Apr 252013

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

In our study of unconditional election, we should not neglect Peter’s plain teaching regarding those that belong to God. Peter is writing specifically, not to all exiles, but to elect exiles. The word “elect” is in the plural, so it is true of all God’s people that God has specially chosen them, has given preference to them, and has shown divine favor to them, and makes them resident aliens in this world. God has predestinated His elect (Eph 1); that is, before the world began, God destined His elect (unconditional chosen ones) to be in glory with Him. Believers are temporal residents here, who have been born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for them. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Last week we saw that God does not choose persons for salvation based on faith they might exercise in the future, but rather He elects them unconditionally, “before they were born or had done anything good or bad” (Romans 9:11).

God elects sinners according to His foreknowledge, Peter says. Peter is not speaking of God’s intellect, which of course is perfect and infinite, but rather of His decretal foreknowledge, of God’s determination of whom he would graciously rescue from just condemnation. In His foreknowledge, He intimately knows His own and saves them according to his sovereign purposes.

So, you can see from ‘foreknowledge’ that election is very personal and intimate. Foreknowledge is more affectionate than cerebral. For God, to truly know is to truly love. Amos 3:2, speaking of God’s people Israel says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” Does this mean that God does not intellectually know what is happening around His world, but only knows what is happening to Israel? No. God knows everything at every time. But God has a special love and affection for His people that He does not have for others. Matthew 7:23 proves this: “Depart from me you that work iniquity. I never knew you.” Does this mean that God did not intellectually know the wicked? No. It means His saving affection was never upon them.

God’s election of a people is the seal of His love for them. Because He elects them, and saves them with His blood, and regenerates them by the Spirit, He will cherish them. He calls them His Bride. God has always loved them (‘In love he predestined us!’ Eph. 1:5). This is what makes unconditional election so amazing – there was nothing in me to be desired. All I had to offer was rebellion, iniquity, self-reliance and sufficiency, and a long list of more of the same, but God in love conquered every barrier. That’s what foreknowledge does. In love He gave me life. He gave me hope in a world that is full of sin and is rapidly passing away.

Thankful for electing grace,

Pastor Bill

Apr 172013

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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 have I loved, but Esau I hated.’” (Romans 9:10-13)

It has been such a joy to preach through Matthew’s Gospel for the last three-plus years. The congregation of RBC has endured well. This Lord’s Day, Lord willing, I will preach my final message from Matthew. It is a text we commonly call “The Great Commission”, though the text does not call itself that. The text calls us to our obligation as the Church to make disciples of all nations. But I am reminded in the Bible, over and again, that the Great Commission is successful only because God elects sinners to salvation, and that He does so unconditionally.

At RBC, we love the Doctrines of Grace, commonly called the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Of course, Calvin did not develop the “five points”, but they were codified 54 years after he died. Calvin so desired to be faithful to Biblical revelation. The “five points” come from the Synod of Dort (1618-19), and were a response to the “five points” of Arminianism. (The Arminians were called “The Remonstrants” at the time.) We understand that Scripture clearly develops these points in regards to salvation. It all comes as a package deal and each point flows from one to another. Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited or Particular atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints formed this body of teaching.

I talked to a young man on the phone a while ago and he asked if we could meet and if I could explain to him the point of unconditional election. This point is a huge hang-up for him, as it is for many. Sam Storms, who wrote a marvelous book called Chosen for Life, said in an article, “To those who minimize the Scriptural record of man’s total depravity, election is the primary reason people are in hell. To Calvinists, who accept the Bible’s teaching of total depravity, election is the primary reason people are in heaven.” If one has a skewed view of total depravity, or original sin, unconditional election will seem to be a horrific doctrine. But when you understand the Bible’s teaching that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, that we have no spiritual life at all in ourselves, then election is a most glorious, comforting truth. Spurgeon said it best: “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I would never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterward.”

Arminianism teaches conditional election, that is, that God elects those who are depraved but who He foresees will believe in Christ for salvation in the future. Though people are sinful, they can meet God’s condition of believing in Jesus by exercising their own free will. There is still some glimmer of ability that a sinner has to embrace Christ of his own free will.

From the text in Romans above, and everywhere you look in the Bible, we can see that unconditional election is taught. God elects those who are totally depraved and are not able to exercise their free wills to embrace him. This is not to deny there is a freedom of will, but to say that our free wills will lead us straight to hell. Our wills are in bondage and cannot embrace Christ unless they have been born-again of the Spirit. God elects believers on the basis of His sovereign good pleasure, conquering their wills so that they are made willing to exercise faith, (which is a gift of God), in Christ for salvation. So it is based on God’s free and sovereign grace, not conditioned on some foreseen faith that we might exercise at some point.

Sam Storms says this: “Does God elect people because they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Arminianism), or does God elect people in order that they shall believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ?” (Calvinism)

Conditional election fails in three ways:

(1.) It puts the primacy on man’s choice and not God’s choice in salvation. Believers were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Eph.1, Rev. 7:9-17). As in Romans 9 above, God chose Jacob unconditionally, before the boys were born or had done anything either good or bad.

(2.) It fails to recognize the extent of our depravity. It makes us better than what we really are. By doing this, it robs God of His sovereignty and glory. If we are as depraved as the Bible says we are, then salvation cannot originate with us. Without election, no one would be saved. That is why I put this doctrine alongside Matthew 28. Depraved humanity could never choose God on their own. “Men loved darkness rather than light.” (John 3:19) Believers go into the world to proclaim the Gospel knowing that the Sovereign Lord of all will grant it success, for His elect will come to Him by the means of the Gospel.

(3.) It fails to save anyone! It makes salvation dependent upon man. The wonder is not that God justly rejects some sinners but that He graciously saves any sinners at all. Augustus Strong said, “We may better praise God that he saves any than charge him with injustice because he saves so few.” Or J.C. Ryle: “The believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election.”

This will be a good place to end for now, but much more still needs to be said. The mystery of election is this: “Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus, thank you!” (Sovereign Grace Music)

As we prepare even now for the upcoming Lord’s Day, let us pray for the city of Boston and the families affected. Let us also pray for the many needs in our own congregation and that God would graciously call sinners to Himself in our community and around the world.

Praising our great God,

Pastor Bill