Monday, December 26, 2016

Jesus, Free Will, and Predestination

Almost two decades ago, the Southern Baptist Convention updated their confession of faith known as the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.  That document summarizes Southern Baptists’ understanding of God’s Word.  Article V begins as follows:

"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."

Now Christians have disagreed over the exact meaning of the opening word of this article.  Some believers refuse to use it.  Others will close their ears any time this word is used.  And I know there are some who feel the hair on the back of their neck raising whenever this word is used.  The problem, however, is that this word, and related words, are used in the Scripture.  You can’t ignore or disregard it.  The Bible speaks on the matter and so must the Christian, especially the preacher!

Our statement of faith says that election is:

(1)  First, “the gracious purpose of God”.  Election owes its very existence to the grace of Almighty God.  Apart from God’s grace, there would be no election.  Instead of deriding election, let us praise God for His grace which forms the basis of this doctrine.

(2)  Second, it is God’s purpose.  Election is not a “whim” of the Almighty.  Rather it is a doctrine based on His will, His purpose for the creation.  To despise the doctrine of election is to despise God’s very plan.

(3)  Third, election is the basis of all salvation.  As our statement reads, it is very election that God “regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.”  Salvation is clearly the work of God alone and not man and election certainly testifies to this truth.

(4)  Fourth, election and “the free agency of man” are consistent.  Note well the choice of words:  “free agency” and not “free will”.  Man is a free moral agent.  Each man makes his own moral choices.  Election is consistent with these free choices.  To our puny minds that does not make sense.  How can God elect (or choose) yet man still have free agency?  We may not be able to explain this paradox but we accept, by faith, its validity.  Election and free agency are consistent.

(5)  Fifth, election “comprehends all the means in connection with the end.”  In other words, God does elect sinners to salvation.  However, he also elects the means to accomplish that end.  He has chosen prayer, preaching, teaching, and witnessing as means to accomplish His elective purpose.  To believe in election does not mean one does not believe in the means to salvation.  In other words, a man who believes the Bible teaches God elects sinners to salvation does NOT sin around and wait for God to accomplish that salvation.  Rather, he preaches and teaches and testifies to those who are lost and calls them to salvation.

(6)  Election  "is the glorious display of God's SOVEREIGN goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and UNCHANGEABLE."  In other words,  election is God’s choice, not ours, and that choice is final and irrevocable.  In other words, salvation for certain individuals (those elected) is "predestined".

Those opposed to election (and predestination) usually rise up at this point of the argument yelling “free will, free will”.  How can God elect or choose those who will be saved and then predestine them to that salvation and man have a free will.  Such an election and/or predestination is contrary to the free will of man.

Theologically, the doctrine of election is one aspect of the doctrine of predestination.  Predestination teaches that God has planned all that will occur.  That plan will unfold as He has planned it and nothing can or will change His plan.  Election teaches that part of predestination has to do with the salvation of sinners, namely, that God has chosen certain men from all mankind to be recipients of His saving grace.  This election predestines their eternal salvation.

Without repeating all the arguments supporting election (and predestination), I wish to simply examine what the Bible says concerning Christ and these doctrines.

Would anyone deny that, of all men who have ever lived, Jesus Christ was the most free?  Only he and the first Adam ever possessed a will which was untainted by sin.  Adam lost his untainted will when he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But our Lord Jesus never had his will corrupted by sin.  Scripture is clear that He never sinned.  Can any Christian deny that Jesus Christ possessed true free will and was the most free man who ever lived?  Any decision He made while walking this earth was truly a choice that was made by a will completely and totally free from any sin.  In Jesus we find TRUE FREE WILL. 

Yet what does Scripture say about this man? 

"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus:  for he SHALL save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)  Even before His birth Jesus' "destiny" was determined.  He WOULD save his people and, to accomplish this salvation, He must die a voluntary, substitutional, sacrificial death.  In other words, His death was "predestined" before his birth.  The most free human ever was predestined to die!  Now if predestination is true for the most free person who ever lived, how can predestination be objected to by any believer of Scripture?

"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the LAMB SLAIN FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD." (Revelation 13:8)  Not only was the death of the most free man predetermined, it was predestined as far back as the creation!  This man with a perfectly free will was predestined to die on the cross. 

We must be honest with the Scripture.  Jesus was the only human who lived his entire life with a will perfectly free of the effects of sin and yet His death was predestined from eternity.  And, in fact, so was his birth!  Did not the prophet foretell He would be born of a virgin?  Did not Micah foretell He would be born in Bethlehem?  Even his birth, its nature and location, was predestined by God.  Furthermore, we can point out several Old Testament Scriptures which prophesies about our Lord's life here on earth:  His birth, His ministry, His death, His resurrection.  All of these prophecies were possible and correct because HIS ENTIRE LIFE WAS PREDESTINED.

Again, how can we believe the life of one so free such as Jesus is predestined and yet deny God's predestination in our own lives.  Jesus was chosen by God to be the Savior and predestined to that end yet some of us wish to deny predestination exists.  Again, consider just one Scripture:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:  according as HE HATH CHOSEN ("elected" in the original) US in him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  HAVING PREDESTINATED US unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, ACCORDING TO THE GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL, to the praise of the glory of his grace". (Ephesians 1:4-6)

Here we have election (hath chosen) and predestination (having predestinated) clearly taught by the Scripture concerning US, not the Lord.  Certain sinners (“us”) have been chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy.  Certain sinners have been predestined to be adopted by Jesus as children.  And this election and predestination is according to God’s good will.  It is His choice.

Praise, indeed, to His glorious grace!

So, may no believer fear the doctrines of predestination and election!  Rather, give God the glory for His salvation.