Original Article for July 31 (’14)
Last week, we gave the first three of six reasons why it’s important for us to love the doctrine of predestination. Today we give reasons four through six. This is not about the theological aspects of the doctrine of predestination per se, but about what happens when we neglect or reject it or, perhaps better, why believing in and loving predestination should make us more joyful Christians than we would be otherwise. While last week’s three reasons focused mainly on the relationship between pastor and congregation with the ministry of the Word (preaching, counseling, even singing the Word) acting as a fulcrum between them, today’s broadens to life in general. Put another way, whereas last week’s focused mostly on how predestination effects life within the church, today’s focuses on the church’s life to those outside its walls. As a reminder, reasons one through three can be read here and would serve as a good foundation for today’s post.
The fourth reason predestination matters: loving and cherishing predestination gives us confidence and courage in evangelism. If it is true that God has elected men prior to their birth, how do those men go from unsaved to saved? Do I even have to do anything at all—do they have to do anything? Won’t God just…save them? While there are many Scripture verses answering this excellent question, one stands out to us above the others as the clearest answer. Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” What was the “this” which they heard? A sermon on the Old Testament from Paul and Barnabas. Leaving aside how silly it must seem to many in American churches to know that a sermon majoring in Old Testament fulfillment in Jesus resulted in mass conversion among complete pagans, it is clear that the Apostles preached the Word (of the Old Testament) and boom: a church is born and a city changed forever. How could Paul simply stand in front of strangers and expect results?
I frequently have discussions with teenagers about conversion and evangelism. Upwards of 3/4ths believe they would be “pushy” to preach to people around them. Some are explicit in saying some variation of, “I like to be people’s friends and just love them over time without being up front about the Gospel.” Whether this works or not, the Scriptures are plain. Conversion comes when someone is bold enough to say, “Here is Jesus. He is legit. He offers salvation. Take it, or be left in your sins.” The message is that simple, even if it can be expanded to include how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament! The results speak for themselves. It’s worth noting, there is not a single recorded instance anywhere in Scripture of an Apostle “Friending” someone into the kingdom, even if this often seems like the de facto method for evangelism in many Evangelical churches. What we have in Scripture are many instances of Apostles preaching people into the kingdom.
What gave them such confidence? The same thing that can give you such confidence to overcome your own fear and focus on the Lord: evangelism is God’s business. You’re the mailman, not the letter. Knowing that God has predestined “some”, and not knowing who they are, the better question is why not preach and see what the Lord will do? Why not “share the Gospel” and see who enjoys the show-and-tell?
Because God has predestined strangers to become his children, I will tell others of the joy of my salvation and have confidence God will do his thing. Fear, intimidation, anxiety, nervousness, while natural, too frequently arise because of a lack of faith. We believe loving and cherishing the doctrine of predestination is a sedative for our fears run amok, an epi-pen for our dying enthusiasm, and the destroyer of the “As if!” that anything could actually happen when we tell others of Jesus. When talking to others, have confidence something can actually happen (because he has elected some) and have the courage to speak up (because you don’t know that your words won’t be the straw breaking their spiritual backs). “All who were appointed to eternal life believed….” Name it and claim it, baby.
The fifth reason predestination matters: we are filled with self-esteem, self-valuation, and fear, and embracing predestination can begin the cleansing process. Instead of taking our cues about Self from God, we take cues on God from Self. Instead of knowing myself in light of God’s truth, I take the darkness of my own heart as the measure of Me. Knowing of God’s predestined ways should remove the darkness—or begin to. If I am becoming something decided by someone else, that dramatically reduces Me while also lifting me to a dimension of Him I was unable to ever do myself. Paul said that God chose us in Jesus before the foundation of the world to be adopted into his family and set on a trajectory of glorious transformation (Eph 1:4-6). That’s a mighty high estimation of value to make. His children are of such value he went to whatever length was necessary to adopt them. Considering the astronomical costs of adopting a child, it’s a wonder we don’t think of how costly the blood of Jesus truly was. Only God could afford to make such a payment, and only God did.
Now, we know all too well the lingering thought in the subterranean levels of the soul: we don’t matter or, perhaps, we aren’t going to be of use to anyone. The older and more decrepit we become, the worse it gets as we see family less and less and we know—know—they are burdened by our frailty. The young, too, feel unnecessary, unwanted, unloved. How odd that both young and old are left the same.
We’ve felt it, too. Truthfully, we feel it too often still. “Lord, would it matter if I was gone tomorrow? Will any of my yesterdays be remembered?” Some people want to go out in a flash, content to burn brightly even if only for a short shot because at least then they were seen. Others want nothing more than to shy away into the background—to recede into the shadows and alleyways of the human masses. They don’t want the spotlight at all. They want only to make it through, day-by-day. This is not the same as humility. Both, in fact, are rooted in fear. The former is afraid of never being noticed; the latter is afraid of being noticed at all.
Predestination calms such fear among God’s people and, at the very least, gives a huge impetus against it. We are noticed by God, adopted by him, sealed with the Holy Spirit by the atoning and purifying blood of Jesus, then spurred to holy living with a promise of systematic transformation that will only stop at the Resurrection of the dead. A promise, mind you. God has predestined his people for an end and gifted them with the means to arrive. The end is total transformation into the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29 and 2 Cor 3:18), and the means is one another and our faithfulness to tell others of the Kingdom.
Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 discuss the Spirit giving us gifts for a purpose (maturity); we matter. This simple truth does away with all fear-filled living in principle, even though we still struggle. However, we shouldn’t doubt in darkness what we’ve understood in the light, even though the darkness leads us to stumble and stub our metaphorical toes. God’s promise, based in his predestined generosity in divine gifting, is serious. “I will feel no fear, for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me.” Embracing predestination helps us know we have received a gift (or gifts) from the Spirit in order to matter to his people first and others second. Scandalously, in fact, we have now become God’s predestined method to matter to people. You cannot calculate your worth, no matter how lowly a function among the Body/Church you hold. You’re not qualified to judge yourself, nor were you ever. Predestination just brings the point into crystal clarity. After all, I don’t even know what will happen in the next five minutes of my life, much less the effect of an entire life over five or fifty years.
This doctrine of predestination also has an inverse effect on those in high positions in the Body or outside: they best remember their position does not produce success or value over the lowliest sound-board technician. After all, if he doesn’t turn on the mic, no one will hear you, or God may choose to use the words of a teenager to save a young father whose descendents in 100 years found the greatest missionary-sending church the world has ever known, all the while your sermons did very little except to save that little girl. How can a valuation of these lives be given? Which is greater? Such talk is nonsense in the Kingdom and makes no sense when God has predestined the means (us, chiefly) for his own ends (a gloriously renewed universe). Each “cog” is important. Without each, all the others struggle to do what they do.
This has a practical and natural overflow into the sixth and final reason predestination matters. Knowing all these previous five reasons predestination matters, we are spurned on to faithful living never having to consider our own worth. In other words, the doctrine of predestination should have a humbling effect. We remember a lesson from “The Charge of the Light Brigade“:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Paul put it like this, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Paul didn’t fret over seeing conversions. He didn’t practice hand-wringing and fretful mumbling. He determined to do his part, whatever it would be, even as misery after misery reared its head as he went from city to city, task to task. He charged ahead into volley and thunder. He boldly preached, evangelizing where he could as opportunity presented, sometimes saw conversions, and moved on. While we oversimplify the process, Paul himself was clear: I’m not the one saving people. The Word of God is (see Acts 6:7 and Psalm 19:7), and I am simply speaking it. Sometimes, people would come behind Paul and see the harvest, while at other times Paul was able to reap what he had sown (1 Cor 1:10-17). What’s this have to do with you and predestination?
Since you cannot possibly know whether you are at this time or that time the planter, water boy, or harvester, you can move through life not focused on results. Focus on faithfulness, and trust that you will bear much fruit even if such fruit is not discernible. You’re the branches, Jesus said. You’re not the farmer. God is. He sees the big picture. You’re being pruned and plucked and grafted. You’re commanded and invited to speak and evangelize, and promised that the Word is always effective (Is 55:11). Predestination helps you remember that “effective” may not be defined the same way in God’s mind as it is yours. Without predestination as a theological doctrine you embrace, why would you not fret? I would. I would think I could do more, say more, etc., etc., all the while working myself into an early and unfruitful grave. Don’t be that guy.
There is a subtle and vile thinking that sneaks into our hearts, too. Having begun the Christian faith by grace, we often think we must continue the Christian life by works. This is not the case. We live in constant danger of walking by works, not faith, and depending on our own obedience/performance for sanctification (being made increasingly the image of Christ). Taking refuge in the predestined sanctification and subsequent glorification (Rom 8:28-30, again) is the key to freely serving God while resting in the finished work of Christ. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. It has to happen. There should be no fretting or fearing, then, for God, who started a good work in us, will surely complete it, and he will do so using our best and our worst, both despite our failures and despite our “successes” which tend to color our thinking about Self.
To summarize, here are our six reasons why this doctrine matters.
First: the doctrine of predestination reminds us that God promises our preaching will save souls.
Second: the doctrine of predestination, as it relates to preaching, reminds us that God has given the church pastors to preach so that Christian faith would mature.
Third: the doctrine of predestination reminds us that success in any kind of ministry is not up to us; faithfulness is.
Fourth: the doctrine of predestination acts to give us confidence and courage in evangelism.
Fifth: the doctrine of predestination acts as a cleansing deterrent against our self-esteem, self-valuation, and fear, allowing for healthy Christian living knowing we are valued by God.
Sixth: the doctrine of predestination acts to spurn us on to faithful living never having to consider our own worth and leaving results in his hands.
I know that the healthiest Christians I have ever been around—the ones with a realistic view of life, rich view of God, and robust faith in the Kingdom to Come—have all loved this doctrine. It is as old as the Scriptures. We find it impossible to argue against the doctrine and so embrace it, love it, cherish it, all the while asking the question which we have tried to answer for you here: does it really matter?
We hope we have convinced you. If you are not and would like further study, we recommend the following resources available for purchase from www.wtsbooks.com.
What Are Election and Predestination? (Very quick, short read)
The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (A very old and famous classic)
Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (from a Reformer of 16th century Europe)
There are countless articles online available for free as well. Google will help there!