What Makes You to Differ? Some Thoughts on Divine Election

Our repentance from sin and his faith in Christ are portrayed as gifts because they flow from God’s sovereign grace.

In saying that faith and repentance are God’s gifts to Jerry but not to Ed, we are not to think of them as some sort of material, tangible stuff that comes gift-wrapped with a red ribbon! The Bible portrays faith and repentance as God’s gifts to his elect in order to emphasize that although Jerry is the author of these actions, God is the ultimate cause. Jerry willed to believe, but only after and because God provided him with the power. 

 

Last night I had the privilege of speaking to the students in our counseling school here at Bridgeway. The topic assigned to me was that of soteriology, or salvation. More specifically, we looked at the subject of God’s sovereignty in salvation and the subject of divine election.

As I prepared for our time together, I decided that the best way to dive headlong into the topic was by way of an illustration I used in my book, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Crossway, 2007). If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. Here is the story that comes from the Introduction to Chosen for Life. I hope you find it thought-provoking, even if you are left with even more questions than you had before. Perhaps you might even be tempted to obtain Chosen for Life and dig more deeply into this subject. So here goes.

Deep and complex theological issues are often made more intelligible by a simple, down-to-earth illustration. So let me begin our study of divine election by putting real life flesh and bones to what strikes many as an abstract and divisive idea.

Jerry and Ed are identical twins, raised by loving, Christian parents. As much as was humanly possible, their mother and father refused to play favorites. Both boys were shown the same affection, granted the same privileges, and bore the same responsibilities in the home. They attended the same schools and were virtually equal in athletic ability, popularity among their peers, and grade point average. They were truly twins in temperament, personality, and achievement.

The boys attended church regularly with their parents but showed no interest in religious matters. They would often sit at the back of the church and laugh at the preacher, disdainful of his persistent appeal for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. As they were alike in so many other respects, they appeared to share an equal contempt for the gospel.

Jerry and Ed had just celebrated their nineteenth birthday and were looking forward to graduating from high school. It was Easter Sunday. They were sitting in the same pew where they had for years, listening to the same pastor. But something was different. Nothing unusual, at least in terms of the mundane, natural affairs of life, had occurred to account for what happened on that morning. Neither brother had endured a humiliating experience at school nor had they been the recipients of excessive praise and honor. By all appearances, it was just another Sunday morning.

But this day, much to his own surprise, Jerry suddenly found himself listening intently to the sermon, while Ed was doodling on the church bulletin, obviously without interest in anything being said. Both brothers had heard countless sermons depicting their sinful and desperate spiritual condition, together with the promise of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ. But not until that Easter Sunday did either of them pay the slightest degree of attention.

Ideas and doctrines that had, until then, sounded silly and archaic, mysteriously began to make sense to Jerry. The existence of an infinitely holy God against whom he had rebelled, together with the prospect of eternal death, shattered all remaining tranquility of soul. He glanced briefly at Ed to see if he were paying attention. Not a chance.

“He’s right,” Jerry silently concluded. “I am a sinner. Jesus is God in human flesh and without him I have no hope. Oh, God! Help! Save me! Forgive me! Jesus, you are my only hope. If you had not died in my place and endured the Father’s wrath, I most certainly would. Forgive me for being so utterly blind to your beauty until now. Oh, sweet Son of God! I embrace you alone. I want to live wholly and utterly for you.”

Jerry struggled to explain to himself what was happening. All he knew was that while listening to what he had heard so many times before, he “hears” it for the very first time. What he had read in the Bible so many times before, he “sees” as if it had only then appeared. Jesus of Nazareth, who until now held no attraction for him, suddenly seems altogether lovely and winsome. The conviction that this Jesus alone can deliver him from the spiritual turmoil, grief and guilt in which he is mired grips his heart. His soul is, as it were, flooded with wave upon wave of peace and joy as he feels the burden of his sin lifted from his shoulders and placed upon Christ, in whom it vanished from sight. Then the words to that hymn he had so mindlessly sung countless times before ring true to his heart:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Amazing love! how can it be,
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?”

Ed couldn’t help but notice that his brother was weeping. With a quick jab of his elbow in Jerry’s side, he whispered: “Cut that out! You’re embarrassing me.” But Jerry was unfazed.

What Jerry now finds altogether lovely, Ed continues to loathe. Jerry’s unbelief disappears under a flood of repentance and whole-souled love for Christ. By an act of his will, Jerry embraces the redemptive sufferings of Jesus as his only hope and haven. He willingly repudiates sin and reliance on self, and with joy reposes in Christ. But Ed remains obstinate, and now even more indignant, in his unbelief.

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