On a crisp fall day, a young man walked with his wife into a small Presbyterian church. He had realized that something was missing in his life. His thinking was that perhaps adding “church” and a little bit of “religion” was the answer. During the next few weeks, the preaching of the Gospel, a persistent and pursuing Christian, and a series of life-changing events helped the young man realize it wasn’t church or religion that he needed but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He was converted and began his new life with intensity.
Yet lurking within him was an “old man” that would rise up at the least provocation. The provocation soon appeared—the doctrine of election. The pastor, a quiet and faithful man of God, was preaching through the book of Romans. The Biblical doctrine of election was unfolded. The young man declared the preacher was wrong; salvation was first man’s choice, then God was free to save. The pastor faithfully, consistently, courageously, and compassionately kept on preaching the doctrine of election when it appeared in God’s Word. Over time, through prayer, the reading of God’s Word, and the faithfulness of pastoral preaching, the young man was broken of his pride and anger, and he embraced the doctrine of election.
The pastor was my first pastor, and the young man was me.
As we consider how pastors should communicate the doctrine of election, here are several presuppositions.
• The doctrine of election is biblical.
• The doctrine of election is not a superficial doctrine but an important one.
• A saving relationship with Jesus Christ does not require an accurate confession of election but an embracing of the fact that one is a sinner, Christ died for the sins of His people, and they repent of them and receive Him alone through faith by grace as Savior and Lord.
• A consistent confession of the Gospel of grace will inevitably lead a person to the Reformed doctrine of election.
A Pastoral Approach
The doctrine of election should not normally be taught by topical insertion into the lives of God’s people, but by textual exposition. If you embrace expository preaching, the consecutive exposition of God’s Word, you will have to teach election if you deal honestly with Scripture. Then God’s people will not dismiss it, for you will not have inserted it into their lives arbitrarily, but God will have brought it to them as you simply, faithfully, and systematically taught the Scriptures. God, not you, will bring it to them.
Also, teach the doctrine of election in context with other doctrines. The doctrine of election is woven into the tapestry of faithful, sound doctrine. It is a subset of predestination, which is a subset of God’s sovereignty. Teaching one doctrine requires embracing all of the doctrines because of their inter-dependency. Election is not on an a la carte theological menu, but is embedded in a Biblical theology.
We can teach who God is from what God does. We also can teach what God does, i.e. “election,” from who God is, i.e. “sovereign.” As people understand the majesty of God, they become desirous of acknowledging what God does.
Finally, we need to be personally saturated with God’s grace so that, when we teach this or any other aspect of the doctrines of grace, we are gracious. We obey the admonitions of Paul: “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering” (2 Tim. 4:2); “A servant of the Lord must … be … patient” (2 Tim. 2:24).
Practical Benefits of Election
The Lord uses our courageous and patient instruction to encourage His people to embrace all of His Word. And when people acknowledge the doctrine of election, several benefits flow:
First, people gain liberty in their lives because election is a part of God’s truth, and “ ‘the truth shall make you free.’ ” It sets them free in many ways, not the least of which is the freedom to know that they have dealt with God’s Word with integrity, without editing texts or doctrines. They are not snipping and cutting but believing the whole counsel of God.
Second, they are forced to confront the “old man” again. The “old man” is still within Christians. He will believe and do what is right in his own eyes. He especially does not like authority or the majesty of God’s sovereignty. Therefore, the doctrine of election almost always will be resisted initially. Once it is dealt with, this doctrine becomes one more instrument in God’s hand to break us of self that we may “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Third, they begin to consistently embrace the Gospel as a Gospel of free grace.
Fourth, the worship of God’s people is elevated. They come to a better understanding of who God is and what He has done. Thus, when they gather to worship, there is a reason to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” As they scatter, they worship with their lives, manifesting gratitude and amazement at God’s love that has delivered them from their sins. It began with God’s love and will be finished with God’s power. Knowing that God loves them, they become aware that it is not about them, but about God.
May our God be praised as His people know and understand election from pastors who know and understand, not only this doctrine, but also their people.