When it comes to the doctrine of election, it’s clear that it’s controversial. We debate it. We write books about it. We talk about it. We preach sermons on it. We sometimes divide over it. Do you find it odd that Paul began his letter to the church in Rome by pointing to the doctrine of election? In fact, if you look closely, you will see the doctrine at the beginning of several letters in the New Testament—including Ephesians and 1 Peter. Paul began his letter to the church at Ephesus (and churches in surrounding cities) by pointing out the fact that God “chose” them in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Peter began his letter to the scattered believers in his day with these words: “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1).
If we find the doctrine of election used in the opening lines of important letters to local churches in the New Testament intended to encourage believers in their walk with Christ—why do we have so much division, debate, and mud slinging over the doctrine? Charles Spurgeon, once said the following, “No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God.” Why do so many people hate the precious doctrine of election? Could it be that people have an issue with authority, and they want to possess control over their own soul? Could it be that people have learned a wrong view of election and view God as unfair in his treatment?
When rightly understood, the doctrine of election kills pride in two specific areas — anger and arrogance.
The Doctrine of Election Kills Angry Pride
When was the last time you talked about the doctrine of election with someone who differed with you on the subject and that conversation was calm, respectful, and ended in joy? It’s extremely common to have people who want to throw stones at you if you claim to embrace the absolute sovereignty of God over the entire universe—including the work of salvation. People would rather God be fair until they consider mercy. People would rather be in control of their salvation until they consider depravity. God is not fair. God is God. God is merciful, and we should be thankful.
There is no escaping the doctrine of election in the Bible (Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 5:21; Tit. 1:1; Eph. 1:3-14; Deut. 7; Rom. 9; Mal. 1:2-3; John 15:16; John 6:44). The more you read, the more you see it. Paul began his letter to the church in Rome with these words:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 1:1-7).
Notice several places where God makes a distinction between the church in Rome and the city of Rome. We find it in Romans 1:6 with the language of God’s “call” to salvation. It resurfaces in the next verse as Paul makes a distinction between the love of God for the city of Rome and the church in the city of Rome. What does election mean? To be the “elect” of God is to be chosen by God. The word often translated “chosen” or “elect” is from the Greek term ἐκλεκτός, meaning to be selected or chosen. According to Paul elsewhere in Ephesians, this choice was carried out in a very specific way, that when rightly understood, kills the pride of anger.
- Chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).
- This choice resulted in the predestination and adoption through Jesus Christ—based on God’s will and for his glory—apart from any good deed or action on our part (Eph. 1:4-10; Titus 3:5; Rom. 9).
Pride causes anger in our hearts because we have a natural tendency to despise authority and sovereignty. We want to be the captain of our own soul, and the doctrine of election removes any means of boasting in the flesh.
The Doctrine of Election Kills Prideful Arrogance
We’ve all seen the man who escaped his cage and is running around like a lose cannon shooting election bombs at anyone who will give him a hearing. Such people do harm to themselves and it’s likely that many have yet to truly grasp the doctrine of election. If someone boasts about election as if they are one of the “chosen” ones to salvation and “chosen ones” to understand the doctrine—they fool themselves. The doctrine of election, when rightly understood, brings us low to the ground and causes us to see that on our very best day we could not save ourselves. From start to finish, salvation is a work of God’s mercy and grace. The entirety of God’s saving grace depends on God. From our election before the foundation of the world to our glorification at the culmination of God’s redemptive timeline—all of it is designed by God and performed by God.
When Paul writes to the church at Philippi, he writes these words, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). When God desired to provide Israel a reality check, he spoke these words to them through Malachi, “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert'” (Mal. 1:2-3). It was a reminder that by outward appearances, Esau was the choice, but instead, God chose Jacob. It was a look back to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, as God declared his choice of Israel to be based on his choice to love a weak people.
If you know the doctrine of election, you will not walk around with a swagger. Instead, you will be humble. It will cause you to boast in the cross of Jesus—not the flesh of mankind. Listen to what Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous nineteenth-century English preacher, eloquently said regarding the doctrine of election:
Before Salvation came into this world, Election marched in the very forefront, and it had for its work the billeting [lodging] of Salvation. Election went through the world and marked the houses to which Salvation should come and the hearts in which the treasure should be deposited. Election looked through all the race of man, from Adam down to the last, and marked with sacred stamp those for whom Salvation was designed. ‘He must needs go through Samaria,’ said Election; and Salvation must go there. Then came Predestination. Predestination did not merely mark the house, but it mapped the road in which Salvation should travel to that house; Predestination ordained every step of the great army of Salvation; it ordained the time when the sinner should be brought to Christ, the manner how he should be saved, the means that should be employed; it marked the exact hour and moment, when God the Spirit should quicken the dead in sin, and when peace and pardon should be spoken through the blood of Jesus. Predestination marked the way so completely that Salvation doth never overstep the bounds, and it is never at a loss for the road. In the everlasting decree of the Sovereign God, the footsteps of Mercy were every one of them ordained.
The doctrine of election removes anger and arrogance when the pure doctrine is gleaned from the pages of Scripture. Do you know this truth? Have you struggled with it? Has it become a burden rather than a blessing? Allow this grand doctrine which runs through the entirety of the Bible be a source of encouragement to your soul.
John 15:16 – You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
- Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Bible: New Testament, vol. 4, “Things That Accompany Salvation” (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1963), 77.
Rome was not only a strategic city in Paul’s day—it was a powerful city. From politics to ideologies, the city of Rome was at the center of the world and in God’s providence, God raised up a church in this important location at this juncture in history to accomplish his purpose. The church at Rome found itself as part of the story of redemption. Paul’s letter was holy Scripture that not only would encourage the church in Rome—but would be used to encourage the Universal Church through the ages. For God so loved the church in Rome that he sent his Son to die for her and then mobilized his apostle to write to her.
In the opening words to the church in the city of Rome, Paul makes a statement that should cause us to pause and reflect. Paul writes, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7). When Paul addresses the believers (the church) in Rome, he refers to them as “those in Rome who are loved by God.” So, why did God not love all of Rome?
God is Sovereign
The first thing we must understand when it comes to salvation is that God is not obligated to save one single person in human history. God’s love is a sovereign love. Not even one person is worthy and deserving of God’s love. When discussing the love of God, some people become contentious—making the case that God loves the entire world without exception and without any measure of distinction. Often this debate will find its way to Romans 9 for clarity. However, long before arriving at Romans 9, we see the sovereign love of God on display in Romans 1:7.
While God was not forced to love one single person in Rome, he chose to love specific people in the city—effectually setting them apart and calling them to be saints. When contemplating the sovereign love of God for guilty and wretched sinners—it causes the value of our salvation to increase dramatically especially when we consider the free choice of God and the inability of fallen man to make any choice for God. Who is to call into question the love of God? Does God have freedom to choose to love whom he wills (Rom. 9:14-15)?
God’s Love Is an Electing Love
The love of God for the church in the city of Rome is clearly distinct from any generic love that God has for the entire city of Rome. In a general sense, we can say that God loves Rome (as God loves the world in John 3:16). However, in a special way God has chosen to love the church in Rome and this is God’s electing love.
This love speaks of God’s initiative in salvation. The church in Rome loved God, but not until God first love them (1 John 4:19). The language of this text points back to how God loved the nation of Israel. It was not based on the size, power, or value of the nation of Israel. God’s choice for Israel was based on his redemptive plan and mercy alone.
Deuteronomy 7:7–8 — 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,  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.
The language used here by Paul connects the love of God for the church in Rome with the love of God for the nation of Israel and will be key as he develops these truths over the first half of the letter. Too often people minimize the depth of theology in God’s love and seek to generalize it—making God into a generic god of salvation to the entire world as opposed to the covenant keeping God of Scripture who sovereignly saves his people for his glory. James Montgomery Boice explains:
Some think that people become believers by their own unaided choice, as if all we have to do is decide to trust Jesus. But how could we possibly do that if, as we have seen Paul say, each of us is “dead in . . . transgressions and sins”? How can a dead man decide anything? Some have supposed that we become Christians because God in his omniscience sees some small bit of good in us, even if that “good” is only a tiny seed of faith. But how could God see good in us if, as Paul will later remind us: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12; cf. Ps. 14:3)? Why, then, does God love us? The answer is “because he loves us.” There is just nothing to be said beyond that. 
God loved the church in Rome and as we consider the realty of God’s love—we must look to our local churches and see the expression and reality of God’s love among us. It’s not that God simply loved the church at Rome and we can only read about it from the pages of holy Scripture. We too are part of the story of redemption. For God so loved us that we too should be humbled and look to our purpose to live for his glory. Paul would later write in this very letter to the church in Rome, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). For God so loved the church at Rome that he saved her for his glory. That same truth can be embraced for us—and our local churches today.
Jerry Bridges has rightly stated, “The great God not only loves His saints, but He loves to love them.” The next time you hear someone profaning the doctrine of election—before you engage in a doctrinal dispute with them—take time to pray for them that they would see and understand Romans 1:7 long before you turn to Romans 9. Since God’s love is sovereign—and therefore unmerited, eternal, and unchanging, we can find comfort in the very words that Paul writes in Romans 8:33-39:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that 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.
- James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Vol. 1 Justification by Faith Romans 1-4, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 65.
To many people, the date August 19th, 1688 doesn’t ring a bell. In fact, a quick scan of historical events doesn’t reveal any big issue that occurred on this date in history. It was, however, on this date that John Bunyan, the author of the most famous book in world history (other than the Bible), The Pilgrim’s Progress, preached his final sermon. He preached his final sermon at Mr. Gamman’s meeting-house, near Whitechapel. Bunyan died just twelve days later. Bunyan had been on a trip to intervene in a disagreement between a father and his son. On his way home, a downpour of rain drenched the preacher and he became fatally ill as a result. He was only 60 years of age.
John Bunyan was not a well educated man. He was known as a “tinker” or a metal worker. He became converted by the power of the gospel and literally shook the world with the gospel (read about it in a short book, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners). Bunyan was imprisoned in 1660 for preaching the gospel. He had a new wife of only one year (Elizabeth) and four children (from his previous wife who died after 10 years of marriage). His oldest child, Mary, was blind. Bunyan was put in prison for preaching the gospel and was given the option to leave if he agreed to refrain from preaching. It was Bunyan, with boldness who said, “I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.” For the next 12 years he sat in prison until a change of power took place that resulted in his release. During that time he would have frequent visits from his wife and children, but he was kept a prisoner because he was unwilling to stop preaching the gospel.
Bunyan was not a well educated man, but he became a student of the Bible after his conversion. He learned theology and preached the Bible with a great command of Scripture and the key doctrines of the faith. In his final sermon, Bunyan preached from John 1:13, “Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (ESV). Today, there is a controversy over the subject of salvation that continues to blaze. The controversy centers on the freedom of the will. Is man responsible for his faith or is that a gift from God? Is man responsible to take the first step toward God in salvation or is that something God does for man? Is man free to choose God or is man shackled to sin? Can a spiritually dead man choose God? What exactly does the Bible teach about man’s will and ability to come to God in salvation? What exactly does being born again mean in John 3? Is being born again a work of man or God?
John 1:13 is a grand text to be able to preach as your final sermon. It contains much truth that should help settle the controversy over the miracle of salvation. John 1:13 is not a lengthy passage that requires a great deal of explanation. It presents its truth with vivid clarity that cannot be denied. Bunyan explains these issues from the text in his final sermon. He doesn’t mince words! At one point he said, “I am not a free-willer, I do abhor it.” I pray that you are blessed as you read these words from the great preacher – John Bunyan!
Pastor Josh Buice
MR. BUNYAN’S LAST SERMON
‘Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’— John 1:13
The words have a dependance on what goes before, and therefore I must direct you to them for the right understanding of it. You have it thus: ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh — but of God.’
In the words before, you have two things. First, Some of his own rejecting him, when he offered himself to them. Second, Others of his own receiving him, and making him welcome; those that reject him, he also passes by; but those that receive him, he gives them power to become the sons of God.
Now, lest any one should look upon it as good luck or fortune, says he, they ‘were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ They that did not receive him, they were only born of flesh and blood; but those that receive him, they have God to their Father; they receive the doctrine of Christ with a vehement desire.
[TO EXPLAIN THE TEXT]
FIRST, I will show you what he means by blood. They that believe are born to it, as an heir is to an inheritance—they are born of God, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God; not of blood, that is, not by generation, not born to the kingdom of heaven by the flesh, not because I am the son of a godly man or woman—that is meant by blood (Acts 17:26); He ‘hath made of one blood all nations.’ But when he says here, ‘not of blood,’ he rejects all carnal privileges they did boast of: they boasted they were Abraham’s seed; no, no says he, it is not of blood; think not to say you have Abraham to your father; you must be born of God, if you go to the kingdom of heaven.
SECOND, ‘Nor of the will of the flesh.’ What must we understand by that?
It is taken for those vehement inclinations that are in man, to all manner of looseness, fulfilling the desires of the flesh: that must not be understood here; men are not made the children of God by fulfilling their lustful desires. It must be understood here in the best sense: there is not only in carnal men a will to be vile, but there is in them a will to be saved also; a will to go to heaven also. But this it will not do; it will not privilege a man in the things of the kingdom of God: natural desires after the things of another world, they are not an argument to prove a man shall go to heaven whenever he dies. I am not a free-willer, I do abhor it; yet there is not the wickedest man but he desires, some time or other, to be saved; he will read some time or other, or, it may be, pray, but this will not do: ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’ There is willing and running, and yet to no purpose (Rom 9:16). Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, have not obtained it (v 30). Here, I do not understand, as if the apostle had denied a virtuous course of life to be the way to heaven; but that a man without grace, though he have natural gifts, yet he shall not obtain privilege to go to heaven, and be the son of God. Though a man without grace may have a will to be saved, yet he cannot have that will God’s way. Nature, it cannot know any thing but the things of nature—the things of God knows no man but by the Spirit of God; unless the Spirit of God be in you, it will leave you on this side the gates of heaven. ‘Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ It may be, some may have a will, a desire that Ishmael may be saved; know this, it will not save thy child. If it was our will, I would have you all go to heaven. How many are there in the world that pray for their children, and cry for them, and are ready to die [for them]? and this will not do. God’s will is the rule of all; it is only through Jesus Christ: ‘which were born, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’
Now I come to the doctrine.
Men that believe in Jesus Christ, to the effectual receiving of Jesus Christ, they are born to it. He does not say they shall be born to it, but they are born to it—born of God unto God and the things of God, before he receives God to eternal salvation. ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Now, unless he be born of God, he cannot see it: suppose the kingdom of God be what it will, he cannot see it before he be begotten of God. Suppose it be the gospel, he cannot see it before he be brought into a state of regeneration. Believing is the consequence of the new birth; ‘not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God.’
First, I will give you a clear description of it under one similitude or two. A child, before it be born into the world, is in the dark dungeon of its mother’s womb: so a child of God, before he be born again, is in the dark dungeon of sin, sees nothing of the kingdom of God; therefore it is called a new birth: the same soul has love one way in its carnal condition, another way when it is born again.
Second, As it is compared to a birth, resembling a child in his mother’s womb, so it is compared to a man being raised out of the grave; and to be born again, is to be raised out of the grave of sin; ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ To be raised from the grave of sin is to be begotten and born (Rev 1:5); there is a famous instance of Christ; He is ‘the first begotten of the dead’; he is the first-born from the dead, unto which our regeneration alludeth; that is, if you be born again by seeking those things that are above, then there is a similitude betwixt Christ’s resurrection and the new birth; which was born, which was restored out of this dark world, and translated out of the kingdom of this dark world, into the kingdom of his dear Son, and made us live a new life—this is to be born again: and he that is delivered from the mother’s womb, it is the help of the mother; so he that is born of God, it is by the Spirit of God. I must give you a few consequences of a new birth.
(1.) First of all, A child, you know, is incident to cry as soon as it comes into the world; for if there be no noise, they say it is dead. You that are born of God, and Christians, if you be not criers, there is no spiritual life in you—if you be born of God, you are crying ones; as soon as he has raised you out of the dark dungeon of sin, you cannot but cry to God, What must I do to be saved? As soon as ever God had touched the jailer, he cries out, ‘Men and brethren, what must I do to be saved?’ Oh! how many prayerless professors is there in London that never pray! Coffee-houses will not let you pray, trades will not let you pray, looking-glasses will not let you pray; but if you was born of God, you would.
(2.) It is not only natural for a child to cry, but it must crave the breast; it cannot live without the breast—therefore Peter makes it the true trial of a new-born babe: the new-born babe desires the sincere milk of the Word, that he may grow thereby: if you be born of God, make it manifest by desiring the breast of God. Do you long for the milk of the promises? A man lives one way when he is in the world, another way when he is brought unto Jesus Christ (Isa 66). They shall suck and be satisfied; if you be born again, there is no satisfaction till you get the milk of God’s Word into your souls (Isa 66:11). To ‘suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.’ Oh! what is a promise to a carnal man? A whore-house, it may be, is more sweet to him; but if you be born again, you cannot live without the milk of God’s Word. What is a woman’s breast to a horse? But what is it to a child? there is its comfort night and day, there is its succour night and day. O how loath are they it should be taken from them: minding heavenly things, says a carnal man, is but vanity; but to a child of God, there is his comfort.
(3.) A child that is newly born, if it have not other comforts to keep it warm than it had in its mother’s womb, it dies; it must have something got for its succour: so Christ had swaddling clothes prepared for him; so those that are born again, they must have some promise of Christ to keep them alive; those that are in a carnal state, they warm themselves with other things; but those that are born again, they cannot live without some promise of Christ to keep them alive; as he did to the poor infant in Ezekiel 16:8: I covered thee with embroidered gold: and when women are with child, what fine things will they prepare for their child! Oh, but what fine things has Christ prepared to wrap all in that are born again! Oh what wrappings of gold has Christ prepared for all that are born again! Women will dress their children, that every one may see them how fine they are; so he in Ezekiel 16:11: ‘I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thine hands, and a chain on thy neck; and I put a jewel on thy forehead, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.’ And, says he in verse 13, ‘Thou didst prosper into a kingdom.’ This is to set out nothing in the world but the righteousness of Christ and the graces of the Spirit, without which a new-born babe cannot live, unless they have the golden righteousness of Christ.
(4.) A child, when it is in its mother’s lap, the mother takes great delight to have that which will be for its comfort; so it is with God’s children, they shall be kept on his knee (Isa 66:11): ‘They shall suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations’; verse 13: ‘As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.’ There is a similitude in these things that nobody knows of, but those that are born again.
(5.) There is usually some similitude betwixt the father and the child. It may be the child looks like its father; so those that are born again, they have a new similitude—they have the image of Jesus Christ (Gal 4). Every one that is born of God has something of the features of heaven upon him. Men love those children that are likest them most usually; so does God his children, therefore they are called the children of God; but others do not look like him, therefore they are called Sodomites. Christ describes children of the devil by their features—the children of the devil, his works they will do; all works of unrighteousness, they are the devil’s works: if you are earthly, you have borne the image of the earthly; if heavenly, you have borne the image of the heavenly.
(6.) When a man has a child, he trains him up to his own liking—they have learned the custom of their father’s house; so are those that are born of God—they have learned the custom of the true church of God; there they learn to cry ‘My Father’ and ‘My God’; they are brought up in God’s house, they learn the method and form of God’s house, for regulating their lives in this world.
(7.) Children, it is natural for them to depend upon their father for what they want; if they want a pair of shoes, they go and tell him; if they want bread, they go and tell him; so should the children of God do. Do you want spiritual bread? go tell God of it. Do you want strength of grace? ask it of God. Do you want strength against Satan’s temptations? go and tell God of it. When the devil tempts you, run home and tell your heavenly Father—go, pour out your complaints to God; this is natural to children; if any wrong them, they go and tell their father; so do those that are born of God, when they meet with temptations, go and tell God of them.
The first use is this, To make a strict inquiry whether you be born of God or not; examine by those things I laid down before, of a child of nature and a child of grace. Are you brought out of the dark dungeon of this world into Christ? Have you learned to cry, ‘My Father?’ (Jer 3:4). ‘And I said, Thou shalt call me, My Father.’ All God’s children are criers—cannot you be quiet without you have a bellyful of the milk of God’s Word? cannot you be satisfied without you have peace with God? Pray you, consider it, and be serious with yourselves; if you have not these marks, you will fall short of the kingdom of God—you shall never have an interest there; ‘there’ is no intruding. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us; and he will say, I know you not.’ No child of God, no heavenly inheritance. We sometimes give something to those that are not our children, but [we do] not [give them] our lands. O do not flatter yourselves with a portion among the sons, unless you live like sons. When we see a king’s son play with a beggar, this is unbecoming; so if you be the king’s children, live like the king’s children; if you be risen with Christ, set your affections on things above, and not on things below; when you come together, talk of what your Father promised you; you should all love your Father’s will, and be content and pleased with the exercises you meet with in the world. If you are the children of God, live together lovingly; if the world quarrel with you, it is no matter; but it is sad if you quarrel together; if this be amongst you, it is a sign of ill-breeding; it is not according to the rules you have in the Word of God. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? Love him, love him; say, This man and I must go to heaven one day; serve one another, do good for one another; and if any wrong you, pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood.
Lastly, If you be the children of God, learn that lesson—Gird up the loins of your mind, as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to your former conversation; but be ye holy in all manner of conversation. Consider that the holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face, with comfort, another day.1
 Bunyan, J. (2006). Vol. 2: Bunyan’s Last Sermon. (755–758). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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.