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May 2017 Issue

Faith and Faithlessness in the Desert

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Question & Answer

If I understand and embrace the doctrine of election, does it stop me from praying for unsaved people?

Even for those who acknowledge election as a biblical doctrine, the concept might conjure pictures of a capricious or biased God. But rightly understood, election refers to an act of God in eternity, according to the good pleasure of His sovereign freedom, and on account of no foreseen merit in sinful people, whereby He chooses, in mercy, to save some individuals on the basis of the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The doctrine of election does underscore that some people are saved and some people will not be saved, and it has been a troubling and confusing teaching for some people.

The narrative of God bringing redemption to the world through Christ is a story about God’s choices to bring certain people into the line of promise. He selected Abraham from a family of idol worshipers; He chose Isaac rather than Ishmael; He loved Jacob and not Esau (see Gen. 21:12–13; Joshua 24:2; Mal. 1:2–3). Abraham experienced salvation because of God’s choice, while many in Abraham’s family did not experience salvation. Ishmael received blessing in this life in keeping with God’s promise to his mother, Hagar, to preserve his life, but he did not experience the salvation and gift of inheritance promised to Isaac. God’s love for Jacob placed Jacob in the line of promise, but Esau was not included in the promise of salvation.

From Jacob, God called out the twelve tribes of Israel, of whom He says: “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7–8). The Lord’s choice to redeem Israel for salvation out of all other nations is an intentional choice of God’s great love alone.

The apostle Paul draws on the Old Testament story of Israel in order to acquit God of accusations of injustice for choosing to save some in Israel rather than all in Israel (see Rom. 9:6–18). First, Paul indicates that God’s distinction of the children of promise from children of the flesh shows that His word has not failed toward Israel. God’s purpose in election is demonstrated because the “older” Esau serves the “younger” Jacob. Jacob will continue the line of promise of the covenant blessings given to Abraham and Isaac.

Second, Paul reveals that God’s freedom to give mercy as He wills, as in the case of Pharaoh, acquits Him of injustice in election. God owes no one mercy, for all people are sinners before Him; all are deserving of the wrath Pharaoh experienced. The gift of mercy is God’s free choice to withhold judgment from some rather than others. Without such mercy, not one person would experience salvation. Mercy is not a matter of justice or injustice.

God’s choice to save people in mercy invites rather than limits our prayers for unsaved people. Paul exhorted the church to pray for governing authorities: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3–4). We pray for the hope of salvation of lost persons through Christ the Redeemer.

If Christ died for all of our sins, past, present, and future, and we have accepted His death on the cross, what does 1 John 1:9 mean about confessing sins so that we will be forgiven?

Christ’s redemption of believers secures God’s forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 1:7). When Christ died on the cross in our place, as the propitiation for our sins—which means He satisfied the just need for payment as the penalty for sin demanded by a holy God—He took the judgment we deserved because of our sin against God (Rom. 3:23–25). The moment anyone believes the word of truth about Christ’s death and resurrection, the believer secures this forgiveness as part of one’s salvation (Rom. 10:9–10; Eph. 1:13). Forgiveness means that the debt we owe to God for our sins has been canceled, even as the king canceled the debt the servant owed to him in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:25–35). We are saved from the wrath of God that our sins have earned us (Rom. 5:9; 6:23).

Forgiveness removes the penalty due our sins. But forgiveness does not stop anyone from sinning. All sin strains the relationship between believers and our Father, and so we seek forgiveness in order to put right our relationship with God. That is, we are confessing that we have wronged Him with our disobedience, and we affirm that we desire to do what is pleasing to Him. Salvation is not lost by sin. But sin is something God hates. By confessing sin and seeking forgiveness, we say to God that we hate what He hates and love what He loves—and that we love Him.

By Eric C. Redmond, Assistant Professor of Bible

Eric C. Redmond serves as an assistant professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and as associate pastor of adult ministries at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Ill. He is married to Pam and they have five children. He is the author of Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Mens’ Questions about the Church (Crossway), a commentary on Jonah in the Christ-centered Exposition Series (B&H Publishers), and a study guide on Ephesians in the Knowing the Bible series (Crossway). He blogs at