As we continue in our series on The Historical Faith of the Church, today we turn our attention to the second doctrine that the Church throughout the ages has held close to the heart: God’s sovereign election. When speaking of the sovereign election of God, many people speak like this – ‘In eternity past God looked down through the corridors of time and saw or knew in advance who would say yes to the offer of the gospel and who would say no. On the basis of this prior knowledge God then predestined those who embraced His Son.’ Many people believe the sovereign election of God works this way, perhaps this is a reflection of what some of you believe. If it is, I’m glad you’re here because I’m going to try and persuade you that this is not the teaching presented to us in the Bible. Rather, the doctrine of election present in the Bible is God lovingly choosing all who will one day believe, before time began, apart from any foreseen faith or works in us, for our holiness, for our adoption, through Christ, for the praise of the glory of His grace.
I have 10 points to make today. The first 2 points are introductory remarks that flow out of last week’s message on our radical corruption and the 8 subsequent points are from Ephesians 1:3-6.
1) Sovereign Election is Necessary
Last week we looked at our radical corruption and found that from conception we by nature hate God, we are guilty, we are darkness, we are dead in sin, and we are blind to the beauty of the gospel. Just as a lion cannot change his nature to become a herbivore, so too we are unable to change our evil nature to become lovers of Christ. To say that God’s sovereign election is necessary is to say that without the sovereign election of God no one on the planet throughout history would be a Christian. If anyone is to know God in a saving sense, God must bring it about through His sovereign grace. John 3:16 is an open invitation for all to come, but why would a sinner come if that sinner hates the gospel? Because of John 6:44, where Jesus says only those who are drawn by the Father will come. So, if you fight against the doctrine of election it just may be that you have a deficient understanding of our own sin, because a right knowledge of our sinful state reveals to us the necessity of sovereign election.
2) Sovereign Election is Part of Scripture
It is often said that we shouldn’t be concerned about having a deep conviction about election or predestination because it’s something we can’t fully understand. Yes and no. Yes, we will never understand any doctrine fully because God is infinite and we are finite, and it truly is impossible for finite creatures to plumb the depths of infinite realities. BUT, I also say ‘No’ because of Deut. 29:29 which says, ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…’ There are many secret things that we’ll never know until glory, and we should never seek after those things. God’s sovereign election, though, is not a secret thing. It’s not only revealed in the Bible, it’s clear in the Bible. Therefore because Deut. 29:29 calls us to devote ourselves to what is revealed (the Bible), we should devote ourselves to learn as much as we can about everything in the Bible.
Yet for us modern folk this can be a difficult task because we in C.S. Lewis’ words have reversed the roles of God and man. Lewis says, ‘The ancient man approaches God as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed…Man is on the bench and God is in the dock.’ So remember, when we come to God, when we come to His Word we don’t come on our terms, we come on His. If the Bible says it, even if we don’t understand it (and even if it angers us), we submit to it because by submitting to the Word of God we submit to God.
Let’s go to Ephesians 1:3-6 where we’ll see 8 essential points on sovereign election. Follow along as I read the text…
1) Election is a Spiritual Blessing (v3-4)
Ephesians 1:3 may be the most wonderful sentence in the whole book of Ephesians. In Christ God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Because of Jesus’ conquest over death He won for us a multitude of benefits that Paul calls ‘every spiritual blessing’ because of which Paul praises the Father. There is nothing the believer now lacks because of the work of Christ. If we were to make a list of these benefits it would have no end. If you were to think about this list and what benefit would come first what comes to mind? Salvation? Forgiveness? The Scripture? Assurance? Prayer? The fellowship of His Spirit? The Community of His Church? Notice in v4 what Paul (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) thinks of first. The Father ‘…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…’ The first benefit we’ve received from the work of Christ Paul thinks of is the sovereign election of God. I wonder if you’ve ever thanked God for this? That God out of sheer grace ‘…chose you before the foundation of the world…’ If you today find yourself to be a Christian, be reminded that your salvation was accomplished, not by accident or random events, but by the eternal and unchangeable plan of God. This is an immense spiritual blessing.
2) Election is God’s Choice
Before any decision is made, before any choosing happens on our part, it is God’s choice that determines. v4 says, ‘…even as He chose us…’ This follows all that we’ve seen in the Old Testament. Deut. 7:7 says, ‘The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.’ Deut. 10:15 says, ‘The Lord set His heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.’ Just as God had a chosen people in the Old Testament, God now has a chosen people in the New Testament. John 1:12-13 says, ‘To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ After Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel Acts 13:48 says, ‘And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.’ We could also speak of Jacob and Esau described to us in Romans 9 as an example of how God elects. In v11-13 Paul says, ‘Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls – Rebekah was told ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’’ Then a few verses later anticipating/answering the question of injustice Paul says in v18, ‘So then God has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.’ Thus, it should not surprise us to read in our Bibles in Eph. 1:4 ‘…He chose us…’ Sovereign election is God’s choice.
3) Election is in Christ
Ephesians 1:4, ‘even as He chose us in Him…’ and even later in v5 where he says that because God chose us we become sons of God ‘through Jesus Christ.’ Sovereign election does not happen apart from Christ. God intends to save His elect through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. So rather than having His elect people pop out of the birth canal with the word ‘elect’ tattooed on our foreheads, God sent His Son and had Him say, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.’ You know what this means? If you believe in Jesus today, you’re the elect of God. A few more verses clarify the Christ-centered nature of sovereign election. In Matt. 11:27 Jesus says, ‘All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’ So Jesus chooses to reveal His Father to some and not others. In John 5:21 Jesus confirms this when He said, ‘For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will.’ Sovereign election happens in Christ and through Christ.
4) Election Took Place Before Time
Ephesians 1:4, ‘even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…’ So God the Father chose us in His Son before God made the world and everything in it. That sovereign election took place in eternity past means God gave His elect grace in Jesus Christ before there was ever a need for grace. God elected people, millions and millions of people, before the fall in Genesis 3, which means when the fall happened, God was at work setting the stage of the redemption of His people through the work of His Son. Other places speak of this as well, 2 Tim. 1:9 says, ‘God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our own works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.’ Also Revelation 13:8 where John says, ‘All who dwell on earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.’ So before God made the world, He wrote a book called, ‘The Book of the Life of the Lamb who was Slain.’ In this book God wrote names, and everyone whose name is not in this book will one day worship the beast. A similar encouragement to the saints of their heavenly citizenship is found in Rev. 7, 17, 20, and 21. Church, there is such hope to be had in this, if you know and love Jesus right now be sure of this – God has known and loved you much longer.
5) Election is to Holiness
Ephesians 1:4, ‘even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (why?) that we should be holy and blameless before Him.’ Sometimes I hear it said that if you believe in election it would make you lazy in living the Christian life. The Bible disagrees. The very reason God chose us in His Son before time began was that we would be (what?) holy and blameless people. God elected His people in eternity past, redeemed them through His Son in the present, and will keep them holy through the ministry of His Spirit so that we gain the future inheritance we’ve been promised. See here that God intends to bring His elect all the way from spiritual death in sin, to redemption from sin, and finally to the elimination of that sin in glory. According to Eph. 5:27 this is why Jesus came, ‘that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ So if you claim to be a Christian and you’re not living a holy life that is evidence that you not only don’t understand the doctrine of election but that you don’t understand the doctrine of the incarnation. Holiness is a fruit of election, just as it is a fruit of believing in the gospel, such that holiness is suitable to God’s people like a crown is to a king.
6) Election is God’s Purposeful Love
One summer when I was in college, a group of guys and I were on our way up to North GA for a summer job. On the way we began discussing theology and one of the guys asked me, ‘Adam, I know you believe in predestination, can you explain it to me?’ Before I got a chance to answer another one of the guys jumped in and said, ‘I can answer that for Adam, it’s very simple – you see, we believe God is fair, Adam doesn’t.’ To which I responded, ‘If God were fair with us, no one would be saved, and we’d all receive the penalty our sin deserves.’ You see, many people feel that God’s election, that God’s predestination isn’t fair but see here in Ephesians 1:5, ‘In love He predestined us…’ In love God chose, in love God elected, in love He predestined. Later in v5 it says this loving predestination was according to the purpose of His will. It is no small encouragement to know the reason of how you came to be what you are today. Why am I a Christian today? Why do I love God today? How did all this come to be? Answer: God’s electing love has brought it all to pass. Rest in this people! Take comfort in this Church! If God, before time and in Christ, was for you, no one in all history can be against you. Many people love speaking of the God’s love, but notice here in v5 that if you define God’s love apart from His sovereign election you don’t define God’s love as the Bible does. In 1836 the hymn writer Josiah Conder knew this and penned the words we just sang, ‘My heart knows one above You, for Your rich grace I thirst, I know that if I love You, You must have loved me first.’
7) Election is for Adoption
Ephesians 1:5, ‘In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…’ As if His love is not already great enough, it is revealed as greater when we finish v5 because we who born as slaves to sin, now because of God’s election, are His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. 1 John 3:1 enlarges this thought for us, ‘See (the Bible calls us to ‘see’ His love!) what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ God speaks of this in Isaiah 43:6-7 saying, ‘I will say to the north ‘Give up!’ and to the south ‘Do not withhold!’ bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.’ His electing love has adopted us into His family, through Jesus Christ, and if we’re in the family we are heirs of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. Just as we cannot define holiness and God’s love apart from sovereign election we cannot define the doctrine of adoption apart from it as well.
8) Election is to the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace
To see the ultimate purpose of election let’s read all of Ephesians 1:3-6 once again, ‘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…’ why did He do this? Why sovereignly elect men and women from every tribe, language, people, and nation? Why choose people in Christ, before time began, for holiness, in love, and for adoption? See the ultimate reason in v6, ‘…to the praise of His glorious grace…’
See here the particular, the principal, and the primary purpose of election is not redemption, but that we (through the redemption of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit) would praise His grace, His glorious grace. Some translations say ‘to the praise of the glory of His grace.’
Church, to end I’ll just say this: we often speak of and sing of and pray for God to move in our hearts so that we would enjoy Him and glory in Him. Today you’ve of a way to do just that. There is glory to be seen in God’s electing grace. So if you want to see the glory of grace, if you want to enjoy God’s grace, and if you want to glory in God’s grace…submerge yourself in the ocean of God’s sovereign election, and you’ll not only see His grace, you’ll savor it.