I pastor a Reformed Baptist church in Belton, Texas. If you are not certain what a Reformed Baptist church is, a simple explanation would be to say that by “Baptist,” we mean we hold to and practice credobaptism (believers’ baptism) as the only biblical form of baptism. That is, we believe that a person should be baptized based on one’s confession of faith. By “Reformed” we mean that we stand in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, a movement which can be summarized by the five solis which came out of that movement--sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola scriptura (scripture alone), and soli Deo gloria (to God be the glory alone). In other words, we believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the Scriptures alone and to God be the glory alone. That last soli is the linchpin. We believe that salvation is a sovereign, monergistic, unilateral work of God. We believe that salvation is 100% God’s work, and 0% man’s contribution. By sovereign, we mean that God chooses whom he will save and when he will save them and answers to no one. By monergistic, we mean that salvation is a work of God alone (monō = one or only + gineō = work). And by unilateral, we meant that salvation is one-sided. As Martin Luther once famously said, “Man does contribute to his salvation. Man contributes sin and resistance.”
In short, what we are talking about is the biblical teaching regarding the doctrine of election. There are many who disagree with this teaching, but even among those who embrace the doctrine of election, there are many who believe it need not be at the forefront of preaching and teaching. It need not be highlighted in the Sunday school classes or espoused at mid-week Bible studies. I believe they are mistaken. But first of all, what is the doctrine of election and where does it come from. Without going into too much detail (as that is not the point of this article), here are some scripture references to consider.
In Ephesians 1:3-4 we are told that for those who are saved, God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (emphasis mine). Before Genesis 1:1, God had already chosen those whom he would save. Some argue that this choice was based on God’s foreknowledge of those who would choose him. Yet in Romans 9, when Paul is using the example of Jacob and Esau to explain God’s sovereign choice in election, he says, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’” (vv.11-12, emphasis mine). God chose Jacob, not because of anything he saw in Jacob or because of anything Jacob would do, but simply because God chose to do so. A few verses later Paul will write, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (v.16). God saves sinners not because we deserve it or have earned it or because we were smarter than those who reject the gospel or because we were humbler than those who reject the gospel, but simply because God is rich in mercy and grace and chooses to save some, while allowing the rest to live in their sins.
But why does this matter? Why does it matter that we believe this and teach this and embrace this? Should we not simply be focused on getting the gospel out there and then discipling and ministering to those who embrace the gospel? Does it really matter how they come to a saving knowledge of Christ? There are many Reformed ministers who believe it does not matter. Thus, while they themselves are Reformed, they shy away from it in teaching and preaching. Their Sunday school teachers do not teach it to their children, believing this is too lofty a topic for them to understand or to even benefit from. The result is a theologically shallow and spiritually emaciated church. Rather, the doctrine of election is vital to a healthy, vibrant, unified, and harmonious church, and should be clearly taught on all levels of the church and clearly articulated to our people. Here are ten reasons why.
It Glorifies God to the Fullest
The first question to the Westminster catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That is absolutely correct. Humans exist, in fact, all of creation exist to glorify God (Is 43:7; Rom 11:36; Rev 4:11). That is, to exalt the magnificence and mercy and holiness of God. When we say that salvation is 99.99% God and .01% our effort in that we were the ones who of our own free-will heard and embraced the gospel, we rob God of his due glory. If salvation is even just .01% our contribution, then when we enter heaven, we have reason to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘I am here because of something I did. God may have done most of the work, but I did something to earn eternal life.’ Yet Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” If salvation is .01% our effort, or even just .000001% our effort, we have something to boast in. Rather, the scriptures tell us that “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11, emphasis mine). Understanding, believing, and teaching the doctrine of election gives God the maximum amount of glory. It gives God all the glory, and we get none.
It Humbles Us
Humility is a Christian character trait that God highly prizes. “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). And Peter commands all Christians to “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Pet. 5:5). Humility is the proper perspective of ourselves in relation to God and others. The humble person recognizes they have been placed on this earth to be a servant to God and to be a servant to others—to love and serve God with all their heart, mind, and soul, and to love others as themselves. Understanding and embracing the doctrine of election is humbling because it crushes our pride and causes us to realize that God did not save us because we were better than others or smarter than others or just a little less prideful than others or because we deserved it or earned it or because God saw something good in us. When God looks at the unbelieving heart he sees one thing--sin in all its horribleness and wickedness. The doctrine of election teaches us that God did not save us because he needed us or because he was lonely and needed someone to love him. The apostle Paul is quite clear when he states at the Areopagus that God does not need anything from us (Acts 17:25). Throughout all eternity, before God created anything, he was perfectly happy and content within the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is the self-sustaining and self-existent One who needs nothing outside of himself. He certainly does not need us or our affections. Thus, God chooses to save some simply because he wants to.
It Strengthens Our Prayer Life for the Unsaved
Once we recognize that salvation is all of God and none of us, we realize that no one is beyond the saving power of God. No one is ever too far gone or not intelligent enough or not humble enough or too old or too young. When we make salvation dependent on someone’s ability to comprehend and embrace the gospel, then we make salvation dependent on their level of intelligence or humility or worthiness. As the parent of a mentally disabled fourteen-year-old daughter, I take great comfort in knowing that she is not beyond God’s saving grace. I don’t know how much she understands or what she can comprehend of biblical truth, but it doesn’t matter. I know that God is able to cause her to understand, to open her eyes to the gospel and to the glory of Christ. Thus, like the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), I keep knocking on God’s door, begging and pleading with Him to open her eyes, to cause her to understand and to believe. I know that if it is left up to her mental ability to understand, her chances are small. But I know that it’s not up to her; it’s up to God. And so I take my petitions to the one person I know can do something about her salvation. And I plead my case, not based on her worthiness or deservedness to be saved but based upon the mercy and grace of God. In the end, because I know that salvation is a sovereign and monergistic work of God, I have hope. And that hope keeps me praying everyday for family and friends who need Christ.
It Gives Us Boldness in Evangelism
When we understand that salvation is dependent on God and on God alone, then it takes the pressure off us to convince people of their need for a Savior. So often when it comes to Christians sharing the gospel with the unbelieving world, we can become paralyzed wondering if we know enough. Will we say the wrong thing? Will we be able to answers difficult questions they throw at us? And then if we do get around to sharing the gospel with those willing to listen, if they reject the gospel, if we are not able to persuade them to place their faith in Christ, and if we don’t believe God is completely sovereign in salvation, we can walk away from the conversation kicking ourselves, believing that if we had just had a little more Bible knowledge, if we were just a little better and presenting apologetical arguments, then maybe they would have gotten saved. But when we understand and believe the doctrine of election, then we sleep well at night, knowing that we were obedient to do what God has called us to do. We have proclaimed the gospel to the world. It is not our job to convince them of the truth of the gospel, but simply to present it and then let the Holy Spirit to the rest. As Paul said regarding the church in Corinth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Our job is simply to scatter seed. God will do the rest.
It Comforts Us in Our Weakness
Living life in a fallen world is extremely difficult. The Christian life is often characterized by one step forward and two steps back. The old man dies hard. So often we resonate with Paul’s description in Romans 7 more than we would like. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (v.15). We want to live lives of holiness. We want to live in a manner that pleases and glorifies God, but the very things we want to stop doing are the very things we keep doing, and then we find ourselves asking forgiveness for the very same sins over and over again. We become discouraged and distraught and begin to wonder, ‘Why bother trying?’ The devil can begin whispering in our ear, ‘And you call yourself a Christian! How can you call yourself a Christian and continue to commit the kind of sin you keep doing?’ These are the moments the doctrine of election can be a great source of comfort.
Paul is asking a series of rhetorical questions encircled around the doctrine of election. Since God has gone through so much trouble to choose certain ones unto eternal life and Christ has gone through so much trouble to shed his blood for those elect and the Holy Spirit has gone through so much trouble to regenerate and sacrifice them, then would God ever withhold forgiveness from us or abandon us? Because those who have placed faith in Christ are God’s elect, chosen from before the foundation of the world, God ever stands ready to forgive.
It Gives Us the Assurance of Our Salvation
Years ago, I remember sharing the gospel with a co-worker who had grown up in the church. During the course of the conversation, she shared with me that she had been saved several times and had been baptized each time. I made an attempt to assure her from scripture that we cannot lose our salvation, that once saved always saved, if truly saved, that salvation is not a matter of works and labor, but of faith in Christ. I don’t think she really understood what I was saying because I led her in a prayer of confession and repentance and when we were done she said, “I hope it worked this time.” What a sad way to live. To go through life wondering if you’re saved today or if you’ve lost your salvation must be incredibly discouraging. But when we understand and embrace the biblical doctrine of election, when we understand that getting saved in the first place was entirely the work of God, then we come to understand that staying saved is also entirely the work of God. This is why Paul says to the church in Philippi, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Since God chose believers from before the foundation of the world and Christ was willing to purchase the church with his own blood, then surely he will not fail to bring all the elect into glory. Our eternal destiny is not dependent on what we do or don’t do, but on the sustaining and sovereign power of God.
It Improves Our Marriage
Despite the fact that we sin against God daily, he is ever patient, ever kind, and ever forgiving. This is because since God’s choice of those whom he saves is unconditional, meaning his sovereign choice was not based on anything in us or anything we do, then his continual love and commitment to us is also unconditional. We do not earn God’s love and commitment. God is always loving and forgiving toward us and is unconditionally committed to believers because he chooses to do so. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:10-11). If God is willing to unconditionally love us and be unconditionally committed to us, despite our constant sin and failures, should we not then be willing to turn and love our spouse in the same way. How dare we demand our spouse live up to expectations that we cannot even live up to when it comes to God. Charles Spurgeon once famously asked, “Why do you become upset when others are not as you wish them to be when you yourself are not as you wish to be?”
It Makes Us Better Parents
We have four young children (ages 5-14), and there have been many times when our children were particularly in rare form and my wife and I have turned to each other and reminded one another: We prayed for this. I have come to realize that God gives us children in order to give us just a little insight into what it is like to be him. We can sometimes struggle with children who are downright defiant, disobedient, and rebellious. We wonder how much grace should we extend? Don’t misunderstand. We have great kids. But like all children there are times when they can try my patience, especially when they keep repeating the same bad behavior over and over again. But that’s when I must pause and remind myself of how often I commit the same sin against God over and over again. I must remind myself that even though I have been walking with the Lord for over thirty years, there are still some besetting sins I just can’t seem to gain control over. And yet, God never says to me, “I’m done with you. I’ve extended enough grace. No more second chances.” Instead, we read that as a “father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13-14). God knows we are weak and feeble creatures, and because we are his elect, those who have faith in Christ, he will ever extend grace and mercy. Should we not be willing to do the same for our children?
It Makes Us Better Christians
When we understand and embrace the doctrine of election it floods our heart with love for God and gratitude for all he has done for us. It was this understanding that drove Paul to be the radical Jesus freak he was. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, he writes: “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us,…” (5:13-14). In other words, if the Corinthian believers thought Paul was out of his mind by his behavior, he says it is for their sake. It is for their benefit that he tries so hard to do all that he does for them. But if he is in his right state of mind, it is for God’s sake. But either way, “the love of Christ” controls him; the love of Christ compels him. Paul was so overwhelmed by what Christ did for him, he was so overwhelmed by the fact that God was willing to choose him as his own and Christ was willing to die for him, despite the fact that he had been a persecutor of the church, he was driven to do all he could for the glory of God and to reach the lost with the gospel of Christ. An understanding of the biblical doctrine of election will compel us to do all we can for God’s glory and to reach the lost with the gospel.
It Deepens Our Worship of God
As Paul concludes a detailed explanation of the sovereignty of God in salvation and how it is that God is sovereignly creating one people out of both Jews and Gentiles in Christ, he breaks out in worship and praise saying,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever.
When we come to understand that we who have faith in Christ are saved not because we earned it or deserved it or because we were smarter or humbler than the next person, but simply because God chose to save us, when we come to realize that just as easily as God chose to save us, he could have chosen not to save us, when we come to realize that our salvation is a sovereign work of God alone and that we contributed nothing to our salvation, it takes our worship of God to a whole new level. We suddenly find ourselves raising our arms or flat on our faces worshipping, thanking, and praising God for his amazing grace and mercy which we are so wholly underserving of.
Christians need the doctrine of election not just for the sake of information, but for our sanctification.
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