Andrew from Benton, Kansas, writes in: “Pastor John, You once described how you would explain Christian Hedonism to somebody over lunch (at Pizza Hut). Realizing divine election may take a bit longer, what is the easiest way to share this with someone, and with what key Scripture would you explain it over, say, a weekend brunch?”
Okay, so we are moving from a Christian Hedonism Pizza Hut lunch to an election brunch.
Now I am going to assume that we are talking to a Christian. I don’t know if that is the intention, but I am going to assume it, because if the person were not a Christian, election is not where I would go first; I would go to the gospel. I might get around to election and they may have a question about it, and that would be okay, but that is not first on the agenda. So my first assumption is that we are talking to a believer who has got some stumbling blocks or problems with the doctrine of election and is not sure what he believes about it.
And I am going to assume that we are on the same page with regard to the authority of the Bible, because I don’t think anybody comes to the doctrine of election without believing that the Bible teaches it and without submitting to the Bible. So that is what I am assuming.
‘How Did God Save You?’
Now here is my approach: I would not start with election directly. I would start by asking this person to describe to me how they got saved — that is, “Tell me how you were converted.” Or actually, the words I would use to make it more clear, instead of that passive “got saved,” I would say, “How did God save you? I mean, historically, what did he do in history to save you, and existentially, what did he do ten years ago, or when you were six, or when you were sixteen, or when you were thirty? What did he do? Describe to me how God brought you to himself.”
I am looking here to see how a person describes their lostness and the action of God to bring them out of blindness to see, to bring them out of deadness to life, to bring them out of insensitivity to spiritual things to being thrilled with spiritual things. I am looking for that kind of description. When I approach election this way, coming at it by its effects, what I find is that very few people that I ever talk to about their conversion want to take decisive credit for their conversion. They want to say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
If they stumble here, then I would say, “When you stand before God, if he asks you, ‘Why did you recognize me as true and believe, while others in your similar situation didn’t?’” I will ask them that question. Very few people want to answer, “Well, because I was smarter or wiser or more spiritual or more teachable.” Almost every Christian I have ever talked to — in fact, I can’t think of an exception — wants to answer, “It was grace. It was grace all the way down. That is why I had my eyes opened and that is why I saw.”
All That God Gave
Now at this point with their hearts leaning in that direction, leaning in the right direction — and I think people who are born again do lean in the right direction — I take them to texts that teach what really happened to them, just to affirm what they have already hinted at, but they might not know from the Bible. And this is still coming at election, but we have got to settle first how they got saved.
So I would say to the formerly blind person, “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” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So once we had no light, and God gave it, just like on the first day of creation. I would say to the formerly dead person, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). So you were dead. God made you alive. That is how you got saved.
I would say to the formerly unrepentant person the truth of 2 Timothy 2:24–25, “The Lord’s servant must be patient and correct with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth.” I would say, “So how did you come to repentance? God granted you repentance.” So God gave them a sight. God gave them light. God gave them repentance. And “no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father” (John 6:65). And so God gave you your approach. And I would ask at each point if they saw that God was the decisive cause of their seeing Christ as true and desirable and the source of their spiritual life and their repentance and their coming to Christ.
And if they push back and deny this, and insist that they have ultimate self-determination, and they themselves are decisively responsible of their own conversion, I would stop there and wouldn’t go on to election, because they have already rejected the foundations. If they have to have self-determination as the ultimate cause of their conversion, then election is already undermined, and there is no biblical teaching that will make it plain, because the teachings that I just gave them about how they got converted are more plain.
What God Decided
But if they are still agreeing and if they are saying, “Yes, God saved me. God was the decisive cause,” then I would ask them, “When did God decide to do that?” And to get the biblical answer I would probably look first at Acts 13:48, where it says, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” There was a prior decision, appointment, election, and then faith followed. God decided at a prior time to bring you to belief, to open your eyes, and to give you repentance.
And then I would turn to election in Ephesians 1:4: “Even as he chose us [he elected us] in him before the foundation of the world.” And I would simply say the very way you have been saved, that you agree with, that God saved you, he decided to do that before he did it. He is not a God who is whimsical. He doesn’t get taken off guard. He doesn’t have plan Bs. He saved you, sovereignly, because he decided to.
And that would be the end of my effort, though if they had more time I might write down on a napkin Romans 8:30, Romans 9:11, Romans 11:5, and 1 Corinthians 1:23–24, and then send them off to study them and we can talk again. Those are all texts about election.
Nothing Apart from Him
But the aim of the conversation would be to awaken in both of us a greater sense of wonder that we are saved and that we owe it all to God — that apart from him we can do nothing, and therefore, all of our lives should be lived in the constant amazement that we are saved, and that he would die for us, and that he would give us sight instead of blindness and light instead of deadness.
In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:28–29, “God chose [God elected] . . . things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so no that no human being might boast.” In other words, election strips us of boasting. But “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31). So the bottom line of the goal of that lunch is humility in us and all glory to God.