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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

More on Election and Moral Worthiness

You know, I find it very difficult to write while music is playing. At least, music with lyrics. I always have. I'm not sure why—maybe I struggle with splitting my attention—but nevertheless I need to turn this music off if I intend to write something coherent. I'm enjoying it, it's good music, but it's time to write now.

With a comforting mug of hot, steaming coffee set beside me, I shall begin.

In another post of mine, I was addressing someone's allegation that God's criteria for choosing his elect might be "morally arbitrary." I believe I've dealt with that allegation sufficiently enough, but in that post I had also said that, if our 'moral worthiness' of heaven is not part of his criteria for choosing his elect, then whatever happens to be God's criteria are indeed irrelevant—to our moral worthiness (but then I also noted that just because his criteria might be irrelevant in one context it does not follow that his criteria are therefore irrelevant per se; that is, in all contexts).

I wanted to stop on that note and perhaps expand a little bit on what I was saying there, because there is some potential for misunderstanding. I may be eloquent but that does not mean I am perspicuous. I want to explain what I meant when I said that God's criteria for choosing his elect are irrelevant to their moral worthiness because, on the surface, that might sound scandalous enough to raise some eyebrows (certainly the eyebrows of nearly every Evangelical reader).

Let me begin by stating what I do not mean. The criteria that God uses for choosing his elect might be irrelevant with regard to their moral worthiness, but this does not mean that their moral worthiness is irrelevant with regard to their entrance into heaven. It is actually quite relevant; there is no shortage of statements in the sacred scriptures which outline what sort of person will not enter heaven. So it would seem that their moral worthiness becomes an issue at some point. The careful distinction I am stressing right here is that God's sovereign election of his children neither equates with nor somehow results in their license to sin—the latter is quite a different matter from the former. Just because the criteria that God uses for choosing his elect might be irrelevant to their moral worthiness, it does not mean that they may behave and act any way they like and they'll still find entrance into heaven.

However, their entrance into heaven is eschatological, isn't it—something that they, here now alive, at least have yet experience. There is a process involved prior to that event, a process which begins first, obviously, with their birth. But did God wait until they were each individually born before electing them? No. God's choosing his elect occurred in the divine singularity of his eternal frame of reference, which is antecedent to and transcendent of the created order. His elect were chosen before they were even born, before they had done anything either good or bad, in order that God's purpose in election might stand, demonstrating that it depends neither on man's desire nor effort but on God's mercy (Rom. 9:10-16). In fact, his elect were chosen not only before they were born but before the world was even created. We read that "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4); we read that our salvation and holy calling was "granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim. 1:9); we read that the kingdom has been prepared "from the foundation of the world" for those blessed of the Father (Matt. 25:34; cf. Psalm 32:1,2); we read that the names of the elect have "been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life" (Rev. 13:8). If we said that their moral worthiness were a criterion of God's choosing his elect, then we would be saying that it is no longer a matter of grace but, rather, of obligation (that it is something God owes them). If it was "on the basis of works," then grace (being "unmerited favour") is no longer grace (Rom 11:6); but we know that God "saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace" (2 Tim. 1:9).

Might this not also begin to suggest, then, that if the criteria God uses for choosing his elect are irrelevant to their moral worthiness—if no one, in themselves, deserves to be permitted into heaven, whereby God is under obligation—then perhaps our moral worthiness is contingent upon God's act of electing (cf. Heb. 13:20-21; Phil. 1:6, 2:13; Rom. 8:29; etc)? That is, if no one in themselves deserves heaven, then all mankind would be lost if God had not intervened; both the salvation and the moral worthiness of those redeemed, then, are the result of God's intervention by grace—in our justification, sanctification, and glorification—and therefore to none other is praise and glory due. I would echo Matthew Henry's expression that all fulness dwells in Christ, "a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us," as well as John Gill who affirms that Christ is our sanctification, and we have "all [our] sins expiated by his sacrifice, and [our] persons washed and cleansed in his blood, and [our] hearts sanctified by his Spirit," which will be completed by the author of it.
Hebrews 13:20-21
"Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

Philippians 1:6; 2:13
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. ... for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

Romans 8:29
"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren."
"This encourages us to do our utmost," Matthew Henry writes, "because our labour shall not be in vain: we must still depend on the grace of God. The working of God's grace in us is to quicken and engage our endeavours. God's goodwill to us is the cause of his good work in us."