Man is not naturally mortal; death is not the debt of nature, but the wages of sin. —John Murray, The Last Things
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.
—1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV)
Election isn’t like that uncle you’d rather not own up to but must when directly asked. Election isn’t something the Biblical authors occasionally warm up to, burying in the back of their letters only after having made a multitude of qualifications. Peter leads with it.
If you want to be faithful to the Bible, you may not elect to not deal with election. You may not choose to avoid this choosing. Still, many deal with it by defining it such that it means nothing. Their definition is an un-definition. How this is done is by abusing a word that soon follows in Peter’s greeting, “foreknowledge.”
The saints are elect according to God’s foreknowledge. The un-definition of this is that God elected those He foreknew would choose Him. This is often called “conditional election.” God elects based on foreseen faith.
Such a view admits too much to being with. It admits that future events are known by God, and thus, these things cannot be changed. This means that out of all the possible worlds God could have created, He chose to create this one, in which He knew certain people would believe and others would not. God remains sovereign over salvation in a sense, but instead of a Sovereign whose grace touches us personally, His grace seems farther removed, almost deistic, as though God let the world loose only knowing where it would go but not guiding it there.
Regardless, do you see how such a un-definition destroys the clear meaning of the word “election.” If God chooses based on our choice, it is not He who ultimately chooses. This puts man behind God’s steering will. Imagine some henpecked husband is encouraged by his elders to take loving leadership in his home. He decides to start small by taking initiative in determining where they will dine their next date night. After opening the car door for her he boldly declares, “I choose to eat wherever you choose to eat.” He shouldn’t report to the elders, “I made the choice about dinner.” James Montgomery Boice says such a definition, “destroys the very meaning of the word, of course, for such election is really not election at all. It actually means that men and women elect themselves, and God is reduced to a bystander who responds to their free choice. Logically and causally, even if not chronologically, God’s choice follows man’s choice.”
“Foreknowledge” can mean knowing things ahead of time. Being omniscient, is true that God does know things before they happen. But is this all it can mean? Is this what it means here? 1 Peter is rich in using Old Testament terminology to speak of the church. This is what is being done when he refers to “elect exiles of the dispersion.” So perhaps we should go to the Old Testament to see what is meant by foreknowledge instead of assuming we know what is meant.
While “foreknow” isn’t used in the Old Testament, “know” is. For example, in Amos 3:2 God tells Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (ESV). God certainly had cognizance of everyone in one sense. What is intended here is that God had a relational and covenantal knowledge of them as his people. Is this language picked up anywhere in the New Testament? Jesus will tell many who profess to prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works in His name, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23 ESV). On the flip side, in John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (ESV). In all these instances “know” doesn’t mean simple mental awareness but covenant relationship.
What then does it mean for God to foreknow His people? It means that before they are capable of knowing Him in any relationship, He relates to them by setting His covenant love on them. Two things confirm this. In the New Testament usage of “foreknow,” it is never an act, such as faith, but persons who are foreknown. Second, the text says not only are we elect exiles according to the foreknowledge of God, but that we were elect “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” This obedience is the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; 10:16; 15:18; 16:25–26). You are not elect based on foreseen future belief; you believe because of an election in eternity past.
Michael Horton says, “We can talk about grace, sing about grace, preach about grace, just so long as we do not get too close to it. Election is too close. When we give in to election, we finally give up on ourselves in the matter of salvation.” Un-define election, and you can sing about grace, but the thing is, there isn’t as much grace to sing about. Hollow out the meaning of election, and you hollow out the meaning of grace, such that Peter’s blessing doesn’t ring out as powerfully, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
We’re so vain.
God has written the hymnary of humanity and it has parts. Unfortunately, we don’t know how to sing parts anymore. But the problem is much worse than ignorance or a lack of musicality. Discontent to remain a member of the choir, we insist on a solo part.
Thus it is that we can’t read God’s music—the psalms. We think we’re speaking when we’re being spoken to. Likewise, we think we’re being spoken to when we are to be singing. We sing the wrong parts and we fail to sing the right ones. We sing the solo and fail to sing the choir’s chorus. When we read the psalms, we fail to make individual and communal distinctions and identifications. Who is the individual? Who is the group? When we do make distinctions, we invert them. To top it off, we’re so self-centered, we don’t even realize it—“of course this lyric must be about me.” We too easily identify with David as a king.
Read the 20th Psalm. Did you hear blessings being spoken to you or did you hear yourself blessing someone? In this psalm, the people pronounce blessings on David as He goes out to battle, knowing that Israel’s welfare is found in him. Save the solo part in verse 7, this is a song of the people for their king.
In Christ we have a King, not whom we bless, but who is blessed. He doesn’t need our blessing, this blessing is on Him. And so it is that we can be all the more confident exclaiming:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
Make the Psalms all about you, and any “confidence” you sing with is a display of arrogance. Sing with humility, and you may belt this psalm out with true confidence. Your King is blessed. Your King is heard. His victory is established. Let us shout over His salvation!
The New Testament institution is not, as we have seen, a pure democracy. Neither is it an autocracy. It is the simple truth that singularity has no place in the government of Christ’s church. In every case the singularity exemplified in diocesan episcopacy, whether it be in the most extreme form of the papacy, or in the most restricted application of local diocesan bishops, is a patent deviation from, indeed presumptuous contradiction of the institution of Christ. Plurality is written in the boldest letters in the pages of the New Testament, and singularity bears the hallmark of despite to Christ’s institution.
It is not for us to question the institution of Christ even when we are unable to discover the reasons for it. But in this instance it is not difficult to see the wisdom and grace of the head of the church. Plurality is a safeguard against the arrogance and tyranny to which man has the most characteristic proclivity. And plurality in this sphere always differentiates the singularity that belongs to Christ and to him alone. It is no wonder that failure to adhere to the plurality that must be maintained in the government of the church has, by logical steps, resulted in what on all accounts is the greatest travesty ever witnessed in the history of Christendom, namely, the pretensions and blasphemies of the Roman see. —John Murray, “The Form of Government“
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
David’s refuge is a loved refuge. An uncommon word is used for “love” here. Often translated “compassion” it carries the idea of a superior feeling pity towards and inferior. The psalm clearly indicates that David views God as God, as greater than himself. The idea then appears to be that David is deeply moved in love towards his God, such that although David clearly loves God because He is a stronghold, you know that God is indeed loved and not merely used.
God is not a fortress to be used as a means to enjoy something else. God is not a storm shelter. He is a refuge the way a wife takes refuge in her husband.
God is a refuge, but He is a refuge as God. He is not simply a refuge as a refuge. You cannot relate to God as a utilitarian thing but a relational person—a person who is the Lord of glory. You cannot flee to God to protect that which is most valuable to you. You must flee to Him as that which is most valuable.
God is not a refuge from the forces that threaten to interrupt your idolatry. God is a refuge for sinners, but not for sin. Repentant sinners find refuge in God from God. Flee to God to protect your sins and you run to your destruction. Again, God is not a vault for you to house your idols in. He is a refuge as God. There is an indestructible refuge for sinners, but there is no facility secure enough to house idols.
“The law of growth applies, therefore, in the realm of the Christian life. God is pleased to work through the process, and to fail to take account of this principle in the sanctification of the people of God is to frustrate both the wisdom and the grace of God. The child who acts as a man is a monstrosity; the man who acts as a child is a tragedy. If this is true in nature, how much more in Christian Behavior. There are babes in Christ; there are young men, and there are old men. And what monstrosities and tragedies have marred the witness of eh church by failure to take account of the law of growth!” —John Murray, “Progressive Sanctification”
[Just imagine that this video is slickly embeded so that you’ve watched it before proceeding.]
It was a solemn covenantal act when the priests of Israel put the name of Yahweh on the people of Israel in blessing them with these words. God instructed Aaron:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
‘So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.’ ” (Numbers 6:22–27 ESV)
God’s name was placed on his people as His bride. The priests had authority to do this acting as His ministers in faithfulness to His word, but they were not to play light with this ministry. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).”
In the new covenant, the church is given the authority to baptize disciples in the name of the triune God (Matthew 28:18–20) . Thus it is that the name of God is now visibly put on the people of God, His bride.
To speak this name over a pomeranian, is blasphemous. If a bride uses her wedding vows when adopting a dog from the local pound, what does it say of how she regards her husband? By the blood of Christ, we are in covenant with Him as His bride. In Christ, we are adopted as sons. The name of the triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—abides on us. May we cringe with righteous anger when it is so flippantly pronounced over a poodle.
Jesus shed his blood for sinners, sinners who blaspheme His name, so that those very sinners might carry that name as His redeemed. Let us not cheaply use the name Christ purchased for us at so high a price.