This article was first published in booklet form in 1995 and is available on request through the Contact Page.
CHOSEN BY GRACE
CHRISTIAN BELIEVER, do you believe that you owe your salvation entirely to the grace of God, or do you take credit for some part of it? Put another way, did God provide for your salvation which you were then smart enough, wise enough, or good enough to appropriate, or did God do it all?
Many years ago I came to believe that God forged all the links in the chain of my salvation; I cannot take credit for even one. I believe the Bible teaches (as we will see) that the Christian believer owes his salvation from beginning to end to the sovereign grace of God.
“Grace” – because he is a sinner, by nature and by choice, and is totally undeserving of salvation.
“Sovereign” – because God grants His saving grace to whomever He will. When the sinner repents and believes in Christ, as he must, it is because God has enabled him to do so. Left to himself the sinner would never choose God.
“Sovereign Grace” – because the Bible teaches that God determined whom He would save before ever the world was made. Aeons before man fell and sin entered the world, God purposed to save a people for Himself. A people redeemed by the death of His Son, drawn to repentance and faith by the power of the Spirit, sanctified and kept by the same Spirit, and brought at last to a glorious inheritance in Heaven. A people to glorify His Name.
A people CHOSEN BY GRACE.
A NEGATIVE REACTION
The first time I heard a message on this subject was a few years after I had been converted. With several student friends I attended a service in a central London church and we heard a message on sovereign grace. We all reacted in a very ignorant and emotional way. We rejected it, of course, out of hand.
Withdrawing to a nearby café, we really chewed up the preacher. My, how we chewed him up, mashed him up, and spat him out. Had he never heard of free will? What kind of a God did he believe in? A God somewhere in a far off extremity of the universe who, before the world was made, arbitrarily chose some to damnation and some to salvation no matter what they did? That was the kind of thing which made God out to be a fiend and gave Christianity a bad name. Had the preacher never heard of John 3:16 and “whosoever”? Did this preacher actually believe in PREDESTINATION? Why, whatever next?!!
Needless to say, we had not really listened to him nor did we seriously consider the Scriptures to which he referred. We reacted emotionally and promptly rejected his message. It was, we concluded, preposterous.
Is that not all too often the case with us when we hear something new? Especially if it is something we thought we had all sewn up, or something controversial. Instead of looking to see what the Bible really says, or doesn’t say, we sometimes react negatively and ignorantly. We say, “Well that’s not what I was taught,” or, “That’s not what I have always believed.” As if that settles the matter! We easily forget that we should ever be learning as we receive more light from God’s Word. How glad I am that some people were patient with me and persuaded me to come off my “high horse” and study my Bible.
My dad, for instance: he came to believe in sovereign grace when he was sixty years old. He had been a Christian for over forty years and a preacher for thirty but nobody had ever taught him these things. Of course, he had read them in his Bible but he had been advised to just skip over them as they were “too deep” for him. A young pastor, who had been a boy in my father’s Bible Class, led him to consider again the wonderful story of grace. Thus, my dad modeled humility of mind and heart – for that is what it takes for an experienced preacher to learn from one of his students and revolutionize his theology. My dad, in turn, was very patient with me.
So was my pastor. He used to take me for walks on his day off, with Luther his dog – Luther not Calvin, you’ll be interested to know. We would go for long walks, and he would answer my questions, and discuss the whole subject with me.
I began to read. I am particularly indebted to Dr. J.I. Packer who wrote a book which helped me enormously entitled, “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God”. Another book I recommend is “Chosen by God” by R.C. Sproul. Most important, I read my Bible. How slow we are sometimes to let Scripture itself finally determine our thinking.
In the limited space of this booklet, let us consider this subject by asking a number of questions.
1. Does the Bible teach sovereign grace?
2. Why do we find it difficult to accept?
3. How may we understand this truth better?
4. What difference does it make?
The first question is the most important.
1. DOES THE BIBLE TEACH SOVEREIGN GRACE?
It seems to me that it does so repeatedly and clearly. God does the choosing.
In the Old Testament God chose both individuals and an entire nation. God chose Abraham, didn’t He, and brought him from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land? He chose Isaac and not Ishmael. He chose Jacob and not Esau. He chose Ephraim and not Manasseh.
God also chose a nation, the nation Israel who are called the Chosen People of God. Not the Egyptians, not the Philistines, not the Syrians, not the Assyrians, not the Babylonians, not the Medes and the Persians, but the Jews. Why?
Well, when God is telling them why in Deuteronomy 7, verse 6, He says this:
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples; it was because the Lord loved you.”
In other words, God is free to love whom He will, and to grant His grace to whom He will. He does not have to explain His reasons. He is the sovereign God.
Is it different in the New Testament? No, God’s choice is emphasized even more. Consider these statements of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Matthew 22:14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.“
Matthew 24:31, “At the end of the age He will send his angels and gather His elect from the four points of the compass, the four winds.”
Luke 10:21 and 22, “At that time, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, ‘I praise you Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. No one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.'”
John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and this is the will of Him who sent me that I shall lose none of all that He has given me.”
John 15:16, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”
This teaching continues in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles.
Acts 13:48, “All who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
Romans 8:33,“Who shall bring any charge against those God has chosen.”
Romans 9:15 and 18, “I will have mercy,” says God, “upon whom I have mercy…Therefore God has mercy upon whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no-one may boast before Him.”
Ephesians 1:4, “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
1 Thessalonians 1:4, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you.”
2 Thessalonians 2:13, “…from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
2 Timothy 1:9, “…who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
James 1:18, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.”
1 John 4:19, “We love him because He first loved us.”
And so, whether we can understand it, or whatever we make of it, there it is revealed. And the above is only a selection of Scriptures. There are many more.
May I suggest that you find these Scriptures in your own Bible and read them in context. You might also like to underline them. I think you will agree with me that, yes indeed, God’s Word does teach that God is sovereign in grace.
2. WHY DO WE FIND IT DIFFICULT?
a) Perhaps because we are concerned to protect God’s reputation for fairness.
To choose one and not another, Jacob and not Esau, seems to some people, unfair, unjust. Let me say four things in answer to that.
We must always remember: that however it may appear to us, God can never be unfair. He can never, never be unjust.
When Abraham was pleading for mercy for Sodom and Gomorrah he based his intercession upon this correct assumption, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). Yes, He always will do right.
The Apostle Paul, in the one place where he does discuss the difficulties of God’s sovereign choice, Romans 9, says this, in verse 14: “What shall we say then, Is God unjust? God forbid.” The language is very strong in the Greek. You could paraphrase this verse, “Is God unjust? No, no, no, no, never. He can never be unjust.”
Another thing we must remember is that our assessment of pure justice is, in any case, far from infallible.
For example, there are nine Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States. It is the highest court in the land. These men and women are the best judges that Presidents and Congress could find to entrust with this tremendous responsibility. Even so, some of the judgments that are passed down are by five to four. In other words, the opinion is split right down the middle.
That happens because we are so limited in our knowledge, our wisdom, and our judgments. Compared with Almighty God we are puny. We are not to judge God. He is the Judge of us.
Suppose for a moment you deny God’s right to choose whom He will save. Have you then solved your problem with respect to fairness? I don’t think so. Many things seem unfair. This is an unfair world. Not all people are equal in their situations. Some are blessed to be born in countries where the Gospel is proclaimed from the pulpits of innumerable churches, as well as on radio and television. Others live in countries where the Gospel is not preached at all, or if so, in a very feeble and distorted kind of way.
Some are raised in Christian homes and have the great and incalculable privilege of having Godly parents who pray for them from the moment they are born and teach them the things of God from the cradle. Like Timothy they have “…from a child (known)…the Holy Scriptures.” Others have parents who are either atheists, or of another religion, or totally indifferent.
How thankful we should be that there is One – but only One – infallible Supreme Court Justice, who will judge all persons with equity.
Another very important point is this: I think that sometimes we approach this question from a wrong premise. We have been so conditioned to talk about our rights and to demand our rights, that we have the idea that really it is our right to be saved. The duty of God is to provide for and offer salvation to everyone. If the person rejects the offer, then God will not be to blame.
The Bible approaches the subject very differently. Do you know that? The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” If God were to give us what we deserve (wages) we would all be damned. The Bible declares, “There are none righteous, no not one.” We all stand before God condemned sinners. God owes salvation to no one. The fact that He saves anyone at all is an amazing demonstration of His free grace to the sinner. It is not justice the sinner should cry for but mercy. “The wages of sin is death but the gift (Gk. charisma: free grace gift) of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23).
A young man went to his pastor with a problem. “Pastor,” he said, “you urged me to read the New Testament. I have read the Gospels; I have read the Acts and now I have come to Romans. I do not like chapter nine. For example, in verse 13 I read, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” I can’t accept that. Pastor, I just can’t believe in a God like that.”
“Well,” the pastor replied, “I have difficulty with that verse myself.” The young man felt somewhat comforted to hear that. But the pastor continued, “My difficulty is not that God could hate Esau, a man who despised his birthright, a man who had no thought for the things of God, and who cared only for himself. My problem is, how could a God of justice and holiness ever love a liar and a cheat like Jacob?!”
Yes, and speaking for myself, when I stopped puzzling over God’s treatment of Esau, and started marveling at God’s grace to Jacob (and to me), I had a revolution in my theology.
A second cause of difficulty might be:
b) Because we are concerned to protect man’s free-will
The teaching of sovereign grace seems to many to violate man’s free will. Does the Bible teach free will? If we mean that man is created with the power of choice and responsibility for the choices that he makes. Yes, the Bible does teach that.
Just as I listed verses which speak of God’s sovereign grace so I could list innumerable verses which speak of man’s responsibility. Such as: “Choose you this day whom you will serve…”; “Come unto me all you who are weak and heavy laden;” “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and so on. (See Joshua 24:15, Matthew 11:28, Acts 2:38)
However, when we start talking about man’s “free-will” we must remember two things: man’s will is limited and polluted.
Man’s will is limited in ways that God’s will is not. God’s will is totally free to accomplish whatever He pleases. Man’s will, however “free” he may think it is, is always limited by his ability. If you are an adult male and you are 5′ 4″ tall and you wish you were 6′ 4″ you can will all you want but you won’t grow to the height you long for.
Furthermore man’s will is limited in that it is always subservient to the will of Almighty God.
I have a little grandson. At the time of writing, he is just one year old and has recently learned to walk. He obviously has a will of his own. When he heads for the TV, he is told, “No, Robert.”
You see the TV is in the forbidden zone. Unfortunately, he likes playing with appliances and so, having looked his father defiantly in the eye, he sets his face steadfastly to go even faster to those tempting knobs and buttons and wires. However, his father’s will has over-ruling power and by one means or another father’s will prevails.
A little human being, made in the image of his parents, Robert has free-will (and will soon, I suspect, be held accountable!). However, his will is severely limited by his being a baby and his parents’ will is superior.
Even more germane to our present discussion is the fact that man’s will is not only limited but also polluted. It is affected by sin. He wants sinful things because his will is affected by his sinful nature along with everything else. This is what the theologians mean by total depravity. They do not mean that we are all as bad as one another, and that everybody is just as sinful as Hitler was, or something of that kind. They mean that the Bible teaches that sin has affected every part of us; our minds and the way we think; our affections and the things we want; our wills and the things we strive to do.
This is very significant. God commands the sinner to repent, but he will not. He does not want to. God calls upon him to believe, but he will not, because he does not want to. God says, “Turn from your sins and your Godless ways and come, follow my Son and give your heart and life to Him.” And man replies, “I will not. I will live my life my own way.” Jesus said that man prefers darkness to light because his deeds are evil. He loves his sins. (For man’s natural condition see also Ephesians 2:1-3.)
That is why when we go out to the world and share the gospel the vast majority of people are indifferent to it, or reject it. We ought not to be surprised by that. That is man’s nature. He just does not want to know God’s call upon his life. He turns away from it. The Bible tells us – and our experience confirms it – that man is naturally so unresponsive to spiritual matters that he can be described as being spiritually dead. Just as a corpse is unresponsive to physical things so the sinner is to things spiritual. If you understand this doctrine you will look at that rejecting person, that gospel defying person, and you will say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Or do you believe that you were different? You were really not that bad – better in fact than so many others? Not spiritually blind, just somewhat short-sighted; not dead, just a bit sick. If so, then certainly you will believe that you can take at least some credit that you came to Christ.
But if you believe that you were, as Paul puts it to the Ephesians, “…dead in trespasses and sins,” then you will know that God had to work a miracle of grace and power in your sinful heart or you NEVER would have come to Christ.
I heard a preacher say the other day, “God will never mess with your free will.” Well, I am sure glad that God “messed with” my free will. Though raised by a Godly father I rebelled against all that and turned away from the things of God. No-one made me do it. I wanted to do it. My will was to live for pleasure not to live for Christ.
Then, on March 2, 1954, in the Harringay Arena in London, England, God looked down in mercy upon my sinful, shriveled up soul. He saw that my polluted will was taking me headlong to hell and in grace God worked a miracle. Billy Graham was the preacher and the Holy Spirit was the power. I didn’t even “go forward” at the invitation. I was too rooted to my seat as God did what only He could do. The scales fell from my eyes, the chains fell from my heart, and I became a new person. That is sovereign grace.
There is one other reason I must mention why some of us have such difficulties with the idea of God’s sovereign choice.
c) Could it be our pride?
Perhaps we just want to retain some credit – however small – for our salvation. We have come to believe that we needed the Lord Jesus to die for us on the Cross and we have put our trust in Him. However, we cling tenaciously to the view that it was entirely our own decision to accept Him. We can even grow quite angry when credit for even that is stripped away. We do not surrender our sovereignty – even to God – very readily.
When Jesus preached in his home synagogue the listeners were warmly impressed and very receptive until he began to teach them of God’s sovereign grace. They then grew so angry they tried to kill him (Luke 4:14-30). I have known some pastors and preachers who have had the same experience!
3. HOW MAY WE UNDERSTAND THIS TRUTH BETTER?
a) Is it God’s Foreknowledge?
An explanation which is frequently offered, and which I used to hold at one time, is that it is all a question of God’s foreknowledge.
It goes something like this; the God who is omniscient, and knows the end from the beginning, knew before everybody was born what they would do with the Gospel, and whether they would choose Him or not. He foreknew that. So, seeing by the eye of omniscience that someone would choose Him, He chose them and made them His elect. This is sometimes called “foreseen faith”. God foresaw those who would believe and elected them.
Now I will tell you why I am unhappy with that explanation. First of all, it always seemed to me, even when I held to it, that really I was explaining election away. God did not really choose anyone, they just chose themselves.
The second reason why I am unhappy with it is that Jesus said, “You did not choose me. I chose you.” The above explanation seems to stand Jesus’ statement on its head. This seems to be saying, “No Lord, you chose me because I chose you first.” It also reverses 1 John 4:19, “We loved Him because He first loved us.”
Thirdly, it makes faith into a merit. The Bible says we are not saved by works, that is, by something commendable that we do; we are saved by grace alone. The undeserved favor of God. But this seems to say that God foresaw something meritorious in certain people (that they would believe) and that, being pleased with them, He elected them into His family. That makes us really saved by a good work. Of course, we are saved by grace through faith, but saving faith is not something that the natural man can conjure up in his own heart. It is God’s gift. Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.”
You may ask, “But what about Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew He also predestined…” and 1 Peter 1:2, “…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…?”
When the Bible speaks of “know” and “knowledge” as applied to persons it means “to know intimately, to love.” Just as it does when it says in Gen 4:1, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived…”. Similarly, Matt 1:25 of Joseph and Mary, “…and knew her not until she bore a son” (KJV). The NIV translates “he had no union with her” because that is what it means. It means that they did not have intimate relations until after Jesus was born.
In the same way when the Bible speaks of God’s knowledge of a person, it means God loves that person; He has become intimate with them. When God speaks of his sovereign choice of Israel He says, “Israel, you only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). When God spoke to Jeremiah of His special love and call God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Thus, when Scripture says that God foreknew His elect, it means that He set his love upon His elect before ever they were born. In the counsels of His divine purposes before time began, He chose them by His grace
Properly understood, therefore, the concept of God’s foreknowledge confirms rather than explains away “chosen by grace.”
b) Two Truths Held in Balance
It seems to me, from carefully reading my Bible, that Scripture reveals two parallel lines of truth, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. We must not deny either of these important truths. Neither must we water down either of them. God is sovereign and rules over all, accomplishing all things after the counsel of His will. Yet man is a free moral agent. He is not an automaton. He is not an animal. He is not a predetermined complex biological machine. He has this power of choice, and responsibility for the choices he makes. God will hold him accountable.
So, we have God’s will and man’s will. Each is as true as the other. Some Scriptures stress Divine sovereignty and some human responsibility. Some verses even have both truths in the same verse. For example: in Acts 2:23 the enemies of Jesus are held accountable for the wickedness they perpetrated in crucifying the Lord of Glory, YET they unwittingly thereby accomplished the glorious fore-ordained purposes of God in saving the world through the death of His Son. Man wills to go his own way but God will not be denied and has determined to save an elect people and bring them to Himself. He continually accomplishes that gracious purpose. We have a mystery here probably beyond our understanding.
i. Two Legs
Keeping these two truths in balance is like walking on two legs. If we try to walk on only one leg we overbalance. Should we try to somehow merge our two legs into one leg we would create a monstrosity and still go nowhere. God meant us to be bipeds.
It seems to me that some have become very unbalanced regarding Biblical truth because they have stressed only the one and ignored or even denied the other. Others have butchered both to try to blend them. The result is again a monstrosity. They rob each of its true power.
ii. Two Lines
Or, think of it as if you are standing on a railway track. There are two lines, each quite distinct and separate, but as you look toward the horizon you see they meet in infinity. There they become one. Where you are standing, however, they are two.
We have a very limited perspective. There will always be things beyond our comprehension and understanding. The doctrine that God is One but Three Persons in One God, a Tri-unity, is beyond my understanding. I expect it is beyond yours. I believe it because I find it infallibly and unmistakably in the Bible. I also learn that the Lord Jesus Christ is both fully human and yet fully Divine, two natures in one Person. I cannot comprehend that but I believe it because it is clearly revealed.
Similarly, God’s sovereign choice in salvation and man’s responsibility in rejecting it are both clearly taught, again and again and again. How these truths relate to one another or how both can be true at the same time I do not know.
I believe (and preach) them both.
iii. Two Views
Let me give you an illustration of the limitations of understanding. Let us go in our imagination to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, one of the most magnificent buildings in the world. Let us look at that beautiful white dome. If we were only ever inside the dome looking up at its vastness and the paintings on the ceiling we would think that the dome is concave. However, if we were only ever flying over it looking down on it we would think that the dome is convex. How can it be convex and concave at the same time? With only one view and limited understanding it would appear that the two things are in conflict – but they are not.
As we gain more understanding we can see they don’t conflict they correlate.
I believe that this matter of man’s salvation is also a question of two truths which only appear to conflict because of the limitations of our understanding. When you are on the outside it seems to be a question of man’s will but when you are on the inside you see, with joy and gratitude, that it was really God’s will. Therefore, when we come to a word in the Scriptures about the sovereignty of God we preach it, we believe it, we grasp it with all our might; but when we come to a verse that speaks of the responsibility and accountability of man, whether or not we can understand how both can be true at the same time, we preach that with all our might and grasp it and believe it.
Let me repeat, it does not help at all – neither is it biblical – to try to emasculate either or both of these strong truths until you have some mishmash, watered down apology, somewhere in the middle.
Those readers who are familiar with my preaching know that when I preach to the unconverted, I call upon them to repent and believe the Gospel, sincerely offering Christ to all (“whosoever”) who are willing to call upon Him. I don’t water that down. I also know that each unsaved person listening will be held accountable for his or her decision.
However, when I am teaching my fellow Christians, I call upon them to kneel and glorify the grace of God that they were “…chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
You know, Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of the stubbornness and hardness of the Jerusalemites who would not come to Him. Man’s responsibility. And yet it was Jesus who rejoiced over the electing grace of God who had hidden these things, He said, from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to children. There you have the two truths in the life of the Lord Jesus; tears over man’s stubborn rejection, joy over God’s sovereign grace.
The great C.H. Spurgeon said (and I recommend you to memorize this), “It is an axiom of theology that if anyone be in hell God shall have no blame for it, but if anyone be in heaven, God shall have all the glory of it.”
c) An Election of Love
Ephesians 1:4,5 says “…In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace.”
God’s choice is not a cold arbitrary decision. Its mainspring is love.
Let us suppose there is a great king who rules his kingdom with perfect justice. All those who are in prison are being justly punished for crimes willfully committed. Some face the death penalty. However, the king is determined to display his grace in pardoning the guilty. Thus, he makes his way to death row and offers a full and free pardon to any man who will confess his crimes and repent of them. Alas, and sadly, none will. So hard of heart are they and so despising of their benevolent monarch and his laws that some turn their backs on him and some spit in his face.
Incredibly he will not be defeated. He singles out the very worst offender and visits him again and again. He pours upon him words and gifts of love, pleading with him to accept the gracious offer of forgiveness. Eventually the hard heart is melted by such sincere love and personal sacrifice. Weeping with sorrow the felon falls at the feet of his king, confesses his crimes and declares how utterly undeserving he is of such love and mercy. He begs the king to allow him to live a new life of devoted royal service.
In joy the king signs the papers of pardon and brings him home to the palace actually adopting him into the royal family. From then on, this erstwhile murderer from the gutter will be a prince.
My friend: God’s love for us was much greater than that of this king.
What if this king could only pardon this villain if his own beloved son, the prince and the heir, would die in his place? Why, no-one would believe such a story. They would say it was too far-fetched.
Yet that IS the Gospel story. “For God so loved the world that He gave his ONLY SON... “For God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love for you and for me cost Him the Cross.
If guilty sinners are punished shall God be charged with injustice? If the justly condemned despise His love and His offer of forgiveness shall God be blamed? But if God determined IN LOVE to yet redeem a people and if IN LOVE He includes you in that number, is your heart not overwhelmed with the amazing love and grace of God?
No, “Chosen by Grace”, is not a story of God choosing names at random out of a hat! It is a LOVE STORY. The most wonderful love story the world has ever heard.
On such love my soul still ponder,
Love so great, so rich, so free;
Say, while lost in holy wonder,
“Why, oh Lord, such love to me?”
Grace shall reign eternally.
This leads us to our last question:
4. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
It is a pity when such precious truths as these only lead to endless arguments and complex analysis. You know you can analyze the rose so long and in such detail that you miss the fragrance and the beauty. What is the fragrance and the beauty of the doctrine of sovereign grace? I hardly have space to even begin to describe it.
i) It encourages HUMILITY
As we have seen, there is mystery here. When we do not understand with our reason, we bow our minds before God’s Word. That is not the same as saying that biblical truth is irrational or that Christians are supposed to believe three impossible things before breakfast. It is saying that reason is subservient to revelation. We don’t know everything and we understand even less than we know. How often do I read in science books or medical books regarding some process, “We do not yet understand how this process works…” If we do not understand earthly things, how can we expect to understand Heavenly? We have finite minds which are called to gaze upon the mysteries of the infinite.
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” (Romans 11:33,34)
Humility of mind and heart are always fragrant to the Lord.
ii) It gives ASSURANCE
If He loved you before you were born and, in the mystery of His grace, elected you to be His own, do you think he will ever let you go? Never. NEVER!
Of course, if we put a link in the chain, maybe we will stop linking it. If there is something that we do, we will perhaps stop doing it. There are some people who believe that you will only be saved if you keep on doing this, and that, and the other, and the other, and the other. And yet you never know if you are doing enough. They may say that they believe salvation is by grace but, to me, it often sounds more like salvation by works.
Hear the Apostle Paul, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
The work which His goodness began
The arm of His flesh will complete
His promise is yea and amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now
Nor all things below or above;
Can make Him His purpose forego
Or sever my soul from His love.
iii) It energizes HOLINESS
So, we have been chosen of God; chosen for what? Let Scripture again answer our question:
“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight…to the praise of His glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
“Who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).
There is Divine energy in God’s truth. The Truth that sets us free, also empowers us to be what God called us to be.
Is anything more fragrant than a holy life, lived only to please and serve God, motivated, not by law and duty, but by love and gratitude at the wonder of his grace?
iv) It stimulates EVANGELISM
Now this may surprise you. Perhaps you imagined that believing in election and sovereign grace would discourage evangelism. It should do the very opposite. Why? Because we all know from both Scripture and experience that man by nature is either opposed to or indifferent to the Gospel. Again and again those of us who have tried to witness to unsaved friends and neighbors have been discouraged by the lack of response.
Nevertheless, we never lose hope because God has said that sin and hell shall NOT prevail and He WILL have a people called after His Name. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37). Don’t you just love that “will”? They will come; God has ordained it. Acts 13:48 says, “Then as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
Thus, whenever I preach the Gospel, I am full of faith to believe that God’s Word (as God Himself puts it), “…will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). And what is God’s purpose in sending forth the Gospel? Answer: the salvation of sinners. We are not wasting our time and energy.
Of course, if I believed it was entirely up to man’s “free will,” then I would have cause to be despondent for what the sinner needs the most he desires the least. He would never come.
A HARVEST PROMISED
Do you remember the story recorded in Luke 5 regarding the miraculous catch of fish? “We have toiled all night and caught nothing,” complained Jesus’ disciples. “Let down your nets once more,” He commanded. Clearly they were tired and reluctant. What was the point? If the fish could not be caught at night it was even less likely during daylight. Then comes the response of obedience, “At YOUR word we will go out again.” And, as you know, they got the biggest catch they had ever encountered. They could hardly haul it to shore and the nets broke under the weight.
Then the Lord Jesus called them to leave their nets for He would make them “fishers of men.” With what faith they would now go to preach the Gospel for He had given them an unforgettable lesson. The sovereign Lord of all creation who had drawn those fish into the net, is also the Lord of grace and salvation and would draw sinners into the Kingdom net.
So, preacher, take heart and let down your net again – and again. You know many of the greatest evangelists and preachers the world has ever seen and heard have believed in sovereign grace. I think, for instance, of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and C.H. Spurgeon.
By the way, if we believe that salvation is God’s business we need not resort to questionable psychological methods or manipulative gimmicks to get a response (which will then probably be false). We should preach the pure unadulterated Gospel, centered on Christ and the Cross, and God will honor it.
v) It promotes WORSHIP
This most of all. This truth humbles us but it also exalts our God, doesn’t it? It gives HIM all the glory. If we are ever faced with mysteries in Scripture, and truths which seem difficult to reconcile one with the other, we will never go wrong if we always choose to believe whatever glorifies God. It is for His glory He made us and for that He saved us.
It should be on earth as it is in Heaven. Heaven will not be filled with saved sinners who give God some of the glory whilst also congratulating each other and patting each other and themselves on the back for the wise decision which got them there and for their faith. No, rather Heaven will resound with one united chorus:
“To God be the glory, great things He has done”
A wonderful hymn expressing this truth was composed by Rev Fred Barff, a missionary in Ruanda in the 1950’s. It has six verses in all, and is one of my favorites:
O how the grace of God
It loosed me from my bonds
And set me free.
What made it happen so
‘Twas His will, this much I know
Set me as now I show
My God has chosen me
Though one of naught
To sit beside my King
In Heaven’s court
Hear what my Lord hath done
O, the love that made Him run
To me, His erring son
This hath God wrought
And when I think of how
He bore sin’s penalty
Instead of me,
Amazed I wonder why
He, the sinless One should die
For one so vile as I
My Savior He.
Lord Jesus, hear my prayer
Thy grace impart
When evil thoughts arise
Thro’ Satan’s art.
O, drive them all away
And wilt Thou from day to day
Keep me within thy sway
King of my heart