Summary: How doctrines of election and predestination relate to our chosing God, Him choosing us and crucially the surety of our salvation.

Salvation Panic

When Andy emailed me last month to say that the theme was ‘Chosen from Eternity’ I replied saying that we would need to open the question of predestination. Now predestination isn’t in itself a problem – the idea that God foretold who would be saved and who would not before he even created mankind – but the Calvinist doctrines built around it - TULIP teach total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the P NOT for predestination but preservation of the saints. I’m not going to get into all of that – that’s probably a six-week study and an interesting one at that. If you want to read more on the subject F LaGard Smiths recent book Troubling Questions for Calvinists is a good place to start. Instead I want to think about how doctrines of election and predestination relate to our choosing God, Him choosing us and crucially the surety of our salvation.

Forgive the history lesson – but bear with me because it gives us an important context. Two things transformed religion more than anything else since the establishment of the early church shortly after Christ’s ascension. 1. The invention of the printing press and 2. The reformation, the breaking away from the Catholic Church and the pope to establish a church initially to serve the whims of an adulterous King Henry VIII. That period of history is so fascinating and I devour books set in the Tudor times – because it was then that attitudes would change forever – when the idea was introduced that ordinary people like you and me could and even should read the bible. Henry ordered that every village church should have a bible and they where inscribed with an image of God’s word being handed down from the King to his Bishops and from them to the noblemen and on down to the common man.

Crucially that early policy (later reversed to exclude women) gave rise to what were called the Biblemen – street preachers, who eventually were reigned in by Henry’s bishops – but by then men had begun to discover things in the bible that had never been discussed, things that gave rise to numerous doctrines and churches that rejected the old order of the monasteries and worship conducted in the foreign language of Latin.

One of my favorite series of books is by the author C J Sansom; about a hunchback solicitor – Matthew Shardlake, a reformer and a bit of a reluctant detective living in London during Henry’s reign and working for Archbishop Cranmer. In his most recent book – Revelation there is a young man – Adam, son of deeply religious parents, members of a new, reformed church preaching new scriptural interpretations of the bible, particularly ideas circulated by the European writers Calvin and Luther.

Crucially they preached what we know now as the central part of Calvinism – predestination and unconditional election. Many denominations still do: Presbyterian some Baptists and more evangelical members of the Church of England.

It had been proposed by Augustine and later Luther, that God, being Omniscient, knew the future, and therefore knew in advance who would be saved. This was predestination.

Calvin extended that idea, stating that God not only knew what choice every person would make in his life, God had actually decided what choices everyone would make. Individuals had no choice in this. Human Free Will was only an illusion. Therefore God had decided that certain people would live a Christian Life and be saved – He had chosen a people much like he had in the Old Testament – but this time made up from Jews and Gentiles. He had also decided that the rest would sin and be eternally damned. If you were predestined to be damned there was nothing you could do about it. God’s will was Sovereign. All Humans were "totally depraved – they had inherited Adams sin and are unable to do anything to help themselves. God’s salvation was a gift of Grace that He bestowed on who He chose. Christ died, not to save everyone, but only to save a chosen, predestined "elect."

Eph. 1:4-5; "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,"

Last bit of the history lesson: In the 1600s, a Dutch cleric, Jacob Arminius, rebelled against Calvin’s interpretation of scripture and proposed a modification, stating that God wished to save us all, not only the Elect, and that individuals could choose to accept or reject salvation. This Arminism was condemned as Catholicism by the Anglican Synod in 1619, and most of the main Reformed denominations stuck with hardline Calvinism until Victorian times.

The problem of pre-destination and unconditional election is the central theme of the Matthew Shardlake book. Young Adam Kite is committed to the Bedlam – the lunatic asylum in London – a place where few people who went in ever emerged – His family had him committed because he wouldn’t or couldn’t stop praying, begging God to assure him that he was one of the elect – one of those chosen by God before time. He couldn’t eat, sleep or hold a conversation because he was gripped by what the book calls Salvation panic. The dread that he had not been chosen – that he was sinful, wicked and therefore he just couldn’t be chosen by God His parents were good so surely they were among the elect and his preacher certainly was – but him, no matter how much he wanted God he was sure God didn’t want him and that it was obvious that he wasn’t one of those chosen from before time began.

This is a work of fiction but what was going on in Adam’s head – the whole issue of salvation panic or salvation anxiety is fact. The records of 17th Century therapists give detailed accounts of cases of ‘salvation panic’. A phenomenon brought about both by the Calvinist teaching that God has already divided mankind into the saved and the damned and because people had read the book of revelation for the first time. Histories of the great revival or awakening in colonial America in the 18th Century record many examples of suicides by people who had come to believe they were counted amongst the damned and there was nothing they could do to change their eternal destination – they just gave up because they felt all was hopeless.

Many Christians through the last 400 years have suffered extreme anxiety and doubt, not knowing whether they were truly among the elect or not. Most Churches told members that if they kept the Commandments and lived reasonably well, they were probably among the elect. Good works became a way of demonstrating to yourself and others that you had been chosen by God. Although that contradicted Calvin’s teaching that suggested if you weren’t one of the elect – then no amount of works would matter. Of course mixed up in all of this are elements of truth. And reading that book made an impression on me not because it exposed the extreme implication of Calvinism on peoples faith, no, I was fascinated by the historical account of a time when people would actually be so utterly concerned for their own eternal salvation. Salvation anxiety was real – but it isn’t something we see today much, is it?

In the past we were quick as a church to tell others that they weren’t going to heaven – obviously utterly convicted of our own eternal destination. I’ll never again be so presumptuous to make such a judgment – but how confident are we of our own choosing? How confident are we of our own individual salvation? How do we convince others around us that they NEED to be concerned about their eternal destination and that they will one way or the other choose whether they are among the saved or the damned?

How DO WE know that our calling and election is sure?

How can we reassure ourselves of Gods calling – our election? Lets read a few passages that might assure us.

1. We can be assured of our election as sons of God if we truly believe in God.

Acts 2 14-21 Peter is preaching to thousands on the day of Pentecost. He tells them that in the end times God will show wonders in the heavens and signs on the earth and the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. And it will be that v21. That EVERYONE who believes, who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. He told the same thing to the jailer in Acts 16 – a man ready to commit suicide because he thought his prisoners had escaped and he asked Paul and Silas , "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" and in v 31They said, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

But that isn’t the whole story – in both instances and in many others there is something more needed to enter the kingdom.

2. We need to ACT on our belief.

In Acts 2 Peter finished that sermon by telling the crowd not just that their belief would save them but they should demonstrate their faith. V 38 Peter said to them ‘ Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and you will; receive the gift of the Holy spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for ALL who are far off, everyone who the Lord calls to himself.

And Paul and Silas studied with that jailer and his family – and they chose God - v32 of Acts16 ‘And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.’

I like that emphasis – no delay – this man wanted to know God, wanted the assurance of his salvation and didn’t delay.

Mark 16:15-16

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

ALL the world – free will – choice – that on hearing Gods word we choose HIM and he accepts us – forgiving us, loving us, assuring us and promising us an eternity so different from the world we know.

3. We can be sure of our election if we get the balance of our lives right.

Matthew 19 16-26 Rich Young ruler – Who asked Jesus what good thing must I do to be saved? Jesus tells him – keep the commandments – he asks – which ones? Jesus recites some and the man says – I DO keep them what else do I lack? He must have truly felt that he was not saved – so Jesus searches his heart – because he knows the thing that eats away at all of us – different for each of us – he knew that the mans earthy riches were more important to him than his eternal salvation – so he tested that. When he tells the disciples that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven he acknowledges the struggle we have between the here and now – our life here on earth and the working out of our faith that looks FORWARD, toward our eternal destination not our immediate one. And the disciples we’re told are astonished – in a moment of panic they ask – but LORD who can be saved?! – They reminded him that they gave up EVERYTHING to follow him, and Jesus reassures them saying that where salvation is concerned – those who are typically last in this world will be first in his world. That those who sacrifice now will be rewarded later.

He reassures us that if we put him first, if we get the balance of our lives right then we need not panic about our salvation.

4. 2 Peter 1 suggests that we should think about our choosing and suggests how we can know that we are chosen and that our salvation is sure.

Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

Look at that again – How might we be assured of our calling?

1. That you have escaped the lustful corruption that characterizes the world we live in – well Christ has made that possible and our baptism wipes the slate clean – but we need to keep some distance between the lusts of the world and our lives.

2. That you strive for moral excellence – that you try to do right.

3. That you are diligent in seeking knowledge – learning more about God – studying, reading his word, books that will extend your knowledge that you attend worship and hear the word taught.

4. That you exercise self-control – not just simply say – I’m a sinner, I can’t help myself – the flesh is weak and it’s not my fault.

5. That you persevere through thick and thin – through good times and bad.

6. That you are kind to your brothers and sisters in Christ and that you demonstrate through your actions, your deeds – love for others.

The passage sums up by saying that if you posses these qualities – and if they are increasing than you can be ASSURED of your salvation. BUT it asks that WE BE DILIGENT, DILIGENT, to make certain about His calling and choosing us – that means not just drifting though life with the Calvinist attitude that once we have been saved through baptism than we’ll always be saved – once he chooses us, adopts us then there is nothing we can do or not do to change that. But listen again to the latter part of the reading:

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

If we practice these things then we needn’t be anxious about our eternal destination – God chooses all those who come to him with an open and ready heart.

5. Finally – We need to Endure Mark 13:

10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. "When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.

13"You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

Young Daniel Kite had been misled by the teachings of Calvin and in the end another man convinced him that if he didn’t stop praying he wouldn’t be able to hear God. He was persuaded that God would surely choose someone like him, someone with such belief, such a repentant heart and a phenomenal desire to belong to God – they where right. Our death is certain and our destination after that is of our choosing – God doesn’t want ANYONE to perish and YET most people will. He begs us – cries out to us – CHOOSE ME – and if we believe, if we recognize that we are sinful and repent, if we are baptized for the forgiveness of those sins we will receive the gift of the holy spirit who will help us bear the kind of fruits I’ve talked about this morning. And do we endure alone – absolutely not – cast your burdens on me Christ said – I’ll carry you when things get tough – just keep faith with me and I’ll help you home.

Calvin got it wrong – we do have a choice and we will play an active part in determining our eternal destiny. God knows how it will all turn out – he knows who the elect will be – but he won’t ever mess with our free will or tell us what to do. He’s letting this world carry on to give mankind time to make the right choice – but there will come a time when he’ll draw a line under it. Every one of us has a choice – if you’ve made it already then BE DILIGENT to make certain his calling, and if you are thinking about it – don’t think any longer, what’s to think about – if the Lord came during lunch today and the heavens opened and the air filled with a sound you had never heard and people began to rise into the air – let me tell you – you’d panic alright…but for you it’d be too late. Don’t leave it –Jesus is calling out to you this morning – sinner, COME HOME.