Grace Changes Everything
Doctrines of grace–part 2
Thanks for joining us tonight. For those who don’t know me, my name is Shawn and I am one of the pastors here. For those who were here last week, thank you for bearing with me as I was pretty sick. I don’t know if you felt bad for me as I preached, but I felt terrible for you as you listened.
Tonight we are going to conclude our study titled, “Grace Changes Everything”. This two-week series on the doctrines of grace has been an in-depth study looking at our salvation. This is deep stuff. It is doctrine and it is theology and it is critical to understand.
There are two main theological positions on how people are saved–there is the doctrine of Arminianism, which highlights the free will of man, as contrasted with Calvinism, which highlights the sovereignty of God in salvation. Two opposing views, lots of history, lots to be said, and tonight we look to the Scriptures in an attempt to get a deeper understanding of our salvation.
Last week we began with the following prerequisites. The Bible is our authority. Theological systems ultimately fall short. Do not resolve Biblical tensions, let them lie. And tonight let me give you three more.
We were created in God’s image, He was not created in ours. I have heard it so many times–”The God I believe in is a God of love. He would never send someone to Hell.” Or people sit around a small group saying, “Well, to me God is like a warm fuzzy feeling. Who is He to you?” These types of statements are errors. God is not determined by what we think He is–He is who He is.
JI Packer said, “Our speculations are not the measure of our God. He has revealed Himself very clearly in His word. And we cannot fashion Him into a god of our own likeness.” So be careful in the study of these deep doctrines that your image of God and understanding of His nature and character is taken from the Scripture and not from your preconceived ideas.”
Be careful of ruining a friendship or your witness–theological debates are often full of fighting, arguments, and pride. They are typically places for young men to get on their soap boxes and wax eloquent. Many a friendship has been damaged by an immature, raving Calvinist who has accepted these truths in his head, but has not allowed them to affect his heart. It mimics the words of 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up.” Be gracious, be kind, and be careful not to get caught up in “the competition” of the debate. It should lead to humility, wonder, and praise for God and not an argument.
If you walk away feeling like you won, then something is really wrong. This is a five-year doctrine. Give it time. This one takes time. Don’t rush it. Relax. Be prayerful, be soft-hearted, and let the Word of God speak into your life. You are here tonight. Ask the Lord to show you the truth from His Word and ask Him to make you humble to accept it.
Lets dive in. I have structured our outline in the form of questions to be asked and answered, hopefully in somewhat of a logical flow. Last week we answered three. Let me recap, and then we will answer four more tonight.
1. Who is responsible for your salvation?
We worked our way through Scripture to show that God is sovereign over all things and orchestrates all things according to the counsel of His will. “Our God is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). From there we asked the second question . . .
2. If God is sovereign, is man still responsible?
We saw that yes, man is responsible for his actions. He is a moral being who is accountable. And so the answer is both that God is sovereign and man is responsible and we should not try to solve the tension that exists there, but rather remember that the Bible teaches both realities and we can trust in that.
Spurgeon said, “What the Bible does is to assert both truths side by side in the strongest and most unambiguous terms as two ultimate facts.”
3. Can man choose God?
If man is responsible, then it’s up to him to choose God, right? Seems logical. He can, in his free will, either choose or reject. But this is not the case. While most of humanity thinks of man as basically good, the Bible teaches that he is anything but good. In fact, the Bible teaches that sin is in his nature. It has affected every part of his being, he is enslaved to it, and in fact he is spiritually dead before God. In his natural state, man cannot choose God. He does not have free will to do as he pleases, he is a slave of sin and a pawn of Satan and he has no ability whatsoever to respond to God. Ephesians 2:1 says he is dead, and this leaves us in a pretty desperate predicament. The question–can man choose God? The answer is no. And that brings us to our next question.
4. If we cannot choose God, then did God choose us?
The answer to this question is yes. The Bible clearly teaches that God chooses some. That He predestines some. That He elects some. Do you have a hard time with the doctrine of election, predestination? Has this been something you are unable to come to terms with? Let me help you. First of all, this idea is all over your Bible. This cannot be denied. It needs to instead be worked through and understood in its proper light. The word predestine is used six times in the New Testament. The word elect is used eight times in the New Testament, and the word chosen is used all over the Old and New Testament.
The fact that God chooses some and not others should not come as a surprise to any of us. Do you remember the story of Abraham? In Genesis 18:19 God says, “For I have chosen him.” And then there is the story of the twins, his grandsons, in Malachi 1:2 where God says, “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.” According to Romans 9:11, this was God’s choice.
God chose a people to be His own. He called them Israel and He set them apart. This is all over the Old Testament, but Deuteronomy 7:6 says it very clearly. “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” In 1 Kings 11:34 God chose David, in Psalm 78:68 He chose the tribe of Judah, and in 2 Chronicles 6:6 He chose Jerusalem to be His city. Jesus Himself chose twelve men to be His disciples, saying in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
First Peter 5:13 says that the church is chosen, and 1 Timothy 5:21 tells us that even the holy angels are chosen, and in Matthew 24:24 Jesus calls believers the elect. So the fact that God chooses or elects some and not others is a part of Scripture. Do we all agree so far? The question is whether or not this election is conditional, based on man’s choice of God–or unconditional, based on God’s choice of man. How do we answer this?
Let’s turn to the Word of God, Ephesians 1:3 and 4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly placAs in Christ [that’s a pretty amazing statement], 4 just as He chose us [there it is–He elected, picked us out, selected us] in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” When were we chosen? Before we were born . . . before the cross . . . before Mt Sinai and the law was given . . . before Eden . . . before He painted the stars in the sky . . . before the angels sang His praise, God chose some whom He would redeem. He wrote their names down in a book. Revelation 13:8 calls it the Lamb’s book of life.
If you are a Christian, it is not because you did anything to choose God, but because God chose you. Philippians 1:6 says that Jesus is the one “who began a good work in you.” And Hebrews 12:2 says that He is “the author of our faith.” and 2 Thessalonians 2:14 says that God has “chosen you from the beginning for salvation.”
Now did God choose us based on anything that we did? Conditional election teaches that God used His foreknowledge and looks through the annals of time to see those who would have faith in Him and therefore He chose them. But this is not consistent with Scripture. This is actually unthinkable, as it implies that the creation controls the Creator. We do not have time to revisit the sovereignty of God from last week, but suffice it to say, He is sovereign and He rules over all. His election then, like His sovereignty, is unconditional.
Turn to 2 Timothy 1:9 (keeping your thumb in Ephesians 1), “He saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And if we go back to our passage in Ephesians 1, “In love 5 He predestined us [the Greek is to decide beforehand, to predetermine] to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will [I love this] 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:3 to 6).
Turn to Romans 9, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls . . . 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” “Romans 9:11,16).
Let me bring this together. God’s election of sinners is not based on anything the sinner has done–it is not affected by any outside force, but is entirely determined by His choice. It is sovereign grace. In eternity past, God, according to His own free will, chose certain individuals by name. According to Matthew 25:34, He promised them Heaven (a Kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world), and made them perfectly holy (Ephesians 1:4). And it is irreversible.
Jesus Himself said in Matthew 22:14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” And at this point, some will resist. This is the bone that people choke on. If salvation is based on the sovereign choice of God, then how can God still hold people responsible? Paul addresses this in Romans 9:19 to 23, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?‘ [Do you understand the question? If it is His choice, then how can He find fault? How can He hold people responsible?] 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? [Cover your mouth and remember your place.] The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? [The potter can do whatever He wants with it.] 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.”
Do you understand what the cross is? It is not just the demonstration of the love of God. If that is all you have seen when you look at the cross, then you are missing it. The cross is the greatest demonstration of the attributes of God in all of human or divine history. At the cross, we see the most amazing demonstration of the love, mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness of God. But we also see the greatest demonstration of His holiness–of His righteousness, of His justice, of His wrath, of His judgment. Juxtaposed on that wooden cross is the glory of God put on display for all to see.
And what Romans 9:22 to 23 tells us is that all were headed to destruction. All were sliding down the steep ravine toward eternal destruction. All had a one-way ticket to damnation. But God chose to save some. He chose to snatch some from the very flames of Hell and He chose to do it in a most amazing way. It was not as simple as His effort in creation, where He spoke and the universe sprang into existence.
It was not as simple as dispatching one of the angels from His throne, as He did to save Daniel from the lions. He did not charge one of the mighty men of old or one of the judges of Israel or any of the prophets to complete it. Accomplishing salvation, Isaiah 52:10 tells us, required the strong arm of God Himself. Philippians 2:7 says it required God to empty Himself and take on humanity. Matthew 1:23 says that “His name was called Immanuel,” which means God with.
Isaiah 53:3 says that He would be a “man of sorrows, despised and forsaken of men.” John 10:15, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” First Peter 2:23, that He would “bear our sins in His body on the cross.” This is the cost of salvation. And it comes to us not based on our own choice or our own effort, for no man chooses God. It comes because of what Jesus has done. The wonder is not that sinners would be damned to Hell–the wonder is that God chose some to save.
We will not be walking around Heaven saying, “I can’t believe HE is here,” or “Wow, I’m surprised to see her.” No, we will with overwhelmed hearts declare, Revelation 7:10, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” We will say, “Thank you, Jesus–I don’t deserve this. I did nothing to earn this. It was grace, all grace.” Because grace changes everything. And this leads us to the fifth question . . .
5. For whom did Jesus die?
And we go further down the rabbit hole–is it for the elect only, or for all men? Most would answer that Jesus paid the debt of sin for everyone, because He loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved. In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is unlimited. But is this what the Bible teaches? Is the sacrifice of Christ really unlimited in its scope? Did Jesus die for everyone, or only for the elect? This is the topic of limited atonement, or particular atonement, or actual atonement.
And you might be thinking even now, “Wait a minute, hold the phone, what are you talking about? Of course Jesus died for everyone–haven’t you read John 3:16, where Jesus declares the love of God for the whole world, and promises eternal life to all who believe? Or Matthew 11:28, ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’? Or 1 Timothy 2:4, that God ‘desires all men to be saved.’? or Romans 10:13, ‘All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’? Shawn, are you contradicting these passages by suggesting that the sacrifice of Christ is limited?” And the answer is no, I am not.
We all know the sacrifice of Christ is limited, I want to make sure that you understand how it is limited. If you disagree that the sacrifice of Christ is limited, then let me help you. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Let me say it very simply, there is a Hell and God is going to send people there. “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” 2 Thessalonians 1:7 to 10).
There are countless souls who have already left this earth and are even now in the utter blackness of the fires of Hell. Souls are pouring into Hell even as I am preaching this message. Those who ignored their conscience, ignored the law written on their heart, ignored the Word of God, those who rejected the Gospel, who turned aside from the grace of God as He revealed it to them and who ultimately refused to turn from their sin in repentance–these are lost forever in eternal wrath. The atonement is limited or Hell would be empty and we would all be universalists. Does this make sense?
Now for the sake of time, how is it limited? You can limit its extent or you can limit its effect (taken from John MacArthur). If you say Jesus died for everyone, then you have limited its effect–that is its effectiveness. How so? Because we know that not everyone goes to Heaven. If you said the sacrifice of Christ is for all, then Hell is full of people for whom Christ died. Said a different way, God poured out His wrath on His Son to pay for the sins of people who would end up in Hell. This is, in a sense, double jeopardy. Christ paid for their sins and they are paying for their sins. If Jesus paid for their sins, then they would be forgiven. So you see that by saying the extent of the atonement is unlimited, you limit its power, its effect.
On the other hand, if you say the extent of Christ’s sacrifice is limited to the elect, His atonement has an unlimited effect. That is, if the death of Christ is an actual payment for the specific sins of the specific people whom God chose, then it is limited only by its extent or its scope, but not by its power. The death of Christ then, is sufficient for all men, but is efficient only for the elect. This is why, from the cross Jesus didn’t say, “It has begun.” No, He said, “It is finished.” It is done, complete–it’s over. His death was a real payment, an actual atonement.
In 1 Peter 1:19, the blood of Christ is called precious. The same way that a sacrifice was offered by the high priest on the Day of Atonement in which an animal would symbolically bear the sin of the people, it was a sacrifice for all of Israel. It didn’t apply to Moab or the Edomites or those in Egypt. It applied to those in Israel. It was limited there. Jesus sacrifice is limited here to those who would believe.
In Ephesians 5, Paul is referring to marriage, but he says that marriage is an illustration of Christ’s love for His bride. And then he says in 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” This is particular, it is specific. He gave Himself up for her. While Christ has a general love for the world, He has an intimate and specific love for that which is His–His bride. This is also why Jesus said in John 10:15, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” But we know that there are both sheep and goats. And in John 15:13, Jesus says that He “lays down his life for his friends.”
We know that not everyone is His friend. Isaiah 53:8 says that He “paid for the transgression of My people” that is for the people of God–but not all men are God’s people, and Acts 20:28 says that “He purchased the church of God with His own blood,” but not everyone is part of the church of God. “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from [or out of] every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). He didn’t purchase every tribe and tongue and people and nation, but men out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, a particular payment.
How do we reconcile these things? We have been called to preach the Gospel to every creature. And the invitation for salvation goes out to all men. In John 6:37 Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” And yet we have seen that the sacrifice of Christ is effective only for those who have been chosen.
Certainly, the doctrine of the extent of the atonement is one of those doctrines that takes us way beyond where we will be comfortable to go. It stretches our minds to the breaking point. It takes our theology out to the perimeter of our tolerances. And in the end, it leaves us with some incomprehensible realities, and that’s as it should be. (John MacArthur)
6. Why do some people accept the Gospel, while others reject it?
Here is the situation–imagine a preacher who stands up and says the following, “Every person in this room is a sinner who is a willful, disobedient rebel, alienated from God and destined for judgment. You are desperate, helpless, and hopeless. But wait, there is good news. God has provided a way of escape, a way to salvation through the death and resurrection of a man, the Lord Jesus Christ. For all who turn from their sin in repentance, put their faith in Him, and cry out for mercy, God will wash away their sin and make them His child.”
This is the Gospel message. And what I just did is to preach the Gospel. This is the general call. It is the universal call, in which the Gospel is freely offered to all. As Christians, we have been commissioned to go into all the world with this message. God calls all who hear it to repent and believe. When Jesus said, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in Matthew 4:17, it was an imperative. “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This is the universal free offer of salvation and it goes out to all men.
But because man is spiritually dead and totally depraved, he is unable to respond to this call, and instead resists and ultimately rejects it. This is where the doctrine of irresistible grace comes in. There is another calling and it is specific, not general. This calling is given only to the elect. As God has a special love and plan for the elect, He goes beyond the general, external call and issues a special and internal call.
This is the call to salvation. It is conclusive, it is decisive, it is effective and it is irresistible. It is the divine summons. It is the divine subpoena, not for judgment, but so that you can be declared righteous, free from condemnation, forgiven. This did not happen in eternity past when God predestined you. This is the moment in time when God awakens you. This is when the scales fell off your eyes and your stony heart was replaced with a heart of flesh.
The best illustration of this is in John 11 with Lazarus. Jesus stood at the tomb of a man who was dead and said, “Lazarus, come forth.” He called a dead man to life. And He does the same with every sinner who He saves. At a moment in time, He awakens the heart and brings the dead to life.
Turn to Ezekiel 16:3 to 6, “As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. 6 When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’”
This is, according to Titus 3:5, when He saved us. This is an act of grace whereby the Holy Spirit draws sinners to salvation. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). “The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness'” (Jeremiah 31:3).
The term calling is all over the New Testament. We are saints by calling, we are to live in a manner worthy of our calling, there is the hope of our calling, it is a holy calling, a heavenly calling, a calling by grace–and on and on it goes. And always in the New Testament, the word call with regard to salvation refers not to the general outward call, but to an inward, specific and unyielding summons in the saving act of God.
The preacher can call people to repentance and plead with sinners to come to salvation. Throughout the ages, prophets, priests, apostles, pastors, and evangelists have called sinners to turn from their sin and we still do so today. But until God moves on the heart of the sinner, nothing happens. For me, this was in eighth grade–I experienced this. It was irresistible–I couldn’t fight it.
Charles Wesley, an Arminian theologian, wrote the hymn, “And Can It Be”–listen to the third verse. “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye defused, a quickening ray I woke the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth to follow Thee.” This is irresistible grace. You were a prisoner in darkness until God came and shined the light–He opened your eyes, He gave you faith, and He granted you repentance. And this leads to our last quesion . . .
7. Can I lose my salvation?
And the answer is . . . no. This is the doctrine of eternal security–or once saved, always saved. It is also called the perseverance of the saints. We are short on time, so we won’t be able to dive too deep, but this is an amazing truth.
Many believe that if you fall away from the faith, you can lose your salvation–in other words, it is conditional upon your faithfulness to Him. But this is not what the Scripture teaches. God is a covenant keeping God and the promise of salvation is one which is permanent and unalterable. Psalm 37:28 says that God does not forsake His godly ones. In Psalm 94:14, “He will not abandon His people.” And Psalm 145:20 says that “He keeps all who love Him.” And in Hebrews 13:5 God says, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38 to 39). Let me say this a different way–there is nothing you can do to break the hold that God has on you. There is no sin too great. There is nothing in your past, your present, or your future that can take you from God. You are His. He bought you and He will keep you. Stop doubting, stop beating yourself up, stop heaping judgment upon yourself. Jesus already paid it on your behalf, you are forgiven, you are His and nothing can ever stand in the way.
This reminds me of John 10, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27 to 29).
One of the dishwashers at Chart House, who used to carry big stacks of heavy plates across the tile kitchen after they were washed, slipped and fell. She hit a wet spot and her feet went right out in front of her. She was a smaller lady, but the force of the impact was tremendous when she hit the ground. She landed on her back and wasn’t able to come back to work for weeks. The most amazing part of it was that not a single plate broke when she fell. She absorbed the impact in her body, protecting those plates and sacrificing herself so that they would be spared. What a great picture of the work Christ did for us. He took the fall for us, going to the cross–and while He was suffering, He didn’t lose one–not even one. But He carried their sin in His body on the cross, sacrificing Himself so that we might be saved. And no one can take us from His hand. These verses in John 10 speak of the Father and the Son.
Ephesians 1:13 tells us that the Holy Spirit has sealed us for the day of redemption. What does this mean? It means that each member of the Trinity has a role in keeping you secure. That’s cool. Now what about the person who was once a Christian and now isn’t a Christian anymore? First of all, that’s not possible, but those who fall away were never believers to begin with. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
How many of you have known someone who has walked away from the faith? On the count of three, say their name out loud. Wow! Those who are saved will be kept by God till the end. They will sin and struggle, but will remain faithful. Matthew 10:22, “The one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” And how can this be? In the power of Christ. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24,25).
Turn to Romans 8:29 and 30, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This is called the golden chain–what God started, He will complete.
Wow, this is a lot. And I am going to cut it off there. There are two responses–humility and worship. There is nothing to boast in, it is all God. Get lost in the wonder and awe of this doctrine–repentance for the lost. If you are not a Christian, then the call goes out to you tonight. Don’t run, don’t hide, don’t make excuses–come to the Savior and find forgiveness for your sins and rest for your souls. Let’s pray.