Chosen By Grace Alone (Matthew Barrett)
In the May issue of Credo Magazine, “Chosen by Grace,” Matthew Barrett has contributed an article titled, “Chosen by Grace Alone,” focusing on the doctrine of unconditional election in Scripture.
First, however, a word about Barrett. Matthew Barrett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. He is also the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett has contributed book reviews and articles to various academic journals, and he is the author of several forthcoming books.
Here is the introduction to Barrett’s article:
For those hearing it for the very first time, the doctrine of election can be shocking. Sometimes, even Christians who have read their Bible for years have never meditated on God’s sovereign choice to elect certain individuals to salvation in eternity past. Many times when a believer hears the words “predestination” or “election” for the first time they immediately object, “That is not in the Bible!” Such an initial reaction is telling, exposing our natural allergy to divine sovereignty. But the truth is simple, predestination is everywhere taught in the Bible and without embarrassment (Acts 13:48, Rom. 8:28-30; 9:11-13; Eph. 1:4-12; 1 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Thes. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9; Rev. 13:7-18; 17:8). To take just one example, Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:3-6).
In light of passages like Ephesians 1:3-6, it cannot be denied that election is a biblical doctrine. Even Christians who strongly disagree with one another on the exact meaning of election have acknowledged this much. Where the debate becomes comes into play, however, is in how exactly Scripture defines election. Does God, before the foundation of the world, elect certain persons to salvation on the basis of the faith or merit he foresees in them or does God elect certain persons to salvation according to his sovereign good pleasure alone? In other words, is election conditional or unconditional? In this brief article we will see that Scripture is clear, God elects certain individual persons to salvation unconditionally.
The apostle Paul spells out the meaning of divine election perhaps more than any other biblical author. Consider Romans 8:28-30, one of his most powerful passages describing the order of salvation,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Reformed theologians have often titled Romans 8:28-30 the golden chain of salvation. And for good reason too, for as we will see in the following five points, each step or link in Paul’s mind leads to the next without fail.
First, Paul is clearly speaking of salvation. Foreknew, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification all refer to salvation—past, present, and future. Therefore, it will not suffice to argue that Paul is merely speaking of temporal blessings in the life of a believer.
Second, Paul’s chain of salvation is referring to the same group of people throughout and such a chain of salvation is unbreakable. Those whom God foreknew he also predestined. And those whom he predestined he called. Those whom he called he justified. And those whom he justified he will glorify. Those foreknown and predestined are the same ones God calls, justifies, and glorifies. Certainly Scripture never teaches that God justifies and glorifies everyone. Therefore, it must be the case that God does not foreknow and predestine everyone, but only some. Additionally, do not miss the unbreakable nature of Paul’s chain of salvation. Those predestined will be called, justified, and glorified. Paul does not say that God seeks to predestine, call, and justify everyone but unfortunately not all choose to believe. To the contrary, Paul has in mind only the elect. If he did not then Paul could not say that all those who are predestined, called, and justified are also glorified. Therefore, this order of salvation is effectual. God’s election results in an effectual call. And God’s effectual call always results in justification. And those whom God justifies he will indeed glorify. There is no conditionality in these verses. God works salvation all the way through, from beginning to end.
Third, the believer’s hope in suffering is grounded in predestination. As Paul says in verse 28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” What an incredible assurance this promise is for the Christian undergoing suffering in this life. God promises that for those who have been effectually called all things (yes, even evil things) will work together for good. However, the question must be asked, “How is it that the Christian can know that God will work all things together for good? Paul’s answer: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Christians can rest assured that God will work all things for good since God has already predestined them for eternal life before the foundation of the world! As Peterson and Williams explain, “Christians are assured that God will work all for their good because he has accomplished the greatest good for them—he planned and brought about their salvation from beginning to end.”
Fourth, predestination in Romans 8:29-30 is unconditional. Arminians argue that when Paul refers to those whom God “foreknew” Paul is referring to divine foreknowledge. In other words, Paul is referring to God’s factual knowledge ahead of time as to who would and who would not believe. It is on the basis of this foreknowledge, argues the Arminian, that God then predestines. For example, Jack Cottrell affirms, “Through his foreknowledge God sees who will believe upon Jesus Christ . . . then even before the creation of the world he predestines these believers to share the glory of the risen Christ.” It is evident that in the Arminian view, the ultimate basis upon which a person is saved is to be found within the person himself, for God’s election is finally determined on whether or not he will believe. However, such an interpretation is faulty. To begin with, the Arminian view turns election into mere confirmation. We make the final decision and God simply sees ahead of time and confirms our choice.
Additionally, the Arminian has read his view of foreknowledge into Paul’s use of “foreknew.” As S. M. Baugh has demonstrated, while foreknew can at times mean knowing facts ahead of time, in Romans 8:29 and in a host of other passages it does not. While it is always true that God knows all things ahead of time, foreknew in Romans 8:29 refers to God foreloving certain persons in a saving way. In other words, Paul speaks of God foreknowing persons, not facts. Before the foundation of the world, God set his saving love on us, and thought of us in relationship to him.
Read the rest of Barrett’s article today!
Chosen by Grace
The biblical doctrine of election is offensive. It collides with our demand for human autonomy. It removes our will from the throne. And it exposes our nakedness, revealing us to be the sinners that we truly are, undeserving of divine grace and mercy. But when our eyes are opened to its glory, we begin to see that the doctrine of election leads us to worship, praise, and give thanks to our Sovereign Lord. We recognize that we, as sinners, deserve nothing less than eternal condemnation. And yet, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world! In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, not on the basis of anything we have done, but purely according to the purpose of his will (Eph 1:3-5). It is this doctrine of election that Paul says is to lead us to praise the glorious grace of God (Eph 1:6). Therefore, the title of this May’s issue of Credo Magazine is “Chosen by Grace.” Contributors include: Timothy George, Paul Helm, Matthew Barrett, Bruce Ware, Fred Zaspel, Greg Gilbert, Thomas Nettles, R. Scott Clark, David Murray, Thomas Schreiner, Graham Cole, Greg Forster, and many others.