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Devotion for February 16, 2006


“No one who wishes to be thought religious dares simply deny predestination, by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death,” John Calvin wrote. While few believers deny that the Bible teaches a doctrine of divine election, Christians are divided about what this means.

The Bible refers to believers as “elect” or “chosen” of God (Col. 3:12; Titus 1:1). This has raised a number of challenging questions. Did God determine in advance who would go to hell as well as who would go to heaven? Did He make His choice based on His foreknowledge of their choices or actions? Part of the truth of this doctrine is that it’s not possible to have all our questions about this doctrine answered this side of heaven, but we can be certain of one thing. Divine election is grounded in mercy. Any view that makes salvation dependent on human effort or action robs the gospel of grace.

In today’s passage the apostle Paul speaks with equal force both of God’s sovereignty and of His mercy. Using the hardening of Pharaoh as an example, Paul seems to say that God’s sovereignty extends to the unbeliever as well as the believer. If this were not true, it is doubtful that Paul would have had the confidence to reassure us that God is able to cause all things to work together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).

Divine sovereignty does not relieve men and women of the responsibility for their actions. We have a good example of this balance in the death of Christ. On the one hand, those who crucified our Lord acted willfully and sinfully. Yet those who crucified the Savior “with the help of wicked men” accomplished all that God’s “set purpose and foreknowledge” had determined would take place (Act 2:23).

The apostle Paul saw the biblical doctrine of election as a testimony to God’s grace and patience. God shows His mercy toward those who have trusted in Jesus Christ and demonstrates His patience toward those who have not.

Apply the Word

The purpose of election, according to John Calvin, is to compel us to look to God’s grace to obtain salvation. “No matter how much you toss it about and mull it over,” he writes in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, “you will discover that its final bounds still extend no farther.” Our focus, then, should not be on the secret decrees of God that are hidden to us, but on the mercy that has been clearly displayed through Jesus Christ. Our hope is this: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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