It’s Reformation Day (Oct. 31, 1517). So to remember that day when Martin Luther posted his 95 reasons for rejecting the Roman Church’s teaching on justification by works and penance, I share with you my response to an email from a dear sister in Christ that I once was her pastor years ago. She raised three common questions that I attempted to answer. Below is what I said. May you be edified if my responses are helpful for you as well.
(these questions were asked in the context of a learning curve on the Sovereignty of God in his Plan of Salvation and Reformed teaching)
1. “Why do some who say they are saved, never really seem to be on fire [for the Lord] or to get into the Word?”
Your first question is a normal observation of church life. Sanctification is a mysterious paradox: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you both to will [that’s the want and desire] and to do [that the acting out the desire and will] for his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12, 13.
Pastorally, it is frustrating to see some professing Christians produce nothing more than what a nice, moral, lost person could produce, being made in the image of God. So, I keep challenging them to “make their calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10), to “not be deceived”(James 1:16), and to make sure they “have not believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). In other words, all I can do is challenge them to grow up. And if you are not growing up in your salvation, then maybe, maybe the best explanation is for this kind of profession that never seems to make any headway after years and years, is that you are not saved. I preach and teach the “P” of Tulip: Perseverance of the Saints. True saints persevere in faith and holiness, not perfectly, but through trial and testing our faith is refined and purified. Dozens of verses teach this. Many of these kinds of Christians may be saved and God is sovereignly holding them in their infancy for some time – so we wait for growth. Or, they may not be saved at all and don’t know it. That’s why it is important to base Assurance of Salvation not upon your salvation experience that happened twenty years ago, when you say you got saved, but on what your salvation is producing today. When I teach on The Basis of Assurance of Salvation, Scripture leans heavily upon active sanctification for assurance. Many Christians would be helped if they read Don Whitney’s short book, “How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian?”
2.”What about Adam and Eve’s choice” [to sin]?” ).
There are several truths that you have to hold in order to think your way through the garden event. First, “the lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19-20). That means that Adam and Eve’s choice was their’s to make but it was also part of God’s plan to put forth the need to crucify his own Son. Secondly, God has two wills, one is moral and the other is sovereign. It was against God’s moral will to murder Jesus (Thou Shall Not Murder), yet it was his Sovereign Will that he be murdered. And yet only Pilate, Herod, the Jews and Gentiles were responsible for murdering Jesus (Acts 2:22-23, 4:27-28). Consider Job: his children were murdered and Satan had his hand in it and yet Job said, “The Lord takes away.” The writer wants to make it clear that Job did not see this as a conflict: “In all this he did not charge God with wrong/evil.”
There are literally hundreds of examples that fall into this mystery where God is Sovereignly ruling the evil affairs of men, where men are violating God’s moral will but ironically fulfilling his sovereign will at the same time. This does not make our choices, non-choices. They are . . and they are real choices because in the end, we made them because we wanted to. We felt no mighty hand upon our conscience forcing us to rebel – we rebelled because we wanted to. For Adam and Eve’s sin, God was orchestrating the greatest display of Holiness and Mercy at the same time. They would suffer for what they did and yet God would suffer the loss of his Son (God killed an animal in the garden and clothed them = the covering of the righteousness of Christ) upon the cross and crush the devil’s head (The promise of Gen. 3:15).
Thirdly, we must remember that the garden was good, not perfect. Augustine put it this way:
a. Able to Sin (adam and eve in the garden before they sinned)
b. Not Able to Not Sin (after they sinned, adam and eve now unable to stop sinning)
c. Able to Not Sin (anyone who is a new creation in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit to live a godly life, yet not perfectly)
d. Not Able to Sin (one day for every believer in Christ in a glorified body)
The Triune God planned before they created to put in motion a world where Christ would get all the glory for redeeming men out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 5:9-11) so that God would be all in all and everything, including our sin would give him glory as he conquers our sin in the death of Christ (Rom. 11:33-36). The new heavens and new earth will have something that not even Adam and Eve had before they sinned: The knowledge of a gracious and merciful God with no ability to ever sin again.
Now this raises an old objection: How dare God include sin, Satan, eternal damnation, and my rebellion into a plan to magnify his Mercy and Grace through Christ? But just as old is the answer: “Who are you to answer back to God – he is the potter and you are the clay.” Which means, either we humble ourselves before the Cross of Christ or we charge God with the most serious accusation, that if this was his plan all along and in this way, then he had no right to create at all. Now that is a serious charge to level against the one who knows all things and who did not keep himself tucked away from the mess that he sovereignly willed. I think we would do well to duct-tape our mouth shut until we can rejoice with glad boasting in the Wisdom of God.
3. “How do you know that you are [of the] elect?”
Instead of citing scores of verses on this, answer this question: Do you still hear the voice of Jesus Christ calling you to follow him, to know him, to love him, to trust him, to obey him, to delight in him, to see him as your most valuable treasure in all the earth? And what does your heart tell you? Only the elect will be able to answer, albeit through a veil of tears and laments sometimes, “Yes Lord – I still Love you after all these years. My heart longs to see you face to face – it will be worth it all.”
Keep plowing away at this and you’ll find that your heart will open up to the incredible Wisdom of God to magnify his name through his Son, by redeeming sinners who did not have a chance, left to themselves – and that’s the point!