Last Sunday we began a study of what has been called the golden chain of salvation as it is found in Romans 8:29,30. John Stott calls these five items the five undeniable affirmations. We are told that a person is foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and then glorified. Each of those who are foreknown will also be glorified. If 100 people are foreknown, those same 100 will be predestined, called, justified, and glorified. It is a package deal.
We are taking some time with these words because they deal with the nature of man, the nature of God, the way of salvation and impact greatly upon our sense of assurance or confidence as a believer.
Before we continue our study it is important that I clarify. My intention in dealing with these things is not to promote my particular theological viewpoint. My desire is to preach the “whole counsel of God”. Even as I say this, please understand I am preaching what I believe the Bible is saying but that doesn’t always mean I fully understand these truths.
Last week we looked at the first two links of the chain, foreknowledge and predestination. We concluded that foreknowledge means God has known certain people as His own from the beginning of time. God ‘knows” these people because He has chosen to save them. Those He chose He has decided ahead of time (predestined) that He would work in their lives to build into it the image and character of Jesus.
The third word in the chain, “called” informs us how God will bring those whom He has chosen to Himself. He is going to call them. There are two different kinds of “call” in the Bible.
The General Call. The general call is the invitation that is extended to every person. God invites us to come to repentance and to be saved. The general call is extended from pulpits, radio stations, television programs and by individuals talking to their friends every single day. This call is like an announcement.
The Internal or Effectual Call. The second kind of call is the one Paul seems to be talking about here. This call is internal. It is a work of the Holy Spirit that is effective in bringing change. The Westminster Confession’s Shorter Catechism puts it succinctly,
Effectual Calling is the Work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. [Shorter Catechism Question 31]
This call of God is something God does inside of us that is unseen but enables us to believe. Do you remember our previous studies of man’s sinfulness? We saw that man is unable to come to God because He has no desire for God (Romans 3). Jesus told us that no one “can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him, and I will raise him up the last day.” [John 6:44] This “drawing” is the call we are talking about.
Jesus may be talking about this same thing in John 3 when he told Nicodemus that before he could “see the kingdom of God”, He needed to be “born again”. He had to be born of the Spirit in the same way in which He was born physically. Something needed to happen inside of him. The theological term for this rebirth is “regeneration”.
Ephesians 2 may state it most clearly,
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
We were dead (not merely sick) in our transgressions and God “made us alive”. This “making us alive” is the effectual call of God. It is God bringing us to life spiritually so that we can believe.
Look at some Biblical passages that describe the same thing,
[God said to Israel] 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. [Ezek 36:26-27]
Luke wrote….13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. [Acts 16:13]
Luke again when writing about the response of the Gentiles to the message of the gospel wrote, “48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” [Acts 13:48]
Paul, speaking to the Philippians said, 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. [Phil 2:12-13]
Suppose you were a friend of Lazarus in John chapter 11. You were broken hearted at the death of your friend so you stand before his tomb and scream, “Lazarus, get up and come out here! Lazarus, we miss you . . . come back to us” Would Lazarus respond? No. Why? Because Lazarus is dead. Dead people are unable to respond. We could stand outside his tomb and call, invite, sing songs, tell moving stories, and still Lazarus would not come out of the tomb. Jesus however walked up to the tomb and said, “Lazarus, come forth!” Sure enough, Lazarus came walking out of the tomb. What made the difference? Jesus has the power to give life to the dead! Those whom God chooses will be given new spiritual life so that they will believe.
But What about Free Will? When we talk about God’s changing us so we will respond to the gospel we are confused and often say, “This means we no longer have any choice. What happened to the concept of free will?” This calling, this change by God precedes the exercise of our free will.
Ask yourself, “What does the term free will mean?” Does it mean that you are free to choose without any bias at all? No, there is always a bias! Free will means we can freely choose to do what we most desire to do. Suppose I am standing before a cupboard filled with different kinds of cereal. Which box will I choose? The choice I make will be influenced by the desires I have at that moment. I may choose one cereal or another because I “have a taste” for something sweet. I may choose a certain box because I want some variety. I may choose another because it is healthier and I am concerned about my health. I will choose what I desire the most at that moment. I am not free to choose what I don’t desire because my desire determines my choice. (I may tell you that I desire to eat one brand of cereal but I am going to choose another to make a point. However, you are then proving that you are choosing a particular cereal that you don’t like because your greater desire is to make a point. There is no such thing as an unbiased free choice!)
Here’s another scenario. You are confronted by an assailant. The robber says to you, “You’re money or your life.” You have a choice. If your strongest desire is to keep your money you may fight and resist. If your strongest desire is to live, you will hand over your money. Every free choice is based on what we desire most. I’m sure most of these desires are a deep-seated combination of values, teaching and habits.
The Bible tells us that the unsaved person most strongly desires to sin. In other words, if we have a choice between serving our own interests and serving the Lord, we will serve our own interests. Some people get involved in a church not to honor God but to make contacts, to find friends, or to “score points” with God that they hope will lead to salvation. In each case we serving ourselves. If we are faced with doing what God says or doing what we desire, our bent and prejudice is in the direction of sin. We do not desire, seek or love God. Since that is the case, we would never freely choose God unless there was some way to change our desire. I believe this is what the Holy Spirit does when He calls us, He changes our appetites and desires. The call of the Spirit opens our hearts so that we desire to know God and to repent of sin. We need this call of God so we are able to exercise our free will to choose to trust and follow Christ.
Once the Holy Spirit changes our heart; once we are given this new appetite; once God has given us the ability to have faith and believe. . . we can respond to the external call of the gospel. You can’t have one without the other. You cannot truly respond outwardly unless an internal transformation has already taken place that changes your natural desires. You cannot have an internal transformation without responding to the call to believe and follow Christ since we always choose what we most desire.
Once we trust Christ as Savior and Lord and exercise faith in the work of Christ, we are declared “Not guilty” by virtue of what Christ has done for us and in us. Everyone who is called will be justified (or made right with God). Everyone who is called will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
The last word is a word that sets Paul off on the great doxology that closes this chapter. The word glorification points to our life in Heaven with the Lord. It points to a future day when we will be set free from our sinful nature entirely. We will have new bodies and will finally understand the purpose and ways of God.
The thing that makes this word so special is the fact that it points to a future reality but does so in the past tense. In other words, it is stated as if it has already happened. This promise is so sure that it is as good as done. Those who are chosen, predestined, called and justified will definitely be glorified.
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” [John 6:35-40]
How do you know if you are among the chosen? You will know you are chosen if you truly trust Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you find yourself loving God, serving God and growing into to be more like Jesus, you can be sure you are chosen. When we are told to “make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) Peter is simply telling us to make sure that we are placing our trust in Christ and not our own efforts, our Pastor, or our experience.
If you have not yet responded to the message of the gospel, there is still time. You may yet be one of those God has chosen. The real question for you to concern yourself with is not whether or not you are “chosen” but “Are you willing to surrender and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” The only true indicator of a person’s position in the household of God is whether or not they choose to believe and be saved.
Why does God choose some and not others? I don’t have a good answer for this question. Romans 9 tells us that God chose Jacob over Esau before they had done anything good or bad. So, we know that God does not choose us on the basis of our deeds, our potential or our goodness. We also know He doesn’t choose arbitrarily. That’s all I know about God’s reasons for His choices.
Does this mean that God chooses to send some to Hell? This is a difficult question. In one sense you would have to say, “Yes”. By choosing some and not others God is in essence allowing some to be lost. But in another sense the answer is “No”. God does not send people to Hell . . . our free choice to sin is what sends us to Hell. God is not obligated to save anyone who rebels against Him. He is not obligated to save me or to save you. That fact that he does so is an act of mercy.
Suppose someone was making illegal drugs in his home and there was an explosion. As a result of the explosion several people are unconscious in the burning building. You race into the building and drag several people to safety. Unfortunately, several others died in the blaze. Would it be right for the families of those who died to sue you for not saving their family member? What destroyed the people was not your act of mercy, but their illegal activity. The man should be called a hero for saving some. It is much the same way with God. It is vastly unfair to charge God with causing some to go to Hell simply because He did not extend His mercy and rescue them from their sinful ways. We should be grateful, not bitter.
If we are predestined (and therefore certain to be justified and glorified) what incentive do I have to live a holy life? This question implies that before you heard about God’s golden chain you were motivated to live a holy life because you thought that might get you to Heaven! We cannot be saved apart from God’s grace that is given to us through Christ. We serve Christ for the same reason whether you believe in election or not.
But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (2 Tim 1:8-9)
We live a holy life because we are motivated by God’s great love for us. When someone loves us in a transforming way, we desire to express our love in return. We work to live a holy life because it honors the Lord and because we know that God’s way is the best way.
Our obedience directly determines the amount of joy we know in our living. Remember, those whom He chooses He predestines to be conformed to the image of His Son. Learning to live like a child of God can either be done the easy way or the hard way. We can follow Him gratefully or face His discipline that is designed to shape our will.
Doesn’t predestination mean that witnessing is unnecessary? Isn’t everything already decided? Yes, God’s plan is in place. However, God implements or carries out His plan through the obedience of His people. God uses our witness to draw people to faith. In fact, if we understand these truths we actually witness with a greater sense of boldness because we are no longer preoccupied with saying the right words or getting the presentation right. We now understand that we can save no one by ourselves. We understand that God is the one who brings people to faith. Now we can witness trusting God to use our words to draw others to Himself.
Those who understand what Paul is teaching will also pray more fervently. It is God who changes a person. We are driven to prayer because we know a person cannot be saved by our arguments, they can only be saved by God’s transforming grace.
We will address some of these things again when we get to chapter 9. I hope this is beginning to make some sense to you. Once you understand what Paul is telling us, it is wonderfully freeing. It sets us free to rejoice, to give thanks, to worship, to hope and to have faith. If we understand we will stop feeling smug and start being grateful. We will stop sounding like we have earned our salvation and start praising God for our undeserved gift. We will live a life of humility and be willing to serve God with all our heart in gratitude for His love.
When we learn to appreciate this magnificent grace we will share the message of God’s love with anyone who will listen in the hope that they too might be set free from the shackles of sin and made right with God. When people respond in faith we will not glory in our efforts but we will rejoice in God’s grace.
Most of us don’t like this sense of absolute dependence on the Lord. We would rather feel that we could make it on our own. We would rather believe that we contribute to our own salvation. However, these feelings only serve to restrict God and limit our experience of His mercy and grace. When we finally come to understand that the universe does not exist for our glory, but His, we will be able to worship, serve, and love the Lord and will be set free to also enjoy, love, forgive, and encourage one another.