Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 3)
(Continued from Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace Part 2)
Why Did God Determine to Elect the Redeemed?
Though the doctrine of election applies to all that God does in a general sense, it most often refers, in a specific New Testament sense, to the election of sinners to become redeemed saints within the church. Divine election, in this particular regard, speaks of God’s independent and predetermined choice of those whom He would save and place into the corporate body of Christ. God did not save certain sinners because they chose Him, but because He chose them.
But why did God do this? Why did He sovereignly determine, from eternity past, to save a segment of fallen humanity that would make up a community of the redeemed? In order to answer this question without wrongly interjecting our own preconceived notions, we must turn to the Word of God, for it is there that God has revealed His mind to us. Of course, as fallen human beings, we will never be able to fully comprehend the infinite wisdom of God in this regard (cf. Rom. 11:33-36). Nonetheless, the Scriptures give us several glimpses into the divine motivation behind election.
Why, then, did God choose to save sinners?
Divine Election and the Promise of God
The answer begins with the promise of God. In Titus 1:1-2 we read: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” In these verses the apostle Paul succinctly defines the fullness of salvation and ties it directly to the eternal promise of God.
Salvation in its fullness consists of three primary parts—justification (the sinner’s salvation at the moment of conversion from the penalty of sin through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ), sanctification (the sinner’s ongoing salvation from the power of sin in this life), and glorification (the sinner’s ultimate, complete salvation from the presence of sin in the life to come). As a minister of the gospel, Paul emphasized each of these aspects in his ministry.
Because he understood justification, he preached the gospel “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect,” realizing that through the preaching of the truth, God would justify those whom He had chosen to save (cf. Rom. 10:14-15). Because he understood progressive sanctification, Paul sought to strengthen those who already had embraced the truth, edifying them through “their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” And because he understood glorification, Paul passionately reminded those under his care about the “hope of eternal life”—the climactic consummation of their salvation in Christ.
Paul preached the gospel of Christ with great clarity so the elect could hear and believe. When they believed, he taught them the truth so they could become godly; and he also unfolded for them the hope of eternal life, which gave them the encouragement and motivation they needed for faithful living.
Having summarized salvation in three brief phrases, Paul ends verse 2 with these words: “which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” The apostle’s point is that the whole unfolding miracle of salvation, which culminates in eternal life, is based on the absolute promise of our trustworthy God. The fact that God cannot lie is self-evident as well as scripturally attested (cf. Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; John 14:6, 17; 15:26). In fact, because God is the source and measure of all truth, it is, by definition, “impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Just as the Devil speaks lies “‘out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies’” (John 8:44), so it is that whenever God speaks, He speaks the truth from His own nature, because He is the Father of truth.
This God of truth, who is the one true God, promised long ages ago that those whom He had chosen to be justified and sanctified in this life would certainly be glorified in the life to come. But the English phrase before the ages began does not simply refer to ancient human history. It is literally translated “before time began,” and it means exactly that. To be sure, God reiterated His plan of salvation and eternal life to such godly men as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, but the original promise was made and ratified in eternity past (cf. Eph. 1:4-5; Heb. 13:20). It was before time began that He chose those who would embrace the faith (Titus 1:1) and promised to save them for all eternity (1:2).
But to whom did God make this promise? If He made it before time began, then it could not have been made to any human being, or to any created being for that matter. Before the creation of time, nothing existed outside of God Himself. To whom, then, did He make this promise?
To be continued…
“Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace” is the title of Dr. John MacArthur’s Foreword to Dr. Steven J. Lawson’s Foundations of Grace. This essay, reflecting on the unchanging nature of God and the glory of his sovereignty, is more than an introduction to Dr. Lawson’s book—it is a theological tour de force in its own right. We are pleased to duplicate it here and are convinced that you will benefit from reading it.