Is Election a Family Secret?

In Assured by God (ed Parsons, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006, p45),
Philip Ryken informs us that “election is a family secret”. Ryken writes: “To ask if you are among the elect is to really ask if you are in Christ. If you want to know whether God has chosen you, all you need to know is it you are in Christ.”

This sounds simple but it’s not. Which Christ? Is the Christ of people who deny election the same Christ as the Christ of the people who rejoice in election? And perhaps more to the point, is the Christ of people who “don’t know about election” the same Christ as the Christ of the people who do know about election?

It’s important to make a distinction here between knowing about
election and knowing that you are elect. I certainly agree with Ryken
that nobody can know if they are elect before they believe the gospel. But this is NOT the same thing as saying that nobody can know about election before they believe the gospel.Though Ryken teaches that election is a family secret, the Bible teaches election as inherent in the gospel, and as something to be proclaimed to all who read the Bible and who hear the gospel. (Romans 9:11)

The Christ who died only for the elect is certainly not the same Christ as the counterfeit Christ who died for everybody. Those who believe that Christ died for everybody do not believe in what the Bible says about election and therefore do not believe in the gospel.

It doesn’t matter if we say that these people (most evangelicals)
don’t know about election or if we say that they know about election
and reject it in favor of their preference for a “Jesus” who died for
everybody. In any case, they do not and cannot believe that all for
whom Jesus died will be justified. They do not believe in the
“finished” work of Christ. They only believe in a “to be determined”
work of Christ.

Of course we agree with Calvin that we shall not find proof of our
election in ourselves. But neither can we find proof of our election
in our believing a false gospel which teaches a false Christ who died
for those who will perish. Ryken writes: “Since election is in Christ, it is often best understood after one becomes a Christian…While you are outside of God’s family, you may not hear about predestination at all; once you are in the family, however, it makes the most perfect sense in the world.”

The irrational irony of this claim by Ryken is that he knows that most who claim to be now in God’s family still do not believe in election. Some of these “evangelical Christians” are open theists who deny that God even knows the future. Others of Ryken’s fellow evangelicals say that God knew ahead of time who to “elect” because God saw ahead of time who would “accept Jesus by faith”. Now it could be said that this shows that they do believe in election now, but this “election” is not the kind of election Ryken is talking about in his essay.

Ryken wants to claim that the kind of election about which he’s talking makes good sense to people after they become Christians. How then does he explain that most “Christians” still don’t know the family secret? If there were indeed an election-free gospel which one could accept and thus get oneself united to Christ, why would it be important for these Christians to learn later the “family secret”?

Of course Ryken does not question the salvation of those who don’t
learn the “family secret”. Nor does he question the salvation of those who deny the “family secret”. Nor does he pause to doubt the assurance of those who think the “secret” is that God knew ahead of time who would believe. Ryken might in general question the salvation of open theists, or even of those who teach “easy-believism carnal Christianity”, but too many of his constituents are Arminians for him to ever doubt if they have believed the gospel and with that faith united themselves to Christ so that they are now “in Christ”.

The words of Jesus Christ in John chapter 10 about the sheep hearing the voice of the Shepherd and not hearing the voice of strangers must have something to do with morality and behavior and discipleship, because to Ryken’s mind those words can have nothing to do with election. So what if a lot of Christians continue to believe that they elect themselves to salvation with their faith? Afterall, they have Ryken and other Reformed booksellers to teach them the “secret”?

But why talk about Romans 8 or John 10 when you can quote Donald Gray
Barnhouse? “Imagine a cross like the cross on which Jesus died, only
so large that it has a door in it and a sign over it: whosoever may
come….On the other side of the door, a happy surprise waits the one
who enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see the words on this side of the door: chosen…”

And perhaps they will find some books written by Boice, Barnhouse and
Ryken! But just to deal with the empirical reality of what
evangelicals now believe, how does Ryken explain that so many don’t
ever look back and read the word “chosen”? And why do so many still
understand that “chosen” to mean “because you chose first and God saw
you would choose”? And why do so many Christians insist that any talk
of election is not “happy” but to be rejected forever?

If I myself refuse to believe in any God who would elect some to salvation and not others, why would I want others to know the “secret”? If I myself refused to believe that Jesus didn’t love everybody and die for them, why would I think of that truth as a “happy surprise”?

Romans 9:11 “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call.”

When evangelicals like Ryken attempt to leave out the “for the elect alone” and discuss the gospel without talking about election, mostly all they can say is “not because of works but because of faith alone”.

Even if you believe the false gospel that Christ died for every sinner, “Reformed evangelicals” will tell you that God effectually called you to believe that falsehood. Of course in some Sunday School class for smarter people (or in conferences that charge you big dollars) they will explain a more educated and precise view of things which you might want to add on to what you already believe without needing to repent of a false gospel.

To get into the family you believed in a faith alone gospel and that caused you to get into Christ, and now you still believe in a faith alone gospel but now you know that the faith came from God.

Faith is hearing produced by God by means of the gospel. The power is in the true gospel, not a false gospel. I Corinthians 1:18–“for the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, IT is the power of God.”

The true gospel needs to be proclaimed to all sinners. The gospel is only good news for the elect, but we don’t know who the elect are until they have believed the gospel. If the object of the faith alone is a false gospel which says that Christ loves everybody and died also for everybody on the wrong side of the door, then this faith alone is not in the true Christ but is instead in faith alone. But “faith alone” is not the condition of justification, and to see that, we need a message which tells us about God’s election.

Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Evangelicals understand this as teaching that salvation is conditioned on faith alone. Evangelicals don’t understand the gospel.

Election is God’s idea. This idea goes along with the idea of not works. Romans 9:11: “In order that God’s election might continue, not because of works.”

Romans 11: 5, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise grace would be no more grace.”

Doesn’t the apostle Paul understand that you can say “not by works “ without talking about election? Why doesn’t he just say: “by faith and not by works”? Why does he bring in this idea of an elect remnant? Paul writes about election in order to explain what he means by faith. Paul does not regard faith as a substitute for works.

God imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to a person justified by the gospel. The “it” which is imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Christ Jesus for the elect alone. The righteousness of God obtained by Christ for the elect alone is imputed unto the elect alone.

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5 Comments on “Is Election a Family Secret?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 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.”

    The Holy Spirit causes some to believe, but many see no need to get into that secret.

    John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

    John 6: 65 And Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

    But this is a secret thing, and Jesus is talking out of school.

    John 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

    But maybe the goats can believe, since they are commanded to believe. And maybe some of the sheep will hear another gospel, and still there will be enough love for those with a different gospel. Who knows what a sovereign God might do, so let’s just keep this all a secret between us in the know. Since nobody can really know for sure if they are sheep until after they die, let’s not talk about his business of the Father giving the Son the decretally elect. Because we believe in the efficacy of covenant baptism to at least prevent a person from being cut off from the covenant. But even those in the new covenant can still snatch themselves from the new covenant and “become non-elect”.

    Luke 4:25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.

    But don’t let this obnoxious emphasis on individuals from outside “the covenant” fool you, because they are the exceptions which show what is normal and ordinary in covenantal nomism.

    Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

    For the life of me, I can’t see why Jesus got into such secret stuff, when he could have cut to the chase and more simply said, come ye that labor, or just say that there’s enough love for as many as believe, without getting into things like the wind blowing where it will and the Father having already chosen whom He would….

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Clair Davis—In God’s big plan, his decision comes at the beginning; but in our lives we’re called to learn about it when we really need it. “Election” isn’t really about evangelism and what we should say then.

    I think this is the answer that pulls us together, the one that helped Whitefield and Wesley keep on working together, actively evangelizing together. Don’t overdo, either of you.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    The cause of faith itself, however, they would keep buried all the time out of sight, which is this: that the children of God who are chosen to be sons are afterwards blessed with the spirit of adoption. Now, what kind of gratitude is that in me if, being endowed with so pre-eminent a benefit, I consider myself no greater a debtor than he who hath not received one hundredth part of it? Wherefore, if, to praise the goodness of God worthily, it is necessary to bear in mind how much we are indebted to Him, those are malignant towards Him and rob Him of His glory who reject and will not endure the doctrine of eternal election, which being buried out of sight…
    Let those roar at us who will. We will ever brighten forth, with all our power of language, the doctrine which we hold concerning the free election of God, seeing that it is only by it that the faithful can understand how great that goodness of God is which effectually called them to salvation. I merely give the great doctrine of election a slight touch here, lest anyone, by avoiding a subject so necessary for him to know, should afterwards feel what loss his neglect has caused him.

    Now, if we are not really ashamed of the Gospel, we must of necessity acknowledge what is therein openly declared: that God by His eternal goodwill (for which there was no other cause than His own purpose), appointed those whom He pleased unto salvation, rejecting all the rest; and that those whom He blessed with this free adoption to be His sons He illumines by His Holy Spirit, in order to receive the life given in Christ; while others, continuing of their own will in unbelief, are left destitute of the light of faith, in total darkness.

    But you will say, In a matter so difficult and deep as this, nothing is better than to think moderately. Who denies it? But we must, at the same time, examine what kind and degree of moderation it is, lest we should be drawn into the principle of the Papists, who, to keep their disciples obedient to them, make them like mute and brute beasts. But shall it be called Christian simplicity to consider as hurtful the knowledge of those things which God sets before us? But (say our opponents), this subject is one of which we may remain ignorant without loss or harm.
    As if our heavenly Teacher were not the best judge of what it is expedient for us to know, and to what extent we ought to know it! Wherefore, that we may not struggle amid the waves, nor be borne about in the air, unfixed and uncertain, nor, by getting our foot too deep, be drowned in the gulph below; let us so give ourselves to God, to be ruled by Him and taught by Him, that, contented with His Word alone, we may never desire to know more than we find therein. No! not even if the power so to do were given to us! This teachableness, in which every godly man will ever hold all the powers of his mind under the authority of the Word of God, is the true and only rule of wisdom.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    election is easy

    all you need to know is that you are a Christian

    and then you know you are elect

    all you need to know is that God loves you

    even if you disagree with God about who God is

    in spite of that, because you know you believe in the God

    you believe in, you know you are a Christian

    if you must think about such things

    Some “Calvinists” believe in a “limited atonement” in that they say that “”Jesus only died for those He knew He would enable to ask Him to die for them”

    ie, if you ask Jesus to die for you, He will

    that is “limited atonement”, but it’s not what the Bible teaches about the nature of propitation for the imputed sins of the elect

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Erasmus –“Some things can be noxious because, like wine for the feverish, they are not fitting. Hence such matters might be treated in discourses among the educated or also in theological schools, although it is not expedient even there I think unless done with caution. Definitely, it seems to me, it is not only unsuitable but truly pernicious to carry on such disputations when everybody can listen.”

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