Lombard CRC

Part 1 - Not Saved By My Choices But By God's Choosing

Canon 1 – Not My Choice But God’s Choice BY his Good Pleasure


Could the Canons of Dort,

this 400 year old European document,

have anything relevant or helpful to say to us today?

Theological words like election,

predestination and reprobation,

and gloomy sounding phrases like total depravity,

fill this confession that starts off like this:

Article 1: God’s Right to Condemn All People.


Why would we not only keep such a confession

but challenge each other to know it, apply it

and even be formed and governed by it,

as we pledge in our covenant for officebearers

in the Christian Reformed Church?


There are three reasons for grappling with this confession just as the delegates prayerfully and not so prayerfully struggled with it 400 years ago:

the Bible talks about these matters;

if we love and worship God we desire

to know all we can about our Lord

in order to serve and to witness;

and, the great insistence of this confession

is that you cannot live life without God.

You may think you can,

you may buffer yourself

against any thought of the divine,

you may try to box God up

in your own logic and reasoning,

but God’s election tells us

the Lord will break through to save his people

and prove Christ’s presence

with those who belong to him.


If you know nothing about the Canons of Dort,

journey with us and with those who went before us

in responding to the glorious revelation

of God’s good pleasure to save.


The one truth to take with you today is:

that God is sovereign in salvation.

God chooses. The Lord decides.

That grace is our only hope

and assurance of redemption.


Biblical election challenges our idolatry of choice.

First by saying we can’t be trusted to choose well,

then by taking

the most important choices away from us

and reserving them for God alone.

You and I have to wrestle with accepting this

as good news.

That our first step toward truly being human

is to recognize our capacity for evil

and God’s capacity for good.


What is predestination or election?

The canons of Dort

summarize the biblical doctrine this way:

Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will,

God chose in Christ to salvation

a definite number of particular people

out of the entire human race . . .

God chose in Christ to salvation

a definite number of particular people . . .

your salvation is God’s choice, not yours.

What do you think of that?


We resist because we have made

an idol out of our freedom of choice.

Most today think that

it’s our choices that define who we are.

Harry Potter is told: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

And we believe that, it sounds like scripture to us.

When our choices are limited we don’t like that.


But if you think about,

some of the most important choices in your life

are not yours to make, they are made for you,

not by others,

but we would say by God’s wisdom, by grace,

by the Lord’s providential hand:

you didn’t choose the family you’re born into,

you didn’t choose your country of origin,

you didn’t pick your genes,

and those three things do more

to determine your natural life

than almost anything else.


So what does that say to us about human choice?

The created world and the natural order

point to the truth that life

is formed and shaped by the Creator and Provider

telling us we are meant to relate to God.

The life we have been given

should cause in most of us most of the time

humble thanksgiving and gratitude,

and where life is full of obstacles and struggles,

greater things than the material are needed:

like patience, kindness, forgiveness, hope,

even deliverance.


These realities of our life prepare us for the truth

that we are not to be trusted

with the most important choice in life:

and that choice is your salvation.

If it is up to us, we will choose against God.

The canons say – . . . all people are conceived in sin    . . . unfit for any saving good,

. . . dead in their sins, and slaves to sin . . .

No one, sinners as we all are,

would choose faith in the Lord Jesus.

So the Lord must do that for you.

Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will,

God chose in Christ to salvation . . .


Where does this come from?

It comes from scripture.

Look at a few phrases from our Bible reading today:

Acts 13:48 - all who were appointed

for eternal life believed . . .

‘appointed’ the word means assigned, decreed, predestined . . .

As people heard the message of Jesus Christ,

God come in the flesh,

who gave his life as an atoning sacrifice for sin,

some believed that message,

but only those who were already chosen

for salvation:

all who were appointed believed,

not, all who believed were then saved.


Romans 9 is more clear:

. . . it is not the children by physical descent

who are God’s children,

but it is the children of the promise

who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring . . .

before the twins were born

or had done anything good or bad—

in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls . . .

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire

or effort, but on God’s mercy . . .


The Apostle Paul is led by the Holy Spirit

to talk about who belongs to the people of God,

who are saved by grace alone.

And he takes out of the equation

any thought or notion of anyone doing this

by their own ability or circumstance.

Who are God’s children?

Who are saved and forgiven and justified?

Who are granted eternal life?

Not children by physical descent, Paul writes.

It’s not automatic,

it’s not an entitlement,

it’s not wishful thinking,

it’s not just being biologically Jewish

that makes you a child of Abraham

in this spiritual sense, Paul teaches.

If we apply it to our day we would say,

just because mom or dad or grandpa or grandma believes in Jesus doesn’t make you a Christian.


Ok, we’re okay with that,

we’re back to our own choices and decision,

but then Paul is led to say something more

about God’s sovereignty in salvation:

before the twins, he’s talking about Esau and Jacob,

for one, Jacob, became a child of God

and through the Lord’s promises to Jacob

the people of God are traced,

while Esau was not,

before the twins were born

or had done anything good or bad . . .

See? it is not about our choices, good or bad,

salvation is not conditioned on our behavior

or knowledge or religious acts . .

in order that God’s purpose in election might stand,

NOT by works but by him who calls . . .

Salvation is not our choice

or merited by our thoughts, words and actions,

but by him who calls,

God’s choice, God’s unconditional election.

Rom 9:16 – It does not depend on human desire

or effort, but on God’s mercy.


We call this unconditional election,

meaning God chooses for salvation certain people unconditionally, not based on, as Paul writes here: either human desire or effort.


Our initial reaction may be that’s not fair.

The canons counter saying if you want fairness

then no one would be forgiven,

no one saved, no one given a heavenly home:

‘Since all people have sinned . . .

God would have done no one an injustice

if it had been his will to leave the entire ­human race in sin and under the curse,

and to condemn them on account of their sin.’


Once again we are brought back to our need for God,

that there is more to life than

ability, opportunity, and circumstance.

The best life we could have

will never happen outside of God,

since without God’s saving grace

the entire human race is dead in sin

and living under a curse and facing condemnation.


When we silence our pride for a moment to ask:

well then, if God’s choosing for salvation

is not on the basis of our foreseen goodness or faith, then how does God choose?

The Canons of Dort answer:

. . . the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God . . .

Notice that phrase and take it to heart –

the good pleasure of God.

So God’s choosing for salvation

is not random or unfair or mean

or done reluctantly,

but this graciously happens because of who God is:

the Lord is the one who saves,

who redeems, who gives life and new life,

and who has made this world for his glory

and made you for himself.

It gives the Lord pleasure to save you.


Maybe it helps us to see more clearly

the meaning of salvation.

When you hear God chooses the elect for salvation

you may in your mind assume

that salvation means getting to go to heaven

when you die.


So after objecting that God’s election is unfair,

we then protest:

doesn’t our life count for something?

doesn’t it matter what we choose to do or not do?

Well of course it matters,

but perhaps not in the way you think.

Our life matters not for our own glory

but for God’s purposes.


The good pleasure of God to save

is about restoring your identity

and belonging to the Lord

and the purposes of his glory.

Salvation isn’t a ticket for later on,

it has to do with living the life of abundance

Jesus promises right now today

because you have been graciously chosen:

. . . election is the source of every saving good.

Faith, holiness, and the other saving gifts,

and at last eternal life itself,

flow forth from election as its fruits and effects . . .

Earlier in worship we listened to Ephesians 1:4 –

For he chose us in him before

the creation of the world

to be holy and blameless in his sight . . .

You are chosen for salvation

not because you are holy or even want to be,

not because you live right even sometimes,

but in order to make you righteous . . .

not just to go to heaven when you die

but to live for Jesus as his disciple

while you have life on this earth.


So what we’re talking about is not

who’s in and who’s out

but a brand new life with our Heavenly Father today and for all eternity.

Election is what leads you to faith in Jesus,

it is the source of saving good in your life:

any holy choices, any righteous acts,

any patient endurance, all calm assurance.


One reason this is revealed to us at least partially,

at least enough for this little glimpse

at the sovereign way of God in salvation,

is assurance that our Heavenly Father loves you:

John 3:16 is basic – For God so loved the world

he gave his one and only Son

that whoever believes in him will not perish

but have eternal life.

It is God’s electing grace

which makes you such a believer.

And I am assured of this

because of who God is

shown in Jesus

who will lay down his life for the sin of the world.


This teaching is to relieve you

of the pressure and anxiety

you may have put on yourself.

When you feel that no matter what I do

I can’t find or experience the Lord,

or accept I am fully forgiven;

when you can’t shake your shame or guilt or regret,

and you try so hard,

but you never attain the standards

either your own

or what you think someone has put on you . . .

God is for you.

It is the Lord’s pleasure to save you.

It is God’s work alone.

His compassion and mercy

don’t depend on you

or even on you feeling it.


Does this help us a little bit

when it comes to that other side of the coin

of election:


What’s that?

Well, if God chooses out of the entire human race those for salvation,

and if not all are chosen,

what about those passed by?

That’s where the term reprobation comes in:

. . . not all people have been chosen

but that some have not been chosen

or have been passed by in God’s eternal election . . .

not to grant them saving faith

and the grace of conversion;

but finally to condemn and eternally punish

those who have been left in their own ways

and under God’s just judgment . . .


And all our questions and protests of unfair

well up again within us.

But even more so,

we hold in our hearts someone we know

who does not believe Jesus to be Lord and Savior, and hearing these words, we worry.


We cannot fully comprehend this.

And we are not meant to.

The Bible stops short of revealing answers.

Even Paul is directed by the Holy Spirit

to stop at a certain point in the mystery:

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,

    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?


There’s no appeal to reason or logic here.

Most likely because our reason and logic

are too limited and corrupted to understand.

But more, our reason and logic

and self-centered desire to figure this out and be satisfied with our own answers

is not what is required of us.

Rather, we are to relate to the Lord God

by faith, prayer, thanksgiving,

loving and witnessing to our neighbor.


So what do we do with this?

We remember what we just talked about:

that election is based on the good pleasure of God.

And because we know the Lord is perfect love,

mercy and justice,

we can respond in all trust:

we still pray for and witness to those on our hearts,

because it is the Lord’s good pleasure to save,

and we still keep at the means of grace –

worship and service and thanksgiving and obedience,

because God is merciful

and he saves in his time and in his way.


Reprobation is not random any more than election is.

It is not cruel, but just.

It is not a reason for despair or fate,

but humility, prayer and faith.


It is a reminder that God is sovereign in election,

and that is the best thing,

because left to us we would mess it up.

We can’t have life or God on our own terms,

nor can we dismiss God

in favor of this material world.

There will be divine justice,

but the Lord has provided

Christ and his cross for you.


If anything we can see there’s a lot at stake.

So our assurance is that

this is best left in the hands of the Savior.

The canons end this section

emphasizing assurance for us

even when we struggle to understand,

when we confess our failures,

when we admit

we just don’t make much spiritual progress.

‘. . .  our merciful God has promised

not to snuff out a smoldering wick

or break a bruised reed.

Assurance of salvation is given to the chosen

in due time,

though by various stages and in differing measure . . . Trust God’s mercy and love

by trusting the ways Jesus calls us to him:

worship and pray,

love his church,

love others as he loves you,

hunger and thirst for what’s right and good,

give and forgive,

and he will assure you in these acts of faith,

as little as they may be.


The only reason anyone has any real

life relationship with the Lord -

any hope or peace or assurance -

is the Father’s electing love.

You may not sense or experience Christ’s presence,

but know that in your

reaching for the Lord in prayer,

in your hunger for righteousness,

in your thirst to be relieved of your guilt,

shame and regrets,

in your thanksgiving for daily blessings . . .

each of these and more tell you

that you are made for God,

and because of the Lord’s electing love,

these are themselves assurances of this grace

in your life right now.



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