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.