Throughout the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for individuals to so associate the doctrine of election with John Calvin that they mistakenly concluded that the concept of election had originated with him. Far from finding its origins in the Genevan Reformer, the doctrine of election has long held a place in the history of the church because it is everywhere taught in Scripture. The early church theologian Augustine, in his tractate on John 15:15–16, appealed to the clear teaching of Romans 11:5–6 regarding the doctrine of election. He wrote:
What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise, grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.” To which he adds: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise, grace is no more grace.”
Augustine was underlining the importance of the unmerited nature of election. God did not choose those He would save through Christ on account of anything in them by which they could have merited that salvation. God did not foresee something in those He saves that moved Him to choose them. God did not even choose them on account of Christ. Rather, He chose them even though they had nothing with which to merit His grace and had, in fact, demerited His favor. The idea of unmerited election is encapsulated in the Calvinistic acronym TULIP under the designation unconditional election (the U in TULIP). But what do Reformed theologians mean when they speak of the unconditional nature of election? Dr. R.C. Sproul defined unconditional election in the following way: “The Reformed view of election, known as unconditional election, means that God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.”
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By Matthew Pryyden — 1 month ago
God has given us an additional, and even more powerful, witness to our salvation – God’s own Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:16. Yet in spite of this witness being more certain, it is the one we understand the least, and are very often the beneficiaries of without our even being aware.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16.
“Am I a Christian?” and “How can I be sure?” are two of the most important questions that we can ever ask ourselves. Our eternities are at stake over this matter, and, to heighten its importance still further, we all will have histories of getting some things wrong, even when we are convinced that we are right.
Thankfully (and graciously), God has given us some help in regard to the assurance of our saving faith in Jesus Christ:
Firstly, throughout the Bible we are given a variety of genuine marks of a Christian that we can use to test ourselves with. We might look at the fruits of the Spirit, or read how a humble, self-sacrificing spirit is characteristic of a follower of Christ, and see whether we manifest any of these marks in our own lives and characters (even if in just small ways). We could even use many of these marks together which could then, potentially, leave us with a fairly strong argument either for or against our salvation.
Secondly, God has given us an additional, and even more powerful, witness to our salvation – God’s own Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:16. Yet in spite of this witness being more certain, it is the one we understand the least, and are very often the beneficiaries of without our even being aware.
A favourite illustration of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (itself being borrowed from the Puritan Thomas Goodwin), that he used a number of times throughout his Romans preaching series, was the experience of a young child. This child was able to objectively assure himself of his father’s love by bringing to remembrance the loving things that the father had said and done to and for him. The Holy Spirit’s witness, however, is akin to the father swooping down, picking up the child in a loving embrace, and showering him with kisses. Both tell of the father’s love for the child, but the second witness is a deeper, felt experience. This is, as Paul describes in Romans 5:5, “The love of God [being] poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
How is it, then, that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God, that we might recognise it and benefit from it still further than just a mere experiential feeling?
By testifying to our being the Father’s children
Any parents, I am sure, will be familiar with seeing their children act in a way reminiscent of themselves, and concluding, “Yes, they are definitely my child!”
Likewise, the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God when we reflect the character and heart of our heavenly Father.
This can be summarized as being a love of holiness and a hatred of sin; or a heart that loves what the Father loves and hates what the Father hates. Of course, this will always be imperfectly on our part whilst we remain in this world, but it is when we obey the Spirit’s leading in choosing those things that the Father loves, and overcoming the temptation to choose those things which the Father hates, that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
Is it any wonder that we feel least certain of our salvation when we are embracing sin? This is, understandably, when the Holy Spirit’s witness with our spirits is at its quietest. We will also find that the opposite is true: we enjoy an assurance of our salvation at its strongest when we are embracing God’s righteousness.
By testifying to our being children of the Father
It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can ever cry out to God, “Abba, Father” with an assurance that what we are saying is true. Firstly, we have seen that it is in our obedience that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Secondly, and as yet a further act of grace toward us, the Holy Spirit also bears witness to our spirits that we are children of God, albeit in a different manner, even when we sin.
The preference must always be obedience to the Spirit’s leading and to the will and law of God, but, sadly, we fail, and we fail often.
As a Christian, then, how do you fall down before God in repentance of your sins?
Is it as falling down before a harsh taskmaster, where you cry out in fear for yourself, “God, I am so sorry for committing this sin… please don’t hurt me; please don’t strike out at me; please don’t destroy me!”?
Or are your cries more in line with, “Oh, my God and heavenly Father, I am so sorry for doing this wickedness against You; I am so sorry for letting You down again! How You still embrace me in love I will never know, but I know that You do, and I am so thankful, Father, that You love me so much!”?
You can only pray like the latter because the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
By testifying to our union to Jesus Christ
If we are children of God, then heirs – heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (v.17).
We are children of God because of our relation to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Through mystical, spiritual union to Jesus we are adopted into God’s family, being made legitimate children to a Father who loves us.
As a married man of seventeen years, there have never been any times during those seventeen years when I have been married to my wife any less or any more than at other times. However, it is when I am in a loving embrace with my wife that I feel that marriage the most.
It is when we are in our loving embraces with our spouse, Jesus Christ, that we feel our union to Him the most: when we pray, praise, read of, hear of, serve and worship Him with love-filled hearts. In these things the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are united to Jesus in spiritual marriage, and if united to Jesus, then children of God! We cannot be surprised to see that Romans 8, which is one of the most loved and precious chapters of Scripture, closes by stating that the love of God is found in Jesus Christ Himself. As children of God, we find all of the love of God in Jesus Christ, and it is all given to us through Him.
For the past year I have been a father to a gorgeous, naughty, anxiety-riddled little beagle dog, Lilo. When she is afraid, she has a tendency to face away from me, but scoot herself backwards until there is firm contact between herself and myself. This works quite nicely, as it enables me to wrap my arms around her in a loving embrace and whisper to her, “It’s okay, little Lilo. You’re family now. I’ll always be here for you.”
When we are feeling most anxious about our salvations, we would do well to learn from her, bringing ourselves into contact with our heavenly Father through whole-hearted worship, casting ourselves entirely upon Him, where, when we know what to listen out for, we can hear, and feel, the Holy Spirit witness with our spirits that we are children of God – that we would be assured that we are truly loved, and we are truly His, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Matthew Prydden is an itinerant preacher from Wales, Reformed, Calvinistic, and Evangelical. This article is used with permission.
By Jon Bloom — 10 months ago
You don’t call yourself to Christ; Christ calls you by his grace (John 15:16). You don’t elect yourself to salvation; God elects you by his grace (Ephesians 1:4–6). But you do have an essential contribution to make to your eternal spiritual health. You confirm the reality of God’s saving grace in your life through diligently obeying by faith all that Jesus commands you (Matthew 28:20) — or not.
How do works of obedience relate to the free, unmerited gift of God’s grace in the life of a Christian? This has been a recurring controversial and confusing issue since the earliest days of the church.
If we are justified by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ’s sufficient substitutionary work alone, and not by any work of ours (Romans 3:8), then why are we warned and instructed to “strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14)? If our works don’t save us, then how can our not working (like not striving for holiness) prevent us from being saved?
Before we turn to the apostle Peter for help, hear a parable of an unhealthy soul.
Diligence Reveals Real Faith
There was a man who was forty pounds overweight. Despite knowing it was dangerous to his health, for years he had indulged in too much of the wrong kinds of foods and neglected the right kinds of exercise.
One day, his doctor told him he was in the early stages of developing type-2 diabetes. Not only that, but his vital signs also pointed to high risks of heart attack, stroke, and various cancers. If he didn’t make specific changes, his doctor warned, the man would surely die prematurely.
So, the man heeded his doctor’s warnings. He made every effort to put new systems into place that encouraged healthy habits of eating and activity and discouraged his harmful old habits, preferences, and cravings. After twelve months, the man’s health was beginning to be transformed. He had lost most of his excess weight, felt better, had more energy, and no longer lived under the chronic, depressing cloud of knowing he was living in harmful self-indulgence. When his doctor next saw him, he was very pleased and said to the man, “Well done! You are no longer at heightened risk of premature death.” The man continued in his new ways and lived well into old age.
Question: Was the man’s health restored through his faith in the gracious knowledge provided to him pertaining to life and healthiness, or was it restored through his diligent efforts to put this knowledge into practice?
How Faith Works
Do you see the problem with the question? It poses a false dichotomy. The man’s faith and his works were organically inseparable. If he didn’t have faith in what the doctor told him, he wouldn’t have heeded the doctor’s warning — there would have been no health-restoring works. If he didn’t obey the doctor’s instructions, whatever “faith” he may have claimed to have in his doctor would have been “dead faith” (James 2:26) — that faith would not have saved him from his health-destroying ways.
This parable, imperfect as it is, is a picture of the biblical teaching on sanctification. In a nutshell, the New Testament teaches that the faith that justifies us is the same faith that sanctifies us. This faith is “the gift of God, not a result of works” (Ephesians 2:8–9). It’s just that this saving faith, by its nature, perseveres, and works to make us holy.
We passively receive this gift of faith freely given to us by God. But faith, once received, does not leave a soul passive. It becomes the driving force behind our actions, the way we live. By its nature, faith believes the “precious and very great promises” of God (2 Peter 1:4), and the evidence that real faith is present in us manifests, over time, through the ways we act on those promises. The New Testament calls these actions “works of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3) or the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5).
By Scott Aniol — 2 months ago
As the Five Books of Moses are the Torah for the mind, so the Five Books of Psalms are the Torah for the heart; God intends for this collection of psalms to form and shape our image of what it means to be blessed, our image of what it means to flourish as we meditate on these songs, as we muse on the music of God-inspired psalms.
God has given us the psalms to form our hearts, which in turn lead us on the path to true blessedness. As James Sire argues, it is heart orientation that “provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”1 The inner image of the world formed within us—sometimes called our moral imagination or worldview—interprets reality and thus affects how we evaluate and respond to what we encounter. It is what motivates and moves us to act in certain ways within the various circumstances of life. This is why the Bible commands, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23). As David Naugle suggests,
From a scriptural point of view, therefore, the heart is responsible for how a man or woman sees the world. Indeed, what goes into the heart from the outside world eventually shapes its fundamental dispositions and determines what comes out of it as the springs of life. Consequently, the heart establishes the basic presuppositions of life and, because of its life-determining influence, must always be carefully guarded.2
Evangelicals today love to talk about Christian worldview, what will guide us to live according to Scripture. But the common evangelical discussion of worldview focuses primarily or even exclusively on what we think. Thinking is important; doctrine is important. But to focus exclusively on the mind misses what Psalm 1 is setting up as the fundamental purpose of the psalms: they don’t primarily inform our minds, like the Prophets do, or our wills, like the Law does—the psalms form the innate inclinations at our core, what James Sire calls the “fundamental orientation of the heart.”3
This is important since our imagination is the way we interpret facts and is thus the way we make sense of God’s world. George MacDonald explains:
To inquire into what God has made is the main function of the imagination. It is aroused by facts, is nourished by facts, seeks for higher and yet higher laws in those facts; but refuses to regard science as the sole interpreter of nature, or the laws of science as the only region of discovery.4
Our perception and interpretation of the world around us depends upon our imagination of the good life. Leland Ryken helpfully explains how imagination affects how we view truth and what we do with truth:
It is a fallacy to think that one’s worldview consists only of ideas. It is a world picture as well as a set of ideas. It includes images that may govern behavior even more than ideas do. At the level of ideas, for example, a person may know the goal of life is not to amass physical possessions. But if his mind is filled with images of fancy cars and expensive clothes and big houses, his behavior will likely follow a materialistic path.