The Grace of God
God's purpose of grace
God's purpose of grace runs throughout the Bible. Indeed, the Scriptures teach that this redemptive purpose is from eternity. Before creation, an omniscient God knew that man would sin and would need to be saved. However, God's foreknowledge of the event did not cause it. It came through the exercise of man's free will. Even so, knowing the event, in eternity, God purposed to redeem men. Thus, Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Therefore, forgiveness was in the heart of God before sin was in the heart of man. So God's purpose of grace refers to God's purpose fully to save man: regeneration, sanctification and glorification. This purpose involves several things.
Election is one of the great doctrines of the Bible. Yet the word itself does not appear in the Old Testament; it is found only in six verses in the New Testament (Rom. 9:11; Rom. 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Pet. 1:10). But the word "elect" appears in the Old Testament, and "elect" and "chosen" both appear in the New Testament.
There are certain pitfalls to be avoided in considering the doctrine of election. One should not magnify certain aspects of God's nature (sovereignty, will, power, pleasure) to the neglect of others (righteousness, love). Neither should one forget the free will of man and his power of choice. Also, election should not be regarded as God's purpose to save as few as possible rather than as many as possible. The tenor of the Bible is that God loves all men and wishes to save as many as possible. Again, it should not be viewed as relating to the saving of certain individuals to the neglect of all others. Such a position negates the abundant teachings of the Bible to the contrary. The pitfall resulting from these others is fatalism. If some are saved and others lost regardless of what they do or do not do, what incentive is there to seek the Lord or to preach the Gospel? But the facts of Scripture are that man is not a puppet on a string. Election never appears in the Bible as mechanical or as blind destiny. It has to do with a God of love and with man, who is morally responsible. Election never appears as a violation of the human will (Matt. 23:37-38). Note John 6:44, "No man can come to me, except the Father ... draw him." "Draw" is God's initiative; "come" is man's response.
Two truths, therefore, must be recognized in regard to election: God's sovereignty and man's free will. Both are abundantly taught in the Bible.
In the abstract, God's sovereignty means that He can act as He wills without any outside counsel or permission. But in the concrete, as taught in the Bible, God has placed certain limitations upon Himself. In that sense, His sovereignty must be viewed as His power to act as He wills in keeping with His own laws and according to His nature as righteousness and love.
On the other hand, the Bible teaches that man possesses a free will. God made him so. And while man is free to choose, he is responsible for his choices (Gen. 3; Rom. 1-3). This fact must be kept in mind as one considers the doctrine of election. Otherwise, man is not a free person capable of fellowship with God. And in the ultimate sense, God Himself would be responsible for man's sinful acts.
Obviously, to finite intellects, it is impossible to harmonize God's sovereignty and man's free will. But in the infinite wisdom of God, there is no conflict (Rom. 11:33-36). Perhaps at the human level, an illustration will help. God, in His sovereignty, has ordained certain natural laws. But man is free to live by them or contrary to them. To be sure, he is left with the consequences. But he is still free to choose. The same is true of God's spiritual laws. Man can choose to live by them and be blessed, or he can do otherwise and be cursed. But God does not coerce in either event.
God proposed to save man. He took the initiative in doing so. Apart from God's initiative and saving purpose, man cannot be saved. The greatest thing about man is not that he is seeking God but that God is seeking man (Luke 19:10).
This dual truth stands out in Ephesians 1:3-13, Paul's most complete treatment of election. Note the words "hath chosen" and "having predestinated" in verses 4-5. The former translates the Greek verb for elect. So God "elected us in him before the foundation of the world." "Predestinated" translates a verb meaning to mark out the boundaries beforehand (see v. 11). But note also that God has chosen "in him." Thus, God's election was in Christ. And He marked out the boundaries of salvation in love, not by an arbitrary choice.
Against this background it is well to note that in 11 verses, Paul used the phrase "in Christ" or its equivalent 10 times. So God has chosen "in the sphere of Christ." He elected that all who are "in Christ" shall be saved. "In Christ" is the boundary that God marked out beforehand, like building a fence around a field. God did this in His sovereignty. In this act, He asked the counsel or permission of no one. All who are within the fence "in Christ" shall be saved.
Man is free to choose whether or not He will be in Christ. This does not mean that man can boast of his salvation once he chooses Christ. It is the result of God's initiative and saving purpose. Man receives this inheritance because God marked out the boundaries of salvation beforehand according to the counsel of His own will (v. 11). Thus it should be to the praise of His glory that men had a hope beforehand (v. 12) in Christ.
But at this point, Paul took care of man's free will. It is seen in the passage "in whom also after that ye believed" (v. 13). Paul's readers heard the Gospel of salvation that all who are "in Christ" shall be saved. They could have rejected it and remained in a lost condition. But they believed "in Christ" and thus were saved. That God knew beforehand who would believe is obvious. But, as previously stated, foreknowledge of an event does not cause it.
God never violates human personality. He will not save a man against his will. He knocks at the door of the heart, but He will not force it to open. However, to all who, of their own wills, will open the door, He enters and saves graciously apart from man's own efforts or merits.
It should be noted further that having elected a plan of salvation, God elected a people whereby that plan might be provided and propagated. This is seen in God's choice of Abraham and his descendants and in the covenant God made with Israel. Though Israel failed to keep that covenant, it was out of Israel that Jesus came to implement in history God's eternal redemptive purpose. And those who follow Him are a "chosen [elect] generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God." (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
Mullins sums up all of this in his definition of election. "Election is not to be thought of as a bare choice of so many human units by God's action independently of man's free choice and the human means employed. God elects men to respond freely. He elects to reach men through their native faculties and through the church, through evangelism and education and missionary endeavor. We must include all these elements in election. Otherwise we split the decree of God into parts and leave out an essential part."
Stagg completes the picture. "One is strangely insensitive to the throb and pulse beat of the whole New Testament if he thinks that each man's fate is determined for him in advance. This is not a 'rigged' television show. God is not playing with toys or manipulating gadgets; he is seeking men who stand in awesome freedom where they may accept or reject the salvation which God alone can offer."
Baptists believe that "all true believers endure to the end." But note that it is "true believers," not superficial ones. Many people believe about Jesus but do not believe "in" Him. But "those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end."
Those who believe otherwise point to certain isolated passages or verses to which they hold in order to teach to the contrary. No passage should be interpreted outside the context of the entire New Testament, whose overall teaching clearly declares the perseverance of the saints. Judas Iscariot is used as an example of one who fell away. But a study of his life shows that he never truly believed in Jesus as his Savior (John 6:70). Judas never called Jesus "Lord," only "Master" or rabbi or teacher.
Obviously, space does not permit a full treatment of all New Testament passages that teach the perseverance of the saints. But a few will suffice.
Jesus himself was speaking in John 10:28-29. Literally, "And I keep on giving to them age-abiding life, and not never [strong double negative] shall they be destroyed unto the age, and not anything [man, thing, or devil] shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given [perfect tense, a completed work, past, present, future] to me is greater than all, and no one [nothing] is powerful to snatch out of the Father's hand." Believers do not hold on to God. In Christ, He holds on to them.
In Colossians 3:3, Paul expresses the same idea in a different figure. "For ye are dead [ye died to sin], and your [spiritual] life is hid [perfect tense, completely hid] with Christ in God." The verb rendered "is hid" carries the idea of a lock. The life of the believer is protected by a double lock: one is "with Christ," the other is "in God." To snatch away a believer, one would have to get by both. And no man, thing or devil can do that.
The same figure is found in 2 Timothy 1:12. Here, Paul used the figure of making a deposit in a bank. The Greek text reads, "For I know in whom I have fully believed, and am fully persuaded that He is able to guard my deposit unto that day."
The very nature of salvation assures perseverance. This is seen in Ephesians 2:8-10. Again reading from the Greek text: "For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not out of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not out of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, being created in the sphere of Christ Jesus for good works, which God has before ordained in order that in the sphere of them we should keep on walking about."
Salvation is a work of God's grace that the Christian receives through faith. Its source is neither himself nor his works. "Have ye been saved" means that it is a completed work wrought in the believer by God. So the Christian is a creation of God. Good works are not the root but the fruit of salvation. Since salvation is all of God in the beginning, its permanence is also all of God. So one's being saved and remaining so depends upon God and not upon himself.
One of the greatest passages on the security of the believer is found in Ephesians 1:13-14. When one believes in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit seals him as belonging to God. He is God's property, His "purchased possession." And the Holy Spirit indwelling him is "the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption [full redemption] of the purchased possession."
The Greek word rendered "earnest" may be translated variously: "installment" (Moffatt), "first installment" (Williams), "guarantee" (RSV), and "pledge" (Weymouth).
In the Greek papyri, this word is often used in the sense of "earnest money," or a down payment that guarantees the full payment for the thing purchased. The "full redemption" suggests regeneration, sanctification and glorification. The "purchased possession" is one's soul and Christian life, bought with the price of Jesus' atoning work (1 Cor. 6:20). The believer is both regenerated and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. And His sealing and indwelling of the Christian is God's earnest money or guarantee that He will keep that soul and life looking toward the full redemption or glorification.
So God put up His earnest money, the Holy Spirit, as His guarantee that He would keep safe and fully redeem that which He has purchased. If one goes through with a transaction, his earnest money is a part of the purchase price. If he fails to complete the deal, he loses his earnest money. In Paul's example, the earnest money is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. So God has put up His very being as His guarantee to keep saved and to glorify the soul that believes in Jesus. If He failed even one soul in such a commitment, He would lose His earnest money, Himself. He would cease to be. Thus, so long as God is, that soul is safe that has leaned on Jesus for repose. One can ask for no better guarantee than this.
There is a beautiful, romantic note in this word for earnest money. One papyri example of this word is that of "the engagement ring" as a pledge that one would go through with an agreement of marriage. So the Holy Spirit indwelling the Christian is Jesus' engagement ring that He places on the finger of His bride, looking toward the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 21:2).
The Christian and sin
When one becomes a Christian, he is free from sin's penalty of death, but he is not free from sin's power. So long as he is in the flesh, a civil war will rage within him between his carnal and spiritual natures. Paul describes his own such struggle in Romans 7. His only assurance lies in "Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 25). "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus ["who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" is not in the best manuscripts]. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Rom. 8:1-2)
However, certain passages in 1 John are cited by some to show that the Christian does not sin, and that sin in one's life is proof that he is not a Christian. A case for such might be made from the King James Version if these passages be read in isolation. But a reading from the original Greek text shows that even these verses do not teach such. The verb tenses bring out the real meaning.
For instance, 1 John 3:8 reads, "He that committeth sin is of the devil." Here, the verb is a present tense expressing continuous, repeated action or the habit of doing something. So, literally, "The one having the habit of doing sin is out of the devil." This means one who lives for the purpose of sinning. It is his whole life. Such a person is not a Christian.
Verse 9 reads, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Here again the tenses are present. Literally, "Every one having been born out of God does not have the habit of doing sin; because His [God's] seed keeps on abiding in him: and he does not have the power to keep on sinning as a habit of life."
The one who is not a Christian lives for the purpose of sinning. He looks forward to it and seeks out opportunity to do so. But one who has been born of God has a new nature. He does not make sinning the habit of his life. Like Paul, he may at times, under temptation, yield to his carnal nature. But he does not want to do so in his redeemed self. Having done so, he repents, asks forgiveness, and in God's power, endeavors not to sin. God's seed abiding in him keeps him from having the habit of sinning.
Now look at other verses in 1 John. In 1:10, one reads, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him [God] a liar, and His Word is not in us." Here, the verb is a perfect tense. It expresses completed action, covering past, present and future. It refers here to one who says that he has never sinned in the past, does not sin now, and will not sin in the future. Obviously, such a person makes God a liar when God says that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Such a person has no conviction of sin. He has never been a Christian. God's Word is not in him at all.
But notice verses 7-8. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Here again are two present tenses. "If we say that we keep on not having sin, we keep on deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." These words refer to the Christian. Though the blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from sin, the Christian on occasion in weakness will commit sin. To think otherwise is self-deception.
But the glorious thing for the Christian is that "if we confess [keep on confessing] our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (v. 9). In this verse, "confess" is a present tense. It may be translated "confess from time to time" or when the Christian sins. When, from time to time, the Christian confesses his sins, Christ most surely will forgive and cleanse from that sin. He does so on the basis of His blood shed for the sins of men (v. 7).
But this very fact should lead the Christian to endeavor to avoid sinning. For when he sins, he grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). He brings shame on the cause of Christ, impairs his own usefulness as a Christian, mars his joy in Christ, and suffers the temporal consequences of his sins.
The Christian should beware of sins of omission as well as sins of commission. With his life founded upon Christ, he should not build a structure of useless works out of wood, hay and stubble. Rather, he should build out of gold, silver and precious stones (1 Cor. 3:11-12). For "every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day [of judgment] shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:13-15). For his soul "shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."