Catchy title, I know. Probably on the verge of being annoyingly easy to remember. I seem to keep coming back to this topic because the more I study the Bible on any given topic, or the more I just read through Paul’s letters to the various churches and church leaders, I can’t help but realize just how foundational this whole issue of election, or God’s sovereign plan in salvation, works. I mean, when you want to get brutally honest with yourself and allow yourself to be changed by the Holy Spirit, then you have to be ready to face up to the fact that accepting what the Bible says about salvation affects your view on almost everything else.
Recently, we dissected Matthew 7:6 and how we shouldn’t cast our pearls to pigs. We found out that evangelizing does have its limits and that we are not always supposed to pursue someone who rejects the truth of God’s word. That particular passage only makes sense when considered in the light of God’s electing purpose in salvation. When God is in control of who accepts or rejects his message, then it completely removes the necessity of all human effort of convincing stubborn people. This doesn’t mean we don’t put forth any effort, which should be obvious as we should be willing to do the work of an evangelist as Paul instructed Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5), but we do need to realize that it isn’t us that does the real convicting and persuading.
You see, our understanding of this issue will completely change our approach to evangelism and our level of effort involved in making the Gospel something that people can accept. There is a very strange, twisted concept that seems to prevail in evangelical Christian thinking in that we want to “do the right thing” by sharing Jesus with people and in so doing, find a way (any way!) to “reach through to people” who normally wouldn’t ever have anything to do with God. Bear with me and think through this for a second… We can tend to get so excited about the possibility of the end (seeing someone place their faith in Christ, if even that), that we completely disregard the means of salvation altogether (how they get to a genuine, saving faith).
It’s like there exists this subtle philosophy that the average Christian mind has bought into, that the Gospel needs our help in order to make itself something that unregenerate people will warm up to and get excited about. It’s almost like all we do is trick people into “accepting” Christianity as viable. We have to find a way to make people want it, right? Again, we get this silly notion that all along, people of every other century has gotten it wrong and that Christianity really is pretty hip and cool and we refuse to draw lines in the sand that define what a Christian really is. We’re supposed to engage our culture, right?
After all, what could be better than seeing someone who has always rejected the Church and the Gospel, actually show up to church and sing our songs and play in our worship band? What could be better than seeing people who felt like outcasts and sinners because of their loose lifestyles, become embraced and finally welcomed and worthy enough to join the church as they are? What could be better than the church seeing growth and the Gospel finding new ways to be presented to people who hate it? What could be better than selfish people suddenly wanting to change the world and eradicate world hunger and reduce the local homeless population?
Let me ask you this: What could be worse than a false conversion? The answer? Nothing.
The truth is this: Only God can effectually bring someone to the point of articulating their desire to place their faith in Christ and submit themselves to being obedient to Him. This is called regeneration. If we write books, run programs and give lectures and seminars on how to evangelize without acknowledging God’s exclusive role in actually making it entirely possible to draw someone in the first place (John 6:65), then we are guilty of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture and in danger of (if not already guilty of) pushing a shallow, or entirely false, gospel.
However long it takes, I’m going to look at each book in the New Testament, starting with Paul’s letters, and see if they mention anything about God’s sovereignty in salvation. This would include anything about election, predestination, calling the elect, etc. By the way, this is what the real definition of grace is. Grace is only completely and best understood when you come to grips with election. A lot of people throw grace around like a “get out of jail for free” card, or use the terms mercy and grace interchangeably, but it’s more than that. Grace is not just forgiveness of sins. That is primarily God’s mercy. God’s grace is only defined in his initiating act of drawing his elect to Him when they had no chance or hope of doing it on their own.
For a thorough look at how to reconcile human responsibility and God’s acting in election, see “Free Will and the Attributes of God” which I wrote earlier this year. I, in no way, want to give the impression that people are not responsible for their rejecting the Gospel just because they aren’t elected. We do have our own decisions to make and we are responsible for them, but we are never outside of God’s control at the same time.
I hope you’ll come back to see just how much the apostle Paul spoke about this topic of unmerited grace and what it means for us. Please feel free to post questions and arguments if you feel I have not grasped Scripture entirely in an area regarding this. As always, use tact and try to take the personal stings out of this sensitive topic. As my favorite verse says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
See you soon!