Monday, September 20, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Electing Love

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Electing Love”
First Published: July 26, 2005

The past few Sundays we have had the opportunity to ponder, albeit briefly, the glorious truth of God’s electing and predestining love. Very often predestination is a matter of debate rather than a matter of praise, so this week and next (and longer if we need to) in this column, I’d like to offer to very basic explanation in relation to this oft-disputed but truly comforting biblical truth.

By predestination, we mean, in general, God’s eternal and sovereign plan or purpose of salvation. The Greek word that we render in English as “predestine” or “predestinate” is found in several times in the New Testament (for instance, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, 11) and in all of them it has the same meaning. Each of these passages teach that God’s eternal, sovereign, unchangeable, unconditional decree, or his predetermined purpose, governs all events.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way – “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” Naturally, this raises all sorts of questions in people’s minds. Does this make us puppets? How is this different from determinism? What about free will? Is this fair? What about evil, did God ordain that too? If so, how could he? But before we go down that track, let’s just go to the Bible, and agree that we will believe whatever it teaches, whether it is hard to understand or not.

* First, notice how Acts 2:22-24 clearly teaches that God’s predetermined plan was for Jesus to be betrayed by wicked men.
22 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know– 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

* Second, just a couple of chapters later, we find in Acts 4:27-28 the early Christians openly acknowledging in prayer that God predestined/predetermined/preplanned for Jesus’ enemies to oppose him.
27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

* Third, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:29-30 that God predestined everything in life (even trials) to work for our sanctification.
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

* Fourth, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-10 Paul again tells us that God predetermined to reveal his wisdom to believers in Christ, but not to the worldly wise.
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

* Fifth, as we are currently noting in our study of Ephesians, Paul’s great prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14 (see especially Ephesians 1:5, 11) joyfully acknowledges and praises God that he has predestined us, not simply to salvation, but also to adoption as sons and inheritance in Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

It is clear enough from these passages that predestination is an indisputably biblical teaching. But even if the very thought of the subject stretches and boggles your mind, it is important to recognize the practicality and comfort of this glorious truth. Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian (who taught the first pastor of this church theology over 170 years ago) has truly said that: “rightly understood, this doctrine (1) exalts the majesty and absolute sovereignty of God, while it illustrates the riches of his free grace and his just displeasure with sin. (2) It enforces upon us the essential truth that salvation is entirely of grace. That no one can either complain if passed over, or boast himself if saved. (3) It brings the inquirer to absolute self-despair and the cordial embrace of the free offer of Christ. (4) In the case of the believer who has the witness in himself, this doctrine at once deepens his humility and elevates his confidence to the full assurance of hope.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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