Theology is a razor. Used incorrectly, it will cut you deeper and swifter than any other tool known to man. It can produce heresies of the most grotesque forms, like what Paul confronts in Romans 6 “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace”. The person had followed Paul’s thought beautifully up to that point, their theology was right on, but if not understood and applied correctly, theology becomes a license to all sorts of devilry. But if used correctly it can open up the most hard and unpenitent areas in a human soul. So it is with the doctrine of Election. I feel this is one of the most under-represented doctrines in our church today and aids in giving rise to both of the ill-born-dynamics we see existing in the church; 1) legalism: the thought that what you do before and for God in some way counts as benefit to your ultimate salvation, and 2) licentiousness: the thought that you are free to act as you please so long as you stay within “certain guidelines” and stray not ‘too far’. 3) The other area that I believe the doctrine of Election applies to is the current strategy in consumer-driven cultures, namely American, of “Marketing” Jesus. I believe this doctrine has very real and dramatic notions to dispel from our thinking about our mode of reaching the lost for Christ’s sake.
Before I endeavor to show why this doctrine of Election is so detrimental to the health of believers and Christ’s church, i want to make an observation about licentiousness. Many believers who are licentious do not live a life of total and complete debauchery and lawlessness. Contrary, most are quite reserved and calculated about their license to sin. Few Christians operate under the paradigm represented above in Romans 6, that is, sinning so that grace may increase. I honestly have never met a Christian with that mentality. If I did, I would be more pleased them than with most Christians today. I say this because a person who lives sinfully so that grace may increase understands a dynamic of grace that most believers are totally blinded to (which is one reason why I am writing about Election, to bring this to our minds), that is, that God’s grace extends over every single one of our actions, thoughts, deeds, motives, and so on. This person understands that dynamic of God’s grace that He gives it so graciously and quite literally, lavishes it on wicked, wretched sinners. They understand that God’s grace, that is, that of holding back his tremendous wrath and allowing such a pitiful, putrid creature to endure contorting the glory of God, is applied all the more to them after each and every sin they commit. So, we see, God’s grace abounding more and more to such a sinner who is attempting to increase grace. We should all learn from this thought and remember that wonderful greatness of God’s grace and how it alone leads us to salvation. The error in this thinking is quite obvious: they see not grace for what it is and that it saves them from the very thing they are doing that murders their own life.
But we are not faced with that kind of person, if you have seen otherwise, inform me so I may update my opinions. The kind of person we are confronted with, or that we are ourselves, is that of a specific license. We spend many hours justifying and calculating our sin that we love dearly so long as we stay within “certain guidelines”. I want to bring to mind the old naive thought-line of “How far is too far”. We are far too concerned with getting in our jollies then avoiding those things that have the ability of sending our souls into Hell – just examine what Jesus says in Matthew 18:7-9 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptations come! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” Surely Jesus isn’t talking about a simple sex scenes in a movie is he? I mean what harm comes from literally watching two people have sex? But even our mind in this is calculated – “I don’t do those things and I don’t approve of them”. But you sit and watch and pay money to those who deal out trash for business. You may not do them, but surely your sitting and paying is enough support in itself. “I don’t approve or support the homosexual agenda but I want to see the movie or broadway show “Rent” because of its acclaim and vivid portrayal of what homosexual people endure”. Much of our license is not blatant “courageous sinning” (if I may steal Martin Luther’s term), it is much more deviant and thoughtful. It is a mentality of “So long as I am not…”. The attitude is of willful ignorance. There is no effort to seek out what the Lord would have them do but instead to satisfy their own desires. This is why I would rather have a person who sins to increase grace – at least they are honest and open about their sin; than one who thinks he abides by grace but instead calls his deeds “restrained” when the main thing on his mind is his own satisfaction. This person has forgotten grace and the newness of life (Romans 6:4) the Savior who has called them to.
Many of us may find ourselves in this position. Or we may find our hearts nearer to the legalist. I believe a correct and hearty understanding of the doctrine of God’s predestining work of Election will help to alter and transform such erroneous thinking. It is not alone in its aid to changing these attitudes and heart motives, but Election is a building block to help a person stand more firmly on the work of God in their lives in their fight against sin and pursuit of seeing God.