Can election and free will be simple truth?
Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Salvation is a train that runs on the old-fashioned railroad having two rails. One rail is election and the other parallel rail is free will, and the two never intersect. Again, election and free will can be described as a door. Above the door is written “The Kingdom of God/The Family of God.” One the outside of the door is written, “Repent and believe; whosoever will may come.” A person turns in his sins and from his sins to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and enters the door into the family of God. Then he looks back at the inside of the door, and over the door he sees written “elected and chosen.”
There is a doctrine that runs throughout the Bible and is especially clear in the New Testament that I call the “doctrine of balance.” This is seen over and over, but a few examples include: a balance of faith and works, a balance of justification and sanctification, a balance of law and grace, a balance between being saved from this present evil world and being saved from the wrath to come, a balance of evangelism and discipleship, and a balance of home missions and foreign missions. My point is that it is unbiblical and maybe bordering on heresy to “go to seed” or “go overboard” on one part of the whole, rejecting balance.
Likewise, this is true concerning salvation, relating to election and free will. Let me review a few simple Bible facts, concerning which you probably are well aware. A simple, great and central Bible truth relates to the initiative of God. God took the initiative in creation of matter and life, the creation of man, the new beginning with Noah, the call to Abraham and the building of a chosen nation for a chosen purpose and a chosen land, the call of Moses, the giving of Old Testament prophesies relating to the Messiah, the sending of Jesus Christ/Emmanuel for the climactic commencement of the Cross, the Resurrection, the Great Commission and the sending of the promised Holy Spirit. We see his initiative in the book of Acts relating to building his early church congregations.
The Apostle Paul referred to election, predestination, etc. more than anyone in the New Testament and yet he was consumed with worldwide evangelism, missions and church building more than any person. To him, the Gospel’s declaration, target group, call and invitation was for “all nations” (Romans 1:5) and for all people (Romans 1:13-17). Maybe the heart of Romans is contained in the “if and whosoever” passage of Romans 10:6-15.
Paul’s method, focus group and goal is pointed out in Acts as he reviews his own actions: “publicly, from house to house, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, whatever the personal cost may be, to finish my calling of testifying the gospel of the grace of God so that I can be pure from the blood of all men” (see Acts 20:18-27 and Ezekiel 3:18-19). In verse 26 Paul was confirming the meaning of the Ezekiel passage to present-day believers “having the blood of unbelievers upon our hands.” Notice the tears of compassion in verse 19.
I will add a few observations from simple Bible truth. Election and predestination are totally in the hands of God. It cannot be understood by man. It is not something that is included in God’s Good News for unbelievers or in the Great Commission for believers. We have no right to ever believe that a person is “not chosen,” if that person is still alive, no matter how often the Gospel has been rejected. Salvation is the work of God, but God does his saving work through obedient believers enabled by the Holy Spirit in giving their testimony and the Gospel to unbelievers. We cannot save the unconverted, but neither has God chosen to save them apart from hearing the Gospel.
Of course, we all remember John 3:16. Add John 2:2, which says, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” In 2 Peter 3:9 the Bible says, “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The last invitation in the Bible sort of sums up the responsibilities of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the individual believer and the unsaved. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘come’; and let him who hears say, ‘come’; and let him that is thirsty come; and whoever is willing let him come and take the water of life free of charge” (Revelation 22:17).
The church I’m acquainted with that has had one of the greatest growth rates, primarily through personal evangelism by its members, is Briarwood Presbyterian in Birmingham. Since about 1960 it has grown from a room in a little shopping center in Cahaba Heights to have a major impact on Birmingham including its own Briarwood Schools and High School. Even though their (only two) pastors and the church have recognized the doctrine of election, the beauty of balance has always been there with personal evangelism and disciple-making having priority.