The preaching of God’s grace in election has frequently been associated with antinomianism – which is the belief, that those who are saved by faith under the gospel dispensation of God’s grace are released from the obligation of obeying the moral law. This is not new – there were some who misconstrued Apostle Paul’s teaching of Grace as a license to continue in sin. To this, Paul responded with a bewildered “God forbid!” Far from being a license to live a care-free moral life, God’s sovereign grace in election is actually the greatest motivation to holy living.
For one, Paul says all who are saved were chosen with one ultimate destination in mind, “that we should be holy and blameless before him.”1 This is very plain teaching. This is the number one purpose of God for choosing the Christian. In other words, holiness is not an option for believers – but a must!
Holy and Without Blame
At first glance, the two terms, “holy” and “blameless” may seem repetitive; however seeing as the apostle is inspired and does not use words haphazardly, we can be sure that each word he uses is carefully chosen to communicate exactly what the Holy Spirit would have him say at that particular moment in time. So what is being communicated by these two words? Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives this insightful analogy of a fruit, consider an apple. There are times it may look fresh (“holy”) on the outside, however once you take a bite you discover that it is rotten or decaying on the inside. We can therefore say that the two words are used by the apostle to convey the same thing in a positive and negative sense. The Christian is called to be holy (positive) and without blame (negative) – implying a thorough and complete work of holiness. We see in the Scriptures that a similar description is given us of God. He is the father of light (positive), however we are told further that there is no darkness in Him at all (negative) 2.
Jesus on many occasions decried the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He described them as white-washed tombs, which present an appearance of outward cleanliness, whilst inside they are full of bones and rottenness3. Not so the Christian! In order to bring us back into fellowship with Him, God has to first of all cleanse us thoroughly from our sinful nature. Can two walk together except they be agreed? asked Amos4. Similarly, we cannot have fellowship with God in our fallen state as creatures of wrath, enemies in our minds and dead in our trespasses and sins5. The first thing God does is to implant in us His life, and the principle of holiness. This he does by giving us birth again, with a new nature “that is created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”6. Miserable wretches and sinners such as we all are by birth are made holy and partakers of the divine life as a result of regeneration. This is the end to which all Christians are chosen.
Holiness, the Proof of Election
Are all Christians holy? Are Christians sinless? The answer to the first is, yes, every Christian is holy. That is why the recipients of the New Testament epistles are always addressed as ‘Saints’. Essentially, the Christian is a new creature, whose disposition is to do good works6. Christ is the believer’s life7. By the new birth, the believer is dead to his old nature of sin, and alive to righteousness8. However, the Bible acknowledges that the believer has not yet attained sinless perfection. He will be, for that is the goal of his choosing. From the moment he is born again, the Christian is set on the path of sanctification till the last day when we stand before God9. “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is! And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure”10. The proof of our choosing is that we don’t continue in sin. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.”11 The Christian loves holiness; for that is his (new) nature. Based on the Scriptural teaching, if one “loves to sin” and wishes that there were no moral laws to obey, so they can live as carelessly as they wish, it is proof positive that they are not saved!
We can also conclude on the authority of the teaching in Ephesians 1:4 that if the purpose of God in choosing the believer is to make him holy, then He will make him holy. God’s purpose cannot fail, for that is unthinkable. Therefore if He has chosen the believer to this purpose, then it will be accomplished. If the preaching of the Gospel, the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit, and all the means of grace that God has graciously made available to the believer are not able to make him holy, then God will make him holy, even if it means putting a “bit in his mouth” to restrain him, to use the analogy of the mule in Psalm 32. This is the sort of thing that the writer to the Hebrews talks about when he says,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.11
- Ephesians 1:4
- 1John 1:5
- Matt 23:27
- Amos 3:3
- Eph 2:1-4
- Ephesians 2:10; 2Cor.5:17.
- Colossians 3:4
- Romans 6:11-15
- 3:11; 2Cor. 3:18
- 1John 3: 2-3
- 1John 3: 10
- Hebrews 12: 5-9