One disturbing memory of my early childhood involved a TV show I saw when I was six years old. My parents were away for the weekend, and had left me with my grandmother. She plopped me in front of the hit TV series, The A-Team. Little did she know that it was the night Murdock would be shot.
I had learned to know and love BA, Hannibal, Face, and of course Murdock. What my parents liked about the show was that while many bullets flew around in each episode, no one ever got shot.
Until that fateful night.
In the melee of some fisticuffs with random bad guys, one of them pulled out a gun and shot Murdock in the stomach. I was horrified. My grandmother tried to explain to me that he wasn’t really hurt, that it was part of the story. She first tried the tactic of convincing me it was not real blood. But it looked real to me, and Murdock seemed to think it was real. His teammates looked concerned too. He appeared to be seriously hurt.
Then she changed tactics. The comfort she then proffered was that the writers of the show knew all along that he was going to get shot, and they knew how they are going to save him. I just had to give it time and I’d see the pre-written plot unfold and work out for the good of Murdock and the A-Team in the end.
Sure enough Murdock lived to see another season of the A-Team. I learned to take comfort in the truth that as long as the writers knew what was going to happen, they were in control, and all would work out in the end. Or as Hannibal would quip with smug satisfaction: “I love it when a plan comes together!”
That is the same tactic the Apostle Peter employs when comforting Christians of the dispersion, whose homes had been raided by Nero’s gestapo. Perhaps they had lost jobs, or even loved ones to martyrdom. His purpose was to encourage them so that they would stand firm in their faith. So, Peter lays a foundation of hope because this is the best antidote for suffering.
Over the next three Mondays we shall see four foundation stones, or building blocks, of salvation…
- THE PLAN OF SALVATION
1 Pet 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
The first stone Peter lays in this foundation of salvation is the doctrine that our eternal rescue is planned.
He says: To those who are elect … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
Peter uses two words that would become controversial about 1500 years later: elect and foreknowledge. The Greek word “elect” means “chosen or called out from a group” and is used eighteen times by six New Testament authors. The doctrine of election teaches that God chooses who will believe in Jesus for salvation.
We see this terminology used throughout the New Testament:
Matt 24:31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Luke 18:7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?
Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?
In the sixteenth century the followers of Jacobus Arminius and those of John Calvin began a theological bun fight that has persisted to this day. Arminians teach that election is conditional on human faith (i.e. God chose who would believe based on the foresight of who would choose to believe of their own accord). Conversely, Calvinists teach that election is unconditional and begets or generates human faith (i.e. God chose who would believe based on nothing they would do, and then granted them faith to accomplish salvation).
Charles Spurgeon’s retort to the Arminian view is:
God gives faith, therefore he could not have elected them on faith that he foresaw. There shall be twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a shilling; but will anyone say I determined to give that one a shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense.”
Both parties believe in election: one says God elects those who do believe, while the other says God elects, so that they believe.
Why is this ‘hair-splitting’ important? Because of what Peter is trying to do. He is offering hope that our salvation is secure, because it is entirely up to God. And that no matter what trials come, our salvation is secure in God’s sovereign ability to make us faithful, not our ability to stay faithful.
So is election conditional upon faith?
Eph 1:4-5 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…
Just as God chose Jacob before he was born (Rom 9:11-13), so he chose us to believe. But still some think that election before I was ever born has something to do with my faith and this confusion is because of a wrong understanding of the word: foreknowledge.
The Greek word prognosis, translated “foreknew” means “to intimately or thoroughly know beforehand.” It does not mean to guess or to predict or to look into the future.
Rom 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
The concept of God’s proactive involvement in choosing us before we choose him is seen in other places in the New Testament too. For example…
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father … draws him.
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.
But why do people balk against this doctrine?
A common objection is this makes us seem like robots, without free will, forced to love God. Piper says:
When God brings about love for himself in a heart where it didn’t exist before, he does it by opening the eyes of the blind to see the irresistible beauties of Christ so that we freely delight in him.’
The application of God’s foreknowledge is that he is aware of your plight before it even happens, and he still allows it to happen. So he is in total control. Turn to him, pray to him, trust him.
And don’t panic, the plan always comes together in the end (Rom 8:29-30).
Next week Monday we’ll look at the second building block of salvation, 2. THE PATH