Election and the Christian Life
Course: Biblical Theology
Lecture: Election and the Christian Life
I. God's Election
a. The Fact of Election
When we think of God's great work of salvation, we think of justification and sanctification and reconciliation and redemption and propitiation and salvation. But we also need to think of God's election: God's choosing of His people. In the Old Testament, Israel was chosen as the elect people of God, as God's chosen people. They were chosen out from among the Gentiles. They were called to be a chosen people. We see that in Exodus 19:5-6. We see in Deuteronomy 7 that Israel was not chosen because of its virtue. God set His love upon them because He loved them. They were, according to Amos 3:2, known by God. They were chosen to be His.
So too, the church of Jesus Christ (the new Israel; the new people of God; the true Israel; the true people of Abraham), they are chosen by God before the foundation of the world. We read that in Ephesians 1:4 that "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." We read in Romans 9:11-12 that He chose Jacob rather than Esau before Jacob was born or had done anything good or bad. And we read in 2 Timothy 1:9 of the same. God's purpose was before the ages. It was a pre-temporal choice; a choice before history began.
So that excludes works as the basis of our choice. It says in Romans 9:11, though they, Jacob and Esau, "were not yet born and had nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works, but because of Him who calls." So election excludes works. We see that in Romans 11:6 as well: "but if it is by grace [if salvation is by grace], it is no longer on the basis of works. Otherwise grace would no longer be grace." But we see in verse 5: "so too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace."
So election and grace are closely tied together in Paul's thinking and Paul's theology. Election cannot be separated from God's grace and therefore salvation is not by works. God did not look ahead and see the good things we would do, as 2 Timothy 1:9 says: "who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of His own purpose in grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began." So God's salvation is totally by grace. It is not based on foreseen works. It is not based on foreseen merit. It is not based on foreseen faith. It is based on God's choosing alone. Ephesians 1:4 we read we are chosen in Him, in Christ. And in 1 Corinthians 1:30 we see the same theme that we are chosen in Christ. It is by His doing you are in Christ Jesus. Election is the work of God's grace.
b. The Purpose of Election
The purpose of election is so that God would get all the praise and glory for our salvation. We cannot boast that we have accomplished this salvation. There is no reason to praise ourselves. Three times in Ephesians, we are told that God's choosing us, God's redeeming us and God's giving us the Spirit is for the praise of the glory of His grace. God's choosing us before eternity began, solely on the basis of His grace, gives Him all the glory. It gives Him all the praise. It gives Him all the honor.
We see the same thing in 1 Corinthians 1:29 that no man can boast before God because God has chosen who would belong to Him. 1 Corinthians 1:31 – the one who boasts is to boast in the Lord. So election fits with the main theme that we have been talking about here. Those who are elect, give all the glory, all the praise, all the honor to God. He is magnified. Christ is magnified. The honor and glory does not go to us, but to God. So it fits with the centrality of God and Christ in Paul's theology – that we worship and praise and honor Him forever and ever for choosing us, for lavishing His grace upon us. We did not deserve to be chosen as sinners in Adam. We were sinners who have freely chosen to follow the lusts of the flesh. But God has bestowed His grace upon us in His mercy, by choosing us for the glory of His name.
Of course we see that God has chosen us to be holy in Ephesians 1:4-5. We see that in Romans 8:30 as well. In 8:29 that He chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son. God's choice to salvation fits not just with initial salvation, but with being transformed by God's grace.
c. The Language of God's Calling
Another word that Paul uses for His grace working in our lives is calling. God calls us by His grace. In Paul, the word calling does not mean an invitation. The word calling in Paul is an effective call. It is a call that secures what is intended.
1. The Effectiveness of God's Call
We see perhaps the best example of that is in Romans 8:30 where it says those whom He predestined, He also called. And those whom He called, He also justified. Those whom He called, He also justified. We know that the word calling cannot mean invited to be saved because it is not true, is it, that all those who are invited to be saved are justified. That would mean that all those who are invited to be saved are saved. But we know from many Scriptures that not all of those who are invited to be saved in that sense believe. Romans 5:1 says we are justified by faith. We are justified by believing. But only some believe. Not all believe. This verse though says: those whom He called, He also justified. All those who are called are justified. The verse does not say some of those who are called are justified, or most of those who are called are justified, but all of those who are called are justified.
The word calling must mean then that God's call is effective: that God's call creates faith; that God's call is invariably effective in those whom He calls. So, the word called is not an invitation but an effective calling.
Probably the best example of this in Scripture is the calling of Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus was dead. And when Jesus called him, the call was effective. Lazarus could not respond to the call because he was dead. He was dead in the tomb. When Jesus says: "Lazarus come forth" that is the call. Jesus' words created life. And that is the same thing we see here. It is an effectual call. All those whom He calls are justified.
2. The Selectivity of God's Call
So the calling is only for some. It is an effective calling. It is like God's word in creation. God said: "Let there be light" and there was light. And so too, here, when God speaks, His word creates life. Of course Paul does not use the word calling, but he uses a very similar idea. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 – "For God who said let light shine out of darkness has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." God has spoken His word and His word is effective and His word has given us life and has been effective in such a way.
God's calling secures our final inheritance. We see in 1 Corinthians 1:9 – "God is faithful by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. God is faithful to those who are called, as verse 8 says. He will sustain to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who are called will certainly make it to the end.
The calling is different from the preaching of the word. The word is preached to all and only some are called. We see that in 1 Corinthians 1, where Paul speaks of the preaching of the word. It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (verse 23). But we preach Christ crucified. We preach Him. We herald Him to all. He is a stumbling block to Jews and a folly to Gentiles. Christ is preached to all, but not all believe. Some of the Jews find it to be a stumbling block and some of the Gentiles find it to be foolishness. But (verse 24) to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. To those who are called, they see and understand that Christ is God's power. Christ is God's wisdom. So those who are called inevitably and definitely believe and respond to God's grace.
3. The Grace of God's Call
The calling does empasize the grace of God. We see the same thing where Paul is called to ministry in Galatians 1:15. There Paul says: "but when He who had set me apart before I was born and who called me by His grace was pleased to reveal His Son to me." The Damascus Road conversion of Paul is another good example of God's effective grace, where He set him apart before he was even born. And then we know that Paul was opponent of Christianity (as verses 13-14 say), even persecuting the church. And God supernaturally revealed His Son to him on the Damascus Road. He effectively called him. His voice turned Paul around and brought him to salvation.
The call in Pauline theology is contrasted with works. We see that in Romans 9:11-12. We have already seen that. We see it in 2 Timothy 1:9, verses I just read about election as well. We are not called on the basis of works. The calling is on the basis of God's grace alone. It is a merciful calling. We see in 2 Thessalonians 2:14 that He calls us to salvation through the gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that there may be salvation on the last day.
d. God's Love
Another thing we should note is God's calling and election is closely tied to His love. We see that in Romans 1:6-7; Romans 9:13; Romans 9:25; Ephesians 2:4-6; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and Romans 11:28. In God's calling and election of us, we see an example of God's merciful and undeserved love. We do not deserve to be called. We do not deserve to be saved. But God has shown His great love to us in electing us and calling us.
Therefore, we ought not to think that everyone deserves to be called or elected. We need to remember what Scripture teaches. All deserve to be damned, because we have freely chosen to sin. All deserve final punishment. Election should not trouble us as being unfair. It is God's mercy and grace that any of us were saved at all. That is the point of Scripture: the wonder and beauty and greatness of God's grace that He would save any of us. That is the wonder. That is the praise. So, we need to have the Biblical standpoint on it. Our feelings and own wisdom may say something else. But what Scripture says is that the salvation of any is due to God's mercy.
e. God's Promises to Israel (Romans 9-11)
Paul has a long discussion, in Romans 9-11, on Israel. He asks the questions: What about God's promise to save His people, Israel? Has that promise not come true, since so many Israelites are not believing and trusting in Christ? And what Paul argues in 9:6-13 is that God never promised that every Israelite would be saved. He never promised that every physical descendant of Abraham (every Jewish person) would receive ultimate salvation. There was always a process of selection. God chose Isaac and not Ishmael. He chose Jacob and not Esau. So God's word (9:6) is not fallen. God's promises are always trustworthy. He always fulfills His word. His promise is effective. He never promised to save all. But those whom He does promise to save, He will save.
And He promised to save Isaac and Jacob. As we just saw, He chose Jacob, not based on his works, not based on anything he had done. He chose Jacob before he was born. It was not based on his foreseen faith. Jacob, actually if we read the Old Testament, had many problems in his life and was a sinner. And yet God's grace was so great. His mercy was so great that He chose Jacob for salvation. He loved Jacob: that is, He chose him. That is the quote from Malachi. And he hated Esau (Rom.9:13, quoting from Mal.1:2). He did not choose to save Esau. Remember, Esau is a sinner who does not deserve salvation. So God is absolutely just and fair in choosing Jacob, and not Esau, and lavishing and bestowing His love on Jacob, and not Esau.
But Paul does ask whether God is just to save one and not another (Rom.9:14). We might wonder: Is it unjust for God to do this? Paul's answer (verse 15) is God has mercy on whom He has mercy. And He has compassion on whom He has compassion. For anyone to be saved, that is God's mercy. Salvation is not something that is deserved. We ought not to think that God owes salvation to the Esaus of this world or anyone. The salvation of any is God's mercy. It is totally undeserved. So it does not depend, as he says in verse 16, on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. God has mercy (verse 18) on whoever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills. He hardens those who are sinners and have resisted His grace and He is totally just in doing so.
Of course, Paul goes on to say: if God has mercy on whom He wills and hardens whom He wills, he asks the question we would ask. You will say to me then: Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will? Has God done something wrong since His will is in control? Paul does not appeal here finally to free will and to the choice human beings. Instead he says: "Be careful finite, little creature about telling God what to do." But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Well, what does the molded say to the molder: "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? Be careful finite, little human being about trying to tell God how to run the universe. He is the Creator. He is glorious. He is sovereign. He has the right to do what He wants to do as the sovereign God.
Paul does not give an explanation here that answers all our questions. But he does emphasize God's sovereignty and greatness. The potter has the right to do what he wants with the clay. Of course, those who go to hell deserve to go to hell. And they go to hell for their own sin. They go to hell because they have rejected God's grace and power. But ultimately God does what He wishes. God has (Rom.9:22) wanted to show His wrath and make known His power, showing how great sin is. And He endured with much patience with vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. He shows there His patience and ultimately His just wrath in punishing. And He did this in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy which is prepared beforehand for glory. When we see the just punishment upon the wicked, we realize that the salvation of ourselves is totally due to God's mercy.
So, one reason there is a hell is so that God can demonstrate to us the punishment we deserve. This is the punishment we have escaped by God's marvelous grace, so that the opposite shows us what we deserved. It is as if we all deserved to starve to death. And if you are very, very hungry and then you are given food, you are so much more thankful for food after you have been hungry. Or if you are very, very cold and then you experience warmth, you are much more thankful for the warmth. It is as if, of course, we all deserve in our sins to starve to death in hell forever or to freeze to death in hell forever. But God's grace is like (this is just an illustration of course) His warmth being bestowed upon us or His filling us with food. It is all due to His wonderful mercy and care for us. We rejoice in the fact that, not that we deserve salvation, but that God has lavished His grace and care upon us even though we do not deserve it.
I should say that some argue that the issue in Romans 9 is not salvation. But it clearly is salvation, because Paul is willing (as we see in Romans 9:3) to suffer judgment and hell for the sake of Israel, because Israel is cut off from Christ. And he prays (in 10:1) that Israel would be saved. So the issue is salvation in these verses. Paul speaks of those who are the children of God in verse 8 and the children of promise in verse 9 and God's calling. So God's salvation is by His wonderful grace and we praise it forever and ever if we are vessels of mercy.
Of course, we cannot forget Romans 10. God's election is true, but it is also the case that Israel stumbled and fell because they chose not to believe. We need to remember that we need to hold these things together. On the one hand, salvation is totally of the Lord and He chose us and that accounts for who is saved and who is not. And yet, Israel did not pursue the law by faith, but stumbled. Israel attempted to be righteous by works instead of faith. That is Romans 10. They did not trust in God. They did not confess with their mouth that Jesus was Lord and believe, which you must do to be saved. They heard the message and did not believe. So Paul also emphasizes Israel's responsibility: that they too had an opportunity to believe and did not receive it. So those who go to hell go to hell because they choose to go, but the only ones to go to heaven and experience eternal life and the new creation are those whom God has chosen to be His.
Ultimately, Romans 11 ends with the promise that all Israel shall be saved. I understand that to refer to the final end-time generation of Israel, at the time when Christ returns again. At that time, a great majority (not every single person in Israel, but a great majority) in Israel will be saved and will trust in Jesus as their Savior and that is a result of God's grace. He will open their eyes and they will see that Jesus is glorious and that He is Lord. They will believe corporately, but they will also believe individually at that time, that Jesus is Lord.
This great work of God is compared, in Ephesians 2:1, to being raised from the dead. Those who are dead in trespasses and sins and who are under the control, as we saw yesterday, of the world, the flesh and the devil, they have been raised from the dead by God's grace. It is another way of speaking of God's saving work in raising them from the dead and granting them new life. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Paul says that we ought to pray that God will grant repentance to those who disbelieve. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that faith is a gift of God. Those who believe, those who repent: that is the work of God ultimately. We can take no praise and honor and glory for believing. All the praise and honor and glory goes to God for saving us.
II. The Christian Life
At this point, I want to start talking about the Christian life. The God who has saved us by His marvelous grace, how does He want us to live?
a. Living Sacrifices
How He wants us to live is summed up nicely in Romans 12:1-2, where Paul says: "I appeal to you, therefore, brothers by the mercies of God ..." He is appealing to them by God's saving work in their lives: His mercies, His grace. This is the grace we have been talking about in His election and His choosing us. Of course, the mercies of God includes our justification, our sanctification, our redemption, our reconciliation, the fact that God's wrath is propitiated, all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Because of God's mercy, we are to present out bodies to Him . We are to give our whole selves to Him, body and soul, as a living sacrifice: as those who are now alive from the dead, because we are alive in Christ and we are to give our lives as a sacrifice to Him. Our whole lives belong totally to God. Such a sacrifice is holy and acceptable to God. That is our spiritual worship. The worship that God asks of us now is to trust Him in our lives and to give our lives to Him.
We are to not be conformed to this world (as Romans 12:2 says), but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. As Christians our minds need to be renewed and changed every day. Our thinking is not changed at conversion, as if it is completely right. We need to renew our minds by studying God's word and growing in our understanding of what He teaches us day by day. So that is a constant process. We present out bodies to God as a living sacrifice every day. It is not a one-time event. Our mind is renewed every day, so that we can test and discern what the perfect, acceptable and good will of God is so that we can please Him in everything.
b. The Indicative and the Imperative
As Christians, we are already righteous before God, as we saw. We are holy and sanctified before Him. We are redeemed. And yet, there is a tension between what is often called "the already, not yet". We are already justified. We are already redeemed. We are already saved. And yet we do not have the fullness yet of our salvation in our experience. There is a tension between the indicative and the imperative.
By the indicative, I mean what we already are in Christ. That is, we are justified. We are saved. We are sanctified. We are redeemed. And we are reconciled. And the imperatives are the commands that God gives us. And what we ought to say here is the indicative always must precede the imperative. The fact that we are redeemed and saved and sanctified must be the foundation. So the commands do not come first. But God's grace always comes first and is fundamental in our lives. So the indicative relates to things such as this: that we have died to sin and we have died in Christ and we are alive in Christ.
Let me give some examples here of the indicative and the imperative. The first one is in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7. This is the passage where Paul is calling upon the Corinthians to expel the person in the church who is practicing sexual sin and is not repentant. So he tells them to expel this person, because a little leaven leavens the whole lump (5:6). It will corrupt and infect the whole community if they do not act. But then he says: Cleanse out the old leaven (5:7). He is saying here: Remove the evil in your midst; this unrepentant sin. Remove this person committing incest from the church, so the church would be pure. And the purpose is so that you may be a new lump – so that as a body, you may be pure and clean. But then notice he says: as you really are unleavened.
Verse 7 is the command (the imperative): Cleanse out the old leaven. But now we see the indicative in 7b: You really are unleavened. You are already pure. So there is a tension here, isn't there, between the command to cleanse out the old leaven and then the indicative in verse 7b? You really are unleavened. You really are already pure. And yet, you must cleanse out the old leaven to be pure. But the purity comes in Christ for Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. We are unleavened. We are pure before God, for Christ as the Passover Lamb died for our sins and purified us and cleansed us from our sins. So, on the one hand, we are unleavened. We are pure. And, on the other hand, we must cleanse out the old leaven, as the Corinthians, do to be unleavened ultimately.
Another good example of this is Philippians 2:12-13. Paul says here: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." So there is the command again: Work; accomplish your own salvation. That is a very strange statement for Paul to say, because he has so emphasized that our salvation is totally the work of God. But now we have the command: Work out your salvation. But notice in verse 13, that this salvation that we are to work out (that we are commanded to do and accomplish) is a result of God's work in us: "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." So ultimately, our working out of salvation is due to God's work in us. And here is the indicative. God gives us even the will (the desire) to both do and work for His good pleasure. So any good thing we do is the result of His grace. The command is based on what God has done for us in Christ. That is the indicative: God's saving work.
We see this as well in Romans 6. We are told that those of us who are in Christ (those of us who are converted; those of us who have been baptized as a sign and symbol of our conversion in Christ), that we have died to sin because we have died with Christ. Therefore, we have died to sin. Our old man (who we were in Adam: that is, the old man) no longer lives. And the old man is put to death. Our old self was crucified with Him (Rom.6:6). We are no longer enslaved to sin. We have died with Christ (Rom.6:8). So that is the indicative. That is what is true of us. And yet the imperative: we must not let sin reign in our mortal body to make you obey its passions (Rom.6:12). We have died to sin and yet we must not let sin rule. We must obey the command (here is the imperative): Do not let sin rule. Because you have died to sin, do not let it rule. Verse 13: "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." So we are to pray for a transformation in us to obey God and do what He has called us to do.
We see the same thing in Colossians 2:20, where he says: "If with Christ you died to the elements of the world ..." And we did die to the elements of the world. And then he gives us commands: Do not do this and do not do that. Colossians 3:1 – "If then you have been raised with Christ ..." And we have been. So here is the indicative. We have died with Christ. We have been raised with Christ. And now here comes the command. Here comes the imperative. Seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. "Set you mind on the things above not on the things that are on earth" (3:2). And then again, he has the indicative: "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God." So we are given the reason (the grounding) why we are to set our mind on things above: because we have died with Christ. Then come all the commands in 3:5 and following: "Put to death therefore sexual immorality" and so forth and so on. He lists all the sins. And we simply need to see here that these commands are rooted in the fact that we have already died with Christ. We are a new man in Christ. We are not what we were. In Colossians 3:9, we are to put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk and not to lie. And then the reason is given: "seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self." So these commands are given because we are a new man and not an old man in Christ because of the indicative.
And yet elsewhere, in Romans 13, Paul can say: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." In Ephesians 4:22, he can say: "Put off the old man and put on the new." But we are already a new man in Christ. So we can never forget that the indicative is the foundation of the imperative. God's commands are never primary; His grace is always primary. We must beware of just preaching commands. Because, if we preach commands without emphasizing God's grace and what God has already done for us in Christ, we become legalist. We focus on commands, instead of God's grace and on the gospel. Paul always, always relates his commands to the gospel and what God has done for us in Christ: that we have already died to sin and we are a new creature and a new creation. So that is something we should strive for in our preaching and teaching: never to give commands apart from explaining the gospel. And we need to do that in our sermons as well, don't we? When we preach we must strive simply not to give commands without proclaiming the good news of the gospel. Because otherwise we could fall prey to a kind of legalistic explanation of these things that does not fit with the Scriptural emphasis on what God has done for us in Christ.
c. The Work of the Holy Spirit
As believers, the power for our new life comes from the Holy Spirit. In Paul, we know that we belong to the people of God (that we are Christians) because we have the Holy Spirit. Those who do not have God's Spirit are not saved (Rom.8:9). They do not belong to Him. The natural man (1 Cor.2:14) does not welcome the things of God, but the regenerate person has the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.2:13). Paul assures that the Galatians that they are Christians because, when they heard the message of the gospel, they received the Spirit (Gal.3:2, 5). So the Spirit is the mark that one is a Christian. No one can say Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.12:3). The church of Jesus Christ is God's temple in which God's Spirit dwells (1 Cor.3:16; Eph.2:22).
The gift of the Spirit is the fulfillment of God's promise in Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 11:18-19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Isaiah 32:15; and Isaiah 44:3. It is the fulfillment of God's promise. It is the sign that the new age of fulfillment has arrived. God has given the seal of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. We see that in Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; and 2 Corinthians 1:21-22. Those who know God will never fall away from Him, because they have the guarantee and the seal of the Spirit in their lives and the seal of the Spirit authenticates that we belong to God. It ratifies that we belong to God. And that seal cannot be removed. Those who have truly received the Spirit will never fall away.
The Spirit is God's first fruits (Rom.8:23). It is the pledge of our future redemption and of the fulfillment of God's saving purposes in us. We understand God's wisdom by the Spirit (1 Cor.2:6-16). God has given us the Spirit so that we can know the things freely given us by God. And the Spirit is the power by which we live in the Christian life. We have begun in the Spirit and we continue and are perfected in the Spirit as well (Gal.3:3). We are never perfect in this life, but the Christian life we live, we live by the power of the Holy Spirit. We live by the Spirit and in faith. Just as we began the Christian life, we continue in the Christian life.
The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life and it gives us strength to live in a way that is pleasing with God. The Spirit, as Paul says in Galatians 5:13 and following, gives us freedom. Those of us who have the Spirit are free by God's grace to do what is pleasing to Him and to fulfill His will. Perfect freedom is walking in, so to speak, slavery to what God has commanded. That is what we are to do. If we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desire of the flesh (Gal.5:16). We learn in verse 17 that there is a great battle in us between the flesh and the Spirit. As Christians, the desires of the flesh are not absent. The desires of the flesh have not gone away. There is still a great war and conflict in us. We all recognize that as Christians. It would be nice if, when we became Christians, the desires for sin were totally removed. But they are not totally removed. There is a great war in us. We still have powerful desires to live for ourselves and to live for our own wills instead of the will of God. And so the Spirit, though, gives us the power to not fulfill the desires of the flesh. If you are led by the Spirit, you are no longer under the law (Gal.5:18). You are no longer under the domain of sin that comes through the law. That is the work of God's Spirit in us.
Romans 8 very much emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death ( Rom.8:2). So there is a new power in us as Christians. We are not perfect, but we are remarkably transformed by the Holy Spirit. The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit (Rom.8:4). Those who live according to the Spirit, Paul says, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the Spirit is life and peace. The mind of the Spirit gives us strength to do what is pleasing to God. And this Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are God's children as we live in a new way that is pleasing to the Lord.
So again we are reminded by this teaching on the Holy Spirit, that the power of the Christian life does not come from ourselves but it comes from God. We hope and trust in His work and not our own work, ultimately, for making it until the end.
Of course there is a great conflict, as we saw, in the Christian life (Rom.7:13-25). I wound argue that that passage is true both of Christians and non-Christians. It is true of non-Christians, because they are totally in the flesh and they cannot do God's will at all. They are sold under sin. They are captive to sin. And yet Christians still experience, in part, what we read about in those verses: doing what we hate and not able to do what is pleasing to God. We experience that, in part, because we are still not perfected. The body is dead because of sin (Rom.8:10). We still experience that we are not fully redeemed yet (Rom.8:23). So, we still experience that battle with sin as well. We do not experience a perfect Christian life by the Spirit. We also can say at the end of the Romans 7:24 - "Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" And deliverance from the body of this death, complete and final deliverance, will only take place on the day of redemption, on the final day. So we live in this battle.
And in the meantime, we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit as Paul says (Eph.5:18). How do we triumph in Christ? It is by the filling of God's Spirit. And we see in the parallel passage (Col.3:16) that we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. We are to be filled with the Spirit by being filled with God's word, God's truth. We are to be filled with the Spirit by knowing the Scripture and studying the Bible and knowing Scripture well and teaching Scripture. Those who are filled with the Spirit will be joyful and sing songs. And they will have families that operate rightly and in a way that is pleasing to God. It is the power of the Spirit in us that accounts for our new life.
This work of the Spirit has an echo in our own faith and hope. We continue to hope in faith. We are called upon to look forward to the completion of what God has done for us. We have a great hope and certainty that is laid up for us in heaven (Col.1:5). We have the hope of our calling (Eph.1:18). Even our sufferings bring hope (Rom.5). We wait for a new creation (Rom.8:18ff). We know that God will complete the good work he has begun in us (Phil.1:6). God is faithful. He will complete his saving work. Paul prays that believers will be sanctified, but then he says the One who has called you is faithful (1 Thess.5:23-24). He will do it. God is faithful (1 Cor.10:13). He will protect us (2 Thess.3).
d. Assurance and Perseverance
He will ensure that those who truly belong to Him will not fall away. We see this in Romans 8:28 – all those who are foreknown, predestined, called and justified, will be glorified. All those whom God has chosen will have the great hope and certainty that they will be saved. No one will lose their salvation. God has not appointed us for wrath, but the possession of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess.5:9). We have the assurance that all those who are justified and glorified will be saved from God's wrath on that last day (Rom.5:9-10). If God is for us, no one can be against us (Rom.8:31-39). Those whom God has declared to be in the right will not be condemned on the last day, because God Himself has vindicated us in Christ. Nothing will separate us from His love.
So we have a great assurance. Those who fall away and do not continue to believe are those who were never truly part of the people of God. They were not authentic believers. 1 John 2:19 is helpful in speaking of those who have left the faith: "They went out from us, but they were not of us." Those who leave the community of God are not truly saved. They went out from us, but they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have remained with us. But they went out in order that it might be clear that they all were not of us. So those who fall away do not truly belong to God.
Of course, as believers we are called upon to persevere in faith to the end. There is the need for good works which is taught in many passages in Paul (Rom.2, 2 Cor.5:10, 1 Cor.6:9-11). But these good works are not the basis of our right standing with God, but the evidence that we have been saved. They are the fruit of God's work in our lives. They are not the basis. We are to persevere by faith and in grace. The perseverance should not be confused with perfection. We are not perfect in this life. We continue to sin everyday and fall short in many ways. But we continue to repent of our sins and trust in Christ. We continue to put our hope in Him. Perseverance is not the same thing as works righteousness, since it is not the foundation of our right standing with God. It is responding in faith to what God has done, with the recognition that we all fall short in many ways. Still there is a call to persevere. There is a call to continue.
There are warnings (such as we find in Galatians 5:2-6) not to fall away. Only those who persevere to the end and continue in the faith will be saved. So we need to take those warnings very seriously and continue to trust in God's grace until the final day and not to presume upon His grace by thinking we can do whatever we wish and still obtain the final inheritance. We must be very careful though that we do not make this primary, so that God's grace in saving us and choosing us and sanctifying us and justifying us is removed and the focus becomes on our good works. Our good works are the response to God's grace, the evidence of God's grace. And yet on the other hand, we must not diminish the call to persevere and to believe and to continue until the end.
Our next lecture we will look at more of what Paul says about the Christian life.