[ Doctrine in Detail ]

Topic: VII. Salvation

Lesson: B. Election and Responsibility

The last chapter dealt with the plan of salvation and a method of presenting the Gospel. Beginning with this chapter, we will look at some aspects of salvation in more detail.

Objective: To understand election and man's responsibility, and to describe the difficulties and achieve a balance between these doctrines.

Our objective is to understand God's election of some to be saved, and man's role in responding or rejecting the Gospel. We want to understand both doctrines and achieve a balance between them, fully acknowledging God's sovereign choice while realizing that any person who calls out to the Lord will be saved.

1. Man's Responsibility

"In his original creation man was endowed with the ability to will and do good or evil and was accountable for his willing and doing." (Bible Fellowship Church (BFC) Article of Faith 10-1.a) Because the BFC Articles address this topic in a clear manner, I will use them along with Scripture references, in discussing these doctrines. Of course, while they are representative of many churches, you are responsible for your own opinion as guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit. The Bible Fellowship Church article 10-1 speaks about Adam as created and placed in Eden. Adam had a free choice. God stated that Adam was not to eat of a certain tree, and that he would be held accountable - a death sentence - if he disobeyed. This implies that Adam could have obeyed, that Adam himself chose to eat of the forbidden tree. This is in keeping with the following Scripture, "And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'"(Genesis 2:16-17)

"But by the fall of Adam man lost his ability, apart from God's grace, to will and to do those things necessary for a right relationship with God; however, he is still accountable to God for obedience to all of His commands." (BFC Article 10-1.b) Ever since Adam fell, all mankind has lost the ability to choose and do what is necessary to please God. But, we are accountable for the evil we do, we do choose to do bad. We are accountable for not obeying God, because each of us has chosen to disobey God.

"... you were dead in your transgressions and sins ..."(Ephesians 2:1) Paul says that before we were 'saved', we were spiritually dead. As spiritually dead beings, we were unable to give ourselves spiritual life. "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."(Romans 3:10-12) Paul also said that no one does right or seeks God. This is not what we expect - after all, mankind is very religious. There are all kinds of primitive and even sophisticated modern religions, yet Paul says that no one (apart from Christ) seeks God. Understanding the truth, that religion often masks God and hides us from Him, shows us the problem facing mankind. Yes, Christianity is a true religion, but it is easy to use even the Christian religion to make ourselves look good and not face God.

"God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger."(Romans 2:6-8) Human responsibility is seen in that God will ultimately judge everyone by what we have done. When we realize that all have sinned, we see that this judgement will not be pleasant. But - each person wil be judged for their own sin, not simply condemned because of the sin of Adam

"Man has not lost his ability ro make decisions, but left to himself, he acts only in accordance with his fallen, sinful nature." (BFC Article 10-1.c) While we are able to make choices, we only choose according to our fallen nature. Adam did not originally have a fallen nature, and had a true choice. But apart from Christ, we are sinners and choose to sin. "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach."(Deuteronomy 30:11) It is interesting that God, in giving the law to the nation of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, said that his commands are not too difficult to do. We often hear how impossible it is to keep the commands of God, yet God said they are not too difficult. It is not the difficulty of the law or God's commands, but our own sinful nature which chooses sin, which is the problem.

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings an dcurses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live ..."(Deuteronomy 30:19) Remembering from previous lessons that God cannot lie and that God does not deceive, when God gave Israel a choice it was a true choice. God allowed them to choose obedience and life, or disobedience and death. It is a true choice, and yet experience (and Scripture) teaches us that humans will always choose according to our sinful nature and choose death. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil."(Jeremiah 13:23) A leopard cannot change it's nature, it has spots. A person cannot change their nature, we are sinners by the fallen nature we inherit from Adam. It is not in our nature to do good consistently.

"Only by God's infinite grace can man will or do anything necessary to his salvation. By that grace, God saves men whom He causes to will and to do good; however, He does this without nullifying man's ability to act responsibly." (BFC Article 10-2) The answer is that by God's grace, man can come to salvation. Somehow God enables us to choose Christ, and yet this does not do away with our own responsibility. "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy."(Romans 9:16) In speaking of salvation, Paul says it depends on God and not on man. Ultimately, God chooses us. "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."(James 1:18) James, the brother of Jesus, explained that the choice of God, to give us a new birth, happens through the 'word of truth' or the Christian Gospel. "... as you have always obeyed ... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."(Philippians 2:12-13) Paul tells us to work our our salvation because God works in us to will and to act what is good. When we choose good, it is God working in us. Even so, we are to make effort and choose to do good, we are to obey. There is a balance - God wills in us, but we must also willingly choose and obey.

2. Election

"Election is a free act of the sovereign God in which from eternity, for reasons known only to Himself, and apart from any goodness in man He graciously chose from among the fallen mankind a people unto salvation, that they might be conformed to Christ's image. Those so chosen He redeemed by His Son and seals by His Spirit." (BFC Article 11) God has chosen to save some. This choice is to save from sin, and to make us like Christ. This choice was carried out by Jesus dying for our sins and the Holy Spirit sealing us at the time of salvation. God chose us before we chose Him, and it was not because He knew what we would do, it did not depend on any goodness in us. "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."(Ephesians 1:4) Why did He choose us? He wanted us to be holy or set apart for Him. This choice was made before Genesis 1:1, before time and the creation of the world began.

"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined acording to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will."(Ephesians 1:11) Predestination is mentioned. God planned and determined. It was not simply that God knew we would choose Him, rather, God destined us to become believers. However it happens, God works out all things according to His plan. We must balance this with the verses on our accountability and our choice. "... who has saved us and called us to a holy life -- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time."(2nd Timothy 1:9) Again, it is not because of ANYTHING that we have done. This humbles us. We are the clay and He is the potter, salvation was not given so that we could do whatever we want, it was given so we can serve God's purpose. The verse also repeats that the grace was given before the beginning of time, or before creation.

How do we balance the choice we have to follow Christ, and the decision God made before creation to save some? Understanding that Jesus, who is God the Son, never lied, we read this verse. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."(Matthew 11:27-28) Jesus said that no one knows the Father except those to whom the Son CHOOSES to reveal Him. That clearly puts the Jesus in the driver's seat as choosing some. Yet in the next verse He openly invites 'all who are weary burdened'. This is an open invitation for anyone or everyone to come to Christ, and He WILL give rest.

3. Salvation

"Salvation is offered in the gospel to all men and is received by grace through faith and the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. apart from works or human merit. Salvation centers in a person, Jesus Christ, and receiving Him includes the remission of sins on the grounds of His shed blood, the imputation of His perfect righteousness, the reception of the Holy Spirit, and the impartation of eternal life." (BFC Article 12) We will only deal with the parts of salvation having to do with this chapter's discusson on election and responsibility. In the next few chapters we will discuss other aspects of salvation. Salvation is offered to ALL. Since God is sincere and true, this is a true invitation without trickery. On the other hand, it is given apart from any good things that we have done, we can never be good enough to deserve salvation.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."(John 3:16) God gave Jesus to die on the cross so that whoever believes or trusts in Jesus will have eternal life. The choice to trust in Jesus or not is ours (yet apart from God working in us we will reject Jesus). "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."(Ephesians 2:8-9) We are saved through faith, our faith in Christ, but this faith itself is a gift. We may be proud of our decision to turn from our sin and follow Jesus, but God says that no one can boast-- because this saving faith is a gift of God.

4. Repentance

"Repentance unto life is a voluntary act of man, accomplished by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Repentance consists in a knowledge of sin, a sense of guilt and corruption that results in the confession and forsaking of sin and a turning to God." (BFC Article 13) On the other hand, repentance is a voluntary act-- that means that we choose or volunteer to trust Christ. This repentance, or turning from sin to God, is accomplished by the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin and us responding by turning to God. If you are unable to convince family and friends that they need Jesus, pray specifically for the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin. They may have led a better life than you, but they still have sin and the Holy Spirit is the one who convinces and convicts them of it.

"He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."(Luke 24:46-47) It is interesting that we are not told to proclaim God's sovereign election of some, but to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. We do not know who God has chosen, or how He is moving in specific people. We are told to put the choice of repentance before them. We know that some will repent, we urge that all will. And we know that whoever repents WILL be forgiven and saved. "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent."(Acts 17:30) God does not say to a person, I have not chosen you so do whatever you want! Rather, he commands every person in the world to repent. However we view election, we must also know that God commands each person to repent and will hold them responsible for their obedience or disobedience.

Conclusion - A Balance

Consider a balance, such as the one the statue of justice holds. The doctine of election is so heavy that we would expect the one side of the scale to touch the ground. Yet the responsibility of man to voluntarily choose to repent and obey God is also such a heavy argument that we might expect the other side of the scale to touch the ground. We are human and have limited understanding. Both doctrines are true, and must be kept in balance. How God does this is beyond my understanding, but I trust in His goodness, His fairness, and the full truth of everything He has revealed in His word. The way that these doctrines appear to contradict each other is a problem of our limited understanding-- God has declared them both in His word and so we believe both are true. For this reason we seek a balance, rather than a convincing argument that one is correct and the other is wrong.


Written Assignment:

How do the doctrines of election and man's responsibility affect our ability to evangelize?

Reading Assignment:

Ryrie: Chapters 38, 53-55


Key Verses:

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."(Romans 3:10-12)

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."(Ephesians 1:4)

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."(Ephesians 2:8-9)

"He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."(Luke 24:46-47)

Additional References:

"Man has not lost his ability ro make decisions, but left to himself, he acts only in accordance with his fallen, sinful nature." (BFC Article 10-1.c)

"Repentance unto life is a voluntary act of man, accomplished by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Repentance consists in a knowledge of sin, a sense of guilt and corruption that results in the confession and forsaking of sin and a turning to God." (BFC Article 13)


All Bible quotations are from the New International Version (NIV), (C)Copyright 1984 by the International Bible Society, used by permission.
Doctrine in Detail (C)Copyright 2002 by Ronald Miller, All Rights Reserved

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