Exposing my traditions
Acts 10:34-35 KJV Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Acts 10:34-35 NASB Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
Acts 10:34-35 NIV Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
Traditions are very strong and those most blinded by them are those who do not think they have any. When I first began to seriously evaluate what the Bible teaches about divine election, I have to say, certain texts surfaced in my mind which seemed to negate some of the other texts I was reading. When I saw texts that spoke clearly of God sovereignly and unconditionally electing an individual to salvation, texts such as the one above came to mind. If God shows no partiality or favoritism then quite obviously, I thought, God would have to show the same measure of grace to every person on planet earth, and then leave it up to the individual to make the choice of either rejecting or accepting the message of the Gospel. That seemed logical and so very much more acceptable to me than to believe that God just chose one person and not another for salvation (though God does in fact do this - 2 Thess. 2:12, 13), but it was something I have to admit that I believed for more than 20 years as a Christian. However, I kept coming up against the scriptures that quite clearly portray God showing mercy to whom He will and leaving others to encounter His justice (Romans 9 for example).
What did I do then? Well, for many years, I spoke of this being some great mystery (which it certainly is, of course) but yet looking back, I realized that I was embracing a view that was entirely inconsistent and in fact, contradictory.
I believed that Godâ€™s decision to elect an individual to salvation was conditional on His foresight of manâ€™s decision (known perfectly by God before the foundation of the world), yet I knew that this was a view Romans 9 clearly did not support. I knew that muchâ€¦ but I thought perhaps that Romans 9 was to be explained by 1 Peter 1:2 which speaks of being â€œchosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.â€
I went on my merry way, thinking that Romans 9 and Acts 10:34 taught seemingly opposite or contradictory things and it was something of a mystery that would be explained to us all in heaven. I think many people take the same view. I thought that one passage (Romans 9) taught that election was unconditional based upon Godâ€™s Sovereign choice to do what He wills, and the other (Acts 10:34) taught that God shows the same degree of mercy to all. Well, thatâ€™s what I thought, and to be honest, I found no reason to look further in to the matter for many years. Such is the power of tradition - at least my own.
Yet as I thought more and more about the issue, I realized that the biblical evidence pointed very strongly in the direction of election being unconditional, irresistible and completely sovereign. In light of this, I realized that I needed to do some serious thinking, prayer and meditation upon the scriptures. I needed to be entirely honest with myself about what I actually found in the text of scripture.
I decided to take another look at Acts 10:34. I have to admit doing this was very difficult for me. I have found that many are not willing to analyse a deeply held tradition â€“ such is our total depravity! I think it is difficult for anyone, in all honesty, to allow for a tradition to be held up to the light of scripture to see if it can stand up to scrutiny of further examination, and all the more in my case, when I knew I had taught my tradition publicly. Oh.. how it hurts manâ€™s ego and pride to even allow for the possibility of being.. well.. how can I say it?.. WRONG!
What I had to admit was that God does deal with different people in different ways. Though God is gracious to all, He is not equally gracious to all. Common grace is a reality; but so is the special grace He bestows on His elect in causing the glorious light of the Gospel to shine in their hearts (2 Cor 4:4-6). God revealed Himself to Abraham in a way He did not for Hamarabi; to the Jews, in a way He did not for the Hittites (God said to the people of Israel that they alone were known (chosen) by God amongst all the nations of the earth - Amos 3:2); Jesus appeared in a post resurrection appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus, and did not do the same for Pontius Pilate or Herod. When the Gospel went out from Jerusalem through the apostles, if it went north, it was not going southâ€¦ if it went east, it was not going westâ€¦ all this speaks of divine election and there is no way to get around thisâ€¦ believe me, I tried.
So, how did I eventually deal with Acts 10:34?
Well clearly, I needed to embrace it, for it is a scripture in the Bible, but I needed to rightly understand it. I thought it could only have one clear meaning (God shows the same measure of grace to all). However, I came to realise that there was another way to understand this verse that did not in any way contradict divine election, and that is the fact that God shows no favoritism at all in that He shows His mercy to all kinds of people - to every kind of person imaginable â€“ to Jews and to Gentiles, to the weak and the strong, the beautiful and the not so beautiful, to the rich and the poor, to the educated and the uneducated, to English people (thank God) and those from Peru, to Chinese people and those from deepest darkest Scotland! God is not a respector of persons, for in His unspeakable mercy, He redeems people from every tribe, language people group and nation (Revelation 5:9).
For further material concerning the question of whether Divine election is based upon God's foresight of what man will do - go here.