Here it is. Lord’s rich blessings!
What we have in today’s passage is a short summation of God’s redemptive plan, made up of only three verses. But the scope of what Paul covers in this short summation is truly mind-boggling. Paul is speaking of the calling coming from God–the highest and greatest Being of all. And this calling was issued before the foundation of the world, in the eternal purpose of God: God’s foreknowledge and predestination are the fountain of this divine call. And Paul gives us an insight into the purpose of “all things” that happen, why all things happen–not just in the lives of God’s people but also in heaven and earth. And all this is directly related to us and our salvation! What an awesome thought!
Sometimes we lose sight of what a truly big deal our salvation is. Maybe that’s why we have trouble trusting the Lord with our daily concerns while we say we have a firm assurance of salvation. If we can trust the Lord for our deliverance from hell and eternal life in heaven, does it make sense that we should have such a hard time trusting the Lord for what to eat, what to drink, what to wear and other worries of the day? Could it be that our understanding of salvation is too abstract and vague and stunted? This may have a lot to do with our preoccupation with the here and now, which makes our immediate concerns seem so big and overwhelming. In such mindset, the deadlines we have to meet and the schedules we have to keep are raised to tyrannical proportions in their urgency and importance.
Charles E. Hummel speaks of the “tyranny of the urgent.” Under the tyranny of the urgent, we neglect to do the things that are truly important because many of them may not seem urgent. Think of our spiritual feeding through our personal and family devotions. Are they important? Fundamentally so. It’s like aligning ourselves to the North Star as we navigate through the turbulent, vast sea of life. Without it, we would be lost and our life would be reduced to aimless drifting. Yet, for many of us our devotional life is the first to go when our life gets busy. How powerful the tyranny of the urgent is to distort our vision and sense of priority!
Living a busy, hectic life under the tyranny of the urgent, it’s easy for us to think of our salvation and eternal life mainly in a futuristic sense–as if they were something that would get started only after we die and wake up in heaven. That’s understandable. Our Christian life can chug along in a painfully slow pace. We can feel so defeated in our battle against sin at times. And the flaws of our character and the harmful failures that result from them can be so discouraging. For sure, our salvation will be completed only on that last day. When that day arrives, our experience and enjoyment of salvation will certainly increase significantly and drastically in heaven. How can they not when we are finally set free from this body of weakness and sin and from the presence of sin itself–that single most destructive force in our life? When our faith shall be sight and we will be able to behold the glory of God unhindered, then we will know the true meaning of happiness and enjoy it to the fullest!
But how we experience our salvation, or how much we enjoy it, is not the same as the salvation we possess. For example, we know that different couples experience different degrees of intimacy and harmony. Even the same couple goes through different measures of satisfaction and enjoyment during marriage. Just because they are going through a rough spot in their marriage doesn’t mean that they are not married. Our salvation as a gift of God is an objective reality. Our enjoyment of that salvation is a subjective experience, which can vary, even in a day, and from one Christian to another. So then, the way we enjoy our salvation in heaven will definitely be far better than the way we experience our salvation here. But one thing is for sure: “as sure as the earnest [i.e., divine pledge] is giv’n / more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heav’n” (August M. Toplady, “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”).
And what does ordo salutis (the order of salvation) tell us about our salvation? Not only is it wrong to think that our salvation will begin only after we leave this world; we must also know that our salvation began even before the foundation of the world in the calling of God! You see, our salvation is much, much more than the complexities of all the ups and downs of our daily life. We can experience the dizzying heights of bliss and the bottomless depths of fear, all in a matter of one day. How profound are the emotions we experience in the wide swings of life’s fortunes and tragedies! So much ink has been spilt over the millennia, describing the joys and agonies of life in poetry and prose, in stories and dramas, etc. But, however big the fluctuations of our ups and downs may be in a day or in our whole lifetime, they are infinitesimal in comparison to the steadfast, unceasing, unstoppable progression of ordo salutis, which spans from the effectual calling of God before the foundation of the world to the end of history and beyond!
Let us not forget that we are in the middle of that unstoppable progression of ordo salutis, in the middle of the majestic, magnificent drama of God’s redemption! When we feel like we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we must not fear as long as the Lord is with us: He will not fail to lead us to the green pastures and quiet waters. When we feel like we have reached the mountaintop of success and glory, we should not be arrogant and complacent: they are just temporary blessings we must let go eventually for the eternal, imperishable blessings of heaven.
This calling of God unto salvation is called effectual calling. This is distinguished from the universal calling, which refers to the preaching of the gospel to all the nations. This universal calling, which is issued by God’s people, especially by the ministers of the gospel, is not always effectual: it can be and is rejected by many unto eternal damnation. But God’s effectual calling is extended to God’s elect. It does not and cannot fail: it is an irresistible grace, which even the worst of sinners cannot reject. Each of us who believes in Jesus Christ is here because of God’s irresistible grace extended to us in His effectual calling.
I’m sure some of you are asking, “Why doesn’t God call all sinners unto salvation?” We don’t know why He did not. We wish He did. But the Bible seems to suggest that God is holy and He is glorified by the damnation of sinners as well as the salvation of His elect people. The God of the Bible is not a Santa Clause we concocted according to our preference. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, He is both dangerous and good. We should never take Him for granted and be presumptuous with Him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, even under the covenant of grace, even under the new covenant. His grace is so amazing because it comes from a holy, dangerous God, who is glorified in the righteous (and dare I say, merciless) punishment of sinners on the last day.
Let us also remember that we are talking about God’s grace: it is a favor God chose to extend to (some) sinners. It is not something that a sinner can demand from God. God does not owe grace to hell-deserving sinners. Eternal damnation is what all sinners deserve for their sin. That’s where God’s justice ends. If God chooses to save some by His sovereign grace–and that, by the sacrifice of His Son to satisfy His justice–we cannot fault Him for that, can we?
This gracious calling of God for our salvation cannot be but effectual. It is the calling of an almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them by the power of His word: He brought the whole universe into existence simply by calling it into being. A dramatic example of this is when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, who had been dead for four days. As nothingness could not resist God’s creative calling, even a corpse could not resist Jesus’ redemptive calling.
Another reason for God’s effectual calling is the way God’s mind operates. The way an infinite mind works is fundamentally different from the way a finite mind like ours works. The difference can be described in this way, though somewhat simplistic: God’s mind works intuitively whereas our mind works logically. Here is what I mean. In saying that our mind works logically, we are saying that there is a sense of linear progression in the way we think. We go from premise to conclusion in logical steps. Our mind progresses one thought after another. This is how our mind usually works, though not exclusively.
When I say that the mind of God works intuitively, I’m saying that, in the infinite mind of God, all of God’s thoughts exist all at the same time, all in complete and perfect relation/association with one another! Somehow in God’s infinite mind even your sneeze is related to something that is happening in a galaxy that is millions of light years away and everything else in the universe. We have a glimpse of what that is like. Sometimes you just get it without having to go through all the rational process in our conscious mind. God has given us the capacity for intuitive thinking as well, though in finite ways. Increase that to an infinite measure and that’s how God’s infinite mind is in its intuitive operation. (This is not to say that there’s no logic to His mind. After all, if we have a logical mind, it’s because we are made in God’s image. To say God’s mind is beyond logic doesn’t mean that it is without logic or against logic.)
This is why predestination is inevitable. The one and only true God, whose mind is infinite and omniscient, cannot not predestine all things: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa. 46:9-11). There’s nothing He does not know. Nothing can surprise an omniscient God.
What does Paul mean when he speaks of God’s foreknowledge, then? “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (v. 29). Paul is not speaking of an intellectual foreknowledge–i.e., simply knowing some facts in advance (as fortunetellers claim to do). Rather, he is speaking of God’s covenantal, personal foreknowledge. The kind of knowing here is what Gen. 4:1 speaks of: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain….” We can be sure that it was not Adam’s intellectual knowledge of Eve, which led to her pregnancy. It was his intimate, nuptial knowledge of her.
As you can see, the most intimate of human relationships is given as a human example of the kind of (fore)knowledge God has of us. Of course, God’s knowledge of us is not physical as it is between a human husband and his wife but it is even more thorough and intimate than what is possible in any human relationship, of course. He knows you by name. He knows all there is to know about you–from the number of all the cells in your body and even a flashing thought you no longer remember.
But God’s foreknowledge of us is not just factual–i.e., simply knowing how we will act and think in the future. It is a predestinating knowledge–the kind that knows the future precisely because God decreed it: “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (WSC, #7).
Notice again what is known as the Golden Chain of our salvation. God’s foreknowledge is unbreakably linked to our effectual calling, which is unbreakably linked to our justification, which is unbreakably linked to our glorification. Did anyone notice how our glorification is presented as a past event–“and those whom he justified he also glorified”? This doesn’t mean that we are actually glorified already. It seems like Paul in this passage is speaking of what went on in the mind of God. In His predestinating foreknowledge, God has already called us and justified us and glorified us infallibly and unalterably. Once God decrees something, it is as good as done, including our glorification, because God never fails. This is along the same lines as John referring to Jesus as the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
For what purpose did God call us? Unto what did He call us? “…[T]hose whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (v. 29). This is another reason that the Golden Chain of our salvation cannot be broken. Ordo Salutis is none other than the process by which we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This was God’s purpose from the very beginning when He decided to make man in His own image. Of course, God made man, male and female, in His image. Does this mean that His goal was accomplished in His act of creation? No. Man was created in God’s image but he was yet to be perfected in God’s image. By his willing and perfect obedience to God’s command during the probation period, Adam was to be perfected in God’s image. Adam failed. His fall necessitated the Son of God to come as the Second Adam and accomplish for us what Adam failed to do.
Our fallen condition also necessitated ordo salutis as well as all the steps in ordo salutis. If Adam did not fall, he could have gone directly from creation to glorification by his perfect obedience. And that process would not be called ordo salutis since he would not have required salvation: only sinners need salvation.
The obvious question is whether Adam’s fall was predestined by God, too. We’ll deal with that question next week. But as we conclude, I want to remind us that this effectual calling of God is “in Christ”: “he [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). This is an important fact. Many people question the fairness/justice of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. They understand God’s justice in requiring the punishment of our sin. But they don’t see how fair/just it is that an innocent person should receive the punishment of another. The answer is found in our effectual calling in Jesus Christ. Jesus, who received our punishment, was not just a stranger who was randomly and unfortunately picked to bear our punishment. No, Jesus is our Lord, our Representative, who bound Himself to us by an eternal covenant. He did not just lay down His life for some random strangers; He took the sins of His people and died for them. It is like a general taking the blame for the failure his subordinate committed against his specific order.
This reminds us that Jesus Christ Himself was called by God for this purpose. The Messiah-figure in Isaiah says, “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” (Isa. 49:1). Jesus in His priestly prayer says to God, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Obviously Jesus was called to do the work of glorifying God through His redeeming work. Because Jesus was called to be our Redeemer, we are called in Him to receive that redemption. This is why our calling is effectual: we are called in a Redeemer, who cannot fail in His work, who did not fail in His work, and who will not fail in His work of saving us perfectly and gloriously!
May the Lord cause your heart to swell with gratitude and joy as you are reminded of this amazing truth about your glorious salvation–that you and your life is not an accident; that God knew you even before you were born; that God has called you unto eternal life with Him even before the foundation of the world; that you are brought into this world according to that purpose; that God will see it through that His purpose is done in your life! Let not your heart be troubled when troubles come: they are part of God’s saving work. Let not your heart be proud when glory and honor come your way: you are destined for a greater glory! In all things, hold on to Christ as your greatest Treasure!
© Copyright 2017 by Jeong Woo “James” Lee
All Rights Reserved.
Jeong W “James” Lee
New Life Presbyterian Church of La Jolla