I attended a sermon on Sunday which reminded me that words alone on the topic of "free will", while defendable and containing much truth, can be approached with differing emphasis that appear to conflict. Sometimes the wonders of the Good News involve subtleties. I begin with words from Sunday's sermon, followed by more words for your discernment.
Audio: 2:06 min.
And God already knew that they weren't going to listen to Him. He was going to preach to call them to covenant renewal, to faithfulness, to repentance from their sins. That's what the gospel always calls for. It says come back to God, which means turn from your sins. The gospel call, the covenant call, is always a call to repent. God's way is the way of righteousness. You always have to turn from your sins to come to God. To come to Christ.
I'm pleading with you this morning. Some of you get lost in this idea because you're Calvinist kids like my kids are. So you've been raised to understand that God's sovereign over everything and then you've become confused to think that God must be to blame for everything. And you're all mixed up about your own sin. The bible's just plain. The bible doesn't neglect the obvious. God is making an obvious offer of life for all who will believe.
And God is sending out messengers like me, and some better than me, to plead with you to stop it, to listen, to give your life to Jesus Christ, to receive the free gift, to know forgiveness of sins, to know the freedom that comes in Christ. All you have to do is believe. Hear, believe. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of Christ.
Don't blame God, but wake up. Would you wake up this morning, and put your faith in Christ. Some of you are still in desperate need and right this moment God is causing me to offer grace to you. Do you hear that? Right this moment, God is extending a kind hand to you. Far from being to blame for you situation, God's trying to lift you out of it, right now. Right this second, Jesus is opening His arms to you through the gospel, and I'm telling you, as the bible plainly says, it's up to you to believe it, or not.
Just like it was up to the Jews who walked away that day, it's up to you ... to come to Christ, and I call you to Him.
Audio: 1:30 min.
Well God has offered Christ, but we have to accept Him. God has put Christ forward, but we have to believe in Him. God has put Christ out there, He's put the parts in place but we have to assemble it, and make it our own. Well that of course is exactly wrong.
So Luther drives it home. When it comes to the work of God, the very power of God to create faith, I believe that I can't believe it. By my own reason or effort I cannot believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him.
If we believe at all in Christ as our savior, if we have any hope in Him, if we have any faith ... It is not because we've sized Him up and decided He's worth the effort. It's not because we've taken the bits and pieces of the story of salvation that God has laid on the table and managed to assemble them in such a way that now they fit for us. It's because the Holy Spirit has reached into our hearts and minds somewhere along the life that we've been living, and has called out of us trust and faith even against ourselves.
And so, with great freedom and courage and honesty, Luther gives us the language to say I believe that I can't believe. I know this is true. I see it evidenced in my life every single day. As I take up the business of god-hood and deity into my own hands and take charge of my own affairs, often at the expense of my neighbor.
Audio: 4:16 min.
So again, election is the loving choice by God the Father to give to His son a bride, the church. But now our question is this. What is the basis of that choice? Is it conditioned on something man is or does? Or is it unconditional, dependent on God alone?
Election is not based on what man does. God's choice had nothing to do with what they did. The twins were not even born. They hadn't done anything good or bad. That means they didn't enter into the equation at all. That's what it's saying. You see, it's based on God's pleasure, on God's prerogative. Look again at verse 16, chapter 9, "So then, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God, who has mercy." This is dependent on God. Salvation is dependent on God, not man.
A sinner cannot believe in Christ. Because he's enslaved. He's imprisoned. You see, when Adam sinned, he lost his free will. He lost his ability to choose Christ. He and his posterity became slaves to sin, that's why it says there's none who does good. And he can't even believe the gospel. This moral impotence extends all the way to his ability to receive Christ. And thus man's fallen nature in Adam requires God's initiative. Lest no one be saved. And that initiative is the election of grace.
God is omni-everything. And therefore He's omni, or all sovereign, even in the matter of salvation. No one resists His will. He decides, unilaterally, on whom to have mercy, and whom to reject. He is the sovereign potter, who does with the clay as He wishes, and we must be content and submissive to that.
God gave His son to redeem sinners, out of His great love, and it all boils down (so it seems and so it is) to one's willingness to believe in Him. Now here's the UN-biblical assumption: Man must therefore have the freedom to believe. If the gift is predicated on his believing, doesn't it seem to follow that man must have the freedom to take that gift. It would seem that way, but the bible says 'NO'. God does promise eternal life to all who will believe, but none are able to believe. And it's not because of election, it's because of sin. God's electing love is actually the key that unlocks the cell of moral impotence, and marks sinners as recipients of that quickening ray from heaven, and always in the context of the hearing of the gospel.
So if you're here this morning, and you don't know Christ, and you've been tempted to hide behind the doctrine of election. Oh let's get rid of that excuse right now. And let's not view election as a foe. Election is a friend. Do you realize, dear sinner, if you're outside of Christ, there's not a chance in the world that you can believe of your own. You are lost. You are impotent. You are morally bankrupt. I might as well go try and dunk the ball in today's basketball session. I can't do it, and you can't believe the gospel.
Audio: 1:15 min.
Whereas faith, biblically understood, connotes an empty receiving, an empty-handed receiving. Out there is the virtue I need, not in here. I'm the problem, that's the solution. Faith welcomes the solution. That's all it is.
God intends to make it crystal clear the He does the decisive saving outside of us. That the work and person of Christ are the sole ground of our acceptance with God. In other words, don't replace faith with any other virtue, because faith is tailor made to say, all I need as the ground of my salvation is out there.
Faith is the peculiarly receiving grace, which none other is. Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, [or] by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea that something good in us is the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed.