01 November 2011

Election and Perseverance

I've been deeply encouraged and blessed by the books I've had the opportunity to read by God's grace. Lately, there are two that have providentially worked together in order to strengthen the knowledge of the gospel and the doctrines of grace in my life. Not only have they solidified my understanding of distinct doctrines, they have helped shape my comprehension of the way these truths are connected and inseparable. Most specifically, the areas of interest regarding my recent study are the doctrines of election and perseverance... two of the most comforting truths of Scripture, when understood rightly.

"What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." (Romans 9:22-24)

"The vessels of mercy 'were by nature the children of wrath, even as others'. Both kinds of vessels were clay 'of the same lump'. What did God do toward saving the vessels of wrath? He 'endured them with much long-suffering'. Does not this show tenderness and compassion? Why did He not do more toward their salvation? Because He was 'willing to show His wrath, and to make known His power'. He saw it best, after exhibiting His long-suffering patience and His gracious readiness to pardon them on condition of penitence, to leave some sinners to reap the just rewards of their iniquity, in order that He might thus display His wrath against sin, and demonstrate His power to deal with it as it deserves. He does these sinners no wrong, simply permits them to work out their own destruction; but at the same time He furnishes a lesson to the universe on the hatefulness of sin, and the stable foundation on which the kingdom of holiness rests, not withstanding the efforts of wicked men and of devils to destroy it...

God wishes to 'make known the riches of His glory', and to this end He makes some vessels of mercy, 'preparing them afore unto glory'. We may say, in a word, that when God looked upon the lump of sinful humanity He decided to deal with it in the way which would best serve the purpose of displaying all the attributes of His glorious character, and thus promote the highest ends of His moral government. He might destroy the whole lump; He might transform the whole lump; or He might divide it, and make some vessels unto honor, and others to dishonor. His justice calls for the first course; His benevolence calls for the second; His wisdom calls for the third. By this course He illustrates both His justice and benevolence, and at the same time secures the highest ends of His unerring wisdom. In the case of those who are lost, God permits their self-destruction despite the entreaties of His benevolence. In the case of the saved, God, by the invincible power of His grace, rescues them despite the demands of His justice. In the case of both classes, the compassionate Christ is 'over all, God blessed for evermore' (Romans 9:5)...

Salvation is all of grace, and that it can, therefore, be no reflection on any attribute of God's perfect character if He decline to put forth His saving power on behalf of any given sinner, or number of sinners." (R.C. Reed, "The Gospel as Taught by Calvin", pp. 111-113).

"The faith that saves (a gift of God, according to Ephesians 2:8-9) is so nurtured and cared for by the Spirit of God that no genuine believer apostatizes... it is precisely because the power of God is manifested in preserving the Christian's faith that he can be assured of never losing his salvation...

In describing Christ's work as the Mediator of our salvation, Calvin explains how we are heirs according to God's pledge:

'[The Mediator's] task was to restore us to God's grace as to make of the children of men, children of God; of the heirs of Gehenna, heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom. Who could have done this had not the self-same Son of God become the Son of man, and had not so taken what was ours as to impart what was His to us, and to make what was His by nature ours by grace? Therefore, relying on this pledge, we trust that we are sons of God.' (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.12.2)

The perseverance of believers in the faith is also clearly taught in John 17:

"Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.'" (John 17)

Here we are privileged to listen in on what has been called the High Priestly Prayer of Christ. In it, He speaks of believers becoming 'one' so that 'the world may believe that You have sent Me' (v. 21). This prayer has been consistently understood by liberals (and, sadly, of late by conservatives, as well) as teaching that organic union (or, at least, corporate expressions of unity) among Christians will lead the world to believe in Christ. If that were true, then Jesus' prayer has never been answered in the affirmative. Indeed, it could only be declared an utter failure...

The unity for which He prayed was not a horizontal unity among men; rather, He prayed for a vertical unity with Himself, as He is one with the Father... The entire prayer is a petition that genuine believers may not be 'lost' as Judas was (v. 12). Since Christ was about to leave His own, He prayed that God would continue to 'guard' them, just as He previously had 'kept' them under His watchful care (v. 12). And He prayed not only for the apostles, but also for those who would come to believe under their preaching (v. 20). The kind of guarding that Jesus had in mind is explained in verse 21: 'that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.'

The unity involved in these words is a unity with the Father and the Son, a unity that is as inseparable as that which these members of the Trinity enjoy...

God doesn't make a promise, then change His mind. He never hands us something with one hand, only to take it back with the other. He would never give eternal life to a person and then later kill him spiritually. Eternal life is just that—life that lasts eternally in God's presence. God is true to His word.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:28-30)

Calvin writes:

"Those whom He appointed beforehand, He also called; those whom He called, He also justified' [Romans 8:30] that He might sometime glorify them. Although in choosing His own the Lord already has adopted them as His children, we see that they do not come into possession of so great a good except when they are called; conversely, that when they are called, they already enjoy some share of their election. For this reason, Paul calls the Spirit, whom they receive, both 'Spirit of adoption' [Romans 8:15] and the 'seal' and 'guarantee of the inheritance to come' [Ephesians 1:13-14]; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5]. For He surely establishes and seals in their hearts by His testimony the assurance of the adoption to come." (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.1)

A very important verse that makes the truth about apostasy clear:

"They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19)

John is addressing the fact that certain gnostic teachers who had been in the fold had left and had begun teaching their heresy. Previously, they had seemed to be true Christians, because they gave no outward indication of their heretical belief. But their false views of the nature of Christ solidified and came to the fore, and they found that they could no longer fellowship with genuine Christians...

We must maintain that those who denounce the faith never had true faith in the first place. They may have been among believers, but they were not of them...

True believers remain in the faith and in the church. They endure to the end.

"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." (Hebrews 6:4-9)

"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:26-29)

While he knew that true believers would not repudiate their Savior, the writer recognized the possibility that some among his readers might not be genuine Christians after all. Therefore, he shows that people may become a part of the visible body of Christ, participating in all of God's wonderful benefits that are provided for the life of the church, but eventually turn their backs on everything they have experienced. There is no way to renew such people to a genuine profession of faith, he says, because there is only one true message—the very one they have rejected. So he describes how great a dishonor to Christ it is for one to hear and taste the gospel only to reject it, and how terrible are the consequences...

To teach that a saved person may be lost is to impugn the fatherhood of God. It is to say that He so poorly raises His children that many become delinquents who 'drop out' or must be disowned by Him... Hebrews says that the Lord 'disciplines' each of His children in order to bring them into line when they go the wrong way; if they receive no discipline, the book teaches, they are illegitimate:

"and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.' It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom His father does not discipline?" (Hebrews 12:5-7; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12)

God disciplines all of His legitimate children, and His discipline gets positive results. God does not allow rebellious children to wander away from the family or become so incorrigible that He must put them out. Those members who leave, or who are permanently put out of the church, as we have seen, are false professors. Calvin writes:

"Wherever punishment is for vengeance, there the curse and wrath of God manifest themselves, and these he always withholds from believers. On the other hand, chastisement is a blessing of God and also bears witness to His love, as Scripture teaches (Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-6)." (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.4.32)

Perseverance is the result of true faith, nourished and maintained by the Spirit. But the believer himself must continue to exercise it. He may never sit back and say, 'I'm saved, I may do as I please, since I can never be lost.' To think that way indicates either that he has received very faulty teaching or that he is not a believer.

This precious doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, coming down to us from the Reformation, must be preserved at all costs. We may neither abandon it nor compromise with those who would do so. The certainty of salvation, which Calvin so dearly wished His congregation to know and which he bequeathed to subsequent generations, must not be lost." (Jay E. Adams, "A Certain Inheritance", chapter 15 in "John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology", ed. by Burk Parsons)

So, as we have seen from these pastors (in light of Calvin's instruction), these two inseparable doctrines are beautifully and terribly interwoven. The beauty? Christ has, by His active and passive obedience, secured salvation for His sheep. As a Christian, you are the beloved of God, chosen before the foundation of the world to be justified by the gracious instrumentation of faith, which has united you with Christ and set you apart to persevere through sanctifying discipline en route to future glorification. If you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior and have repented of your sin
if you continue to stand firm in the faith and live a life of perpetual repentance that is worthy of gospelstrive to finish the race, for while there are trials, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. The terror? If you do not believe the gospelif you do not trust in Jesus Christ as truly man and fully God... as your Savior from sin... as the one and only Mediator between God and man—you are outside of Christ and are on a treacherous path to destruction. The trials you experience are quite possibly a manifestation of the wrath of God and you are dead in your trespasses and sins. If the undeserved gracious atonement of Christ has not been applied to you through faith, the just wrath of God in future condemnation awaits you.

If you, the reader, identify yourself with the former, may the biblical doctrines of election and perseverance be an encouragement to you. Rest in the accomplished work of Christ and look to Him as the author and perfecter of your faith. He has conquered death and our life is inseparably hid with Christ on high. If you identify yourself with the latter, I implore you... repent of your sin, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and rest in His death, burial and resurrection. He lived a perfect and sinless life of obedience under the Law, and willingly laid down His life to be crucified as a substitution for those who trust in Him. While all of mankind is sinful, and all of mankind is deserving of death (the penalty for sin), He was without sin and yet punished for it, so those who are united with Him in His death/resurrection (through faith) would be considered righteous by God and looked upon as they were the sinless Christ. Trust in Jesus, abide with persevering faith, and by the sanctifying Spirit make your calling and election sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment