One of the topics that Romans raises is the notion of election vs. free will. I took a rather strong position from Romans 9-11 that God chooses who will be saved. I taught that everyone has the freedom to choose God, but because of sin’s deceitfulness no one does unless God makes the first move to choose them and draw them to himself.
This has raised some very interesting questions in our church’s “CONNECT” cards over the past couple of months, and one that came in this past week really got me thinking. Tonight, I wrote a long response to the couple that asked the question, and I thought it would make sense to post the answer here as well.
I wanted to give a response to your connect card question from 10/7. On it you wrote:
…what if one of your children isn’t God’s “elect”? Do you have peace saying that’s a possibility and even God’s will that they are destined to be separate from you & Jen and God for eternity?
I’m hearing a few different questions in that, and I’m not sure which is the central question, so let me bullet point the options, and perhaps one of them is the one that is really weighing on your heart.
- First, I’m hearing the emotional question of whether I personally have peace in my heart knowing that I may not spend eternity with my family.
- Secondly, I’m hearing the faith question of whether I can accept a God who would choose to take ME to heaven while not choosing to take my kids.
- Thirdly, I’m hearing the theological question of whether it’s really accurate that God chooses some for salvation.
Let me take them in reverse order briefly.
Thirdly, my theological decisions are based 100% on my absolute best understanding of what the Bible teaches. On this point, the Bible seems to me to be completely clear on three counts: (1) Righteousness is required for heaven and every human being has been given the choice to pursue righteousness or selfishness. (2) Every human being save Jesus himself has consistently chosen selfishness over submission and has willfully lived in sin which in combination with Adam’s sin and the blinding power of Satan has locked each human into a perpetual cycle of sin. (3) Though salvation is offered to all through Jesus, no one in their sinful condition has ever nor will ever choose that salvation unless God does a special work of grace in that person’s life first, which he graciously does for those whom he has chosen.
The biggest point of debate among pastors and scholars comes from these statements. Catholics deny that humans are locked into sin. They teach that once Adam’s sin is washed away through christening, the person is “free” to choose good or evil. Many Protestants uphold that too claiming that God has given enough grace to everyone that they may choose “freely” to follow God. I don’t deny that claim. However, the Bible seems abundantly clear on point #3 that no one ever chooses salvation without a special work of God. Some today believe God does that special work for everyone and people still reject. Others believe that God does that special work for a few who always respond, Others believe it’s a combination of both. I personally believe that when God chooses someone for salvation, he does everything necessary to woo that person toward a response.
The bottom line is that I do not think there is any real biblical support for a position that denies point #3. Furthermore, I believe there is strong biblical support for the notion that ALL who are chosen WILL respond while ALL who are not chosen WILL NEVER respond.
My conviction in this matter is not based on any sense of “peace” but on a straightforward and rigorous study of the Bible’s actual teaching on this topic.
Secondly, with regard to my own faith in a God who would select some and not select others, I actually love God MORE and respect him MORE now that I understand election. You see, if it is true that no human ever chooses God unless God chooses him first, then for anyone to be saved requires an INDIVIDUAL act of grace from God to that person. He doesn’t do anything from a distance, but he is greatly involved in people’s lives. Now, of course, the problem with this notion is that if God chooses some, then we conclude he is “rejecting” others, and we have a problem with a God who loves some and rejects others. Well, that’s really more of a personal problem than a problem with God. According to Paul in Romans 9-11, God has the RIGHT to choose whom he will. I believe he COULD save everyone on the planet, and some Christian pastors believe he WILL. For myself, I don’t go that far because the Bible never indicates that he will save everyone. Therefore, I completely disregard the notion that God “rejects” some, because honestly, I don’t know how that process works with him, nor do I know how many will be rejected. On the contrary, I focus on the immense love and grace of a God who rescues SOME even if he doesn’t rescue ALL.
First, on a personal emotional level, there is only one Christian sect that guarantees my children will end up in heaven with me, and it is the Catholic tradition. According to Catholic tradition, if I “baptize” my children, keep them in church through their age of confirmation, and teach them the principles of confession to a priest, attending mass, and saying prayers, I will be guaranteed that they will be in heaven eventually even if they must spend some time in purgatory. My problem with that tradition is that it is unbiblical. Such promises about my children are never found in the Bible. Would I like a guarantee that my children will be in heaven with me? Sure! However, the Bible gives only one such guarantee regarding anyone’s eternal condition. It is found in many passages, and in many different phrasings, but the gist is captured in Romans 10
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. — Romans 10:9-10
Since I will never know the true condition of the heart of anyone but myself, I will never have 100% certainty that ANYONE I know will be in heaven. I can accept your declaration of faith, but I cannot see your heart. The same thing goes for my children. I will never have certainty over their eternal security, nor does the Bible indicate that I should. As it so happens, my children are both professing believers. They have not been baptized and I am not pushing for them to do that before they are ready to do it for themselves and their own reasons. However, even if they were, my belief in their eternal destiny would be based on faith and hope more than certainty.
However, you didn’t ask about what I believed. You asked about whether I had peace with it, and the truth is that yes I completely do have peace with it for three reasons:
When I get to heaven, I’m convinced that my love for Jesus will overshadow all earthly loves, my awe for Jesus will overshadow all my earthly doubts and questions, and his glory will make all other allegiances fade into the background. I believe I will know my wife in heaven, but I don’t believe that we will have in any sense a “special” relationship. It’s possible we will, but I’m certain that Jesus himself will overshadow all of that so greatly, that if I love the Tav family with a 5, my children with a 7, my wife with a 9, I will love Jesus with a 1,000,000, and that will pretty much win.
I trust God’s goodness, sovereignty, and glory so much that if for his purposes, he chooses to grab Charlie’s heart but not Katie’s heart, I will still trust Him. I will on this earth mourn the spiritual loss, but I will still have “peace” in my heart that God is in charge.
Finally, it will never be my role on earth to determine if God has chosen my children. Rather, I will live from the assumption that he chose them and is working to woo them toward himself. I, therefore, am to consider myself part of God’s wooing work in their lives. I am called to be God’s representative toward them and give them every opportunity to know him. In fact, I believe God put those kids in my family because of his work of choosing them for himself. I simply assume that he has chosen everyone, and so I call everyone to respond.
Now, this answer has been two things: long, and rational/male. I’m guessing that you want to know if this teaching should cause you to worry about your own kids. I’m guessing your question is either because you are firmly convinced of your own beliefs and want to challenge my belief or what I think is more likely, you think I’m firmly convinced and this concept has challenged a belief of your own.
So before I close, let me say a couple more things for you to ponder and pray over.
First of all, your love for your children is evident to everyone. The way you look at them, both of you at each of them, reveals a twinkle in your eyes. You love those two angels, and rightly you should. They are precious, beautiful creations of a loving God who has used you as his agents of creation to bring them into this earthly world. I believe he is continuing to use you and will continue to use you as his agents of creation in their lives to bring them into his heavenly world. I believe that all signs so far point to him choosing them for himself by placing them in your care for this earthly sojourn.
However, the very thing that brings him great glory and joy also brings a parent great anguish: Independence. Every parent who loves his child fears the days when the child will need to make decisions on his or her own. Every parent is concerned about those moments. There are some church traditions that try to say, “Even if your child screws up down here, there are things you can do as parents to guarantee their life in heaven,” but those traditions are not biblical. The sad reality is that if your children don’t choose to receive the gift of salvation for themselves, there is nothing you can do to make it happen. If they reject the offer of salvation, the Bible tells us it’s because the standard human pathway is the pathway of rejecting God. If they reject God, it’s because God has seen fit to honor their Independence and allow them to go their own way. However, the awesomely wonderful truth is that God is strong enough to overcome every sinful tendency they have. You aren’t strong enough but he is, and if your children choose to follow God, it’s because God did the work in their lives first… not the least of which was putting them in your household.
Therefore, our job as parents is simply this: To be agents of God’s election in the lives of our children; to woo our children toward God as effectively as we can.
You are doing a great job as far as I can tell so far. Just keep demonstrating the love of God to your children, and he will demonstrate his work of election in their lives through you. I have no doubt that God loves your kids even more than you do, and I have no doubt that He is trustworthy and good.
Grateful for you and your example as parents,