God’s Gracious Choice
I wonder – are my fellow believers and I really able to comprehend God’s grace? I mean, yes we can recite Scripture passages and can give reasonable definitions, but can we really get our heads around it? It seems we want to insert ourselves a bit too strongly into the process, when it is all of God.
One of the biblical teachings that many object to is that of God’s choice of us – or to be a bit more “theological” – the doctrine of Election. Now I grant this doctrine has been abused by many and that many of us have a weird picture in our minds of God randomly selecting some for heaven and some for hell by some eeny, meeny, miney, mo process.
But I also suspect that one reason we object is that we like to think that we are the ones doing the choosing, or at least having some influence on God.
The Apostle Paul seemed to have the most to say about grace. Nearly two-thirds of the word’s uses are found in his writings. And he frequently ties the two concepts of election and grace together. One of the better known passages is Romans 11:5, 6: “So then, even in the present time, there has come to be a remnant in accordance with the election of grace. And if by grace, no longer from works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
It’s in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, however, that Paul makes clear that God’s salvation plan begins with His choice of us, and concludes with praise to each member of the Trinity for His part in that plan. Ephesians 1:3-14, is one big long sentence in Greek, abounding with subordinate clauses, though our English translations break it into smaller bites. (Even my Nestle’s Greek text adds a few periods.) Its principle clause is “Blessed is the God and Father …”
Ephesians 1:3-8: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world … having predestined us to adoption … according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace with which He graced us in the Beloved One, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our transgressions according to the wealth of His grace which He abounded to us …”
Then again in Ephesians 2:5, 7-9: “ … and when we were dead in our transgressions, He made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved -- … so that in the coming ages He might show the surpassing wealth of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves, it’s the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”
The phrase “you have been saved” in 2:5, 8 is translated “you are saved” in the KJV. It is composed of a present tense verb with a perfect participle in Greek. I suppose we could translate it more literally (though awkwardly), “you are in a state of having been saved.” It speaks of a past act with continuing results.
The pronoun translated “that” in 2:9, is neuter in gender and so has no clear antecedent. The words translated “grace” and “faith” are both feminine and the participle translated “saved” is masculine. [Those readers who remember their English grammar will remember the rule that a pronoun must agree with its antecedent. If you don’t remember, just trust me! :^)]
Why is this important? Because' with no clear antecedent we’re forced to see the word “that” as referring to the entire preceding clause. Paul is not simply saying that the grace is not of ourselves, or that the faith is not of ourselves, but that the whole process is not of ourselves.
These passages affirm to us that every aspect of our salvation is of God’s grace. It originates with Him. The Father chose us, the Son died for us and the Spirit sealed us when we believed.
But, “Wait” we might say. “It says faith. We’re commanded to do something. We’re commanded to believe.”
Well, yes, but even that faith, Paul tells us, is “not of ourselves, it’s the gift of God.” We can’t take credit for it! In this Paul is in total agreement with the words of his Lord and Savior.
“No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him …” (John 6:44). The word translated “draw” is used in this same Gospel in the sense of “hauling” or “dragging” a fishing net (21:6, 11).
We need to be careful in our understanding of God’s choice. This does not mean that we are merely passive in this matter, or as someone claimed, “robots.” Faith is an active conscious decision on our part. It is a total reliance on Jesus. But our faith is brought about in some way by the action of God. And it has been predetermined by Him in eternity past.
Though we may not be able to explain this to our own satisfaction, those of faith are able to grasp this concept. Perhaps the best illustration is that given by the preacher H. A. Ironside in his commentary on Ephesians, written nearly 75 years ago.
“Here is a vast host of people hurrying down the broad road with their minds fixed upon their sins, and one stands calling attention to yonder door, the entrance into the narrow way that leads to life eternal. On it is plainly depicted the text, ‘Whosoever will, let him come.’ Every man is invited, no one need to hesitate. … as the invitation goes forth, every minute or two some one stops and says, ‘What is that.’ ‘The way to life,’ is the reply. …And such an one draws near and listens, …and he says, ‘I am going inside: I will accept the invitation; I will enter that door,’ and he presses his way in and it shuts behind him. As he turns about he finds written on the inside of the door the words, ‘Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.’” (In the Heavenlies, pages 27, 28.)