How many of us are tired of hearing election debates between two parties with red faces fighting it out, each of which are quite sure they have the right answer? Often we hear candidates give speeches about how electing them will lead to greater security! Well, in case you are wondering, I am not referring to national political debates or election campaigns. Instead, I am referring to the doctrine of election as it is revealed to us in the Scripture. While many people have become weary of those who always want to debate and be divisive over the doctrine, rather than down playing it, hiding it, rejecting it, and avoiding it – shouldn’t we give as much attention to the doctrine of election in Scripture as we do other favorite verses such as John 3:16? In fact, isn’t the doctrine of election found at the heart of John 3:16? What exactly did Paul mean when he said he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel? Did he have in mind the doctrine of election? No matter what side of the fence you stand on – Free-Will Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or Southern Baptist – the doctrine of election, as it is revealed to us in Romans 8, is the backbone of the doctrine of eternal security.
Romans 8:28-33 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
The doctrine of election is clearly revealed in two words in this paragraph of holy Scripture – foreknew and predestined. When Paul utilized the word, foreknew, what exactly did he mean? The word, foreknew, is the Greek word, προγινώσκω [proginosko]. This word literally carries three meanings as used in Scripture: 1. to have knowledge before hand. 2. to foreknow. 2a. of those whom God elected to salvation. 3. to predestinate. This is where the two major camps start to divide and throw rocks. The Arminian camp suggests that God was merely looking down through time to see what each person was going to do before predestining that person to salvation. The more Calvinistic camp suggests that this word is not being used in the sense of God looking at the actions of mankind and then reacting to their actions. Rather, they suggest that this word is being used in the sense of God’s eternal decree from before time. They base their decision on texts such as Jeremiah 1 where God had ordained Jeremiah to be a prophet from his mother’s womb.
J.I. Packer, in his book, 18 Words – The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know, writes, “The fact is that the doctrine of election, dealing as it does with the inmost secrets of God’s will, is strong meat: very nourishing to those who can take it, but acutely indigestible to those whose spiritual system is out of order. And the symptoms of indigestion…appear not only when the doctrine is rejected, but also when it is misapplied” (152).
The doctrine of election is based on several key verses in Scripture:
- Deuteronomy 10:14-15
- Jeremiah 1:4-8
- John 6:37-39
- John 6:65
- John 17:9
- Ephesians 1:4-5
- 1 Peter 1:1-2
- Romans 9:11-16
The Baptist Faith & Message says the following on the subject of election in Article V – God’s Purpose of Grace:
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
It seems strange, that in an article on God’s Purpose of Grace, both election and eternal security would be talked about in consecutive paragraphs, or does it? In one paragraph, the divine initative of God’s elective purpose is mentioned and just following that paragraph, the perseverance of those in Christ is mentioned. In reality, the doctrine of election is a beautiful thing in Scripture that should bring Christians together in unity rather than division since that is the way Paul used it in Romans 8:33 and Colossians 3:12. The doctrine of election should cause us as Christians to have a great sense of humility. God never intended the doctrine of election to divide His people and create confusion that blurs the eyes of unbelievers to the gospel. God never intended the doctrine of election to elevate our fleshly pride. Either of these errors is a sinful path that deviates from God’s intended purpose.As we look at Romans 8:28-33 – we see the following pattern: Before Time…..Present Day…..After Time…..Present Day! Paul takes us back behind the curtain of time, closes it to our present day, points forward into the future completed work of grace, and then grabs our attention by causing us to look at the reality of our present situation. However, as he takes us down this roller coaster ride of doctrinal peaks and valleys – we must not miss this grand truth! Not only is the doctrine of election on display in this text, but as a result – the doctrine of eternal security becomes visible to our eyes. Romans 8:28 – All things work together for good to the called ones. (The glory of God)Romans 8:29 – Foreknew (before time): God looks through time and lavishes His divine love on a group of sinful undeserving people. This is backed up by 1 John 4:19.Romans 8:29 – Predestined (before time): God predestined that group of undeserving sinful people to be conformed to the image of His Son. This is backed up by Ephesians 1:3-5.Romans 8:30 – Called (present day): God called that same group of undeserving sinful people to faith in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:28 refers to them as “the called” according to His purpose.Romans 8:30 – Justified (present day): God justified that same group of undeserving sinful people by declaring them righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ through His blood sacrifice. It was Thomas Watson who once said, “Let us then ascribe the whole work of grace to the pleasure of God’s Will. God did not choose us because we were worthy, but by choosing us He makes us worthy.“1Romans 8:30 – Glorified (after time): That same group of undeserving sinful people (visible by the reference to “those” in Romans 8:28-30) that God loved before time and chose to lavish His love upon are said to have already been glorified. Paul speaks of glorification in the past tense as if it was already completed. The reason he did so, wasn’t out of error, but to elevate the reality that anyone who was foreknown, predestined, called, and justified by God would absolutely be glorified as well. That truth should cause a great celebration to erupt in our soul!Charles Spurgeon once declared, “I believe the man who is not willing to submit to the electing love and sovereign grace of God has great reason to question whether he is a Christian at all, for the spirit that kicks against that is the spirit of the unhumbled, unrenewed heart.“2God’s will is not up for vote nor is it mutable. God never changes nor alters His divine plan. In the pastoral ministry, I deal with people who struggle with doubting their salvation and even those who think it’s possible to lose their salvation. When I get the privilege, I take them to Romans 8 to show how the doctrine of election is hitched to the doctrine of eternal security. No man can be separated from the love of Christ – if He is in Christ! Are you in Christ?Pastor Josh Buice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1. A Puritan Golden Treasury, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, by permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. 2000, p. 84.2. Sermons, 5.424.