We Don’t Have to Turn Worship into Evangelism to Talk about Election

Romans 3:18-19–”There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth will be held accountable to God.”

To those who are still ignorant of the gospel, the apostle Paul was not writing about gratitude and freedom. Yes, we tell everybody that those for whom Christ died are thankful and free and pleasing to God. But Paul (see Romans 3:19) also tells everybody —- if you don’t know the gospel and believe it, then you should be shut up to nothing but legal fear, because you are still “under the law”.

If Christ did not die for you, you should be afraid. Being afraid won’t save you. But legal fear is the reasonable response to not knowing the gospel. Because not knowing the gospel means knowing that you are not yet justified and still under the law.

I do not want to preach terror to Christians. But I never assume that everybody is a Christian. Some sinners were elect, some sinners were not elect, and that already. How do you know that you are a Christian? Do we address the people in church as if we are all elect, as those who have been believing the gospel all along? Paul did not.

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3 Comments on “We Don’t Have to Turn Worship into Evangelism to Talk about Election”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    In Assured by God (ed Parsons, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006, p 45), 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?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 talkof election is not “pastoral”

    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.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Fisher’s Catechism on Q.87, q.20 What is the evil in maintaining that none but true penitents have a warrant to embrace Christ by faith? a. It sets sinners upon spinning repentance out of their own bowels, that they may fetch it with them, as a price in their hand to Christ, instead of coming to him by faith, to obtain it from him, as his gift. Mark: I agree with Fisher that we don’t need to know that we are regenerate (or elect) before coming to Christ. We can’t know before coming. But the warrant (the right) for sinners’ coming is not that “Christ is dead for you” or that Christ desires the salvation of the non-elect.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    David Zahl quotes Rod Rosenbladt:

    “Someone says, ‘But surely you don’t mean that the pastor should be evangelizing believers from the pulpit?’ Most evangelicals have no category for preaching Christ to a congregation of believers; their only category for preaching the Gospel is the evangelizing of pagans. But important as the latter is, the former is no less important. Think of the inner soliloquy many Christians experience week by week. ‘There may have been grace for me when, as a sinner, I was initially converted. But now, having been given the Spirit of God, I fear that things have gotten worse in me rather than better. I have horribly abused all of God’s good gifts to me. I was so optimistic in the beginning, when the pastor told me that Christ outside of me, dying for me, freely saved me by his death, and that the Holy Spirit now dwelling within me would aid me in following Christ. I looked forward to so much. But it has all gone badly. Others have no doubt done what God equipped them to do, but not I. I have used grace and Christ’s shed blood as an excuse for doing things I probably wouldn’t even have done as a pagan. I have rededicated myself to Christ more times than I can count. But it seems to stay the same, or even get worse, no matter what I do. Whatever the outer limits of Christ’s grace are, I have certainly crossed them. I have utterly, consciously, and with planning aforethought blown it all. I guess I was never a Christian in the first place, because if I had been, I would have made some progress in the Christian life…I’ll try going to church for a while longer, but I think I’ve tried every possible thing the church has told me to do. After that, I guess I’ll return to paganism and ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ for the time I’ve got left. What else is there to do?’ First of all…the pastor realizes that what is needed in this case is not the Law but the Gospel. One of the effects of Wesleyan revivalism in this country has been the common conviction that genuine conversion always shows itself in measurable moral progress (and correlatively, the lack of such progress is evidence that no true regeneration has taken place.) so the still-sinning believer is led to believe that he is not now a believer at all…To put the matter bluntly, Luther knew that the death and resurrection of Christ in our stead was strong enough in its effect to save even a Christian” (pp. 39-40)!


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