How can God hold us accountable for repenting and believing since He has chosen who will come to Christ? Today, Stephen Nichols addresses the apparent conflict between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in salvation.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week we're joined by the President of Reformation Bible College, Dr. Stephen Nichols. Dr. Nichols, how can it be a choice to repent and believe if we're chosen by God?
DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: Well first, let me just make some clarifications to the question. So, the first clarification is let's change the "if" we are chosen by God. Let's just say, "Since we are chosen by God." Let's start there. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. This is according to the purpose of God's will, and this is to the praise of God's glorious grace. That, of course, is what Paul teaches in Ephesians 1, so let's start there. The Bible teaches that we are chosen.
I think there's also a second clarification here, and that is the notion of choice to repent or choice to believe. When we first see repentance show up in the gospel of Matthew, in Matthew 3, John the Baptist doesn't offer it as a choice. He offers it as a command. He says, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." That's not a choice. That's a command. When Jesus steps in, in Matthew 4, and He has that same message that John was giving, He says the same thing: "Repent." He's not making it a choice. It's a command. So, we are commanded to repent, which means to turn from our sin. We are commanded to believe, which means to put our faith and our trust in Christ alone for our salvation. If we don't obey, if we don't repent, and we don't trust, then the Bible is very clear: we will have eternal punishment. We will be separated from God for eternity. But if we do obey and we repent and we believe and we put our faith in Christ, then the Bible is also very clear: we will have eternal life.
So now the issue is not reconciling choice and election"that is, our choosing and God's choosing"and how do they come together? It's really asking the question, Is God just? That's what's underlying this question. Is God just in this doctrine of election? Well, we have Romans 9 to come in and answer that. I would definitely encourage you to go and study Romans 9, and there we see that question put very directly. Is this just of God to choose some lumps of clay to make vessels from, and vessels that are useful and vessels that are His? Is it just of God, from that same lump of clay, to make vessels for destruction? Paul answers with a resounding "Yes, God is just in that."
As we think about this, one of the texts I like to go back to is John 15:16. Here, Jesus says to the disciples"again, I'd encourage you to study this as well"here, Jesus says to the disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." Now, if we go back and look at Matthew's calling, did he have a choice to get up from his tax collector's desk and follow after Jesus? We might think he did. We might be looking at that and thinking, yeah, he could have sat there and stayed there, or he could have gotten up. But along comes Jesus and tells us and looks at Matthew directly in John 15 and says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you."
This doctrine of election is a mystery. There's no doubt about it. It confounds our understanding at times, but it is biblical. So, we must hold to these two truths. God has chosen us, and we have been commanded to repent and to believe.
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