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).

 

Abraham Booth on Holiness and Perseverance

Abraham Booth was a Particular Baptist pastor in London from 1769-1806 and a key evangelical leader in England. He was a respected pastor-theologian, a staunch advocate for foreign missions, a strong proponent of theological education, a firm defender of Baptist distinctives, and a fierce and vocal opponent of the slave trade. In Booth’s most famous book, The Reign of Grace, he offers a broadside against those who claim some conversion experience but do not value personal holiness and gospel humility. It remains a timely word more than two centuries after the book first appeared:

Are you a child of God and an heir of the kingdom? Endeavour, by a conscientious attendance on all the public means of grace, and by maintaining communion with your heavenly Father in every private duty, to make a swift progress in vital religion, and in real holiness; remembering, that holiness is the health, the beauty, and the glory of your immortal mind. Seek after it, therefore, as a divine privilege, and as a heavenly blessing.-Watch and pray against the insurrections of indwelling sin, the solicitations of worldly pleasure, and the assaults of Satan’s temptations. Watch, especially, against spiritual pride and carnal security. As to the former, rejoice not in your knowledge, or gifts, or inherent excellencies; no, nor yet in your Christian experiences. Be thankful for them, but put them not into the place of Christ, or the word of his grace; so as to make them the ground of your present confidence or the source of your future comfort. For so to do, is not to rely on the promise of God, and to live by faith in Jesus Christ; but to admire your own accomplishments, by which you differ from other men, and to live upon your own frames. The consequence of which most commonly is, either pharisaical pride, imagining ourselves to be better than others; or desponding fears, as if, when our frames are flat and our spirits languid, there were no salvation for us. The peace and comfort of such professors must be uncertain to the last degree.- But as a guilty, perishing sinner; as having no recommendation, nor any encouragement, to believe in Jesus or to look for salvation by him, but what is contained in the work of grace: depend upon him, live by him. The more you behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the more will you see of your own vileness. The more you grow in real holiness, the more sensible you will be of the power of your own corruptions, and of the imperfections attending all your duties. You will be more and more convinced, that if the gospel did not warrant your dependence on Christ, under the character of a sinner, you could not have hope, even after ever so long and zealous a profession of religion. You should live under a continual remembrance, that you are still an unworthy, a guilty, a damnable creature; but accepted in Christ, and freed from every curse. That will keep you truly humble, and provoke to self-abhorence; this will make you really happy, and excite to praise and duty.

Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace from Its Rise to Its Consummation, pp. 331-32.