Appointed to Eternal Life

When we speak of salvation, we need to be careful to speak with the Bible’s own language. After all, the Scriptures are inspired by God and perfect in every way. Our own surmises, not so much.

In Acts 13, Paul has preached the gospel in Antioch to a group of gentiles who are saved. But look at the biblical language for that salvation.

Acts 13:48 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Note the ordering, as it has important ramifications for our understanding of God’s sovereignty in our salvation. The text could just as easily have said that, as many as believed were appointed to eternal life. But this is not the text. The word of God says that those who had been appointed to eternal life believed.

IF your understanding of how a person is saved is based primarily on the individual person, this text will rub up against it in an uncomfortable way. But, if you grasp that God and his divine will is at the center of how people are saved, the text will make sense to you. Is the appointing of a person to eternal life based on their faith, or is the faith of a person a result of their having been appointed by God to eternal life?

Let’s look at a couple of other places where Scripture speaks in a similar way just to see that this is not some sort of anomaly in Acts that is merely confusing in its wording.

John 8:47 – Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Notice why Jesus said the people do not believe? They do not believe because they are not of God. The Savior does not say that they do not belong to God because they do not believe. Instead, he says they do not believe because they do not belong to God.

John 10:26 – but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.

In John 10, when Jesus speaks of the people as sheep and him as the good shepherd, he points out that the religious teachers around him do not believe because they are not his sheep. HE does not say that they are not his sheep because of their lack of faith. Their lack of faith is the result of not being his sheep.

What do we see then? In Acts, the appointed believe. IN John, the ones who do not believe do not believe because they do not belong to God. The language of Scripture shows us the sovereign will of God is the determining factor that brings anyone to salvation. A person believes if they are appointed to do so by God. A person who does not believe does not believe because of his own sin. The unbeliever shows that he was not appointed by God for salvation, but God has allowed him to continue in accord with his desires.

What do you take from this? Christian, if you believe, know that this is a gift given to you by God. Give God all the glory for your salvation. Your faith is a result of God’s sovereign work. God did not choose to save you after you showed him you would believe.

But, Christian, if this makes you uncomfortable, remember that no person is forced to sin by God. Neither does God force these folks away from him. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30). People do not repent because they do not want to. God is not in any way treating the unrepentant in an unjust way. If God owes us anything, he owes us his judgment for our rebellion against him.

All human beings are naturally opposed to God in our sinfulness. There are some that God has chosen, out of a desire to show his love and grace, and he has appointed them to eternal life. It is those he gives the gift of saving faith. Thus, if you are saved, it is a result of God’s sovereign election, a depiction of God’s great mercy and kindness, and a gift that you did nothing at all to earn. Give God praise and thanks, as this is truly grace upon grace.

Signs of Election

How do you react to the use of the word “chosen” for those who are the children of God? Some folks get very excited about the concept of election. OF course, others are strongly put off by the whole notion. And many have bigtime questions about how it all works.

What we cannot deny is the fact that the idea of being chosen or elected to salvation is a concept that runs through the New Testament. WE find it in book after book and teaching after teaching. So we should not ignore it.

The debate over sovereign election is not what is on my mind. Rather, I am thinking a bit about how we know who are the elect. After all, we do not have access to God’s perfect knowledge of the future. We do not have access to the Lamb’s book of life that was written before the dawn of time. How can we tell who is among the elect?

1 Thessalonians 1:4-7 – 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 that he knows that the people in the church of Thessalonica are chosen by God. How does he know? It is not because of any sort of apostolic knowledge of the secrets of the Lord. Instead, Paul knows those people are elect because he shared the gospel with them, and they responded.

Paul says that the gospel came to them in power, Spirit, and conviction. As Paul shared the word of God with these people, the power of God and the Spirit of God brought about genuine, life-changing conviction. The people changed in how they thought about Jesus. They changed in how they lived their lives.

Notice that the Thessalonians willingly received the gospel message even though they suffered to do so. They experienced the genuine joy of the Spirit of God, even in the face of persecution and hardship. They also let their faith be known to others, they shared the gospel.

Yes, I know many folks are bothered by discussions of election. Many are harshly and emotionally divided over this issue. And while I have a strong opinion here, one which I believe to be biblically informed, I think there is something to learn from the simplicity of what Paul said and did here. Paul shared the gospel with these people. He did not worry about who was or was not elect. And when people responded to the gospel in faith and repentance, he knew that those folks had been chosen by God.

What then do we need to do? We need to know that God is almighty. We need to take the gospel to all people everywhere. We need to trust that God changes hearts and saves souls. And we can expect to see genuine changes in the lives of those who are genuinely saved. There will be joy. There will be a willingness to follow Jesus even in the face of persecution. There will be repentance, worship, and evangelism. And when we see those things, we should, like Paul, be confident that someone has been chosen by God.

Sovereignty and Responsibility in a Shipwreck

When discussions arise of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, we often have a hard time. So much emotion is attached to the topic of free will and predestination, election and responsibility, that many cannot allow room for thinking past our feelings. So, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider sovereign decree and human responsibility from a more temporal angle, one with less feeling included.

In acts 27, Paul and his companions are on a sea voyage to transport the apostle to Rome. Along the way, there will be a shipwreck. And that shipwreck has the potential to kill all on board.

What we need to notice for our look at the topic of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are the two guarantees that Paul makes in the chapter. First, Paul will make it clear exactly whom God will keep alive in the upcoming ordeal. Then, just after that, Paul will set forth a condition that, if unmet, will prove his first guarantee false.

Acts 27:21-26 – 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

God promised Paul that Paul would make it to Rome. And, more importantly for our purposes, God promised Paul that all on board the ship would survive. That was a guarantee. It will happen. God has sovereignly decreed it, and Paul knows it.

So, one might argue that Paul need take no action at all to see this happen. Paul need not speak to anybody about anything. Paul need not give warnings to any.

But watch what happens next.

Acts 27:30-32 – 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

A group of the ship’s crew determined to use the boats to escape the doomed vessel. They were going to slip away unnoticed by the soldiers. But Paul gave the Roman soldiers a very significant warning. If those sailors leave the ship, the soldiers will not survive the wreck. If the sailors leave, the guarantee from earlier will not be true.

The sailors are not allowed to escape. That leaves the sailors on the ship to bring the ship in as close to the beach as possible. And, in the end, every life on board is spared.

Now, let’s talk sovereign decree and free will and possibility. Was Paul telling the truth when he said that God would spare every life on the ship? Of course he was. That was the ultimate decree of God. Nothing was going to change that.

Well then, was Paul speaking nonsense when he warned the Roman soldier that the people would die if the sailors left the ship? No, not at all. God intended to save the lives of all on board the ship through the means of the active work of the sailors.

Well, then was it possible that the people could die? It depends, of course, on what you mean by possible. The people genuinely would have died had the sailors left. But God used the means of Paul’s warning to prevent the sailors from leaving the ship. That allowed the sailors to remain and steer the ship. And through the means, God worked the physical salvation of all the lives on board. On the one hand, it was possible that the people could have died—hence Paul’s warning. But, from another perspective, there was no way this was going to happen. God decreed the end of the adventure as well as the means he would use to bring about that end. Was Paul free? Yes. Were the sailors and the Romans free? Absolutely. Did God work the outcome with absolute sovereignty? You bet. Were the people responsible for the choices they made? Of course. Were their decisions genuine? Yes. But, in the end, was God the ultimate cause of all that took place to save those lives? Absolutely.

Perhaps this will help you to think better about God’s sovereignty and our salvation. All we see here is parallel with our salvation with a few exceptions. Like the sailors, we are headed for doom if we stay on our natural course. Unlike the sailors, we are far more bent against God than they were bent against staying on the ship. Sin blinds us and our hearts are dead within us before God moves upon us. But, our choices, like the choices of the sailors and the Romans, are genuine choices. And God uses means, very real means, to move us. Yet, in all, we know that God has decreed the end from the beginning, and our salvation is based on his sovereign will and election.