Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Grace Is Best Understood

Okay, so I made it through the entire New Testament and looked (and noted) each verse or passage that talked about, or referred to, either directly or indirectly, the topic of predestination and the doctrine of election. It’s been a great lesson. Aside from the specific things that I learned, it just helps to have something specific to be studying because I end up looking forward to when I can sit down again and study the Bible. We all want to say that, right? We all want to be able to want to study, but we tend to have a hard time making the time. Don’t worry, I get there, too, from time to time, which is exactly why I continue giving myself something to specifically study.

Since I had a hard time consistently staying in the Word, I would come up with something that I really didn’t know much about (which is a lot, we will come to find out) and dedicate myself to just flip through the Bible looking for answers. Man, I can’t tell you enough how this is such a great way to study. You really get to know your Bible. I share this as an encouragement to anyone trying to find a way to get in and get deep.

Now, the topic at hand is one that will give us plenty to look at. We’ll take each book as it was chronologically written and go from there. To start this wonderful topic I’m going to give an overall look at how much the New Testament is saturated with God’s willful choice in our salvation. For a look at how we can reconcile human responsibility and God’s calling and electing, take a look at a post I posted earlier this year, titled “Free Will & The Attributes of God”. I covered some work from Calvin who really does a fantastic job of illustrating how all of these things can work together. We are responsible for our rejecting God, yet we rely solely on Him for wanting Him as well.

For the time being, we can take a look at how clearly the NT works together to make God’s choosing known, in many aspects. When I went through the NT I looked for specific words like: calling, elect, predestination, chosen, appointed, etc. I also kept track of how many times each book had references to God’s plan in election. Additionally, I noted where God’s clear and purposed sovereignty was at play in other issues besides salvation because it further validates that God is in fact in control of all things.

By my count, there are approximately 157 references to this doctrine. The word called is used about 44 times; chosen is used about 14 times; elect about 12 times; predestine, 8 times; appoint, about 5 times. The word called is clearly the favorite and it always refers to God’s effectual calling, meaning that when he calls, we will respond. It is not a hopeful and wishful calling, it is a meaningful and authoritative calling that will lead to someone’s salvation. Calvin refers to this as Irresistible Grace.

Here’s some other interesting stats on which books had the most to say about election:

Not surprisingly, Romans came in with the most references, numbering at 24. John and Acts both had 16; Luke had 15; 1st Corinthians had 14; Matthew had 13; and almost every other book had anywhere from 3 to 8 references. The only books that really didn’t speak about, or reference this topic, was 2nd Corinthians, Hebrews, Philemon, and 1st and 3rd John. Basically, about 80% of the books in the NT speak of God’s effectual calling and predestination. Wow. Being that these are various authors at various times in history is remarkable.

Aside from all of that, we haven’t even touched the OT, either, and there is plenty there as well. This doctrine is difficult to grasp and it makes many people angry, but the more you study it and realize what it really means to believe it or not, then you develop an understanding of the paradox and a faith that God is in control and not everything can be broken down to a science. However, there is plenty in the Bible to show us how it works and what it means.

The best thing we could probably take away from this doctrine is that God has chosen His elect, but we do not know who the elect are. Therefore, we preach that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. We are called to preach the Gospel to all nations and to make sure we are making the Gospel clear and correctly handling the word of truth as indicated in 2 Timothy 2:15.

God is in charge of who comes to Him, ultimately. This reduces our need to be creative in filling churches and getting people to conform to outward acts of piety. This allows us to focus on nothing more than getting the message of the Gospel right: we are a depraved and sinful people headed for Hell, in need of a Lord and Savior to rescue us from our sins and for us to be obedient to Him. Without Christ we are nothing. With him we live and move and have our being and it is His grace working in us that allows us to will and act for His good pleasure (Acts 17:28 & Phil. 2:13).

The sovereignty of God in salvation is so remarkable and unfathomably gracious, that it is in fact the only way that grace can be rightly understood. I hope you’ll find some encouragement to dig deep yourself and find the richness of this doctrine of election that is at work behind the scenes of what we, as the Church, do.

The first book I'll be looking at is James and we'll see what he had to say about God's calling us to Him. Stay tuned!


  1. Great post, and great doctrine. Looking forward to the next one!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Adam! I'll look forward to seeing you around. Great material ahead!