ACST 51: The Regenerator


Jesus, the Messiah, cooperated with the Father’s plan by giving of himself, sacrificing his life on the cross as our atoning sacrifice. Christ gave himself when enabled us to have new life. He also gave us his Holy Spirit to complete the work of salvation that he made possible. The Holy Spirit gives us guidance, supernatural gifts and power for ministry, and produces the fruit of righteousness in our lives.[1] He is the Regenerator. He applies the atonement to our lives, and produces the change that the cross made possible.

Jesus Explained Regeneration

While conversing with a Jewish religious teacher, Jesus explained what regeneration is. Nicodemus, who should have understood these things, did not have a clue.

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you,

unless one is born of water and the Spirit,

he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That

which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that

which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not

marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born

again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes,

and you hear its sound, but you do not know

where it comes from or where it goes. So it is

with everyone who is born of the Spirit.””[2]

People do not give birth to themselves. That was the nature of the rebirth process that Nicodemus could not understand. He asked “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”[3] As a religious professional, Nicodemus was used to being given a command, and working out how he was going to actively obey that command. He was a “hands on” religious practitioner. He did not ask “what?” or “why?” or even “who?.” He asked “how?” because he was comfortable with a religion that required him to do something.

But when Jesus said that regeneration was like a new birth, he implied that the one being born is passive in the process. No one gives birth to himself. The Holy Spirit is the active participant in the process, and the believer is the passive recipient. In natural birth, two parents come together, have sexual relations, and a child is conceived as a result. The child has no say in the process of his conception. He is conceived of flesh, planned by flesh, nurtured during gestation by flesh, and when his birthday arrives – there he is: a bouncing baby flesh.

Jesus taught Nicodemus that spiritual rebirth works the same way. It is God’s Holy Spirit within the life of a believer that produces spiritual life. An unregenerate person is a degenerate. He produces only works of the flesh. They may be noble works of the flesh, or religious works of the flesh, or popular works of the flesh, but they are not God. They do not produce godliness, because God’s Holy Spirit is not there.

In true regeneration, the Holy Spirit applies the sovereign election of the Father, and the atoning sacrifice of the Son to the life of every true believer. The works that are produced are God’s works. The life within is God’s life. He blows around like a strong wind within the human lives of believers and leaves evidence of his existence among them.


The process by which the Holy Spirit does this is sometimes called sanctification. It is tempting to define sanctification as the results of the Holy Spirit blowing around – in other words, the damage caused by the storm, the evidence of God’s existence that believers produce. After all, the New Testament does encourage believers to see our bodies as a temple, and set it apart for God’s use by “cleans(ing) ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”[4]

But the results of cooperating with the Holy Spirit within and cleaning up our lives for his use – however noble they are – are not what the Bible calls sanctification. Theologians usually divide the doctrine of sanctification into three tenses:

1. positional sanctification, or the change in our status or standing before God.

2. progressive sanctification, or the change in our present experience because of the Holy Spirit within.

3. perfect sanctification, or our ultimate future condition when we are glorified at Christ’s return.

When seen in that light, the vast majority of the Bible’s treatment of the

subject concentrates on the first tense, on what is called positional sanctification. Consider these texts as examples:

“And now I commend you to God and to the word

of his grace, which is able to build you up and to

give you the inheritance among all those who are



“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those

sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints

together with all those who in every place call

upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both

their Lord and ours:”[6]


“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who

became to us wisdom from God, and

righteousness and sanctification, and redemption”[7]


“we have been sanctified through the offering

of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[8]


“Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own

blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp.”[9]


There is a process of sanctification. The New Testament refers to believers as “those who are being sanctified”. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, turning us into the people we are going to become. He’s changing us. He is manifesting himself in us and through us.

Ultimate sanctification (or glorification) is our destiny. When Jesus appears, raising us from the dead, or transforming us so that we will never taste death, we will be like him.[10] A transformation will have occurred. We look forward to the day when “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet .. the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”[11]

So, why does the Bible mostly present sanctification as a done deal? To understand this, readers have to stop thinking of sanctification as something that happens to us, and see it as something that happens from God. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier and the Regenerator. Our problem is that (like Nicodemus) we see things too much from our perspective. But the new birth could not be best explained from the perspective of those who experience it – the ones begotten. It had to be explained from the perspective of the one who begat – the one who caused the birth to happen.

The apostle Paul understood this quite well. Here is how he described sanctification to the Romans:

“For those whom (God) foreknew he also predestined

to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that

he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And

those whom he predestined he also called, and those

whom he called he also justified, and those whom he

justified he also glorified.”[12]

While he does not use the word “sanctified” in this text, he does use the word “glorified” – and put it in the past tense. But glorification is the future hope of the saints. We do not yet conform fully to the image of Christ, but we have been predestined to do it. It is our future destiny, not present reality.

But Paul spoke of God as having already glorified us. He skipped the process of sanctification and mentioned the event of glorification at the return of Christ and implied that both divine actions have already been accomplished. Did Paul slip in his grammar? No, he said what he meant to say. Paul understood something about God. He is not the God who was, and he is not the God who will be. God is always and eternally the “I AM.”[13] He is within time and outside of time at the same time. He has already accomplished all that he ever will accomplish.

Sanctification was accomplished the very moment the Father chose us to be his own. Sanctification was accomplished the moment the blood of Jesus Christ was shed on the cross. Sanctification was accomplished the very moment the Holy Spirit moved into our lives, and separated us unto God, reserving our lives for his purposes forever. We may not feel sanctified. We usually do not think of ourselves as having already been made holy. But from God’s perspective, it is a done deal.

The Holy Spirit is inside us, indwelling, transforming and regenerating us. He is changing our lives so that we reflect our destiny as glorified saints. He assists in the battle against Satan and sin, and guides us in the process of making decisions that reflect our new status before God. We do not always accept his guidance. We often stubbornly choose to do things our own way. But the God of all time is patient. He sees us not as we are now, but as we will be. So, it does not bother him to put up with our present, unfinished brand of foolishness.

Of course, if we do rebel against the divine Resident within, there is a price to pay. We often suffer simply because we refuse to walk in the Spirit. Our flesh wrestles with our spirit, who wants to cooperate with His Spirit. When we refuse to walk according to God’s wisdom, he will graciously allow us to stumble from our own foolishness. It is all part of the process.

The evidence that the process is indeed occurring includes three things which will be addressed in the next three chapters:

1. conversion: an immediate and ongoing change in our minds.

2. testimony: our attempts to communicate our faith to others.

3. life of faith: actions and attitudes that demonstrate that change has occurred.

[1] see chapters 37-42.

[2] John 3:5-8 ESV.

[3] John 3:4 ESV.

[4] 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV.

[5] Acts 20:32 ESV.

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV.

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB.

[8] Hebrews 10:10 ESV.

[9] Hebrews 13:12 NET.

[10] 1 John 3:2.

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV.

[12] Romans 8:29-30 ESV.

[13] Exodus 3:14-15.

ACST 50: The Sacrifice

As the Messiah, Jesus came to give up his life by crucifixion in order to rescue us from Satan’s grasp.[1] It was necessary that Christ be put to death to accomplish salvation. The question as to why this was necessary, and just exactly how his death saves anyone belongs to the locus of soteriology, and particularly the doctrine of the atonement.

the concept of atonement

Some explain the concept of atonement by saying that sin separates us from God, and what Jesus did on the cross caused us to be at-one with him again. Atonement is at-one-ment. This is fairly accurate, but it fails to really answer the above questions of why and how that is true. To get to those answers, readers must look to the Old Testament.

There is a formula that is repeated almost verbatim twelve times in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. It goes something like this: “the sinner shall offer the sacrifice to the LORD, and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven.”[2] This formula reveals four parties involved in the practice of atonement as described in the Mosaic law:

  • First, there was the offended party – the LORD himself. If God could not be affected by our actions, the atonement would not be necessary. But his righteousness is deeply affected by our acts of unrighteousness.
  • Second, there was the offending party – the sinner. Whether those sins were deliberate or done out of ignorance was not the point. The point was that something had been done or left undone that offended God’s holiness.
  • Third, there was the innocent sacrifice. A highly valuable animal was killed in order to reconcile the two above parties – to make them one again. There was a price to pay to restore the relationship between the sinner and his God. There was a price for forgiveness.
  • Fourth, there was the qualified priest. Priests serve as mediators between the two parties. The priest has responsibilities toward both parties. He represents them. He follows the rules set by the offended party (God) that will allow him (God) to forgive the offenses. The priest does not forgive the sins, but he does make it possible for God to do so. The Mosaic law provided for means for priests to be cleansed, so that they could qualify to serve in this vital function for their brothers and sisters.


The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was offered up on the cross once and for all to bear all the world’s sins.[3] The Mosaic ritual of atonement was an analogy pointing to this great event. It taught us that an individual’s sins are – first and foremost – committed against God himself. To really understand the need for the cross, we must look at the problem of sin from God’s perspective.

It is entirely human to speculate about other scenarios where the problem of sin could be dealt with in other manners. But those who think of such things must realize that their own concepts of fairness and justice (and even mercy and grace) are products of their limited knowledge and experience. God is the only one who is the truly offended party, so only he can decide on the proper remedy for the offense. Only he knows what can reconcile him to a sinner permanently.

The best that the theologian can do in answering “why the cross?” is to see the correlations between the analogy and the event it predicted. So, it helps to recognize these correlations.

1. The cross was a God-thing. It was the destiny that Jesus was born to, the destination he was driven to. The Via Dolorosa was the path that God had ordained for Jesus to take from the very beginning. Jesus said that when he would be lifted up onto the cross that it would draw all people to himself.[4] He could not pray for God to rescue him from that hour of trial, because it was the purpose for which he had come.[5]

2. Jesus took sin upon himself at the cross, and bore the full punishment for it. Paul told the Corinthians that “for our sake (God) made (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin.”[6] Jesus took the place of every sinner who ever lived and suffered as our representative. When the Father looked down at his own Son on the cross he saw not the sinners, but their sacrifice.

3. The Son of God on the cross was the most precious and valuable sacrifice ever offered. If there were ever a man or woman who was completely sinless from the womb, and who lived a life exemplary beyond measure, then that person would have qualified for the cross. But humanity never produced such a saint. So, God in his grace stepped forward and provided the sacrifice himself. God became flesh,[7] so that he could sacrifice his own flesh.[8]

4. As fully human and completely sinless, Christ also qualified to offer himself.[9] He served both as sacrifice and as priest.[10] He “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins”[11] – which was himself. The offering was accepted, and need never be repeated. Christ, “by a single offering … has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”[12]


Through time, people have speculated as to how Christ’s death atoned for the sins of others.[13] Some have even misinterpreted Scripture itself and held to ideas which fail to represent what it says about the cross.

For example, the Bible speaks of Christ’s death as a ransom paid.[14] Some have concluded that Christ had to die as payment to Satan to purchase back believers from the hell they deserved. This work has already shown that the only thing God owes Satan is destruction in hell.[15]

The Bible presents Christ as the example for believers to follow.[16] Some have included that Christ’s death on the cross is the ultimate example that believers should follow in obedience to God’s will, no matter what. But a careful examination of all the example texts will show that nowhere is the believer called on to die in the same way that Christ did. We are take up our crosses and follow him.

The real message of the cross is that by dying for us, Christ did something that we needed, but that we could not do for ourselves. Peter says “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”[17] Christ’s death on the cross made our sanctification possible. It was more than an example. Without Christ’s death, no one could ever follow his example.

Substitutionary Atonement

In a very real sense, Christ took our place on the cross. Humanity rightly deserved to die, and to die horribly for sinful thoughts, rebellion against God, and as a consequence of our actions. Enter Jesus. The Prophet Isaiah explained what the cross would be 700 years before it happened. He put it this way:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried

our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was

wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed

for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement

that brought us peace, and with his stripes we

are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us

all” (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV).

God lovingly provided a solution to humanity’s sin problem by sending his only Son to suffer and die in our place. This is what theologians call substitutionary atonement. It is the only definition of atonement that matches the Old Testament examples.

In the end, both questions (why the cross? and how the cross?) cannot be fully answered. We must simply accept that this is the way that God has chosen by his grace to deal with our sin problem without destroying us. Christ became our atoning sacrifice.

[1] see chapter 36.

[2] Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18: 6:7; 19:22; Numbers 15:25, 28.

[3] Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:28.

[4] John 12:32.

[5] John 12:27.

[6] 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[7] John 1:14.

[8] John 10:18.

[9] Hebrews 7:27.

[10] Hebrews 3:1, 14, 15; 5:5, 6, 10; 6:20; 7:3, 24, 26-28.

[11] Hebrews 10:12.

[12] Hebrews 10:14.

[13] For a more complete treatment of false theories of the atonement, see the Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1989).

[14] Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 5:9.

[15] see chapter 44.

[16] John 13:15; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 2:21.

[17] 1 Peter 2:24.

ACST 49: The Chooser

The issue of personal salvation involves a number of questions. The temptation will be to narrowly define the issue so that only certain questions are studied – particularly if the student is tied to a certain theological tradition. Those with inclinations toward the Reformed or Wesleyan-Arminian tradition will be most interested in the “who” question. The Reformers emphasized that God is sovereign in the saving process, tracing salvation from its starting point in election. Arminians emphasize human freedom to respond to God.

In this work, while human responsibility is taught, God’s sovereignty in salvation trumps it. Salvation is described as a work of all three persons of the Trinity. The Father chooses, not at all based on the foreseen worthiness of the objects of his choice, but entirely by his grace. The Son sacrificed himself on the cross to atone for the sins of the world potentially, and especially for those who will respond to his atonement in faith.[1] The Holy Spirit applies that atonement to the lives of believers, transforming and regenerating those who are predestined to it.[2]

Equally important to the “who” question, salvation is also a “what.” It is important to nail down just exactly what it means to be saved, and what it means to be unsaved. For that reason, this work delves into questions as to what a saved individual does and does not do. There are traits in a person’s life that serve as indicators of salvation. These include a changed mind (repentance),[3] a redirected mouth (testifying to the gospel)[4] and a life of confidence in God and his future (faith).[5] These “what” questions are not entirely separated from the “who” question. This is where the human responsibility comes in. These indications of the transformed life are also obligations for individual believers. They are also a matched set. We can portray all the confidence in the world that we are saved, but if that confidence is not accompanied by a transformed mind, and a gospel-oriented testimony and life, then our salvation is still in question.

The Choice

A good starting point to help us begin studying the “who” question of salvation is Paul’s salutation in his letter to the Ephesians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing

in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him

before the foundation of the world, that we should be

holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined

us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the

purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace,

with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we

have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our

trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which

he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making

known to us the mystery of his will, according to his

purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the

fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven

and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an

inheritance, having been predestined according to the

purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel

of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in

Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you

also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your

salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the

promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our

inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the

praise of his glory.[6]

It is quite clear from this text that Paul is describing a connection between himself and the Ephesians. That connection is the fact that he is a saved individual and he is addressing saved individuals. Notice how Paul describes salvation as a blessing that all the saved have been blessed with by God the Father (3,6). That blessing originated in God’s choice in the past, affects the believer’s status in the present, and will lead to ultimate salvation (glorification) in the future.







God has blessed us

with every spiritual blessing

A choice that God made in the past has affected the atmosphere in which we walk today. We experience some of the material blessings that go along with our allegiance to the LORD. But we experience all of the spiritual blessings. The material blessings may come and go during this life, but the spiritual blessings are permanent. Our future will include an immeasurable supply of both material and spiritual blessings. In fact, there will be no difference between the two. Presently, our Savior warns us to place our priority on seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness (spiritual blessings), and challenges us to trust God for the things that we need.[7] He has a plan and purpose for our lives, and, for now, the spiritual blessings are all we need to accomplish that purpose.







God chose us

that we should be holy and blameless before him

God’s choice was not merely a rescue from death or disaster. He had a purpose, and that purpose included our becoming like him. We are to (and will) reflect his holiness and blamelessness. Without that choice made by God in the past, humanity had no hope of ascending to God’s level. Babel taught us that we cannot build ourselves up to heaven’s height from the ground up. The work had to be done from the top down. God destroyed Babel not because he actually feared that man would reach perfection without him, but because he knew that man would ever incline himself toward that futile attempt. As long as Babel existed, God’s plan of grace would always be our second choice.







God predestined us

according to the purpose of his will

for adoption

Again, the choice of God in eternity past is being highlighted. No one becomes a son of God by his or her own choice. The choice is an adoption. Children may seek adoption. They may ask for it. But the parents are the ones who adopt. The child’s status does not change unless the potential parent chooses to become an actual one. Paul and the Ephesians celebrated their mutual status as adopted children of God not because of their own works, but because of works done for them in eternity past.

But, along with that appreciation for the grace of adoption comes an expected change in behavior and lifestyle that reflects the new status as sons. So, Paul would challenge these same Ephesian Christians with the words: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[8] It was “through the church (that) the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”[9] Paul challenged the Ephesian believers to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[10] Their choices must reflect the same intent as God’s saving choice. That is how they show that an adoption has taken place.







God has blessed us with

his glorious grace

that we might praise him

for his glorious grace

Our praise of God is a reflection on what he has done for us that we did not deserve. Grace is God’s choice in eternity past that has resulted in our worship in the present. Grace is more that just the fact that God has made salvation possible. We worship God for something that he did. His choice is the grounds for our praise. His blessing is the reason for our worship. He is the divine Chooser, and we are the human choice. He chose us. It was a choice based on his grace. So, now we praise him for that grace.







God has blessed us with

his glorious grace

that we might have redemption

that we might have forgiveness

God’s sovereign choice to save us has also redeemed us from the slavery associated with sin. We are free in the present not to sin. We have also been forgiven for all our past sins. Our status has changed. The bondage which was our inheritance from Adam has been replaced because God has blessed us with grace. A slave is in no condition to demand release. A condemned man can seek forgiveness, but he has no ability to make someone forgive him.







having been predestined

In him we have obtained an inheritance

God’s sovereign choice to save us has given us a present inheritance. We have hope for the future because of what he has done for us in the past. That hope is a present tense reality. It assures of a future even though we do not deserve one. It is not at all evident what that inheritance will entail. Were we to get even a small glimpse of what we will be throughout eternity, it would overwhelm us. Faith takes the challenges of each day with confidence that even if there is failure today, there will eventually be eternal (permanent) victory. God has predestined it.







you were sealed with the

promised Holy Spirit

who is the guarantee of our


until we acquire possession of it

The Holy Spirit’s involvement in the lives of believers links God’s sovereign choice in the past with our eternal inheritance. His presence within us is our guarantee that the forces that war within and seek to undo our deliverance will not ultimately win. Even when we face temporary setbacks and times of fear and failure – He assures us that these are only temporary. Our guarantee is more than simply knowing that we have been chosen. Along with that election, God has also predestined us to ultimately win. Along with that predestination, he has provided a living guarantee within us, his Holy Spirit.

The who behind it all is God, who has chosen us of his own free will eternity past. This was Paul’s basis for the connection he felt with the Ephesian Christians. This was the reason for Paul’s confidence that they would triumph over the problems that they faced. The more we know about who is behind our salvation, the more confident we can be. For that reason, it is helpful to review some of those key texts in scripture that affirm God’s initial choice, which the Bible calls his election.

“Am I not permitted to do what I want with what

belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am

generous?” (Matthew 20:15 NET).

Jesus told a story about day laborers, hired to work in a vineyard. It is important not to abuse the stories that Jesus told by making them “walk on all fours” – that is, making them say more than they were intended to say. So, it is important to establish that the reason Jesus told this story was to illustrate God’s sovereign choice in saving people. The act of working in the vineyard was not what Jesus was emphasizing. It was the choice of the owner to decide who works, and how much each is paid. The fact that the owner chooses to pay each worker the same indicates that the payment is a result of grace, not was is deserved. So, eternal salvation is the issue.

God’s sovereign choice is seen in the fact that the owner of the vineyard asks the question “Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me?” – a question that we must all consider when debating this issue of election. Often election is rejected on the grounds that it does not seem fair for God to decide who gets paid long before the work is done. But that is the picture we see here. Of course, there is also human choice involved. The workers were not coerced into their toil. Each was willing to work. But the point of Jesus’ parable did not relate to that. His objective was to defend the free will of the owner, not the workers.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent

me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last

day”(John 6:44 ESV).

Jesus had been explaining that he was the bread, the manna sent from heaven: he was the solution to the spiritual hunger in all of us. Yet God did not send manna to everyone, only to the Israelites. Likewise, as the new era of salvation dawns, not everyone will come to Christ and be saved. The door to salvation opens wider when Christ is revealed, but it does not open for everyone. Those who come to Christ are drawn to him by the Father. It is these who have been drawn (the elect) who will be raised up to eternal life on the last day.

To further stretch the manna analogy, the Father’s drawing is like giving us an appetite for the bread of life. We might think that we have complete control over our destiny, but our control (our free will – if you will) is limited to the fact that we are free to choose what we want. But who controls our wants? Jesus speaks here of the Father drawing us to Christ. The fact that we wanted to be saved suggests that this drawing had taken place.

“So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some,

and he chooses to harden the hearts of others

so they refuse to listen. 19 Well then, you might

say, “Why does God blame people for not responding?

Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human

being, to argue with God? Should the thing that

was created say to the one who created it, “Why

have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter

makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right

to use the same lump of clay to make one jar

for decoration and another to throw garbage

into?” (Romans 9:18-21 NLT).

This text deals with another possible objection to election on the grounds that it is not fair. The issue here is the opposite of that which Jesus dealt in his story of the vineyard. It has to do with the perceived unfairness of God judging those who do not believe. If salvation is based on God’s electing grace, why would he punish those whom he chooses not to elect?

If Paul had merely wanted to say “You misunderstand, God chooses fairly based on the obedience he sees in our future” he could have said that. Instead, he uses this potter and clay analogy, which suggests that salvation is entirely the result of God’s electing grace. Paul argued that we are the results of God’s artistic choice. He decides which jar gets used for which purpose. The choice is entirely his.

When it comes to the issue of fairness, we seem to forget that our very existence in the first place is not fair. When our ancestors rejected God’s way in Eden, he should have destroyed our species entirely. That would have been fair, because we violated his prohibition, and the penalty was death. We deserve non-existence. But God in his grace gives us life. He also, by his grace, has chosen to redeem some of us through the substitutionary death of Christ.

Our real problem with election is with that word some. It seems entirely unfair that God would only choose some as recipients of his grace. There is even a significant movement within Christianity which suggests that all will eventually be saved. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins explains how he and others can come to such a conclusion. [11] He argues that God has to win ultimately, and that means that eventually all those suffering in hell will repent, and so all will be saved. Of course, the problem is that hell is the second death. Those thrown into the lake of fire will suffer, but even hell will end. It will be emptied not by people repenting, but by their being destroyed.

Paul’s argument in Romans 9 is that God is fair in destroying and discarding those whom he chooses not to save. God is right in creating the jar destined to be used to hold garbage. His glory is not diminished because everyone does not become an eternal masterpiece. That is fair because both the decorative art and the garbage pail are creations of the same artist.

“All inhabitants of the earth will worship

the beast– all whose names have not been

written in the book of life belonging to the

Lamb that was slain from the creation of

the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV).

The picture of the elect that presents itself in Revelation 13 is that of a book with people’s names written in it. It is a registry, a divine database. There may or may not be an actual book. The point is that salvation is limited. If John saw a book with names in it, he perhaps saw your name or mine. This was thousands of years before we were born, yet the record of the saved was there – and complete at that time. It is comforting to think of one’s name being written there, but what about those whose names are missing. Is it unfair for God to do that? No, because those whose names are not written in the book of life will worship the beast. No one will die in hell who does not deserve death because of his or her own sins. There is fairness in God’s judgment.

The Starting Point

God’s sovereign choice in election is the logical starting point in discussing salvation. Yet many get so hung up on that issue that they can scarcely go any further. The Bible has so much more to say about the process of salvation. In order to understand salvation, one needs to accept the fact that by grace he has been saved, and then ask more questions. It is to these further questions that this study will now turn.

[1] see chapter 50. The Sacrifice.

[2] see chapter 51. The Regenerator.

[3] see chapter 52. The Change.

[4] see chapter 53. The Testimony.

[5] see chapter 54. The Life.

[6] Ephesians 1:3-14.

[7] Matthew 6:33.

[8] Ephesians 2:10.

[9] Ephesians 3:10.

[10] Ephesians 4:22-24.

[11] Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).