "God's everlasting love, His decree of election, and eternal covenant of redemption are the three hinges on which the door of man's salvation turns." (The Works of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle, p.554.)
The Cause Of Election
Why did God choose some and pass by others? Ephesians 1:5 tells us that it was "according to the kind intention of His will." The Authorized version translates the words "kind intention" as good pleasure. Seen in this light, God chose us according to the good pleasure of His will. At first glance this may seem as if God were arbitrary and capricious, taking delight in choosing some and damning others. However, we should never view election as if God were up in heaven rolling dice to see who gets chosen. He is not a celestial child crying gleefully, "eenie, meenie, miney, moe!" If we were chosen by God, it is not just because we got lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. The kind intention of His will had everything to do with it. God had a reason for choosing whom He did. We do not know what that reason was, but we do know that it had nothing to do with our own personal worthiness. The reason is to be found in God alone, not in those He has chosen. Because God has not seen fit to fill us in on all the details of that purpose, we must simply trust Him in those things He has not fully revealed to us. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever . . ." (Deut. 29:29).
A person may fully intend to go to the dentist and also to plant a beautiful rose garden. Both are decisions of his will, but the latter alone is according to his good pleasure. Likewise, God's choice to save us was a matter of delight to Him. We get a hint of this in Luke 10:21 where Jesus rejoices greatly in the Holy Spirit and says, "I praise Thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight."
I find it extremely interesting that in our entire text, nothing is stated about the sinner's will. We are not told that God chose us according to our will. Divine election is not conditioned upon our faith, our repentance, or our good works. These things are the fruits of election, not the root. Paul, as emphatically as he possibly could, stated this truth in Romans 9:16, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."
The Goal Of Election
What was God's goal in this entire matter? Well, according to Ephesians 1:6 it was all for "the praise of the glory of His grace." We see then, that God's glory is the goal behind all He does. This comes out quite clearly all the way through this paragraph. In verses 3-6 Paul describes the work of God the Father, and caps it off by saying it was "to the praise of the glory of His grace." In verses 7-12 Paul describes the work of Jesus Christ, and sums it up by saying it was "to the praise of His glory." In verses 13-14 Paul describes the work of the Holy Spirit and says it was "to the praise of His glory." In this entire section of Scripture the apostle Paul is calling on us to bless God for His glorious grace. The grace of God shines most resplendently when seen in the light of sovereign election. Oh, how glorious is His grace! From eternity past He has set His love upon us, knowing what rebels and sinners we would be. He chose to have mercy upon us, adopt us into His own family, give us all the rights of legitimate sons, grant us an inheritance, wipe out all our sins, and make us holy and blameless before Him forever. It is absolutely incredible! John Calvin, the 16th century reformer put it this way, "He [Paul] extols sublimely the grace of God toward the Ephesians to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them all aflame, to occupy and fill them with this thought." (Calvin's Commentaries - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Eerdmans, p.123.)
Has the sovereign electing love of God roused our heart to gratitude, set us all aflame, and filled us with this thought? Are we ravished by the knowledge of His distinguishing grace towards us? I truly hope so.
Oh the glory of the grace of God! The Biblical teaching on divine election highlights God's sovereign grace like few other truths in His Word. A friend and fellow pastor (Mark Webb of Grace Bible Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi) uses the following illustration to teach the exceeding sweetness of God's sovereign election. He asks the ladies in his congregation to imagine that they have just married and are driving away from the church parking lot on their honeymoon. The new husband turns to her and says, "Honey, I want to share something with you. The first time I ever set eyes on you I decided that one day you'd be mine, because I loved you so much. Do you remember when you were just a child and had to have that expensive operation? Everyone thought you were going to die. Your parents didn't know where they were going to get the money, until one day they found a large check in the mail. Well, I'm the one that sent that check. You never knew where it came from, but it was me. As you were growing up you kept getting cards in the mail that said 'from your secret admirer.' You never realized it, but that was me as well. I determined that I loved you so much that I would do whatever it took to win you." If a woman heard those words from her husband, would she stomp her feet and shout, "How dare you violate my free will?!" Or would she rather say, "That's the loveliest thing I've ever heard in all my life!" I think she would say the latter, and that is exactly what the truth of sovereign election teaches us to say.
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