God’s Sovereignty in Salvation, P1

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to begin teaching the lesson on salvation from the course "Fundamentals of the Faith" provided by Grace Community Church. This should only be a two-parter, depending upon how long-winded I become. Here is the outline:

The debate on these issues has carried on since the time of the Apostles. This is because Scripture seems to both affirm God's sovereignty and man's responsibility in salvation, creating tension. Hopefully, this lesson will help you have a better grasp of the issues involved in order to bring you more reason to rejoice in your salvation.

A. God’s indictment of man
According to Romans 3:10–12, what are six things man is guilty of?
  • None righteous
    Isaiah 64:6 (filthy garments)
  • None who understands
    Ephesians 4:17,18 (understanding darkened)
  • None who seeks God
  • All have turned aside
    Isaiah 53:6 (all turn own way)
  • Useless
    Titus 1:6 (worthless deeds)
  • None who does good
B. The fallen nature of man
  • Alienated toward God—Colossians 1:21–22
    And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him
    What is our condition without Christ?
  • Spiritually dead—Ephesians 2:5
    even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved
    What does dead mean?
  • Helpless—Romans 5:6 (NASB):
    For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly
    How is the unbeliever helpless?
Total Depravity

Man can never find God.

God must seek out man— and He has!

Perhaps "depravity" is a poor term today, for it denotes utter immorality. Most unbelievers have at least some semblance of humanness, and would hardly consider raping and murdering their neighbors. As such, we usually reserve "depraved" to speak of those individuals who are the absolute worst of us.

In theology, however, the focus of the term is vertical rather than horizontal. Man cannot seek God or do what is good in God's sight. Therefore, perhaps the better phrase is "Total Inability."

A. The Process of Salvation
Look at John 6:
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
(v. 29)
This is okay. Our duty is to believe. Nothing controversial for us.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
(vv. 37–40)
The Father gives? Well, we'll have to pass by that oddity for the moment. We still have "whoever comes" and a wonderful promise. None that come to Christ will be lost! In the last day, Christ will raise ALL who come!

Also note that this is the will of God the Father. There is perfect agreement within the Godhead about our salvation. The Father is not mean-spirited, with the Son interceding on our behalf. God desires salvation for mankind.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
(vv. 44–45, 47)
Again, we have an odd statement by Jesus that the Father somehow determines who will come. The idea of drawing is that of bringing up a bucket of water from a well. We do not stand on the edge of wells and ask the water to be kind enough to let us drink it. We do not attempt to woe it. We throw down a bucket and draw the water up. This kind of terminology is what some find so strange about the NT teaching on salvation.

Yet, the tension is still there. Jesus says, "whoever believes." So, is it the drawing of the Father or the trust in Christ that saves?

What are the links in God’s plan of salvation according to Romans 8:29–30? Note the words:
  • “foreknew”
  • “predestined”
  • “called”
  • “justified”
  • “glorified”
There is no loss in transmission between the first word and the last. This is a chain, with each word linked by the phrase "He also." Just like Jesus' promise, all who are justified (the point at which one places trust in Christ to have his sins forgiven) will be glorified. Also like Jesus' promise, all who are drawn of the Father come and will be glorified. They obeys the call of the Gospel because they are predestined, and they are predestined because God foreknew them.
Each of these words are nouns in the past tense. God is the doer of these actions, and for Him, they are a done deal. We are mere recipients of God's grace.
But, this still leaves the question of where faith would enter. Where is our responsibility? These verses speak nothing of our deserving Him, and Scripture (as we read) teaches that we are quite undeserving. However, some have suggested our faith fits into the word "foreknew."
It may be possible that God would look down the corridors of time and would choose only those who would ultimately believe in Him. In other words, He saw the potentially faithful, and He predestined them on the basis of this condition.
Well, the Bible does say we are chosen based on foreknowledge:
B. Foreknowledge and Predestination
  • Chosen According to the Foreknowledge of God
    • Rom 8:29—“those whom he foreknew he also predestined” (verb)
    • 1 Pet 1:1–2—“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those … who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (noun)
  • Who does the choosing in these verses?
  • What does it mean that God chooses based on foreknowledge? What is foreknowledge? Simple omniscience?
    • Foreknowledge = proginosko (προγινώσκω)
      • Pro – beforehand
      • Ginosko – to know in an intimate way
        The simple translation of this word is "to know," but that does not carry the weight of the term. I may say, "I know the president," because I read the news, know his policies, and understand what the responsibilities of his office are. Yet, I have never met him.

        Now, I may also say, "I know my wife." This does not mean I studied her in a textbook, discovering information about her second-hand. I know her because of the intimacy we share.

        Though I have used "know" in both examples correctly, I have not used it to mean the same thing. Here are a few examples from Scripture.
        • Genesis 4:1
          Now Adam [ginosko] knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain
          This is obviously a euphemism.

        • Matthew 1:23–24
          “[Joseph] took his wife, but [ginosko] knew her not until she had given birth to [Jesus].”

        • BTW: 1 Pet 1:20, speaking of Christ
          He was [proginosko] foreknown before the foundation of the world
          This is the same passage we read a moment ago to discover that election is based on foreknowledge. We certainly would not want to apply the notion of simple omniscience to this verse. The Father chose the Son because He [ginosko] knew Him before the foundation of the world.

          God's foreknowledge, then, is not passive: it is a loving relationship with those who are in Christ.

      • God’s foreknowledge could be called “forelove,” then. This means the decrees of God reflect His love.
    • What does it mean that God based his choices on foreknowledge?
    • Did God look down the corridors of time and see who, given the right circumstances, would choose Him?

"In His omniscience God is certainly able to look to the end of history and beyond and to know in advance the minutest detail of the most insignificant occurrences. But it is both unbiblical and illogical to argue from that truth that the Lord simply looked ahead to see who would believe and then chose those particular individuals for salvation.
If that were true, salvation not only would begin with man's faith but would make God obligated to grant it. In such a scheme, God's initiative would be eliminated and His grace would be vitiated."

—John MacArthur, Jr. The MacArthur N.T. Commentary, Romans 1-8, John MacArthur, pg. 494-495

The formula "Foreknowledge = Simple omniscience" has other problems.
  • "If God based salvation on His advance knowledge of those who would believe, where did their saving faith come from?“
  • Natural man does not accepts the things of God
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. . . . The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:10, 11, 14)
Only my spirit knows me. That is, no one else knows what goes on inside my mind. It is this way with everyone, including God. Only the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. Couple this with the infinitude of God's mind, and there is no way a natural man can have any hope of understanding God without the Spirit of God. How, then, can the natural man arrive at a saving knowledge of God unless God initiates the process? God must be sovereign over salvation, or there is no salvation.
  • People are Chosen According to the Kind Intention of His Will. See Ephesians 1:4–5.
    • Predestination:
      • To set the destiny of
      • To be marked out, appointed or determined beforehand.
      • To set the destiny of every person who will believe in Him.
    • Why did He choose one over another?
      • “... according to the kind intention of His will
    • Is He capricious or uncaring in His decrees?
      • v.3 — “in love
      • v.4 — “kind intention” (NASB)
      • God is love, and he will save accordingly
    • He purposes to do it.
  • People are Chosen According to God’s purpose
    • God is Totally Sovereign in Salvation.
    • Does this mean that man has no responsibility or choice? We are completely responsible.
  • Predestination is no excuse
    • You may not assume God chose you. Wishful thinking is not saving faith.
    • You may not assume God will not choose you.
      • It is no accident that you are here
      • God desires for you to repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4)
    • Predestination is an excuse for worship
      • Praise Him for what He has done through the ages for you and all of your fellow believers
Psalm 116:16–17:
O Lord , I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
To be continued...

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