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.
Not sure I am following. What exactly are you saying about election? Are you saying that God chooses who will be saved and who will perish? If so, what about man’s responsibility to choose?
Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. First, just to clarify, “I” am not saying anything. Instead, I am simply pointing out clear biblical texts that show God’s sovereignty in salvation. For example, in this post, look at the passage from Ezekiel. Note all the actions that are taking place and how it is God cleansing, restoring, creating a new heart, a new spirit, and giving His Holy Spirit. Can man do any of that? No, he is the recipient of those blessings but cannot do anything in and of himself to cause them. If we were to look at a New Testament passage we would find similarities in Ephesians 1:3-14.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 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, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Here, the Apostle Paul begins his letter to Ephesus by establishing God’s sovereignty from the start. Why? Because it was so critical for them (and us) to understand who God is and how personal our salvation really is. The city there was struggling with idolatry, especially of the goddess Diana, and they needed to be reminded by Paul of just how richly blessed they were to be in Christ. Again, note in this passage there is “chosen” in Him, meaning Christ, before the foundation of the world in verse 4. Then in verse 5 how He (God the Father) predestined us (here Paul means both Jews and Gentiles, including those who are of the faith now) for adoption as sons. When you stop to think about just that and how personal and loving it is that the God of all creation, of the universe, made us to be His sons with nothing of our selves, it is humbling, stunning, though quite difficult to grasp. And I’m glad He did this, because if God based it off of who I was going to be or the things I’ve done, there’s no way I’d be deserving of being His son. But God is rich in mercy.
Read through the rest of the Ephesians passage and note how many more times this is spoken of. Also, Paul continues it in chapter 2 (see also John 6-17, Romans 8-11, 1 Thess. 1:4, 2 Thess. 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2 Peter 1:10).
This isn’t a new revelation that I’ve stumbled on, but just one that the Church has chosen to ignore recently. If I may be honest, it’s because as sinful fallen men we love for everything to be about us. We want control. We want to be the pilots of our own souls. We want the last and final say so. We think, it’s our destiny and it’s in our hands. God’s sovereignty in salvation strips all of that away and puts the attentions squarely on Him and says He’s in control. He is the Potter, we are merely the pots.
Note how historic this has been for the Church in the brief examples I provided such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, The Puritans, Edwards, Spurgeon, Whitefield, etc. These weren’t fly by night televangelists. They were rocks of the faith that carried forth the Gospel no matter what or who the opposition.
Regarding man’s responsibility, this is absolutely necessary to discuss. In writing on such a difficult subject such as this it’s impossible to put everything in one post. Also, it’s impossible to cover everything succinctly, so questions like yours allow more opportunity to explain. In this series, part 4 I think, Lord willing I will post a discussion on man’s responsibility to repent and believe. But again, we must ask, will a sinful man ever realize his sin and repent without God intervening? Where does man’s faith even come from? Born with it? Or do we somehow muster up enough faith on our own to believe in Christ?
I’m not here to convince or sway anyone to “my side”, but merely to shed light on the Word of God. While we may not always like certain things, or be comfortable with them, we must ask is it what the Bible says? Can we trust that God knows what He is doing or has He left His plan of redemption up to man in the hopes they would come to Him first? Spiritually dead men will never choose God. So He had to choose us first. We love Him, why? Because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Pray and study about this.
I absolutely understand and affirm God’s sovereignty in election. I do struggle, however, with the utter and final hopelessness of the reality Calvinism represents. The author finds it perplexing that people who have no problem with God’s choosing a physical nation has a problem with soteriological election. The difference between the two is HELL. It is one thing to say you do not get to have a say about being part of God’s temporal plans, but to say that a living soul, created with the capacity to experience pain and joy is tortured for eternity with no hope anywhere along his path to escape this is a very different issue. Although I realise that we are no position to talk back to God, and that any grace shown by Him is undeserved by us, I still cannot shake the feeling that the reality presented by this view is a horrible nightmare and it if there is no ultimate hope beyond this, the story presented to us is on the whole a very sad story. I simply cannot harmonise this with the kind of spirit we are called to have – love for our enemies, selflessness and abundant joy and hope. In this final analysis, under this view, our joy comes down to “I’m lucky that I was chosen, tough luck for those who aren’t.” Although I have to agree that “salvation is of the Lord”, we cannot come to Christ unless we are irresistibly drawn by the Father through the Holy Spirit and that the elect was sovereignly chosen by God, I cannot help but think that we are missing something.
Although it’s been awhile (8 years?) since I first wrote this post, I think the point I was trying to make was the same God that chose to reveal Himself to Israel and set them apart from other nations as His own possession, is the same God that elects unto salvation. In each case, though the former is not necessarily for salvation, God exercises His own freedom and sovereignty. While there is a difference between the two, hell, we must admit that there is a special relationship as God’s covenant people and His direct and indirect communication with them to reveal His plan of salvation. That relationship now, under the New Covenant is not restricted to one nation, rather it extends to all nations, though the concept of election still remains.
I agree that this can be a difficult subject and that there are often times when I feel we are missing something, perhaps I missed completely in the above post. But as I consider God’s sovereignty in election, I must also consider man’s sinfulness and depraved nature and understand that man’s will, my own will, apart from the sovereign grace of God would ever want to chose God. Therefore, as has often been said, the utterly amazing fact is not that God has chosen some, but that God has chosen any. Perhaps our joy does not rest in being one of the “lucky few”, but in being a child of God on whom He has set His love from before the foundation of the world. That should, at least, be enough for us to worship Him properly, but also to proclaim Him broadly for it is no doubt that God has many of His people in our cities (cf Acts 18:10)
Thank you for the thought-provoking comment.
Grace and Peace,