God’s Electing Purposes
Dr. Kevin Shrum
A few weeks ago I began a series on ‘The Doctrine Everyone Must Know: Salvation.’ It was my purpose to remind us that the gospel is God-centered and not man centered. We began with one point that is two-sided – 1) we are helpless, hopeless, hell-bent, hell-bound, deserving-of-God’s-wrath sinners and 2) Jesus is a great Savior. It was humbling to hear the depth of our depravity made explicit in two graphic verses in Ephesians 2:1-2, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in 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.”
Scripture teaches that humans are not free moral agents in the way many people think we are free. In other words, we are not neutral with the freedom to choose either good or bad. Rather, we are enslaved to sin, dead in sin and under the wrath and judgment of God because of our sin. We are free to choose our own poison, like the prisoner is free to walk the prison yard. Is the prisoner free? Yes, he is free within the bondage of his will to choose his sin of choice, but he is not truly free in a neutral kind of way. This is why God saves us!
We Baptists are a ‘whosoever will’ kind of people. We believe that we are to preach the gospel to all people using as many different kinds of methods as possible, so long as they do not compromise the gospel message itself. But we are also a people who strongly believe in the sovereign, electing purposes of God. The very reason we believe in the doctrine of the security of the believer is that we believe that we didn’t save ourselves so we can’t lose what we didn’t have to earn (John 17:6; Jude 24-25). So, we preach the gospel and God saves.
Our history as Southern Baptists is rooted in a belief that God will not be surprised by who is saved because, as Ephesians 1:4 notes, “For He chose us in Him (Jesus Christ) before the creation (foundation) of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Most of our founders, such as Dr. B.H. Carroll, who founded Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX and Dr. E.Y. Mullins, founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. James Pettigrew Boyce, were out of the tradition that placed a heavy emphasis on the sovereign, saving, electing purposes of God. In other words, our heritage as Baptists is rooted in the 'doctrines of grace.' While we call every sinner to repent and believe, Baptists have always affirmed that there is another prior factor involved in the mystery of the gospel – God is purposing, planning and willing, as well.
One of the oldest segments of the ‘Baptist Faith and Message’ concerns the mystery and power of the gospel. Entitled ‘God’s Purpose of Grace,’ the BF&M states:
[“Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-8; 1 Samuel 8:4-7,19-22; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31ff.; Matthew 16:18-19; 21:28-45; 24:22,31; 25:34; Luke 1:68-79; 2:29-32; 19:41-44; 24:44-48; John 1:12-14; 3:16; 5:24; 6:44-45,65; 10:27-29; 15:16; 17:6,12,17-18; Acts 20:32; Romans 5:9-10; 8:28-39; 10:12-15; 11:5-7,26-36; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:4-23; 2:1-10; 3:1-11; Colossians 1:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:10,19; Hebrews 11:39–12:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:2-5,13; 2:4-10; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:19; 3:2..]
God Saves a People for Himself
What all of this means is that while we are preaching the gospel to all people, we can do so with confidence, knowing that God will save many because He has chosen for Himself a people to save out of the masses of sinful humanity. Remember, Scripture teaches that we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13) and cannot save ourselves. He has to save us because we cannot save ourselves. He saves a people for Himself not based upon our choosing of Him, but His choosing of sinners to be saved. In John 15:16 Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” Another example of God’s electing purposes was His choosing of Israel. Why did God choose Israel?
Why did God choose Israel? He chose them because He wanted to. He chose them out of all the nations. He did not choose all nations to serve Him. Deuteronomy 7:6-9 states, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”
How and why does God elect a people for Himself?
· When the disciples acted surprised that Jesus had washed their feet, He reminded them that He knew exactly what He was doing and He also knew those who were His and those who were not His: John 13:18 states that Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “I know those I have chosen.”
· In Matthew 24:22 Jesus stated that the days of persecution surrounding the end of time would be cut short “for the sake of the elect.”
· In Luke 18:7 Jesus reminded His disciples of God’s purpose in election: “And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night?"
· Jesus said in John 6:44 and 6:65 that we do not come to God on our own whim, we can only come as the Father draws the sinner – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
· In John 10:24-27 Jesus talked about the gift of a people God the Father gave to Him, “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, 'I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” Notice that the text says that they did not believe because they were not His sheep; it does not say they were not His sheep because they did not believe.
· Romans 8:28-33 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”
· Titus 1:1-3 – “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness 2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior…”
· 1 Peter 1:1-2 – “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance..”
Question: If we preach a ‘whosever will’ gospel to all, why do some will to come and others not will to come? Answer: because they do not believe. Question: But why do some believe and others not believe? Answer: Some do not will to come because of their unbelief because there is another factor involved – God’s eternal purposes. Example – Acts 13:44-48:
“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
Notice very closely verse 48, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Shouldn’t it read, “…and all who believed were appointed for eternal life?” In other words, according to our senses we think it should say that God appoints us based upon our belief in Him; instead, it states that we believe because God has appointed us to believe! It reads that 1) all who were appointed for eternal life heard the gospel and 2) believed. The appointment preceded the belief. Amazing! God was at work.
Then what must we do in response to God’s eternal, electing purposes?
· Humility! We should first and foremost be humbled in knowing that God’s electing purposes will be served according to the counsel of His own will in ways that bring Him glory! Too often we look at salvation in a whimsical fashion. It should humble us that God is in charge!
· Evangelism/Missions! We are to preach the gospel to every creature, in every tongue, to every tribe so that the elect can hear the gospel, be awakened from the deadness of their sin and believe. God’s electing purposes does not obliterate evangelism and missions; instead, it fuels missions and evangelism because God has not only chosen a people for Himself, but He has ordained the means, the methods by which sinners are saved. Therefore, we must preach, pray, teach, witness, share, care, etc. (Mt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:7-8) In fact, most of the great missionary movements in the history of the church were started by men with a supreme confidence in God’s sovereign work in salvation and who affirmed the doctrines of grace.
· Repent/Believe! If we hear the gospel and God moves in our hearts, then we must respond to the gospel and not harden our hearts. Hebrews 3:7-11 urges us that if we hear the gospel and do not respond we will not be saved, “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared an oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
· Evaluation! We must also evaluate ourselves in making our calling and election, as 2 Peter 2:3-11 notes. We cannot presume upon the grace of God, but must respond to His call.
· Submission! Finally, we are to humble ourselves before the mystery of God’s purposes. There is no place for pride or arrogance when it comes to salvation. Romans 9:1ff. is one of the most heart-wrenching passages in all of the Bible. It speaks of God’s freedom to choose a people for Himself. And yet Paul says in Romans 9:3-4, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Yet, not all will be saved. Nevertheless, Paul begins Romans 10:1 by saying, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” So, Paul preached and we preach so that God can save those chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.
· And how does this work? Acts 16:11-15 describes the salvation of a woman named Lydia of Philippi, “One of those listening (to Paul preach the gospel) was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul preached, the Lord opened Lydia's heart and as a result Lydia was enabled to believe the gospel!
· We preach the gospel to all people and God does the convicting, the drawing, the saving, and the redeeming of sinners to the praise of His glory! When all is said and done Revelation 13:8 will be true, “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from (or before) the creation of the world.” God will not be disappointed, surprised or depressed by who is in heaven. We are great sinners and He is a great Savior! [see John 6:35-40; John 17:1-6, 9, 12]