1. Salvation (Really, Truly, Absolutely) Belongs to Our God
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10). What an incredible truth, that salvation belongs to our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the message we preach. This is the message missionaries proclaim to the unreached peoples in the world. This is the message which causes us to pour out our hearts in worship (which is an all-of-life kind of thing). This is the message, the only one of its kind, which directs us to repent of our sin and trust in the all-sufficient and satisfying Savior, Jesus Christ, to find eternal joy in God (cf. Mark 1:15; Psalm 16:11).
Let’s take it a step further. What does it actually mean that salvation belongs to our God? David answers this way: “From God comes my salvation….He only is my rock and my salvation….On God rests my salvation” (Psalm 62:1, 6, 7). David’s statements here might as well be summarized as “from the beginning, in the middle, and to the end, salvation belongs to our God.” All the way through, from the very start to the very end, God is ultimately in control of our salvation. That’s what it means that salvation belongs to our God. It is His. He owns it. He controls it. He decides how and when and where and why He will save people. In fact, from before the foundation of the world, God chose the people who would be saved through Jesus Christ, His Son, and the work of Jesus is then applied to those same people in time by the Holy Spirit when and where God chooses (see Ephesians 1:3-14; 2 Timothy 1:9; John 3:1-8; 6:35ff.)
2. “Salvation Belongs to God…Except When It Belongs to Us”
Yet many people don’t actually believe that God controls our salvation. They don’t believe that He decides how and when and where and why people will be saved. After all, they argue, God has given us free will to choose for ourselves whether we will be saved. Right? God cannot be the one who is ultimately in charge of our salvation. God isn’t free to choose who will and won’t be saved. He’s done everything He can do, and now the rest is up to us.
Those who believe this to be the case often bristle at the biblical teaching of predestination: that from the beginning salvation belongs to the Lord. To be sure, this truth should make you bristle if indeed you think that salvation belongs to us in some way. Thus, since most Christians do not really believe that “salvation belongs to our God,” they argue that predestination cannot be true because that would violate our freedom and God’s character. He’s a gentleman and won’t force Himself on anyone. Or so the argument goes.
The problem with this, of course, is that the Bible simply does not endorse this line of thinking. I seek to demonstrate that point throughout this post. But in order to do that, I want to make another point, one that I’ve already mentioned. Here it is: If you do not embrace the doctrine of predestination, you do not embrace the fact that salvation belongs to our God. Rather, you believe that salvation belongs to us in some way, that we are to some extent our own saviors. But the doctrine of predestination belongs to the very essence of what it means for salvation to belong to our God. He saves us from the beginning, in the middle, and to the end. Predestination, as it were, simply denotes the “beginning” of God saving us.
3. The Basis of Predestination and Election
It might be helpful to define “predestination” so as to avoid any misconceptions and clarify what it is that we’re actually talking about here. By predestination (or election) I mean that God, before He created anything, decided to save certain sinners, not because of anything they had done (faith, works, or anything else) but only because of His sovereign, wise, and gracious purpose, which He set forth in Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14).
When we talk about the fact that salvation belongs to our God, one of the things we mean is that God chooses who He will save, not according to anything good in us, but only because of His wisdom and pleasure. God doesn’t wait for us to make ourselves right with Him before He saves us; rather, even though we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “haters of God” (Romans 1:30), “hostile to God” and unable to please Him (Romans 8:7-8), God saved us “not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9, emphasis added).
What this means is that predestination is unconditional. That is, there are no conditions that we have to meet in order for God to predestine us unto salvation. We are not elect because we believed or because we accomplished good works. The Bible teaches that faith is a result of our election: “And when the Gentiles heard [the gospel], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48, emphasis added). The reason that the Gentiles believed, according to this text of Holy Scripture, is because they had been “appointed to eternal life.” The point is that God chose them, He predestined them, to have eternal life, and that is why they believed. To say that their faith is what made them elect is to turn this text on its head.
The Bible also teaches that even our good works are a result of our election. Paul tells Timothy (and those with him) that “we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 4:13). Here we see again that our “belief in the truth” comes after God’s work of predestination, but even more than that, our sanctification (that is, the process by which we are transformed to become more and more like Jesus Christ) also comes after God chooses us to be saved.
The reason that Paul wants to give thanks to God is because it is God who is doing the saving here, from the beginning (“He chose you”), in the middle (“through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth”), and to the end (“to be saved”). So, far from being an encouragement to live however we want to live with no regard for God or our neighbor, the doctrine of predestination actually encourages good works. God chose us to do them. Or as Paul says elsewhere, “God prepared [good works] beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
4. No Grounds for Boasting
This truth proves to be a double-edged sword: on one side we find that there is absolutely nothing we can do in order to make ourselves elect, to put ourselves in a position where God is indebted to save us (see Romans 11:35 where Paul asks, “who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” which further demonstrates that God does not respond to anything we do when He saves us). Remember, God does not predestine us to salvation because we had faith or good works, but only according to His wise and gracious purpose.
To the one who cries foul, Paul argues, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:14-16). There is no injustice on God’s part when He chooses who will be saved without regard to anything they had done, “either good or bad” (Romans 9:11). He is totally free to show mercy to whom He wills. Our salvation does not depend upon us, but upon God. This is why Paul elsewhere declares, “And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus….So that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31).
The fact that our salvation does not depend upon us in any measure, but wholly upon God means that we have no grounds for boasting whatsoever. It’s equally strange and sad that there are proud Christians. The doctrine of predestination should put a nail in the coffin of our pride once-and-for-all. The point of it is that we did not do anything to make ourselves elect or saved or better than unbelievers. Our salvation is wholly of God. Truly, salvation belongs to the Lord, not to us.
Oftentimes people think that this doctrine should produce pride in the elect because we are special and set apart by God. But nothing could be further from the truth. The only difference between the elect and the non-elect is not that we were smarter and got our spiritual act together to put our faith in Christ; it’s not that we are inherently better than them or did better works than them (cf. Romans 3:10-12; 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-3).
Rather, the only difference is a five letter word called G-R-A-C-E. As Christians, we love grace. It’s by grace that we are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). It’s by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). It’s by grace that we partake in the promises of God, one of which is that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6-7).
But it’s also by grace that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4). It’s by grace (and love) that God “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5, emphasis added). It’s by grace that Paul, who was “set apart from before [he] was born,” was called and converted to Christ (Galatians 1:15; cf. Acts 9:1-19). If we truly embrace all it means to be saved by grace, we must embrace the truth that God chooses us to be saved in Christ from before the foundation of the world. If we truly embrace all it means that salvation belongs to the Lord, we must embrace the truth of predestination.
5. Humble Doxology
The truth we see on the other side of the double-edged sword is that this doctrine should create in our hearts a passion to praise the God who has predestined us for salvation. We have no reason to boast in ourselves, but we have every reason to boast in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is the constant teaching of John in the book of Revelation:
- “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created” (4:11).
- “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy….And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll” (5:2-4, 5).
- “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them into a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10).
- “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12).
- “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (5:13).
- “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:10).
- “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (19:1).
The point of all this is that the truth that salvation belongs to our God should cause us to worship Him. The fact that God has graciously chosen us to save us should cause us to fall on our face and praise Him. He has full ownership of our salvation from the beginning, in the middle, and to the end.
Another amazing thing that this truth means for us is that no one is too bad or evil to be saved. To even think of yourself as too far gone for God’s grace is to misunderstand how God actually saves people. God is not in the business of waiting and reacting to us; He is always and everywhere the One who moves toward us first. This means that no matter how bad you are, no matter how heinous your sin, no matter how hard your heart is, you are not beyond receiving the grace of God in Jesus Christ. No matter how fast you are, you cannot outrun God. If your sin takes you to the pit of despair, the predestinarian grace of God can bring you out of it, to everlasting joy in Jesus.
Any view which opposes this biblical truth actually steals from the “glory and power” of God mentioned in Revelation 19:1. Any view which says that we contribute something to our salvation steals from the glorious grace of God Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:6, 12, and 14. Any view which says that our faith causes God to elect us provides us with a ground to boast: we did it! But Paul says that “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29).
Therefore, let us rejoice in our sovereign God, knowing that “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Indeed, as the prophet Jonah prayed, “salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).
Thanks for reading. Have any thoughts? Leave a comment below.