I have asked the question in public, “When does God become 100% for us?” And I have given an answer that rightly troubles thoughtful, biblical people. So this article is an effort to answer their question.
In my message to the Desiring God National Conference on Sunday, September 30, I answered the question like this:
What the Bible teaches is that God becomes 100% irrevocably for us at the moment of justification, that is, the moment when we see Christ as a beautiful Savior and receive him as our substitute punishment and our substitute perfection. All of God’s wrath, all of the condemnation we deserve, was poured out on Jesus. All of God’s demands for perfect righteousness were fulfilled by Christ. The moment we see (by grace!) this Treasure, and receive him in this way, his death counts as our death and his condemnation as our condemnation and his righteousness as our righteousness, and God becomes 100% irrevocably for us forever in that instant.
The question this leaves unanswered is, “Doesn’t the Bible teach that in eternity God set his favor on us in election?” In other words, thoughtful people ask, “Did God only become 100% for us in the moment of faith and union with Christ and justification? Did he not become 100% for us in the act of election before the foundation of the world?” For example, Paul says in Ephesians 1:4-5, “[God] chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.”
Is God then not 100% for the elect from eternity? The answer hangs on the meaning of “100%.” With the term “100%” I am trying to preserve a biblical truth found in several passages of Scripture. For example, in Ephesians 2:3, Paul says that Christians were “children of wrath” before they were made alive in Christ Jesus. “We all once lived [among the sons of disobedience] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
So Paul is saying that, before regeneration, God’s wrath was on us. The elect were under wrath. This changed when God made us alive in Christ Jesus and awakened us to see the truth and beauty of Christ so that we received him as the one who died for us and as the one whose righteousness is counted as ours because of our union with Jesus. Before this happened to us, we were under God’s wrath. Then, because of faith in Christ and union with him, all God’s wrath was removed and he then became, in that sense, 100% for us.
Similarly in Romans 8:1, there is the crucial word “now.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The implication of “now” is that there was once condemnation over us and now there is not. A real change in God’s disposition toward us happened in the moment of our regeneration and faith and union with Christ and justification.
Notice the phrase “in Christ” at the end of Romans 8:1. This is why God’s disposition toward us is different when we believe in Christ. When we believe in Christ, we are united to him—that is, we are “in Christ.” This means that his death counts as our death and his righteousness counts as our righteousness. This is why there is now no condemnation, whereas before there was. Before Christ bore the curse of the law and we were united to him by faith, we were under the curse of the law. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
When Paul uses the language of God being “for us,” he speaks of it in the context of what Christ has done for us in history. For example, in Romans 8:31-32, he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Not sparing his Son is the act that secures God’s being 100% for us forever.
So was God 100% for us from eternity because we were elect? In one sense, yes. It was 100% certain that he would bring us to faith and save us. But when I ask the question, “When did God become 100% for us?” I mean more than: “When did it become 100% certain that God would save us?” I mean: “When did it happen that God was for us and only for us? That is, when did it happen that the only disposition of God toward us was mercy? Or: When did God become for us so fully that there was not any wrath or curse or condemnation on us, but only mercy?
The answer, I still say, is at the point when, by grace, we saw Christ as a supremely valuable Savior and received him as our substitute sacrifice and substitute righteousness. In other words, it happened at the point of justification. The implication of this is that all our works, all our perseverance, all our continuing faith and obedience does not cause God to be 100% for us, but is the result of his being 100% for us.
Paul’s logic in Romans 8:32 is that because God gave his Son to die for us therefore he will give us all things with him. That is, God will see to it that we persevere to the end not only because we are elect, but because Christ died for us and we are in Christ. That is the logic of 1 Corinthians 1:8-9: “[God] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The call is mentioned as the ground of God’s faithfulness to sustain us to the end.
Therefore, exult in the truth that God will keep you. He will get you to the end because in Christ he is 100% for you. And therefore, getting to the end does not make God to be 100% for you. It is the effect of the fact that he is already 100% for you.