Sunday, September 5, 2010

Is the Doctrine of Election at odds with the love and character of Jesus Christ?

   A common objection I hear is response to the Calvinistic/Reformed view of Unconditional Election wherein God appoints or predestines those he wants to save is that it supposedly does not reflect the character and love of Jesus himself. One person once said to me:

   “Most of the time when I hear Calvinists quote scripture, they tend to quote Paul a lot. What about Jesus?”

According to a prominent pastor within the New Apostolic Movement:

   Jesus Christ is perfect theology - He is the will of God. We can't lower the standard of scripture to our level of experience… or in most cases, inexperience. It's a very uncomfortable realization - not everyone can handle it. Most create doctrine that you can't find in the person of Jesus. He is the will of God.[i]

Another pastor from an evangelical background accused Calvinism of being:

   …Christianity without Jesus. The heart of Jesus is not existent within Calvinism. The heart of Jesus is one of compassion, one of mercy, of love; and it just doesn’t come across - I’ve read Systematic Theologies by Calvinists, I heard sermons by Calvinists, I’ve read dozens of commentaries by Calvinists, and the heart of Jesus is just missing.[ii]

   How true are these accusations? Is the Calvinistic worldview really not reflective of the love and character of Jesus?

    Let me say right off the bat that the obvious problem of a “Jesus-Only” hermeneutic as what seems to be expressed in the above two quotes is that while it may sound noble to rightly have a high view of Christ when reading the Scriptures, if you fail to read Christ in context of the entirety of the Bible, you will inevitably find yourself pitting Jesus against the rest of Scripture as well as finding yourself in the rather uncomfortable setting of reading God’s word and asking “Why is God not acting in an Christ-like manner?”
   I remember having a conversation with someone who quite clearly embraced this hermeneutic only to end up questioning the inspiration of the Old Testament, even going as far as to deny the inspiration of the imprecatory Psalms on the grounds that they “do not reflect the love and grace of Jesus.”

   That being said, I would like to in this article answer the critics by examining  texts wherein Jesus seems to put forward the idea of Sovereign Grace expressed in Unconditional Election.

1. “The Wind blows where it wills”

1  Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
3  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”
5  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9  Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
10  Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
John 3:1-10

   The scene is set for a fascinating  conversation. Nicodemus, using night as his cover, approaches Jesus knowing that whatever he will have to say will be literally out of this world. There are two illustrations that Jesus will use to describe salvation: birth and wind.

   Nicodemus’ reaction to the illustration of birth may at first suggest naivette, but if Nicodemus was indeed as familiar with the Scriptures as a Pharisee wanted people to think he was, such a response was by no means coy:

9  “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10  Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”
Isaiah 45:9-10

Nicodemus knows where Jesus is going with this. Birth by nature is not something you can self-initiate; we all owe our existence not to ourselves but rather to the acts of another, and so it is with regeneration.
   Similarly, wind has a life of it’s own. It cannot be controlled or manipulated, but wherever it does blow the effect is tangible upon what it touches.

   By using the imagery of birth, Jesus is making clear that Man’s present condition is inadequate for entering the kingdom of God. There has to be an actual transformation akin to an act of creation from which a person will then enter heaven. Note that Jesus is not saying “you enter the kingdom of Heaven, then you’re born of the Spirit”; he’s clearly putting the Holy Spirit’s intervention first in the order of salvation.

2. Jesus (s)elects the Twelve

12  In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14  Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15  and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16  and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Luke 6:12-16

   The time has come for Jesus’ message to spread throughout Israel and Judea. He needs twelve men who would serve not only as his messengers, but as generals for the kingdom that was to come upon Earth by serving as the the church’s first leaders.
   He selects what would seem to be a “motley crew”: Out-of-Business fishermen (Peter and Andrew), hot-headed youths (John and James, sons of Zebedee), the local Rome-funded Tax Man (Matthew), an outspoken skeptic (Thomas), a political terrorist, and the one he knew would double-cross him.
   At first such a selection may seem wholly random, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus’ selection has come after spending a whole night in prayer and devotion unto God the Father as to who was to be selected (one can only imagine what God the Father and God the Son would have had to say to each other about Judas).
   Speaking of this, John Calvin comments:

   Our Lord already had many disciples who freely followed his teaching, yet they are left to one side as private individuals while he takes only the twelve. It is pointless to ask whether Peter was more powerful than another, or James more eminent, or John more worthy: that would get us nowhere. In fact such speculation is given short shrift when Mark tells us that Jesus Christ chose those whom he willed, thus demonstrating that we have no right to insist he tell us what prompted him to act this way. We must instead rest content with the choice he made, even if we cannot understand the reason behind it.
   How, indeed, can we explain our soul’s salvation except in terms of God’s good pleasure and his free gift of mercy? For if we think that we are better than others whom he has passed over or abandoned, we simply demean God’s unconditional kindness through which we obtain salvation.[iii]

The selection of the twelve was to model the nature of saving grace: none of these men were appointed on the basis that they were necessarily any better than the average Jew; Jesus didn’t hold a talent quest to find the Best of the Best, often he would just come into their lives out of the blue and say “Follow Me”. But rather they represented the walks of life of those whom Jesus would eventually save.

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.
John 15:16

3. “All that the Father gives Me”

41  So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42  They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43  Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45  It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46  not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48  I am the bread of life. 49  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
John 6:41-50

   Jesus here is describing both the offer of himself as well as the response from those who listen to him. He calls himself “the bread that came down from heaven”, an obvious reference to God providing Mana to the Israelites during the Exodus. And just like the Israelites in the Exodus who saw the manifested glory of God with their own eyes as they journeyed from Egypt to the promised land, the people at the time of Jesus bear little difference in response to divine revelation.
   But even more controversial is what Jesus attributes as being the reason why some follow him and why others do not:

44  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45  It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46  not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

The Greek word for “draw” in verse 44 is the word helko
λκω which can also denote to “drag”, much in the same manner that a fisherman will cast out a dragnet that will capture a school of fish in water:

11  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.
John 21:11

30  Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.
Acts 21:30

6  But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?
James 2:6

Does this mean, then, that Jesus draws forth potential believers kicking and screaming against their will into the promise of Salvation?
When Jesus says “And they will be taught by God”, Jesus is referring to the prophecy of Isaiah:

11  “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
12  I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.
13  All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
and great shall be the peace of your children.
14  In righteousness you shall be established;
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
Isaiah 54:11-14

   The messianic prophecy of Isaiah clearly points out that those who follow the Messiah will by nature follow God’s teaching – that is, the drawing power of the Holy Spirit that God the Father uses to bring people to Jesus also has the effect of giving them the intention to follow Christ in all that the lord desires.
   In saying “
no one is able to come to me”, this implies that no human being in the world, on his own, has the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God the Father allows him, that is, gives him the desire and inclination to come and the ability to place trust in Christ. Once again it is God’s Sovereign Will, not man’s, that is put first in the order of salvation.

4. “Whoever Believes in Him…”

16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”
John 3:16-21

You may be surprised that I would list this passage as an evidence pointing to Jesus affirming Unconditional Election. “Seriously Ben, It’s obvious that John 3:16 demonstrates that God loves everyone and doesn’t pick some to be saved, some to be damned. It just completely refutes whatever you’re trying to prove.”
   But is that what it actually says?
   What I’d like to focus on is the phrase “whoever believes in him”. At first this may seem rather simple: God’s love is extended to the whole world, all one has to do is believe in Jesus and be saved. The offer is all-inclusive, however if one does not believe they are still under the condemnation of sin.
   That may sound simple enough.
   The Greek for “whoever believes” in v16 is
“pas ho pisteuwn”. The word “pas” means “all”.  The word “ho” roughly means “that”.  And the word “pisteuwn”, means believe.

   Pas ho pisteuwn” – “all that believe”.
   What’s missing from the original greek? Whosever. What we see in the original language is not one word, but a phrase consisting of three.

So when John 3:16 says “whosoever believes”, the word whosoever is not an all-inclusive word, but is actually a limiting word.  In other words, the realm of “whosoever” is not 100% of individuals in the world (or in the Greek, cosmos) with no particular quality, but rather, all the individuals with a particular quality: belief in the Son of God.
   Whosoever” modifies the participle that follows it: “believes”.  Pas ho pistewn: “Everyone who believes”. So “whosoever” in the English translations of John 3:16 is not a word that references 100% of individuals whether or not they believe (verses 18-21 in John chapter 3 specifically addresses non-believers), but rather, it is a word that references every single person in the modified group: everyone who believes.[iv]

   The overarching principle is this: within the world, God has already decided to set his love upon those whom he will save through his son: those that will believe. We do not believe out of the hope that it will then earn God’s love, but rather we believe because God chooses to love us.
   If one still wants to cling to the (mis)translation of John 3:16 as indeed pointing to Jesus explaining a universal offer of love contingent upon our faith in him, there remain two issues you must be forced to deal with:
   Firstly, what do you do with Jesus prior use of the imagery of birth and wind to describe regeneration? Will your interpretation of John 3:16 in context of John 3 as a whole necessarily give adequate reason for Jesus to speak to Nicodemus in the way that he does?
   Secondly, even if that were the correct interpretation of John 3:16, how do you respond to the fact that this is a conversation between Jesus and someone who already holds to a theology that teaches election, albeit not so much an unconditional one? We must remember that first-century Judaism as the time of Jesus still perceived the Jews within the context of an ethno-centric worldview. If the coming kingdom was going to be for anyone, it was for Israel. Even if the gentiles were to be included, it would not be independent, but rather with Israel in the lead. If, as a Pharisee, Nicodemus held to this view of a conditional, corporate Election involving natural Israel, he would have every reason to scratch his head, look at Jesus and say “…can you say that again? The whole world?!”

   Noting the likelihood of discrepancy aspiring scholars are likely to face when comparing their beloved English translations and the doctrine derived with what the authors of Scripture actually intended to say in the original languages, James Strong – whose reference materials have been used almost universally by scholars of all theological persuasions – adds the following quote by Charles Spurgeon as a footnote to his Lexicon’s entry on pas:

 "... 'The whole world is gone after him.' Did all the world go after Christ?
'Then went all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan.' Was all Judea, or all Jerusalem baptized in Jordan?
'Ye are of God, little children', and 'the whole world lieth in the wicked one.' Does 'the whole world' there mean everybody? If so, how was it, then, that there were some who were 'of God?'
The words 'world' and 'all' are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture; and it is very rarely that 'all' means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts—some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted his redemption to either Jew or Gentile."
(Charles H. Spurgeon, Particular Redemption, A Sermon, 28 Feb 1858).[v]

5. “All authority in Heaven and Earth…”

16  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:16-20

   The obvious question asked when discussing free-will vs predestination is “then what is the point of evangelising if God elects and regenerates those that he has already decided to be saved?”

Simple answer: “Because Jesus told us to when he gave the Great Commission!”
You’re probably thinking “Ben, in all seriousness, that was totally lame!” No doubt it is at first. Presbyterian teacher R.C. Sproul recalls a time in seminary when his professor asked the same question:

   I remember, in this regard, a most discomforting experience I had while I was a seminary student. And I was in a seminar studying Jonathan Edwards’ work The Freedom of the Will. And I believe there were twenty-two of us in that class, and the professor had us arranged in a semi-circle in front of his desk. And he enjoyed the Socratic method of teaching. He called it dia-lecture; he lectured, we died, because he would constantly grill us and put us on the spot and ask us difficult questions.
   On this one day he said to us “All right, gentlemen, if it is true, that God, from all eternity, has chosen to save certain people and not others, then why should we be visibly involved in the task of evangelism?”
   Now I breathed a great sigh of relief because I happened to be sitting at the extreme right-hand side of the semi-circle of students and he started to ask the students on the extreme left-hand side and his custom would be to go right down the line, so I knew that there would be twenty-one people who would get to wrestle with the question before he would ever get to me; and I was delighted that I had that safety cushion.
   And so he started with the first student. He said: “Mr. So-and-so, if the doctrine of divine election is true, why should we be involved in evangelism?”
   The student candid replied “Professor, I don’t know! I’ve always wondered about that myself.”
He went to the next fellow in the line: “What do you think?”
   That fellow shrugged his shoulders and said, “Beats me.” All of a sudden, it was getting more and more scary as he went down the line, asking each student, and each one of them could not provide an earthly answer.
   Finally, the finger pointed at me. Now, I have to say this, I hope you don’t take it wrong: there were certain times in seminary when my fellow students looked to me to bail them out in these theory, difficult things; they assigned to me the role that Plato had assigned to Socrates in The Dialogues when all of these questions would be raised, everybody would give their answer and in the end Socrates would sort it all out, so I was feeling more and more pressure as the professor came closer to me and finally descended on me asking “Alright Mr. Sproul, if God ordains from all of eternity certain people to be saved, why should we be engaged in evangelism?”
   I was really nervous and said rather meekly, “well professor, I know this isn’t what you’re looking for, it’s not a big reason, but one reason after all for why we should still be involved in evangelism is, well...” and I stammered and stuttered “...y’know God does command us to do it, doesn’t he?”
   The professor went ballistic.
   He started to play with me and mock me – in a nice way of course - and he said “Yes, Mr. Sproul, and what could possibly be a smaller thing than that! That the Lord God almighty who is omnipotent who reigns should command you to do something or anything. Or that the Lord who shed his blood for your sins should command you to take some credibility to the task because he did you soul and you may want to top your hat to him in this enterprise...” And he went on, and on and on and I just felt smaller and smaller.
   But he said, “Of course! That’s a reason enough for the church to be involved in evangelism!”[vi]

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Calvinist view of predestination is that the elect are somehow pre-saved hence you don’t need to expend too much energy with evangelism and witnessing because they in effect are “pre-packaged”. This is not so. According to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler:

“The chances of you finding on Judgment Day someone who suddenly woke up and discovered that they were saved are just about equal to the chances of someone entering heaven because they were able to come to God through their own ability and understanding.”[vii]

Unless regenerated, the elect are spiritually no better than the reprobate and as such have no right to say otherwise:

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:1-10

So how do the elect go from regeneration to conversion and what role does evangelism play? Scripture makes it clear that true spiritual nurturing – pre and post-conversion – is dependant upon the word of God:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:7-11

12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:12-13

2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 2:2-3

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17

Ergo, the means by which God has chosen to bring the elect to saving knowledge is via the declaration of God’s word by a verbal medium. In this respect, the purpose of Evangelism from the Church’s perspective – distinct from God’s - is to draw forth the elect by speaking the words necessary to fulfill the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration so that true conversion can occur.
Wayne Grudem refers to this as “The Gospel Call”:

An example of the gospel call working effectively is seen in Paul’s first visit to Philippi. When Lydia heard the gospel message, “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
In distinction from effectual calling, which is entirely an act of God, we may talk about the gospel call in general which comes through human speech. This gospel call is offered to all people, even those who do not accept it. Sometimes this gospel call is referred to as external calling or general calling. By contrast, the effective calling of God that actually brings about a willing response from the person who hears it is sometimes called internal calling. The gospel call is general and external and often rejected, while the effective call is particular, internal and always effective. However, this is not to diminish the importance of the gospel call – it is the means God has appointed through which effective calling will come. Without the gospel call, no one could respond and be saved! “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14)[viii]

   So how is this applied practically? When witnessing, we are to be both precise and patient; don’t force a person to bite off more than they can chew. If a person sees no real concern in your message, don’t feel obligated to stay and fight when in reality the battle will guarantee no victory on that occasion. But if a person does seem convinced, are humble towards their understanding of sin and can see their need for the Savior, extend the invitation to receive Jesus.

   Of course, as with any spiritual endeavor, we must commit ourselves to prayer and the seeking of the Lord for wisdom, boldness and discernment regarding how the Spirit will be moving in that situation. But the first question that comes to mind is “Well, how can we tell the elect from the reprobate?” The simple answer is we can’t, at least not immediately. Jesus warned when he gave the parable of the wheat and the weeds that the difference between the true and the false (or in this context, elect and reprobate) cannot be discerned by the naked eye until both reach maturity and as such we shouldn’t discriminate until time itself makes the distinction clear:

24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
28" 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
29" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "
Matthew 13:24-30

With these things in mind, we should go out hopeful, but not anxious, that the seeds we sow will be planted into the hearts of the elect. The 19th century Reformed Baptist Charles Spurgeon instructed hopeful evangelists
in his book The Soul Winner that:

Concerning the winning of souls. What is it to win a soul? I hope you believe in the old-fashioned way of saving souls. Everything appears to be shaken nowadays, and shifted from the old foundations. It seems that we are to evolve out of men the good that is already in them: much good may you get if you attempt the process! I am afraid that in the process of evolution you will develop devils. I do not know much else that will come out of human nature, for manhood is as full of sin as an egg is full of meat; and the evolution of sin must be everlasting mischief. We all believe that we must go to soul- winning, desiring in God's name to see all things made new. This old creature is dead and corrupt, and must be buried; and the sooner the better. Jesus has come that there may be a passing away of the old things, and a making of all things new. In the process of our work, we endeavour to bless men by trying to make them temperate; may God bless all work of that sort! But we should think ourselves to have failed if we had produced a world of total abstainers, and had left them all unbelievers. We drive at something more than temperance; for we believe that men must be born again. It is good that even a corpse should be clean, and therefore that the unregenerate should be moral. It would be a great blessing if they were cleansed of the vices which make this city to reek in the nostrils of God and good men. But that is not so much our work as this: that the dead in sin should live, that spiritual life should quicken them, and that Christ should reign where the prince of the power of the air now hath sway. You preach, brethren, with this object, that men may quit their sins, and fly to Christ for pardon, that by His blessed Spirit they may be renovated, and become as much in love with everything that is holy as they are now in love with everything that is sinful. You aim at a radical cure; the axe is laid at the root of the trees; the amendment of the old nature would not content you, but you seek for the imparting, by a divine power, of a new nature, that those who gather round you in the streets may live unto God.[ix]

   However, while the above may be true, we must also be accountable for what we say and do when it comes to sharing the actual gospel. While it is important that we promote a God-centered and biblical gospel presentation, it is just important that we have a scripturally accurate and consistent soteriology (theology of salvation) to actually base it on. While subjects such as the Doctrines of Grace and Eternal Security (i.e., “once saved, always saved”) have been subject to debate within the Church for centuries, if any group of evangelists are not unified under a systematically consistent model for the actual process of conversion, then any resulting attempts to lead people to Christ will at best be pragmatic and driven more upon a desire for end-results than faithfulness.

   Regardless of whichever “methodology” we adopt, it is even more important that we first understand what the truths within scripture itself have to say regarding how to lead people to salvation. Methods by nature are circumstantial, customisable and subject to preference; truths on the other hand are universal in their nature and application in addition to being unquestionable by those subject to it. Personal methodology does, however, say a lot about personal theology. We like to drown ourselves with various how-to strategies ranging “How to witness to a Muslim”, “How to witness to a Buddhist, “How to Witness to an Atheist,” “How to Witness to a Roman Catholic”, “How to witness to a Wombat”!
   These can all disappear in one shot if we simply take the time to understand what God’s word has to say about it. On all occasions, the gospel must be shared with faithfulness to what the Word of God says about how to reach out to specific people groups (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), what should be said and what should be withheld (Matthew 7:6), the nature and mindset of the unsaved (Romans 3:9-20, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16) vs the saved (Ephesians 5:8-9), What God actually thinks of sin and those who commit it (John 3:18-21, Galatians 5:18-21), how we are to convict people of sin properly (Psalm 19:7-8, Romans 7:7- 12, Galatians 3:19-24, Romans 3:19-20, Acts 24:24-25), how the unsaved actually see themselves by comparison (Proverbs 20:6), The breadth of God's saving grace, love and mercy (John 3:16-17, Romans 5:6-11), the nature of a true conversion and it's fruits, (Matthew 13:24-30, Luke 9:62); our faith in the Word of God alone should be a testimony of our integrity as Christians unto those who are yet to receive it (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
   Obviously, once we know what scripture actually says about the above issues, the margin regarding which evangelistic methods currently available in Christendom today are actually biblical becomes significantly narrow. At the same time however, it allows us to have a greater ease when witnessing, as those who “know the rules of the game” usually tend to have the greater chance of “scoring.”

   We are but midwives to the new birth, it neither our right, responsibility nor privilege to be the conceiver; that is a role left to God alone. When Jesus said “all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Therefore Go…”, he is declaring the great commission as though he were a disposed ruler seeking to reclaim his kingdom from his enemies, but rather he declares his eternal Lordship over all nations, all peoples, all tribes, all tongues, all races, all cultures, all religions, all philosophies, and all things. Our mission is to go out into his territories and collect Tribute.
   In that regard, to suggest that a high view of divine sovereignty made manifest in the purposes of God within Unconditional Election would either hinder or goes against the Great Commission is tantamount to calling Jesus a liar given how he issued it. 

6. “You are not my sheep”

24  So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25  Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26  but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
John 10:24-29

Note that Jesus does not say “You are not by sheep because you do not believe”; he says “you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”

16  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
21  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
22  And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?”
23  And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24  And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25  But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26  and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
28  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29  And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30  But passing through their midst, he went away.
Luke 4:16-30

Why did the residents of Jesus’ home town want to throw Jesus off a cliff? Was it because he read himself into Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy?
   No, as v22 says that in response “
all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth”. It was only when Jesus used the example of Naaman the Syrian – a gentile healed of leprosy while the lepers and widows of Israel had the blessing of God withheld for three years and six months – to suggest that they would not inherit the coming Messianic Kingdom that they became agitated.

   I’d like to conclude with this crucial point: as we can see, yes, Jesus did believe, preach and apply the Doctrine of Election – and the Jews, from the general populace right through to the ruling religious authorities hated him for it. It was one thing for Jesus to say he was the Messiah (indeed, 1st-century Palestine was replete with men claiming the title for themselves) it was another for Jesus to openly suggest who the elect and the reprobate actually were.
   At this point let me clarify that the Jews did believe in a form of Election – one that was wholly conditional nature. Speaking of his former life, the Apostle Paul said:

3  For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4  though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. 7  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Philippians 3: 3-8

What Paul saw as “loss” in v8 (greek skybalon, which can best of translated in English as “S-H-I-T”) many of Jesus’ contemporaries honestly saw as evidence of their own piety. Yet as Jesus makes clear, that is not what will get one into the kingdom.

   The revelation of Unconditional Grace is always bound to clash with those who honestly believe that as a result of their own efforts, they are entitled to the things of God – blessing, favor, inheritance, salvation. Even among professing Christians who would be very quick to proclaim that they are saved by grace apart from works, when you start to point out the Doctrine of Unconditional Election, they’ll go for the cliff.
   Why is this? Often the issue with those who want to cling to a works-based religious system – whether they realize it or not – is not so much legalism as much as it is humanism: overconfidence in human ability and dignity in relation to the divine. Could there then be any greater blow to the ego of a religious zealot than the idea that not only is the offer of salvation not based on your resume’ of personal piety, but that such in of itself could be a warning sign that you may not even be one of the Elect at all?
   According to J.I. Packer, the tendency to reject the idea of sovereign grace for the sake of preserving Human dignity

“…is 'natural' in one sense, in that it represents a characteristic perversion of biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man, who even in salvation cannot bear to renounce the delusion of being master of his fate and captain of his soul.”[x]

[iii] John Calvin. “Called and Chosen”. Sermons on the Beatitudes. Banner of Truth, 2006. Pg 4.

[vi] ml#election

[vii] Mohler, Albert. Pwerline: Serious Bible Studies for Serious Times. “ Romans 9.”

[viii] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Intervarsity Press, 1994.

Spurgeon, Charles. The Soul Winner. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963.


1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. Very long though. I have some formatting issues viewing your blog posts. I'm using firefox browser.