Election And Conversion

Leslie M. Grant

This paradox is closely linked with that of God's sovereigntv and man's responsibility.

Scripture says plainly and positively that believers are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Pet, 1‑2) and that God has chosen them in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). This is a truth of greatest comfort and rejoicing to the believer. lt is God who has taken the initiative in this. Salvation is therefore by His pure grace, not by works, nor by any question of human merit. That salvation is eternal: it cannot be changed because God has chosen us in Christ before history began, and He does not change His mind. All who are truly born of God are entitled to absolute certainty in this matter, on the authority of the truth of Scripture.

However, many other scriptures are equally clear that one must be converted through repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." ‑Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish". "Unless you are converted, and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 18:3). "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (Jn. 1: 12). "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (Jn. 3:36).

Many more scriptures offer salvation to all mankind, not only to the elect. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Ro. 10:13). "To Him all the prophets bear witness that every one that believes on Him will receive through His name remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

More than this, in offering salvation, God urges men to be saved. God "desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). The Lord "is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). "God commends His love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us" (Ro. 5‑.8). Acts 17:30 tells us that God "now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent."

This being so, then God's servants are expected to appeal earnestly to all men. "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ" (Col. 1:28).

This is admittedly a paradox: it seems to be contradictory, but is not. Believers have often had great difficulty with this matter. Some have seen one side so clearly that they deny the other side, or take away its real significance in an effort to make the two fit to their satisfaction. But both are fully true, and not to be tampered with. Some will say that only God's divine choice is to be considered, and therefore that God gave His Son only for the elect. Thus they preach a limited atonement, available to the elect alone and to no others. On the other hand, some insist that salvation depends entirely on the choice of individuals, saying that Christ bore the sins of all, and the one determining factor in their salvation is their own will in either accepting or rejecting the salvation of God. They insist that God leaves this choice entirely to the "free will" of the individual.

Both of these suppositions are wrong, for in neither case do they give God credit for a wisdom and power far higher than man's intellect can discern. They try to reconcile these two lines of truth by depreciating the side that conflicts with their opinions. Let us not dare to do this, but give both lines the due weight and importance that God gives them.

The gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus is offered in perfectly good faith to all mankind. Christ is "the propitiation for our (believers') sins, and not for ours only, but also for (the sins of) the whole world" (1 Jn. 2:2). As the propitiation, Christ is the one who has by His great sacrifice fully satisfied God in regard to the question of man's sins, and the value of that sacrifice is fully avaliable for all who will receive it: it is not limited in any way. Those who refuse it will have only themselves to blame for the judgment they fully deserve. lf they could not believe, it was because they would not. As we have before seen, man is fully responsible to God, and one must receive salvation in God's way or be lost.

On the other hand, election is God's prerogative: this is His perfect right. Election is according to His foreknowledge. With perfect knowledge of all the future He chose certain people in Christ before the world existed. Nothing was left unconsidered in this choice: it was right, it was wise, it was wonderfully gracious, as every believer must heartily agree.

Not one of those chosen ones will be missing from the company of those eternally redeemed. Neither will any be present who were not so chosen.

But one cannot know that he is "elect" until, in true repentance and faith, he receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. This is a truth only to be realized by those who are brought by grace into His own presence. Then one realizes that his own choice was not the actual fact of the matter, but that the Lord Jesus had chosen him (Jn. 15:16), for man by nature is so sinful and rebellious that he will not of himself turn to God. It is God's goodness alone that leads one to repentance (Romans 2:4). Only after this does one realize that it was really God's work that had wrought repentance in his heart and drawn him to trust in Christ. What cause for deepest thanksgiving and humblest adoration!

Since this is true, a question then arises in many minds. Why did God not choose to so work in the hearts of all mankind to lead them to repentance? Is it fair that He should do this with some and not with others? In fact, it is argued, lf "election" is true as stated above, is not God unrighteous?

Who decides what is fair and righteous? Will God leave this decision to man who has proven himself to be corrupted by sin and unrighteousness? Absolutely not! All Scripture unites in ascribing an unerring, unwavering righteousness to the God of all creation. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (Ps. 11: 7). "Thy right hand is full of righteousness" (Ps. 48:10). "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments" (Rev. 16:7).

Also, it is argued, how can it be said that God loves the world if He does not lead all the world to repentance? Is this really love? But who makes the final decision as to what love is? Does God leave this decision with man who is, because of his sin, so self­centered and selfish? Does God really love the world? Absolutely! God's nature is love, and His own creatures are certainly the objects of His love. The Word of God declares it and faith believes it fully and unquestioningly. Actually, God's Word settles the matter of both His righteousness and His love.

This is not all. History conclusively proves these facts, predominately so in the great wonder of the cross of Christ. His own marvelous kindness and grace toward His enemies in the circumstances of His arrest, His trial, His crucifixion, are a striking witness of His rightly representing His Father's love toward a guilty world. From His heart came those words, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).

Because God is perfectly righteous, He could not overlook sin. He must punish it unsparingly. But the only way He could punish sin and yet save sinners was by giving His own sinless Son to bear the judgment due their sins. No other means could possibly accomplish the salvation of sinners. That sacrifice required an infinitely transcendent love such as can only be found in God. Let every interested eye look at that cross! Can we dare to question that God is a God of perfect righteousness and perfect love?

We must recognize what are plain facts, and bow to them. lf we do not understand how to reconcile God's righteousness and love with the fact of many having not been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, this simply illustrates the fact that God is greater than we are. His wisdom is far beyond man's ability to rationalize. lt is another reminder that God intends us to keep our place as simply creatures, being content to believe Him without understanding everything.

The word "predestination" is sometimes thought of as the same as election, but there is a difference. Election refers to the person being chosen, while predestination speaks of his being marked out beforehand for certain blessings, as for instance, "to sonshlp" (Eph. 1:5) and "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Ro. 8:29). Predestination to such blessing is another truth to give great joy to every believer.

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