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Regarding salvation in Christ, Do we choose God? or Does God choose us? Yes.

Let me clarify my purpose in this blogpost. I’m writing this post to help my congregation and readers better understand their salvation in Biblical terms, and to revel in the wonder and glory of a holy God who would willingly send his Son to die in order to save us.

Here’s a key verse in this conversation:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5

Before we write off this verse as specific to Jeremiah, note how Paul describes salvation in rather similar terminology for all of us as followers of Jesus.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30

Several phrases correlate: knew and foreknew, consecrated and predestined/conformed, and appointed/called. The implications are striking.

As a pastor and professor (but mainly as a Christian), it is my duty to be Biblical. God defines the terms and gets to set the parameters for our theology. I recognize there will be theological dissension on some points. But where Scripture is clear, I must be clear. So what do we do with these verses that highlight God’s foreknowledge, election, and predestination related to our salvation? We believe them.

But what about verses that highlight whoever would come to Christ can be saved? (see John 3:16 or Romans 10:13). We believe them as well.

The real question is whether or not these verses and others we could draw from indicate inconsistency in Scripture regarding salvation. In other words, are these passages in tension? Another way of asking the question would be: “How do you reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility?” Charles Spurgeon, 19th century Baptist pastor answered: “You never have to reconcile friends.” The point is that biblically, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are not in tension.

God predestines and elects. If he did not do so, none would be saved. That is clear from Jeremiah 1:5, Romans 8:29-30, and other passages as well. Predestination and election reflect God’s sovereignty. They remind us that God takes the initiative in our salvation. Furthermore, God sent Jesus to die on the cross (his initiative). God sent the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and draw us to himself (his initiative). The Bible declares clearly that our salvation derives first and foremost from God.

God invites and redeems. Salvation is an offer from God to sinners. This offer comes through the Holy Spirit and the communicated gospel.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:13 -15

What is our part in salvation then? Our part in salvation is that we come as as sinners. We bring nothing good that deserves salvation. Rather, we bring ourselves in need of salvation. To receive salvation is to repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10). Salvation then is a gift to be received, not a wage to be earned (Romans 6:23).

These biblical reminders about our salvation encourage several responses from us as believers:

  • We should be grateful that God initiated our salvation. God’s sovereign work in our salvation encourages us to praise and thank him. It leads us to worship.
  • We should be Biblical in our understanding of salvation. Through the centuries, there has been significant tension regarding the order of salvation, divine sovereignty, human responsibility, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Calvinism. This blogpost will not solve those tensions. (We may explore some of those tensions in future posts). However, if we will affirm what the Bible affirms, we will certainly not be found in error regarding our theology of salvation.
  • We should communicate the gospel regularly. The only way someone will receive salvation is to hear and respond to the gospel of Christ. Believer, it is your responsibility and mine to share the good news of salvation regularly.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Last week my family and I were able to get away to the beach for holiday. Early in the week, Hurricane Isaias made landfall just north of where we were staying. Everything was ok where we were staying, though I know other coastal areas experienced quite a bit of damage. Upon returning to our home in Wilkesboro, we experienced an earthquake on Sunday morning. The epicenter of the quake was in Sparta, just a few miles from where we live. And of course 2020 brought us the global pandemic that is Covid-19.

Questions arise: “Are we experiencing the judgment of God? Are we living in the last days? What might take place next? How should we respond?”

Let me offer some answers that I hope are biblical, theological, and practical.

Question: Are we experiencing the judgment of God? Answer: Yes. For millennia God has judged wickedness and depravity through supernatural, natural, and geopolitical means. God sent supernatural plagues on Egypt as judgment for their enslavement of his people. God sent a storm and a great fish after Jonah when the prophet ran from God’s command to preach in Nineveh. And God used kings and armies all throughout biblical history to bring judgment upon his people and even the wicked nations around his people as a means of judgment. I believe we are experiencing the judgment of God for our wickedness. But we need to remember something about God’s judgments. They are mean to be restorative and redemptive before they are meant to be permanent. The reason God sent the prophets to Israel and Judah in the OT to warn them of coming judgment was to encourage his people to repent. Our experiences of 2020 may or may not be direct judgments of God on specific people for specific things. But most certainly they represent the general judgment of God on a world full of wickedness and rebellion. The bigger question we should ask ourselves is this: “Does God have our attention?”

Question: Are we living in the last days? Answer: Yes. Jesus taught in Matthew 24 that false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, wars, tribulation, and persecution are signs of the last days. We are seeing many of these things take place around us. There is a caveat. The first disciples experienced some of these things during their days on earth as well. Every generation since the ascension of Christ has believed that Christ might return during their lifetime. Many theologians over the 2000 year history of Christianity have identified different individuals as the Antichrist (from medieval popes to Adolf Hitler). The last days are the days of the church. Does this mean Jesus will return soon? In our generation? He certainly could. We should be ready. But he might not. There might be hundreds of years before he returns. Yet we must remember we are living in the last days. God’s judgments and chastisements are meant to turn our eyes to him. They are meant to shake us from our apathy and motivate us to preach the gospel and live the love of Christ to a hurting and sinful world.

Question: What might take place next? Answer: It would be foolish to speculate on details, but we can expect more judgments, trials, difficulties, tribulations, and persecutions. Many Christians over the ages have experienced persecution for their faith. For the most part, Christians in America have been spared persecution. That might be changing. With gubernatorial overreaches that have banned churches from meeting as well as the cancel culture, Christianity is being marginalized. We now live in a culture that celebrates depravity and idolizes immorality. All this is taking place in a nation whose foundations were built on the Judeo-Christian worldview. Our national rejection of God will most certainly spurn further judgments. Writing on this subject more than forty years ago, Francis Schaeffer articulated the judgment of God:

“Unlike Zeus whom men imagined hurling down great thunderbolts, God has turned away in judgment as our generation turned away from him, and he is allowing cause and effect to take its course in history.”

Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City.

Question: How should we respond? Answer: Repent, Pray, Preach the Gospel. It is fascinating sometimes how enamored we as God’s people are with the end times, tribulation, and judgment of God. Yet what should convict us deeply is the fact that the majority of God’s judgments and chastisements in the Bible are aimed not at the depraved nations, but at his rebellious people. Church, judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Our circumstances should drive us to self-examination, confession, and repentance. We must reject any idols we discover and turn to Christ fully and completely. We must also pray. Our hope is not found in politics, financial security, or scientific advancements that provide a vaccine for Covid-19. Our hope can only be found in the sovereign and living Lord. We connect with God through prayer. If we are not doing so already, we must pray for revival, awakening, and the salvation of sinners. Finally, we must be unashamed to preach and share the gospel. If nothing else, natural disasters, diseases, wars, and conflicts remind us how fragile and temporary life on this earth is. The only hope for people around us (family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, the nations) is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Church, it is time to wake up and preach the good news.

Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash.