by Jeremy Walker/
Read all the posts published to date in this 16-part series on the essential truths of the Christian faith.
ON WHAT BASIS ARE WE SAVED? – PART 2
In the previous post in this series, we established from Scripture that salvation involves a choice. We asked the questions “Who chooses?,” “Who are chosen?,” “In whom were they chosen?,” and “When were they chosen?” Now we move on to discuss four biblical reasons for this choosing, exploring two strands of inquiry: “On what basis are we chosen?,” and “To what end are we chosen?”
On What Basis Are We Chosen?
1) Not chosen out of merit. Negatively, and as we have already begun to see in Acts 13:48 (NKJV), we were not chosen because of any worthiness in us, either predicted or actual. The Lord has never dealt with people in this way. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:7 (NKJV), Moses assures Israel that “the Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.” Israel at that time might have been tempted to look on the multitudes of the tribes and say, “Ah, this is why God chose us. Look at how many of us there are! Truly we are just the kind of people whom God might have chosen for his glory!” We still face precisely the same kind of temptations—we imagine that our numbers, graces, abilities, faith, wealth, charisma, influence, or whatever else it might be, actually lies behind God’s gift to us. In that scenario, salvation becomes a reward for what we already were or had become.
Scripturally, the truth is precisely the reverse.
Indeed, we have to face the fact that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27 NKJV). In other words, if anything, God chose us not because of our exemplary giftedness or graciousness but because of our exemplary wretchedness and helplessness! Paul emphasizes that the cause of God’s favorable dealings with us is not found in the working or the willing or the running (effort) of man:
(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”…. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:11–13, NKJV; Romans 9:16 NKJV)
Paul presses this home to the Corinthians when asking about the source of all the saving kindnesses that they enjoy: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV).
2) Chosen out of mercy. Positively, in answering the same question, we see that this choice is rooted in the free mercy and sovereign love of Almighty God. It is an act of grace, utterly apart from or even in the face of the things that sinful mankind deserves, a gift freely given. So, while denying that God chose Israel because of any greatness in them, Moses traces the choice back to the heart of God:
The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7–8 NKJV)
Writing to the Ephesian church, Paul sets their own native deadness against the new reality of life in Christ—that God, “even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”—and then traces it to its divine source: “by grace you have been saved.” Having so stated it in Ephesians 2:5 (NKJV), he repeats it again a few lines later for good measure: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV). the weak” to glorify himself.”]
Grace is God’s free favor. It comes to the undeserving from outside them and apart from anything creditable in them (on the assumption that, apart from these mercies, any such thing could be discovered). It is, in this regard, entirely unconditional: it does not hinge or hang upon anything worthy that ever was, is, or will be in those who receive it.
To What End Are We Chosen?
But having asked on what basis God’s elect are chosen, we must also ask to what end were we chosen? There are two elements to the answer.
3) Chosen for holiness. The first element is that we were chosen with a view to the holiness of men so saved. The election of God is so that we might stand before him in righteousness. It is true that we were saved to enjoy all the benefits of all the active and passive obedience of Christ—his provision of a perfect righteousness that is pleasing to God, and his suffering of all the punishment our sins deserve, so removing the curse from us. But it is also true that we were chosen and saved to be conformed to his image:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:28–30 NKJV)
Paul says as much to the Ephesians, emphasizing that God the Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4 NKJV) and that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV). Good works do not feed into our election as an operating cause, but they do flow from it as an invariable consequence. Our Lord says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16 NKJV).
4) Chosen for God’s glory. The second element of the answer to the question about the purpose of this election is the glory of God. Again, Paul hammers it home in the hymn of praise into which he invites the Ephesian church. All that the Lord does is “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). God is working things according to the counsel of his will in order “that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12). The grace of God is displayed to secure the praise of the glory of his grace. The ultimate intent of salvation is that God will be magnified by all those who enjoy and observe his lovingkindnesses, for Christians belong to “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV).
In the next post in this series, we will conclude our set of answers to the question, “On what basis are we saved?, with a look at our right and proper response to such a gracious salvation.
Part 6 of a 16-part series drawn from Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, by Jeremy Walker.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, England, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has written several books and has blogged at Reformation21 and The Wanderer.