Pastor David B. Curtis


Salvation by Choice

Acts 16: 12-15

Delivered 03/16/1997

Within evangelical churches, there is on going debate on the issue of salvation. Is it by a choice of man's free will or of God's sovereign choice? It is my belief that the Scriptures are absolutely clear that it is by choice, God's choice.

The Gospel is the good news, about what God has done for his people. It is the good news about Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Salvation is a gift of God to His people from beginning to end. The new birth roots in the resolute will of God as the motivating force which gives new life. Salvation is a work of God. Man has no part in the miracle of the new birth and cannot have. This is what we call the doctrine of Sovereign Election.

A.W. Pink once began a message on election this way, "I am going to speak tonight on one of the most hated doctrines in the Bible, namely that of God's sovereign election."

"God's sovereign election is the truth most loathed and reviled by the majority of those claiming to be believers. Let it be plainly announced that salvation originated, not in the will of man, but in the will of God, that were it not so none would or could be saved. For as a result of the fall, man has lost all desire and will unto that which is good, and that even the elect themselves have to be made willing, and loud will be the cries of indignation against such teaching. Most mongers will not allow the supremacy of the divine will and the impedance of the human will. Consequently, they who are the most bitter in denouncing election by the sovereign pleasure of God are the warmest in crying up the free will of fallen man."

Pink's comments are illustrated by an Arminian preacher (An Arminian is one who denies the sovereignty of God in salvation. They believe salvation is a choice of man. ) preaching on Psalm 47: 4 and the text "He shall choose our inheritance for us" said, "This passage refers entirely to our temporal inheritance, it has nothing whatever to do with our everlasting destiny, for," said he, "we do not want Christ to choose for us in the matter of Heaven or hell. It is so plain and easy, that every man who has a grain of common sense will choose Heaven, and any person would know better than to choose hell. We have no need of any superior intelligence, or any greater Being to choose Heaven or hell for us. It is left to our own free-will, and we have enough wisdom given us. Sufficiently correct, means to judge for ourselves." Therefore, as he very logically inferred, there was no necessity for Jesus Christ, or anyone, to make a choice for us. We could choose the inheritance for ourselves without any assistance. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I too believed in the free will of man. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me.

The doctrine of election is hard for man to accept. It's hard for man to acknowledge that his salvation is an act of God. In his fallen state, he wants to assume some responsibility, even if it's a small responsibility, for having believed. He wants some credit for having made the right choice. The doctrine of election is repulsive to us because, by our standards, it seems unfair that God should, out of all the human beings, choose some at his own discretion to be saved and not the rest. Man, in his fallenness, wants a part because he wants to exercise his pride! Pink states, "The doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God is a great battering-ram against human pride."

Psalms 115:1 (NKJV) Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.

Calvin says, "We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God's free mercy until we come to know His eternal election, which illumines God's grace by this contrast: That He does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others."

Now someone may ask, "Is that fair? Is it fair for God to give to some what he denies to others? What about justice? Is God unfair?" God is never to be measured by human standards. Certainly not by the human standard of fairness, which is also a reflection of man's fallenness. Do we, as fallen sinful creatures, have a higher standard of what is right than an infinitely and eternally holy God? What kind of pride is that?

Psalms 50:21 (NKJV) These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes.

God is not like us, he is Holy and we are sinful. The Scriptures warn us that we are not to assume that what we believe is the standard by which God must function. Whatever God does is righteous and just.

Psalms 97:2 (NKJV) Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Romans 11:33 (NKJV) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

When you say that God does anything that isn't fair, you've stepped over the bounds. How can sinful man question God?

Divine justice is an essential attribute of God, whereby He is infinitely and perfectly just in Himself, of Himself, for Himself, from himself, by Himself and none other.

Psalms 11:7 (NKJV) For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright.

James Usher said, "The source of God's justice is his own free will and nothing else, for whatsoever he wills, is just . And because he wills it, therefore it is just, not because it is just, therefore he wills it." A thing is just because God wills it , He does not will it because it is just by human standards. He sets the standard. Divine justice is of an entirely different order and character than human justice. Justice isn't really the issue, anyway . You don't really want to talk about justice when you talk about salvation, because justice for all of us would be Hell! How could God be called unjust when whatever he does is just, and the fact that he elected only certain ones to be saved, when they didn't deserve it anyway, how could that be unjust? Salvation is never a matter of justice, it is always a matter of grace!

Why teach this? If it is hard to understand and so despised by man, why teach it? Can you answer that question for me? Let me give you John Calvin's answer to the question. "The Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know .Therefore we must guard against depriving believers of anything disclosed about predestination in Scripture, lest we seem either wickedly to defraud them of the blessing of their God or to accuse and scoff at the Holy Spirit for having published what it is in any way profitable to suppress. " Calvin goes on to say, "but for those who are so cautious or fearful that they desire to bury predestination in order not to disturb weak souls -- with what color will they cloak their arrogance when they accuse God indirectly of stupid thoughtlessness, as if he had not foreseen the peril that they feel they have wisely met? Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church. "

What do the Scriptures say about election?

Deuteronomy 7:6 (NKJV) "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 8 "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; 8 "but because the LORD loves you ....

God chose Israel. God wasn't sitting up in heaven saying, "I hope some nation will believe in me and choose me." God says, "I choose you because I love you."

Deuteronomy 14:2 (NKJV) "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
Psalms 105:43 (NKJV) He brought out His people with joy, His chosen ones with gladness.
Psalms 135:4 (NKJV) For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure.

The nation, Israel, was elect, chosen by God. Why? Because God willed to. Do you have a problem with that? Why Abraham? Did God choose him because he was godly? No! Abraham was a pagan moon worshiper when God called him. Why did God choose you? I cannot, no matter how hard I look, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of Divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share His glory. The "why" rests in God's will. God doesn't call the good people because there isn't any.

Psalms 14:1-3 (KJV) To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. 2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

God chose his people Israel by his own free choice. The idea that man has some personal integrity and freedom that God dare not violate, is the reverse of what the Bible teaches.

Psalms 65:4 (KJV) Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.

I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.

It is clear from the Scriptures that the nature of our election rests in God's sovereign choice.

James 1:18 (NKJV) Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
1 Peter 1:2 (NKJV) elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
1 Peter 2:9-10 (NKJV) 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

You are a Christian because God has chosen you.

You might think that you are a Christian because you believed the gospel, but the only reason you believed the gospel is because God gave you a new birth.

Ephesians 2:1 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
Acts 15:14 (NKJV) "Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.

Now if something inside of you resists this, it's your fallenness. We would like to think that it depends on us, which is pride. We also like to think it sounds unfair -- we may have the attitude, "I'll straighten God out when I get to heaven," which is the height of pride. We are too often like the laborers in the parable of Matthew 20.

Matthew 20:1-15 (NKJV) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 "Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 "and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. 5 "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 7 "They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.' 8 "So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' 9 "And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 10 "But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 "And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 "saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.' 13 "But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 'Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'

How do you answer the question of verse 15? He chose the laborers and he chose the payment they received. God is free to do what he wants with his creation. He is free to choose who he will.

John 15:16 (NKJV) "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

God chooses, he appoints. Notice carefully who is said to believe the gospel.

Acts 13:46-48 (NKJV) Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 "For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'" 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Who is said to have believed? Those who were appointed! Notice why it is that Lydia believes the gospel.

Acts 16:13-14 (NKJV) And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

This is the only place in the New Testament that uses the phrase "opened heart," and the Bible gives the whole credit for this "opening" to God's power and not to man's will. Modern evangelism does the exact opposite and credits the opening of the heart to the power of man's "free will." Arminianism insists that man's free will must furnish the willingness or power, and the Bible says that the Holy Spirit of God furnishes that power or ability in the new birth.

Notice exactly what God did. We see here demonstrated what God must do before Lydia can be saved. (l) He provided a salvation of "by grace through faith" that could be preached. Obviously, "the things spoken" by Paul were the gospel facts concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2) God also brought the message of His provision to Lydia. He sent a preacher to tell her about this great plan of salvation. God went to a lot of trouble to provide such a gospel-He gave His only begotten Son up to death. He went to great ends to provide such a preacher as Paul. It is at this point that Arminianism departs from the Bible and proceeds to apply human logic to the above truths. They tragically fail to look at the rest of the Biblical text and see that God must do something else. (3) God must open Lydia's heart (or give her faith) so she will be able to believe. Her natural mind is blind, her natural heart is averse to God, and her will is in bondage to sin and spiritual death. Only the power of God can free her from this spiritual depravity. The giving of this life and power is solely the work of God. Notice that the Bible explicitly gives God alone the credit for Lydia's heart being opened. It is impossible not see that in this text, unless you simply refuse to accept what God clearly says.

Look at the words carefully: ....whose heart the LORD OPENED... If you try to deny that the one single reason that Lydia understood and believed the gospel was because God deliberately opened her heart and enabled her to believe, you are fighting God's Word. If you try to get man's "free will" as the one determining factor into this text, you are consciously corrupting the Word of God.

God's choice is based only on his will and not anything that we do or have done. Romans nine makes this clear.

Romans 9:11-13 (NKJV) (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

Paul emphasizes the point that when as yet they had done nothing good or evil, one was chosen, the other rejected. This is to prove the foundation of divine predestination is not of works.

Romans 9:14-24 (NKJV) What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

Do you see how Paul attributes both to God's decision alone, v18?

19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Augustine said, "God could turn the will of evil men to good because he is almighty. Obviously he could. Why then doesn't he? Because he wills otherwise. Why he wills otherwise rests with him." Verse 22, God has just as much right to use his attribute of wrath, and put that on display against ungodly as he does to put his grace, love, mercy on display for those he elects. Don't argue or question God, that's pride.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

In verse 4 he takes away all regard for worth. For what basis for distinction is there among those who did not yet exist and who would be in Adam. As long as there is God, we've been chosen. As long as God has existed, his elect have been in his mind. Verse 5 says it's according to his will, his glory. Augustine said, "God's grace does not find but makes those fit to be chosen." In verse 9 "God purposed in himself," means the same thing as to say that he considered nothing outside himself with which to be concerned in making his decree.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NKJV) But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,

Who do we thank? God! How could anyone miss this?

2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV) who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

It is all according to His plan and not ours. We are elect, chosen by God. This is a small part of what the Scriptures say. We resist this, something inside us struggles with it, it grates our fallen humanness.

Luke 4:18-22 (NKJV) "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." 20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22 So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?"

So far so good.

Luke 4:25-29 (NKJV) "But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26 "but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 "And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

Sovereign grace, lots of widows and lots of lepers but God chose none of them except the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian.

28 So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.

The respectable religious leaders of Israel despised the doctrine of election, especially when it pointed out that they were not the elect. You cannot deny the truth of sovereign election, but many don't want to hear it.

Revelation 19:6 (NKJV) And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!

God reigns, he's in control and none else. God is the potter, you are the clay. He alone is the decider and determiner of the destiny of every person. God is God! Would you want it any other way? He created, he controls, he chooses. He gave elephants four legs, thick ones; and wrens two legs, thin ones. Why? Because he chose to.

Pink says, "The only reason anybody believes in election is because he finds it taught in God's word. " No man ever thought this up, men hate it. It is accepted by faith and faith alone.

Some questions that arise:

What about the people who aren't elect, what happens to them? They get what all sinners deserve, they go to hell, because of their unbelief. Men are responsible for their sins.

John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

What about John 3:16, doesn't God love the whole world?

The word world is the Greek word kosmos. John is telling the Jews that God's love is not limited to the bounds of Judaism, but has flowed out to the Gentiles also. The use of the word "world" throughout Scripture makes it clear that it does not refer to every single person. For example:

Luke 2:1 (NKJV) And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
Romans 1:8 (NKJV) First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

What about 1 John 2:2?

1 John 2:2 (NKJV) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

Not for ours only -- there is no "other" propitiation. Christ's work on the cross is for all the elect. Christ is the only advocate and the only propitiation. This is speaking of the exclusiveness of Christ's work. You either accept his work or you have no propitiation.

What about 1 Timothy 2:4?

1 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Look at the context of this verse. It is clear that the "all men" refers to all types of men. It's the same "all men" that they were to pray for.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

To say that God desired all men to be saved, but was unable to save all men, would be to say that God was impotent.

What about 2 Peter 3:9?

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Again, we must look at the context to understand the verse. The context deals with scoffers asking what happened to the promised second coming of Christ.

2 Peter 3:3-4 (NKJV) knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."

Peter's response is in verse 9, Jesus will come just as he said, but he is longsuffering towards "us" -- the elect, waiting for his own to come to repentance.

What about all the "whosoever wills" in the Scripture? Whosoever will may come, the problem is no one wills to come unless they are called of God. The offer is open to all.

Why doesn't God save everybody?

Isn't it right for him to show himself a fair judge also in punishing? The Lord can give grace to whom he will because he is merciful, and not give to all because he is a just judge. For by giving to some what they do not deserve, he can show his free grace; by not giving to all, he can manifest what all deserve. God is just, don't you forget it.

The doctrine of election teaches us two things:

1. God is in charge, he is sovereign.

2. God is so gracious to those of us who could never have earned it, that we ought to spend eternity praising and thanking Him.

Election is not taught to confuse us, but to destroy our pride and elicit our praise. Calvin said, "For neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we other wise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God."

Let me close with a quote from John Robins of the Trinity Foundation, "Most churches in the United States that call themselves Christian reject the Gospel. They teach, if they are liberal, that Jesus was a good man, even a martyr, but he died in no ones's place; or, if they are conservative, that Jesus died in everyone's place, desires all men to be saved, and offers salvation to all. But it really makes little difference whether a church is large, respectable and liberal and teaches that Jesus died for no one; or enthusiastic, growing, and conservative and teaches that Jesus died for everyone: The result is the same: Jesus Christ actually saves no one -- no one at all. Both liberals and conservatives agree that people save themselves by an exercise of their wills. The conservative "Christ" makes salvation possible, if people will only let him into their hearts; the liberal "Christ" points the way to salvation, if people will but follow his example. Neither "Christ" saves. The liberal "Christ," at best, is a brave soul who endures injustice rather than renounce his belief in humankind; the conservative "Christ" is a wimp who begs people to let him into their hearts."

Spurgeon said, "I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ brought out upon the cross."

The Gospel is the good news, about what God has done for his people. Salvation is of the Lord. We are saved because God chose us!

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