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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God elects sinners by his pure goodness
Text:BC 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 135:1-3

Psalm 65:1-2

Psalm 116:7-10

Hymn 1

Hymn 52

Scripture reading: Ephesians 1:1-14

Catechism lesson: Belgic Confession article 16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

I sometimes read stuff online from people who used to be Reformed.  Some of them left their Reformed church to go to some other church.  Some left the Christian faith altogether.  But I want to understand why.  I want to understand what their issues were.  That can help inform my preaching and teaching.  I get to know what the objections are and then I can address them. 

One of the issues that often comes up is God’s sovereignty in our salvation.  We believe the Bible teaches that God is 100% behind our rescue from sin.  We give him all the praise and glory.  That makes sense when you look at it from a biblical perspective.  If I didn’t respect the authority of the Bible, if I didn’t think it was the infallible and inerrant Word of God, my human reason would probably lead me in a different direction. 

I might be like that one person who writes online that you “gotta give it to Calvinists.  They’ve successfully imagined the most untrustworthy deity imaginable.  I cannot come up with a more untrustworthy deity no matter how hard I try.”  This is because “God forces billions to be ignorant and doomed.”  According to this person, Calvinists/Reformed believers worship a narcissistic deity.  That makes him evil and untrustworthy.

Does it trouble you to hear that?  If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, if you believe everything it says, you shouldn’t be troubled.  You see, the Bible has an answer to these objections.  It’s good that we grow in our understanding of these things.  We need the basics, but sometimes to answer objections we also have to go further.  This afternoon we’re looking at the doctrine of God’s Word in article 16 of our Belgic Confession.  We’ll see how God elects sinners by his pure goodness.  We’ll learn how this election took place:

  1. In God’s eternal and unchangeable counsel
  2. In Jesus Christ our Lord
  3. Apart from any consideration of our works

I’m going to address that objection about God being untrustworthy because he allegedly “forces billions to be ignorant and doomed.”  But before I do, I need to explain a couple of other things. 

The first thing is sin.  The Bible teaches that everyone has sinned and falls short of the glory of God.  None is righteous, no not one.  We each have our actual sins, but then we also have the original sin passed down to us from Adam.  We are born into this world as sinners, born as those plunged into perdition (perdition means eternal damnation).  We have a sin problem.

The world hates the word “sin.”  Sin is personal.  Sin is an evil committed against someone.  The Bible teaches us that sin is evil committed against God.  And God is so perfectly good and separate from sin, that he hates it with the most intense hatred.  When you sin against God, you sin against infinite majesty.  Sinning against infinite majesty deserves infinite punishment.  Getting infinite punishment for our sins against God’s infinite majesty would be justice.  Justice is when you receive what you deserve.

What’s it called when you receive the opposite of what you deserve?  What’s it called when you deserve infinite wrath and punishment and instead you receive eternal life?  That’s called grace.  Grace is when you receive the opposite of what you deserve.  According to the Bible, God is gracious and merciful to some sinners.

That begins with his gracious decree of election.  I can make the doctrine of election so simple that even the children here can understand it.  Kids, pay attention.  Election is when God chooses us, when he chooses those who will be saved.  It’s that simple.  God chooses us.  That’s election.  It’s not hard. 

But we have to go beyond the milk here.  When did God do this choosing?  Our Belgic Confession says this happened in God’s eternal and unchangeable counsel.  That’s based on what the Bible says in places like Ephesians 1:4, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”  Note well:  election took place “before the foundation of the world.”  In other words, before creation.  Time is part of creation.  Creatures exist in time, but God exists outside of time, he transcends time – he’s above it.  God is eternal, which not only means no beginning and no end, but also that the concept of time doesn’t apply to him.  In eternity, where he exists, God chose some for salvation. 

We say this is gracious and merciful because no one deserves this.  Everyone who is chosen is receiving the opposite of what they deserve.  God owes it to no one.  If God were to be only just, then he would leave everyone “in the fall and perdition into which they have plunged themselves” as it says at the end of article 16.

That gets us into dealing with that objection that God “forces billions to be ignorant and doomed.”  When I was 8 years old, our family was living far up in the Canadian Arctic.  That winter we went on a dream vacation to Disneyland in California.  One of the souvenirs I still have from that trip is an ink drawing, done by an artist on one of the streets in Disneyland.  It’s a drawing of 8 year old me driving a car.  My head is huge and exaggerated and the car is tiny.  That kind of drawing is called a caricature.  A caricature exaggerates.  There’s a bit of truth in it, but it’s also blown out of proportion.  When someone says that Reformed churches teach that God “forces billions to be ignorant and doomed,” that’s a caricature.

There are billions of human beings who have been or are ignorant and doomed.  The Bible says that, not us.  Jesus said it in Matthew 7:13-14.  He said there are many who go through the wide gate and follow the easy way to destruction.  There are few who find the narrow gate leading to life.  But the Bible doesn’t say that God forces them to be that way and neither do we.

We confess that God is sovereign in our salvation.  Because we’re sinful, we can’t save ourselves.  At the same time, we also confess human responsibility for sin.  The human race in general is responsible for original sin, not God.  God didn’t force Adam and Eve to sin against him in the Garden of Eden.  They freely chose to do that.  Individual human beings are responsible for their own actual sins.  No one is forced to be ignorant and doomed.  Because of sin, they want it that way.  Because of sin, fallen human beings don’t want God.  Because of sin, they want to rebel against him.  Because of sin, fallen human beings don’t want to humble themselves and say they have a problem.  Human beings carry 100% of the moral responsibility for their ignorance and rebellion against God.  People go to hell because they deserve it.  Because that’s justice. 

That’s why the last line in article 16 is so important: God has manifested himself to be just, “in leaving the others in the fall and perdition into which they have plunged themselves.”  Note:  they plunged themselves into their fall and perdition.  God didn’t plunge them.  They plunged themselves.  No one can accuse God of injustice when he leaves them in that condition.  God doesn’t owe it to them to save them.  They have no right to demand that from God, but they also don’t have any interest in wanting that from God.  Why would a sinful human being in rebellion against God suddenly want to spend eternity worshipping God?  Why would you want to spend eternity with someone you hate, or least someone you’ve never loved?  When God leaves sinful human beings in their sin, those sinful human beings are getting what they want, as well as what they deserve.

Thankfully, for those who believe the gospel, God doesn’t give us what we deserve.  He doesn’t give us what we wanted when we were dead in sin.  Instead, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, he has chosen us to eternal life.  What a comfort it is that this counsel of election is unchangeable.  What a comfort it is to believe that no one is more powerful than God.  If he has chosen us, no one can undo that.  If he has chosen us, he himself will never undo that.  We’re safe and secure in God’s good and loving hands.  Let that thought sink in for a moment and worship God for that truth – unchangeable counsel.  Beautiful, isn’t it?   

When we think about the doctrine of election, we usually focus our attention on God the Father.  He’s the person of the Trinity who does this action.  In theology, we say that election terminates upon him.  However, the other persons of the Trinity are involved.  Article 16 of our Belgic Confessions mentions the Son in particular.  It says that God “elected in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  That’s based on what the Bible says in Ephesians 1:4, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world….”  We’ve been chosen in Christ.

Now it’s easy to say that, but what does it mean?  Do you know how some cities and towns have water towers?  You see a few of them around here, but they’re much more common in North America.  If the place has some high ground, usually the water tower gets built there.  The water is stored high up in that tower and then it has some reliable pressure to get around to all the houses.  It’s like that with our salvation.  God has stored all the blessings and benefits of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  He is the fount of living water.  He’s like that water tower. 

That means that our election is inseparable from him.  God chooses us for rescue from sin and its consequences.  That rescue happens through Jesus Christ.  This was all in the mind of God when he chose us.  The whole plan of our salvation in Jesus Christ was in view.

Maybe that sounds lofty and theoretical.  But this has an important practical consequence.  The fact that election is in Christ means that it shows itself in time when sinners rest and trust in Christ for their rescue from sin.  And then that relates to the assurance of election.  Sometimes people will ask:  how can I be sure whether I’m one of the elect?  The answer brings us back to Jesus.  Do you have a true and living faith in Christ?  Do you place all your hope and trust in him for rescue from your sin and what you deserve for it?  Do you believe that Jesus lived a perfect life in your place?  Do you trust that he died for your sins in your place on the cross?  Have you turned away from our sins and turned to Christ?  Loved ones, if you can answer ‘yes’ to those questions, you can be confident about your election. 

It’s not arrogant to be confident about your election.  It’s not pride.  Quite the opposite.  It’s humbly trusting what God says to you in his Word.  He says that election is in Christ.  If Christ is yours through faith, then you can be sure that God chose you in him before the foundation of the world.  It’s not bragging, but recognizing what God has done for you in his grace.  It’s giving credit where credit is due.

And that’s really where we’re going with our final point this afternoon too.  The Bible teaches us and we confess in article 16 that election takes place apart from any consideration of works, that election is unconditional.

Anyone who believes in the Bible believes in election.  Now remember a few minutes ago, I gave you the children’s definition of election:  God chooses us.  Anyone who says they believe in the Bible will agree with that definition.  Whether it’s a Roman Catholic, an Arminian Baptist or Pentecostal, Reformed person, doesn’t matter.  Everyone will agree that there’s a teaching called election in the Bible and it involves God choosing.

Where we part ways is the question of why God chooses some.  Some want to make room for a human contribution.  Our Belgic Confession specifically mentions good works.  The idea is that God knows everything.  So when he made his decree of election in eternity, he knew what everyone would do ahead of time.  He could see people doing good works.  And on the basis of those good works that he foresaw, they say, he made his choice of who would be saved by Jesus Christ.  So then election is on the basis of foreseen good works.  Your good works have earned your election.  There were some early church theologians who held this wrong view, but some closer to our own time have too.

However, the more common approach is to say that God chooses some because he foresees their faith in Christ, a faith they exercised out of their free will.  This is what’s called the Arminian approach.  Arminianism teaches that God chooses some to eternal life because they first chose him.  God’s choice, God’s election, is based on him looking down the hallways of time and foreseeing individuals choosing to believe in Jesus.  The Arminian approach says God’s choice is based on foreseen faith.  Your faith has earned your election. 

While our Belgic Confession doesn’t directly rule out that wrong view, our Canons of Dort certainly do.  Certainly the Bible rules it out too.  The Bible rules out the idea that election is based on foreseen works or foreseen faith.  Ephesians 1:4 says that God chose us, “that we should be holy and blameless before him.”  Not because, but that we should be holy and blameless.  That rules out foreseen faith too, because through faith in Christ we are regarded as holy and blameless.  But Acts 13:48 more explicitly rules out the idea of election being based on foreseen faith.  There Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel in Antioch.  People believed.  Then Luke says in Acts 13:48, “...and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  Belief follows from being appointed to eternal life, not the other way around. 

If we put it positively, God chooses some to eternal life solely because of his good pleasure.  In his grace, it pleased him to save some.  It wasn’t because of anything in us, or anything that we had done or would do.  It’s all him.  It’s his sovereign good will.  He saved us because he wanted to.  He decided that it would serve his glory best to choose some to eternal life, while leaving others under his just judgment. 

Some might say that sounds arbitrary.  It sounds random.  God just chooses on a whim?  But that’s not what the Bible is teaching.  God doesn’t do arbitrary.  He has a sound reason for everything he does.  The thing we find hard to accept is that he doesn’t always tell us and we think he should.  We second-guess him.  Yes, he tells us in Ephesians 1 that this doctrine of election brings him glory.  Those who have been chosen and who’ve believed will bring God worship because of it.  But he doesn’t drill down into the details of why this person and why that person.  If we’re bothered by God’s silence on those kinds of details, we need to go to Romans 9:13-24.  Let’s open our Bibles and read that together.  The point is God is God and you’re not.  You don’t have a right to know his every thought and you don’t have a right for an explanation from him.  He’s decided you don’t need it.  What you do need is the truth he does give us about himself.  God is always good, always just, always trustworthy.  So instead of second-guessing God, trust him, also when it comes to election.                         

Loved ones, this Bible teaching isn’t just supposed to fill our minds.  Election is meant to impact our lives.  There are two ways.  First of all, if we have the assurance of election, we ought to worship.  We give all the credit and praise to God for our salvation.  It’s a deeply humbling thing that God has chosen me when I know my sin and misery.  I don’t deserve it at all.  I fall down in worship before the Triune God. 

Second, our Canons of Dort put it well:  “It is…not at all true that this doctrine of election and the reflection on it makes [believers] lax in observing the commands of God or falsely secure.  In the just judgment of God, this usually happens to those who rashly presume to have the grace of election, or idly and boldly chatter about it, but refuse to walk in the ways of his elect.”  In other words, if you’re one of the elect, you’re going to act like it more and more.  This is what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…”  Why?  “…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”  You proclaim his excellencies by aiming to live a Christian life.  If you don’t care about living a Christian life, then don’t presume yourself to be one of the elect.  If you don’t care about living for the Lord, if you’re only living for yourself and you just don’t care, you ought to be doubting and questioning whether you’re elect.

Brothers and sisters, your baptism doesn’t guarantee your election.  Your church membership doesn’t guarantee your election.  Being born into a Christian family doesn’t bring you to be one of God’s chosen ones.  The only way to make your calling and election sure is through repenting of your sin, placing all your trust in Christ, and following him as one of his disciples.  I urge you, each of you, make sure that’s where you’re at.  Be reconciled to God by repenting and believing in Christ.  Then live for him, live for his glory, live according to his Word. 

The Reformed doctrine of unconditional election can be hard to swallow, even for people brought up with it.  It’s certainly hard to swallow for unbelievers.  But it’s what the Bible teaches.  What God teaches in his Word about this is meant to do two things.  These two things are not contradictory, but complementary.   What God teaches us about election is meant to magnify his glory, bring him worship and praise.  That’s first.  Second, what God teaches us about election is meant to be for our comfort and confidence.  We can be comforted knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  We’re his, and we forever will be.  What a beautiful doctrine!  AMEN. 


Most just and most gracious God,

We worship you for the doctrine of election we’ve been learning about this afternoon.  We’re sinful creatures, but in your grace you’ve chosen us to be your people.  You’ve chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  Thank you that when we have true faith, we can be confident and assured of our election.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to always that confidence and assurance.  We pray for those among us who might not have that assurance right now.  Perhaps there are some among us living in sin and not wanting to genuinely serve you.  Please convict them of their sin and bring them to repentance and faith in Jesus.  Perhaps there are others who just really feel the weakness of their faith and it leaves them doubting.  For them, we pray that you would help them to know that the weakest faith still has a strong Jesus.  Hold on to them and give them more assurance with your Word and Spirit.  Father, please comfort them with your love each day.                                           

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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