For a more complete examination of the Regulative Principle of Worship, see Dr. Waldron’s extensive series here: 18-Part Series on the Regulative Principle of Worship
In the last several posts here we have looked at the dangers of The Sinner’s Prayer. From there we looked at how the formulas of man circumvent the work of the Holy Spirit, known as regeneration, in the hearts of sinners. We learned how regeneration is clearly defined in John 3 and Titus 3 and how it involves not only cleansing from sin, but a spiritual rebirth. Today, we’re going to begin part 1 of a series on the sinner’s conversion, beginning with a look at those whom God has chosen.
The main passage for this series will be Ezekiel 36:24-26 where we get insight into the prophecy of the new covenant (see also Jeremiah 31) that God established with His people through His Son Jesus. “24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Note in this passage that God is doing all of the action. First, we see God is gathering His people from the nations and all countries. This is a striking statement considering until this announcement His chosen people had come from only 1 nation, Israel. Thus, our first glimpse at the inclusive nature of those whom God has chosen.
In the post A Chosen People, we looked at God’s selection of Israel as a people unto Himself. Our passage from that study came from Deuteronomy 7:6-8:
“6 For you are a people holy 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. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. ”
In that passage we focused on how God set His love on Israel, choosing them for His “treasured possession” not because they were of any greater number, not because of anything they had done or could do, because in fact they were the “fewest” of all people. Instead it was because God loved them. What was the condition that Israel met in order to receive God’s love? Nothing. He did so out of His own good pleasure. Remember in that post we asked was this fair of God? He didn’t set His love on the Canaanites. He didn’t choose the Amorites. God didn’t choose the Philistines, the Hittites, the Amalekites, or the Egyptians. Instead He consecrated a nation unto Himself beginning with Abraham. And as we read to them belonged “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises…the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all.” (Romans 9:4-5) So, was it fair of God, was He just in making a selection? Absolutely! He is after all, God and does whatever “His hand has predestined.”
What fascinates me is that with a “controversial” subject such as God’s sovereign election of people, it is without dispute that God chose Israel as a physical nation and blessed them as we just read in Romans 9:4-5. In fact, one would have to deny the truths of the entire Bible if they argued that Israel was not God’s chosen people. It is through them that He brought King David and established the throne that would be the lineage of Christ, the Messiah. God had a purpose in His selection and it was to work His own plan of redemption.
But this isn’t the end of the story, because we have the New Testament that sheds even greater light on God’s sovereign choice of Israel. In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s not actually those who are Abraham’s physical offspring, i.e. children of the flesh, that God has chosen, but it’s actually, as Galatians 3:7 says “those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” We also read of this in Romans “…For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as offspring.” Romans 9:6-8 Paul reemphasizes his argument later in this same chapter as he ties back to the Old Testament, “even us who He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles 25 As indeed He says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ 26 ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Romans 9:24-26 The Apostle Paul’s statement regarding the inclusion of not only the Jews, but likewise Gentiles as those whom God has chosen for salvation is a common theme throughout most of the New Testament, but specifically we see the continuity of God’s elective choice again in Ephesians 1:4-5 “even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, 5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” We should note here that the Church at Ephesus was composed largely of Gentiles, so Paul, a Jew, uses “us” and “we” to represent both collectively.
The Word of God is clear. God chose Israel as a physical people, a nation unto Himself that would bring forth the Messiah. But just as Paul quotes Isaiah, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,” (Romans 9:27 & Isaiah 10:22) within that physical nation of Israel are those whom God has saved, a spiritual people unto Himself. As we’ve shown, God extended His salvation to the gentiles within whom there is also a group whom God has saved. Those whom God has elected, both Jews and Gentiles, are collectively the adopted sons of God and as we’ll study next time this is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Romans 2:28-29
The parallels of God’s redemptive plan in the Old Testament and the New are not only consistent, but they are a fascinating display of God’s sovereignty. Just as I’m amazed that those who argue against election have little if any problem with God’s election of Israel as a physical people unto Himself, I am equally amazed that men have developed arguments against God’s election of people for salvation. This argument was one that Jesus faced, as recorded in the Gospel of John and one that the Apostle Paul anticipated in Romans 9. From there this argument persisted in the early Church as Augustine faced opposition from Pelagius. Like a bad penny that kept turning up, arguments against God’s ability to choose for Himself arose again for Martin Luther as he faced the Roman Catholic Church and Erasmus. For supporters of John Calvin, they countered the attacks of Arminius and the Puritans held ground against their contemporaries The Remonstrants. We see it even extending to the early years of America as pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, or arminianism as it became known was spread by men like Charles Finney. It should be noted that from the Apostle Paul’s opponents to Pelagius to Finney, the opposition to the doctrine of election was considered a heresy, because it was a direct assault on the sovereignty of God.
It was only in the 1800’s, specifically through revivalism and faithful ministers such as John and Charles Wesley that these contrary beliefs grabbed a foothold. Though rebuked mightily, and publically, by his good friend George Whitfield, John Wesley promoted the free will of man and the free grace of God. Despite preaching efforts of men like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, who were vocal critics of man’s free will in salvation, the people loved that they could choose a god for themselves. This created the chasm that we have today between the man-centered gospel of free will and the God-centered Gospel of His sovereignty and it is the primary reason why most if not all of us who are saved at one time believed in a man-centered salvation (and a large majority still do). It is only through growing in the “knowledge and grace” of our Lord Jesus Christ that God’s sovereignty is revealed. No doubt some of you will receive this post with great difficulty, but I ask that you be Berean-like and search the Scriptures for yourself. Ask God to reveal Himself and His redemptive plan to you. When He does, realize that your salvation was absolutely nothing of yourself, but all of God, and be humbled by His mighty, amazing grace.
Lord willing we will continue our series next time with, The Sinner’s Conversion: The Gospel Call.
The 3 articles linked above lead off this issue of Bucket Drops and highlights a common theme among several popular stories this last week or so. The Barna Group, a Christian research group, released a new survey that asks the question, “Do Americans change faiths?” Their survey comes on the heels of Anne Rice’s public declaration that she has “quit Christianity” and based on the results it reveals that 60 million Americans share a “spiritual profile” with Anne Rice, whatever that means. The Barna data showed that 23% of people surveyed have moved from one faith or faith tradition to another and when asked how many had changed faiths since childhood the results were 26%. An additional noteworthy statistic showed the greatest change occurred from those who “shifted” from Christian, Protestant, or Catholic to now being atheist, agnostic or some other faith, 12%. The survey even provided reasons for the change in faiths citing, “life experiences, such as gaining new knowledge or education; feeling disillusioned with church and religion; feeling the church is hypocritical (a popular excuse); having negative experiences in churches; being in disagreement with Christianity about specific issues such as homosexuality, abortion or birth control; feeling church is too authoritarian; wanting to express their faith outside of church; and searching for a new faith or wanting to experience other religions.” This list pretty much runs the gamut of human reasoning.
So what are we to make of this data? First of all, let me say that I do not endorse the folks at Barna because I believe their surveys, polls, and research is all compiled for the sake of modeling church growth. Meaning they attempt to follow trends via surveys and polls in order to determine what works best to attract people to church. I don’t believe I’ve ever read of the Apostles in the Book of Acts taking surveys to see what worked. They preached Christ and Him crucified and left the church growth to the Holy Spirit, but I digress. The second point we can garner from this poll is greater evidence of the continuation of the biggest heresy to invade the church since the time of the Apostle Paul. In Paul’s day he was constantly refuting the ideology of the Gnostics, fast forward a couple hundred years and Augustine had to battle the Pelagians. Moving forward to the Reformation, Martin Luther stood in contrast to Erasmus and John Calvin’s doctrines of grace were a refutation of the teaching commonly known today as Arminianism. From the Gnostics to Pelagius, Erasmus, and Arminius each promoted a similar theology that is in contrast to the Word of God and this Barna survey shines a bright light on why those beliefs are so dangerous.
What these surveys assume, much like those beliefs beliefs mentioned earlier, is that Christianity is a swinging door and that somehow the narrow gate from Matthew 7:13-14 opens up to let people in and reopens to let people out. This is best represented by the more common phrase of “free will” which at its heart would argue “I’m free to come in and free to go back out”, i.e. no eternal security. Let’s briefly look at some proof texts from the Word of God, though I suspect I’ll be lead to discuss this in more detail on future posts. If we want to understand the theological position of Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et.al. versus that of the Gnostics, Pelagius, Erasmus, Arminius, et.al. we need to go directly to the source, namely the Bible, and more specifically the words of Jesus Christ while He was here on earth. In John 3 we read the account of Jesus’ epic conversation with Nicodemus in which Jesus states, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus responds by asking “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:4-5 So Jesus’ statement here is that no one can be saved and enter into His eternal kingdom unless they are born of the Spirit. A person cannot be born of the Spirit and then be unborn of the Spirit. It simply doesn’t work that way because God’s work in us is final, complete, unfailing. Would the poll from above be so naïve as to suggest that those who “switched faiths” were able to overcome a Spiritual re-birth? As Paul states in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Predestined, called, justified, glorified. There are no dropouts, lest the plans of God be thwarted by man. How then does one become born of the Spirit? Jesus’ response in this same chapter of John’s gospel, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8
In John 5:21 Jesus is speaking again as He says, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will.” Do you think that Jesus gives life and then someone gives it back? This is a typical man-centered belief to think that we can somehow overpower the plans and will of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are only 2 religions in the entire world: that of divine accomplishment, that says God has done all the work for justification and those of human accomplishment, which says man has something to add, perform, or work to be justified. One is from the will of Jesus Christ; the other follows the will of man.
In John 6:37-40 Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The will of the Father is that the Son should lose none of those that He has given and Jesus will raise them up on the last day to be with Him in eternity. Are we then to believe that those represented by this poll and those who hold the beliefs of the Gnostics, Pelagius, Erasmus, and Arminius actually believe that God’s will, as Jesus describes here in John, can be overcome by the sinful, finite, simplistic will of man? How self-centered. How blasphemous.
Again in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:63-67, “’It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And He said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ After this many disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’”
The Barna survey from above would look on those disciples that we just read about in John who “no longer walked with Jesus” and say that they had “switched faiths”. What then are we to make of those who leave Christianity or switch to other religions? The answer is clear and it is always found in God’s Word. In 1 John 2:19 states, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The Word of God speaks the truth. Those who “leave” were never truly saved to begin with. True believers, as Paul states in Romans 8:35,38-39, cannot be separated from the love of God by, “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword,” 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.”
Christianity is not a two-way street as many unwittingly believe. For the first 1600-1700 years of the Church these beliefs were considered a heresy, but today the opposite is true. To believe that salvation is a work of God and Him alone is considered crazy, hateful, and insensitive because it does not cater to man’s selfishness and felt needs. Man wants to come to God on his own terms, free to choose whenever/wherever and free to come and go as he/she pleases. The truth is Christianity is not a religion that can be wandered in and out of. It’s not an easy believism, sign a card, walk an isle, pray a prayer act of man. It is a supernatural work of God, the Father who elects, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who draws. Those whom God sovereignly chooses are sovereignly kept by His almighty hand and in that is assurance of salvation.
For more information on this subject, see last week’s post: Predestination and the Free Offer
1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”