Do You See Election as an Act of God’s Eternal Love?

Believer, you may have had times of great struggle or confusion in your theological understanding of election.  Even those of us who have long held to a reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation will often admit that although we think there is great clarity in God’s Word regarding election, there is also great mystery in this doctrine.

diff-lighthouse-waveBut brother or sister in Christ, I hope that there are times in your pursuit of the Lord and your understanding of Him and His Word that you throw out all of your objections and cling to this doctrine as a beloved anchor for your soul.  I am not suggesting that you should not continue to study and think hard about great sections of Scripture like Ephesians 1:3-6, “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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What I am saying, though, is that Scripture does not present election as a great conundrum but rather as a great comfort.

When you feel as if the earth has given way under your feet, you no longer question God’s ways but you cling to Him and His promises with all that you have.  This is strongly implied in Romans 8:28-31.  “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?”

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t answer, “What then shall we say to these things?” by questioning God’s unconditional decrees and purposes.  Rather, Paul sees God’s sovereign election mixed right in with God’s sovereign goodness:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)  The answer is a resounding “nothing” (Romans 8:39)!

He who chose those He would save in eternity past is intimately involved in every detail of their lives today, and will continue to be until He brings His bride to glory.  When I read, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5), my heart no longer questions my Lord and my God.  But my heart rejoices in my Savior’s eternal love, a love that loved me long before I loved Him.  That is security.

The Big Picture of the Bible in Four Movements

Just as in a great symphony there are different movements that make up the entire masterpiece, in the Bible there are four great movements or stories that make up the whole.  Creation.  Fall.  Cross.  New Creation.  Put together, these four themes can give us the big picture of the entire Bible.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and we simply need to step back and take in what God has done and is doing.  I hope that this will help you rejoice in His amazing and sovereign plan that is for our salvation and His glory!

Creation.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) are such familiar words as almost every English version of the Bible translates this first verse the exact same way.  God created all things, showing both ownership and care for what He had made.  His great plan had begun!

Fall.  The Bible wastes no time in presenting the great predicament that mankind has found himself in since the beginning.  At the start of Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve are already presented with an opportunity to sin, and they turn from God to sin and death.  So do we: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).

Cross.  God’s solution to His creation turning from Him and the fact of their spiritual and physical death is effected in His Son, through His death on the cross.  The One promised from the moment of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) came as the God-man who alone could atone for our sin.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)  Christ and His work on the cross is looked forward to throughout the Old Testament and looked back upon throughout the New Testament.

New Creation.  The last “event” in all of history as we know it will be the New Creation, when God will consummate all things by abolishing sin, evil, and death.  Those who are in Christ will enjoy a New Heaven and New Earth in new bodies that will never be tainted by sin or its’ effects.  God will be worshiped and we will enjoy Him and His creation forever with joy that we can only imagine now.  God’s plan for our salvation and His glory will have been realized as He exclaims at the end of the Bible: “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6b)

May we respond to the big picture of the Bible as John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

Sickness

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Almost 3 years ago I was forced to think about sickness in a much deeper way than I ever had before.  As a 30 year old I began to suffer from a condition rare for men my age that first sent me to the emergency room, gave me pain every day for well over a year, other medical issues & infections, forced me to purchase expensive medication to experience some relief, and that although not life threatening, could be something I will have to deal with the rest of my life.  God was gracious to me.  I found a cheap herb that takes away 90% of the symptoms for now. I realize that some reading this may be walking through deep, dark valleys of sickness, some life threatening. I don’t share this to compare, but rather thinking of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” May the Lord Himself encourage and comfort you. I found great comfort from God meditating on the twin truths that He is sovereign and good. If you are not passing through sickness now, remember that until Heaven our bodies are in a sin cursed world and you must be ready.

J.C. Ryle wrote a booklet entitled “Sickness” that I would encourage you to read for its’ helpfulness. There are 3 special duties associated with sickness that he writes about:

1) One supreme duty which the prevalence of sickness places on us is that of living always prepared to meet God. Sickness is a reminder of death. Death is the door through which we must all pass to judgement. Judgement is the time when we must at last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson which the inhabitant of a sick and dying world should learn, should be to prepare to meet their God.

2) Another supreme duty which the prevalence of sickness requires of us, is that of always being ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung, and our natural energy reduced, to be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual activities, to see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed, to endure long hours, and days, and nights of weariness and pain–all this is a severe strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if bad temper and impatience are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should study patience.

How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently, when sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit over our unruly moods and attitudes. We must make a real business of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God’s will as well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14)

…Never do these graces [the fruit of the Spirit] shine so brightly as in the sick room. They enable many a sick person to preach a silent sermon, which those around him never forget…

3) One more supreme duty which sickness places on us, is that of always being ready to feel with and help your fellow men. Sickness is never very far from us…But wherever there is sickness, there is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases, a kindly visit in others, a friendly enquiry, a mere expression of sympathy, may do a vast good…These things, I dare say, may appear to some people little and trifling. They would rather be doing something great, and grand, and striking, and heroic! But conscientious attention to these little acts of brotherly kindness is one of the clearest evidences of having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). They are acts in which our blessed Master himself was abundant. “He went about doing good” to the sick and sorrowful (Acts 10:38). They are acts to which he attaches great importance in the most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of the last judgement. He says there: “I was sick and you visited me” (Matt 25:36).

The LORD Reigns

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I was on Jury Duty recently and as I was waiting in the Jury Room to be called up or not called up to court, I thought about how at that moment the government had so much sovereignty over my life.  Whether or not they called my name would determine if I would go to work the next day or back to the courthouse.  If I was assigned (I was), it could be a quick 2 day trial or my life could have to revolve around a trial for months (after all, I live in L.A. County).

I think God’s sovereignty is sometimes hard for us to understand as American Christians because we don’t have any clear examples of “absolute” authority such as was so common during the time the Bible was written.  The government’s “power” to make me come in to Jury Duty and to decide what would happen with the next few weeks of my life, or to force me to pay taxes, is about the extent of my personal involvement with the government’s sovereignty.  I used to wrestle quite a bit with God’s sovereignty.  Although I accepted it, as God is clearly displayed and explained as sovereign again and again and again in God’s Word, and although I wanted to understand it, it sometimes made me question my understanding of God.  My understanding of God needed to be questioned and expanded. 

I remember reading a quote by Jonathan Edwards that exclaimed, “…Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).  I could tell by the way Edwards worded it that he rejoiced in this attribute of God.  I had a hard time saying this the same way, much like the struggle that Habakkuk had at the beginning of his prophecy, before he waited on the LORD .  I think it was because I wanted to rejoice in God’s sovereignty, but all of the theological and practical “problems” were getting tangled up in my mind.  Praise God that I can now agree with Jonathan Edwards in the rest of his quote: “And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction.  The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet.  Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.  But my first conviction was not so…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).   

The Lord has been teaching me this doctrine again and again over the last 15 years as I have studied the Bible and constantly been confronted with God’s absolute sovereignty and also as I have seen it lived out in my own life, family, and ministry with others.  I love God’s sovereignty now.  I love to exclaim with the Psalmist, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1)  I am prepared to accept and deal as biblically as I can with any confusion that may cause (more posts on that in the future, in particular regarding “Sickness” and “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”).  The fact that the LORD reigns is actually the greatest comfort now during times of trial rather than a question mark.  It is a sweet doctrine to be embraced rather than to be feared.  One thing that has helped me in my understanding of and rejoicing in God’s sovereignty is knowing that His sovereignty is always exercised in a way that corresponds with His other attributes, such as His love, mercy, compassion, justice, etc.  A favorite way that I like to express this truth is that “God is both sovereign and good.”

There is a sense in which, when God is seen as sovereign, He is seen more clearly as God than with any other attribute.  Everything else is created, but only God is the ruler of the universe.  That is why so many of the Psalms (the “worship book” of the Bible) call attention to God’s greatness and sovereignty, because reflecting on this aspect of His character inspires worship.  I remember hearing R.C. Sproul teach pastors that if they hide an aspect of God’s character from their people then they are guilty of veiling the glory of God. May we as God’s people never be declared guilty on that count!