Nathan Finn on Election and Holiness

Nathan Finn is Associate Professor of  of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies and the Director of the new Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality. This week he writes on the doctrine of election in the doctrine of holiness.

You may not know this, but evangelicals like to argue about the doctrine of election. This is especially true of evangelicals who frequent blogs. This is especially true of Southern Baptist evangelicals who frequent blogs.

It may surprise you to know that evangelicals agree on more than we disagree when it comes to the doctrine of election. For example, virtually everyone agrees that there is a doctrine of election because, well, it’s in the Bible. Furthermore, almost everyone agrees that all true followers of Jesus Christ are part of the elect. We may not agree on how believers “get” elected, but we all agree that there is a category called the elect and that believers are the folks in that category.

Please note I’m not trying to minimize the legitimate debates that honest Christians have about the finer points (see what I did there?) of the doctrine of election. However, in this post I want to focus on one of those aspects of election that I think we all agree upon, or at least ought to agree upon, and yet, in our rush to highlight our disagreements with one another, fail to emphasize enough. So here goes: if you are a Christian, you have been elected to holiness.

Ephesians 1:3–11 is one of the better-known New Testament passages that deals with the doctrine of election. In verse 4, Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (ESV). I think our tendency is to debate the “he chose us” part of the passage. However, let’s not miss the “holy and blameless” part of the text. Christians have been debating the “he chose us” part since way back when the Roman Empire was a global superpower. We probably won’t reach a consensus on that part until Christ’s kingdom is the last and permanent global superpower. But I’m hopeful we can find a consensus in the here and now on the “holy and blameless” phrase of this passage.

Brother and sister in Christ, your holiness is inevitable. You are among God’s chosen, in part, so that you can be holy and blameless. You have already been set apart through your justification as part of God’s holy people. You will one day complete the journey of holiness when you are fully conformed to the image of Christ at your final glorification. Along the way, you are called to become progressively more like Christ—to become more holy—through your sanctification. Not so that you can earn God’s favor. Not so that you can win holiness competitions with your friends. Not so that you can get a spiritual leg up on all the pagans around you. But so that you can, increasingly in this life, own what you’ve been set apart to be for the next life and beyond. Christian, you have been elected to holiness.

I believe this is an empowering truth. If part of what it means to be among the elect is to be holy, and if my holiness is guaranteed by God’s promise and provision, then my pursuit of holiness becomes a holy adventure rather than a legalistic burden or a licentious fatalism. I’m joining God in his work of making me holy when I put my sins to death. I’m joining God in his work of making me holy when I cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. I’m joining God in his work of making me holy when I practice spiritual disciplines. I’m joining God in his work of making me holy—and making others holy—when I encourage others in their pursuit of holiness (especially fellow church members). The same God who has ordained (elected!) the end has ordained (elected!) the means. I am holy. So I will fight for holiness. And I will be holy, forever, eventually.

If you are a believer, you are elect. And if you are elect, you’ve been elected, in part, to holiness. So, run hard after holiness today in anticipation of that future day when “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2b).


The Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality

Last week, Southeastern Seminary announced the launch of our new Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality. This initiative has been about nine months in the making. I serve as the Center’s new director. The Center desires to help foster a community at Southeastern Seminary that is characterized by a Word-driven, gospel-centered, mission-minded piety that conforms our character to the image of Jesus Christ and advances spiritual flourishing under his lordship. We also hope to serve as a resource to Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches on topics such as spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, spirituality, discipleship, etc.

If you haven’t read the press release, check it out on the SEBTS website. Also, please take a look at the Center’s website, which includes a welcome from me, an explanation of our mission and purpose, a list of our Fellows and members of our Pastoral Advisory Board, and some resources (mostly books and websites) related to some of the topics that our Center hopes to engage. I hope to update the website more in the coming months. I also look forward to announcing the Center’s first event in a few days.

I have included my welcome from the Center’s website below. I hope you will read it, check out all the information on our website, and be on the lookout for upcoming events.


And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV)

At Southeastern Seminary, we believe one of the great needs among this generation of Baptists and other evangelicals is a healthy approach to spiritual formation and Christian spirituality. To that end, The mission of the Center is to promote spiritual maturity and the cultivation of a robust evangelical spirituality for the glory of God, the health of the church and the advancement of Christian mission.

The Center is concerned with a number of key questions facing Christian leaders: What does it mean to be a mature follower of Jesus Christ? How best can pastors and other leaders equip Christians to grow in their spiritual lives? What spiritual disciplines and other practices best aid us in our spiritual maturity? What is the relationship between spirituality, theology, and mission? What are some of the best resources available to pastors and other ministry leaders who are interested in spiritual formation, spirituality, discipleship, and related topics?

I want to invite you to take a look around this website and learn about some of the ways the Center is trying to fulfill its purpose and answer these important questions. I’m hopeful The Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality will help us to form Southeastern students (and others) into mature disciples and equip them to lead their local churches and other ministries in cultivating a discipleship culture that glorifies God and advances his kingdom.

Thanks for your interest in The Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality. Pray for us and let us know how we can best partner with you in your own ministry.

Nathan A. Finn
Director, The Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary