|The Rich Man and Lazarus
We continue our examination of the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article Six: The Election to SalvationWe affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God's eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.
We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.
At this point the framers of the "Statement" encounter a major difficulty. They have insisted that the decision for or against salvation rests in the hands of the individual human many being. It is man, in effect, who chooses God. The Bible, however, clearly states the exact opposite. It repeatedly says that it is God Who chooses individual sinners for salvation.
The authors attempt to evade the difficulty by redefining the term "election." Election, they maintain, does not mean that "from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation." Rather, they say, "it speaks of God eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith." The language sounds impressive: it speaks of "God's eternal, gracious, and certain plan." Careful examination of the statement, however, reveals that, in the minds of the authors, the only thing that is "eternal, gracious, and certain" is a "plan." There is no certainty, however, that anyone will respond to the offer of salvation, and hence no guarantee that the plan will ever be fulfilled. In the end it is really temporal, finite and ever-changing man who is in control of the process.
But what does the Bible actually say? In I Cor. 1:26-31 salvation is seen as a "calling." It is God Who calls us. But what is especially striking is that not everyone is called. In fact, the text actually identifies certain groups of people who are not called: "not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (v. 26; NKJV).
"But I thought God wanted everyone to be saved," you might say. And, in a sense, He does. But this calling is what is sometimes referred to as "effectual calling," i.e., it has the actual effect of bringing a sinner to Christ, and in this sense not everyone is called, for not everyone come to Christ.
The text makes it clear that this calling is based on election: the "called" are the ones whom God "chose," and it is evident that God chose some and not others. We sometimes refer to this as "unconditional election," meaning that it is not based on anything God sees in us. And yet this is not exactly true, either. It is true that election is not base on human merit of any kind – if it were, no one would be saved, for no one has any genuine merit. But interestingly the text does indicate that God is more likely to choose some kinds of people rather than others. Specifically, He is more likely to choose "the foolish things of the world" and "the weak things of the world" (v. 27), and "the base things of the world" and "the things which are despised" and "the things which are not," (v. 28).
What the text also makes clear is that God has a definite rationale for all of this. It is so that He might "to shame the wise" and "mighty" (v. 27). God's purpose in election is "to bring to nothing the things that are" (v. 28). And then Paul states the general principle involved: "that no flesh should glory in His presence" (v. 29). In other words, His grand purpose in salvation is to promote His own glory, and this He does by means that seem counterintuitive to us. He chooses the rejects, as it were, the mean and despised, and makes them jewels in His crown of success. In this way we can take no credit for ourselves, but must give all the glory to Him. If salvation were based on human intelligence and natural ability, there are others better qualified than ourselves who would have gained priority. But they did not – they are still lost in their sin and bondage. Why then did we succeed where they failed? For the simple reason that God chose us and not them. And if election is not based on our ability, then it is evident that it is all of God's doing. We owe everything to Him.
The text goes on to say that salvation is all a work of God. Every aspect of it originates with Him. It is because of God that we are "in Christ Jesus" (v. 30), and as a result Christ becomes for us "wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.' When we are united to Christ by faith all of the benefits of His redeeming work are transferred to us. His Spirit regenerates us and makes us holy. His blood purchases our redemption. We do not save ourselves. Salvation is fundamentally something God does for us through Christ. We receive it as a free gift of His sovereign grace.
Paul concludes this passage by quoting Jeremiah 9:24: "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." All the glory goes to God, and one of the credit goes to us.
What it all comes down to personally is "why me?" Why was I chosen and called? Why am I saved and not others? I was once a hopelessly guilty sinner in the sight of God, just as much as all the rest. Better people than I are still bound fast in sin, plunging down the road to hell. And yet I am saved. Why? How did it happen? Only because God in His sovereignty selected me from the broad mass of humanity and shed His grace and mercy on me. I am completely undeserving and I owe my salvation entirely to Him. It come to me as a free gift of His grace, and I did nothing to merit it or deserve it in any way.
This consideration should move me to a profound sense of the love and gratitude for the One Who did all of this for me. And it should give me a deep humility to realize how unworthy I was of it all.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.