James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken
The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Essentials of Evangelicalism
So many people think that election is useless and perhaps even pernicious. It is nothing of the sort. It is part of the Bible’s inspired teaching and is therefore “useful,” as Paul insisted all Scripture is (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Here’s a look at ways election impacts things like evangelism and worship:
1. Election is humbling. Those who do not understand election often suppose the opposite, and it is true that those who believe in election sometimes appear prideful or smug. But this is an aberration. God tells us that he has chosen some by grace entirely apart from merit or even an ability to receive grace, precisely so that pride will be eliminated: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
2. Election encourages our love for God. If we have a part in salvation, however small, then our love for God is diminished by just that amount. If it is all of God, then our love for him must be boundless. Sadly, today’s church frequently takes the love of God for granted. “Of course, God loves me,” we say. “I love myself; why shouldn’t God love me too?” Consider the little girl who loved the Barney theme song from television (“I love you, you love me; we’re a happy family”). But she sang it this way: “I love me, you love me; we’re a happy family.” That is how we tend to think of God’s love. We think we deserve it. Understanding that we are elected by grace alone undermines our self-centered, self-satisfied way of thinking.
3. Election will enrich our worship. Who can admire a God who is frustrated by the rebellious will of human beings? Martin Luther wrote, “It is not irreligious, idle, or superfluous, but in the highest degree wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know whether or not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation…. For if I am ignorant of the nature, extent and limits of what I can and must do with reference to God, I shall be equally ignorant and uncertain of the nature, extent and limits of what God can and will do in me–though God, in fact, works all in all. Now, if I am ignorant of God’s works and power, I am ignorant of God himself; and if I do not know God, I cannot worship, praise, give thanks, or serve Him, for I do not know how much I should attribute to myself and how much to Him. We need, therefore, to have in mind a clear-cut distinction between God’s power and ours, and God’s work and ours, if we would live a godly life.”
4. Election encourages us in our evangelism. People suppose that if God is going to save certain individuals, then he will save them, and there is no point in our having anything to do with it. But it does not work that way. Election does not exclude the use of the means by which God works, and the proclamation of the gospel is one of those means (1 Cor. 1:21).
Moreover, it is only the truth of election that gives us any hope of success as we proclaim the gospel to unsaved men and women. If the heart of a sinner is as opposed to God as the Bible declares it to be, and if God does not elect people to salvation, then what hope of success could we possibly have in witnessing? If God does not call sinners to Christ effectively, it is certain that we cannot do so either. Even more, if the effective agent in salvation is not God’s choice and call–if the choice is up to the individual or to us, because of our powers to persuade others to accept Christ–how could we even dare to witness? For what if we make a mistake? What if we give a wrong answer? What if we are insensitive to the person’s real questions? In that case, people will fail to believe. They may eventually go to hell, and their eternal destiny will be partly our fault, and how could any thinking, feeling Christian live with that?
But on the other hand, if God has elected some to salvation and if he is calling those elected individuals to Christ, then we can go forth boldly, knowing that our witness does not have to be perfect, that God uses even weak and stuttering testimonies to his grace and, best of all, that all whom God has chosen for salvation will be saved. We can be fearless, knowing that all who are called by God will come to him.
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