The Pleasure of God in Election
Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it; yet the Lord set his heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all the peoples, as at this day.
Summarizing the Series Thus Far
In our study of the pleasures of God we have seen that from all eternity God has been supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. He has delighted in casting his eye, as it were, out over the endless panorama of his own perfections reflected in the face of his Son. Between God the Father and God the Son there has flowed a love and joy so full and complete, and carrying so much of the essence of God, that it has stood forth from all eternity as a Person in his own right—the Holy Spirit himself.
If you could take the energy of all the billions of galaxies in the universe and measure it, you would get a reading that is simply a faint reverberation of that energy of joy and love that swells and streams and surges in the triune heart of God. Before there was anything besides God at all, God was supremely happy in himself.
We saw secondly that God is, therefore, absolutely self-sufficient. He has no needs and so can't be bribed. He has no flaws and so can't be blackmailed. He has no weaknesses and so can't be coerced or forced. In other words, he is absolutely free and does what he does because of his own good pleasure. "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases" (Psalm 115:3).
Thirdly, we saw that the creation of this spectacular universe is the overflow of God's joyful bounty. He did not create the world to make up for some deficiency in himself. He created because it's the very nature of fullness to overflow. It's the nature of unbounded joy to spread itself around. And so God rejoiced to make the universe as a kind of spin-off of his overflowing delight in his own glory.
Then, last week we saw that in this world which God has created, the great passion of his heart is to spread his reputation. Again and again and again in Scripture we read that he acts for the sake of his name. His great goal is to magnify his fame and renown and the honor of his name in all that he does.
And when you stop and think about it this is the most loving thing that God could ever do; because the greatest benefit that human beings could ever receive is to know and share in the glory of God. So when God aims to make his glorious name known and admired and praised and enjoyed in every people and tongue and tribe and nation, he is acting in overflowing grace and love because this and this alone will satisfy the longings of the human heart.
A People to Praise and Proclaim God
Today we carry our study one step further and discover that the way God intends to make a name for his glorious grace in all the world is to choose a people for himself. And as Jeremiah says, "He will make them cling to him that they might be for him a people, and a name, and a praise, and a glory" (Jeremiah 13:11). In other words, to extend the pleasure that God has in his own name, he calls out a people to enjoy and praise and proclaim that name. And the Bible calls these people "the elect." That is what we want to look at this morning: the pleasure of God in election.
The Election of Israel
We will take our starting point from the election of Israel in the Old Testament and then turn to the New Testament and see whether the church is thought of in a similar way.
Deuteronomy 10:14–15 describes the delight God had in choosing Israel from all the peoples of the earth.
14) Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it; 15) yet the Lord set his heart in love upon your fathers [literally: "the Lord delighted in your fathers to love them"] and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day.
Notice two things.
God's Complete Freedom
First, notice the contrast between verses 14 and 15. Why does Moses describe the election of Israel against the backdrop of God's ownership of the whole universe? Verse 14 says: To God belongs everything in heaven and on earth. Then verse 15 says: Yet he chose you for his people.
Isn't the point to dispel any notion that God was somehow hedged in to choose this people? Isn't the point to explode the myth that each people has its own god and this god has a right to his own people but no more?
So Moses' point in saying, "God owns everything in heaven and on earth—absolutely everything—yet he chose you," is to make clear to the Israelites that God was not locked in to choosing them. He had rights and privileges to choose absolutely any people on the face of the earth for his redeeming purposes. And therefore when he calls himself "their God," he does not mean that he is on a par with the gods of Egypt or the gods of Canaan. He owns those gods and their peoples. And if it had pleased him, he could have chosen a totally different people to accomplish his purposes. The point of putting verses 14 and 15 together in this way is to stress the freedom and the universal rights and authority of God.
The Way God Exercises His Freedom
The second thing to notice is in verse 15: the way God exercises his freedom is to "set his love upon the fathers." That means that God freely chose to make Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the object of his delight and love. God's love for the fathers of Israel was free and merciful and wasn't constrained by anything that the fathers were in their Jewishness or in their virtue.
One of the ways God makes this clear is that when Abraham has two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, God only chooses one of them, Isaac. And when Isaac has two sons, Jacob and Esau, even before they were born, God only chooses Jacob not Esau to continue the line of his chosen people. And Paul stresses in Romans 9:10–13 that the reason for this was to show that God's election is free and unconditional. It is not based on Jewishness or virtue or faith; it is free, and therefore completely merciful and gracious.
Why Did God Love and Choose Israel?
One other place in Deuteronomy where this is stressed is 6:6–7. Moses describes the election of Israel like this:
6) For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. 7) It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you [literally: delighted in you] and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; 8) but it was because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
This passage teaches again the freedom of God's grace in loving and choosing Israel. Notice the question that verse 7 raises: Why did God "set his love upon you (or delight in you) and choose you"? Verse 7 says it was not because of their greatness. They were very small, unlikely candidates for being chosen by God. Why then did God delight in them and choose them?
Because He Loved Them
Verse 8 gives two answers. First: "It is because the Lord loves you". Now remember what the question was from verse 7. The question was: Why did God set his love upon you? And the first answer Moses gives is: "Because he loves you." He loves you because he loves you. That is what I mean by the freedom of God and the freedom of electing love. He doesn't set his love upon them because they qualify for his love. He loves because he loves.
Because of His Oath to Their Fathers
But what about the second reason Moses gives in verse 8 for why God loved Israel and chose them and brought them out of Egypt? He says that it is because God was "keeping the oath which he swore to their fathers." Does this mean that God's choice to love and save wasn't free after all? Was he bound to save them? I don't think so.
The oath of blessing (referred to in v. 8) had been given to Abraham in divine freedom. It was confirmed in freedom to Isaac not Ishmael; and it was confirmed in freedom to Jacob not Esau. And in the same way God was free at the Red Sea to save that rebellious (Psalm 106:7–8) generation or to let them justly be destroyed by Pharaoh. God's choice to rescue Israel at the Red Sea and make them into an earthly people for his name was free and merciful and gracious! It was simply an extension and partial fulfillment of that first free oath that God made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
God's Self-Glorifying Purpose in Electing Israel
So I conclude from Deuteronomy 10:14–15 and 7:6–8 that the way God decided to make a name for his glorious grace in the Old Testament was to choose a people for himself from all the peoples of the earth and to make that people the showcase of his redeeming work. And so you read in Isaiah that God created Israel "for his glory" (43:7) and that he formed them "that they might declare [his] praise" (43:21). In other words, in order to extend the pleasure that God has in his own name, he chooses a people to enjoy and praise and proclaim that name. And so God has pleasure in election.
The Election of Individuals in the Church
Now what happens in the New Testament with the coming of Christ? What happens is that God continues to rejoice in election, but now we move into a period when Israel as a people is no longer the focus of God's dealings. He turns for now to the Gentiles and begins to assemble new people for himself called the church. He's not done with Israel! But for now the focus is on the ingathering of the nations.
And since the church is not an ethnic group like Israel was, God doesn't elect a whole nation for earthly purposes like he did Israel at the Red Sea. Instead the New Testament speaks of election as God's choice of individuals to believe and become part of the redeemed people of God.
The Joy of the Trinity
Let's turn first to Luke 10:21. The reason I choose this verse is because it one of the two places in the New Testament where Jesus is said to rejoice, and my topic today is God's pleasure or joy in election. The 70 disciples have just returned from their preaching tours and reported their success to Jesus. Luke writes in verse 21:
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes: yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will [literally: for thus it was well-pleasing before thee]."
Notice that all three members of the Trinity are rejoicing here: Jesus is rejoicing, but it says he is rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. I take that to mean that the Holy Spirit is filling him and moving him to rejoice. Then at the end of the verse it describes the pleasure of God the Father. NIV: "Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure."
Now what is it that has the whole Trinity rejoicing together in this place? It is the free electing love of God to hide things from the intellectual elite and to reveal them to babes. And what is it that the Father hides from some and reveals to others? Verse 22 gives the answer: "No one knows who the Son is except the Father." So what God the Father must reveal is the true spiritual identity of the Son.
So when the 70 disciples return from their evangelistic mission and give their report to Jesus, he and the Holy Spirit rejoice that God the Father has chosen, according to his own good pleasure, whose eyes he would open to the spiritual reality of his Son (cf. v. 23). They are glad that God has taken the initiative to choose a people for himself, and that it depends ultimately on the good pleasure of God.
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are so bent on exalting God the Father that they rejoice when he exerts his wisdom and power and grace to choose a people for himself in a way that will confound all the man-centered expectations of the world. The wise are passed over in their pride and the babes, the unlikely, the helpless, are surprised with divine favor.
The tables are turned from what the world expects. The wisdom of man is put down. And the freedom of God's grace is exalted when the prime candidates of the world are passed over and God surprises everyone with his choice of the babes. This is what make Jesus and the Holy Spirit rejoice—the humbling of human pride and the exaltation of God's freedom and grace.
God's Two Goals in Election
This is exactly what Paul focuses on when he describes God's election in forming the church in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. As I read it, listen for this: what is being opposed and what is being promoted in the election described in these verses?
Consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise [!] according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose [election!] what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord."
The thought here is similar to the thought in Luke 10:21. God chooses freely who will belong to his people. And he chooses in such a way as to accomplish two things, which are really two sides of the same coin. In verse 29 the goal of election is "that no human being might boast in the presence of God." The goal of God in election is the elimination of all human pride, all self-reliance, all boasting in man.
And the second goal of God in election, the other side of the coin, is given in verse 31: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." In other words, take all boasting off of man and focus all boasting on God. Humble man and exalt Christ. Make man see his utter dependence on God's mercy and magnify the glory of free grace. That's why God has pleasure in election—it magnifies his name!
The Most Precious Act of Love in the Universe
But note this well! Those of you who know that you are sinners and ungodly and weak and helpless to save yourselves and yet have seen in Jesus an all-sufficient Savior, and by the grace of God have been drawn to cast your life on him and hope in him and follow him—you will count the electing grace of God as the most precious act of love in all the universe.
And you will say with the apostle Paul in Romans 8: "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org