Suffering for the Gospel and the Certainty of the Salvation of the Elect (Bruce Ware)

In the May issue of Credo Magazine Bruce Ware contributed an articled called, “Suffering for the Gospel and the Salvation of the Elect: Reflections on 2 Timothy 2:8-10.” Bruce Ware is professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ware has co-edited with Thomas Schreiner Still Sovereign. He also has authored God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism; God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. Previously, Credo Magazine featured 10 Questions with Bruce Ware where he talked about his family, theology, and the future of evangelicalism.

Here is the introduction to Ware’s article in the most recent issue of Credo magazine:

Is it true, as some claim, that if God has chosen some to be saved, and because the electing God is fully sovereign they cannot fail to be saved, that evangelism and missions, then, are rendered superfluous, unnecessary, and devoid of all purpose and meaning?  After all, they reason, if the elect must be saved, and if the non-elect cannot be saved, then there is no point to evangelism.

What this line of reasoning fails to comprehend is this:  while God has ordained the ends of the certain salvation of the elect, he also has ordained, by his grace and kindness, the means that are necessary in accomplishing these ends — means that involve the preaching of the gospel to the ends of the earth, even at the cost of opposition and affliction, so that the elect who must be saved, will be saved only as they hear the gospel, turn from their sin, and believe in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins and their only hope for eternal life.

Is this not the conviction held by the Apostle Paul as intimated in 2 Timothy 2:8-10? He writes:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”

Notice with me two observations from this text. First, in vv. 8-9 Paul suffers hardships as the expression of his commitment that the gospel must be known for people to be saved.  In other words, Paul is committed to spreading the gospel, so committed that he even faces and endures the hardships that come in order to persevere in the spread of the gospel.  Why?  The answer surely is this:  Paul believes that the gospel must be known for people to be saved, and because of this he accepts even these hardships in light of the necessity of the spread of the gospel.  We hear in this text, then, an echo of Paul’s logic and conviction from Romans 10:13-15:  “For ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’”

Second, in v. 10 Paul suffers hardships as the expression of his commitment particularly that the elect must hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved.  Paul knows that God has elected certain people to be saved, and he knows that they cannot fail to be saved.  Recall but one text here:  Ephesians 1:4, “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”  God elects his own before he has yet created the world, and the salvation of the elect is certain — He will make them holy and blameless before Him.  So yes, Paul knows that God has elected certain people to be saved, and he knows that they cannot fail to be saved.  Yet, he also knows that they are not saved until they hear and believe the gospel.  Did you notice the “so that” in v. 10?  Paul says that he endures all these hardships for the sake of the elect, “so that” (i.e., hina in Greek, for this purpose) they may obtain their salvation in Christ.  Only when the elect hear and believe will that for which they have been elected actually take place.  Therefore, in a particular sense, Paul’s suffering in the spread of the gospel has this goal in view — that among those who hear the gospel, those who have been chosen by God to be saved will hear the good news of the gospel, and upon hearing, they will believe and be saved.

Putting these two observations together, we summarize as follows:  Paul’s confidence in his spreading of the gospel, even through hardships, is found, then, in this dual conviction:  (1) that people are only saved when they hear and believe the gospel, and (2) when the elect hear the gospel, they will in fact obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.  More simply, Paul’s dual conviction is this:  (1) people must hear the gospel to be saved, and (2) when the elect hear the gospel (but only when they hear the gospel) they will be saved.

For Paul, then, there is no conflict between the doctrine of election and the necessity of proclaiming the gospel.  Even though the elect cannot fail to be saved, yet God has designed that the spread of the gospel is the God-ordained means by which these elect are in fact saved.  As Paul states his conviction in another place, he says, “But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13).

In a sermon he preached on 2 Timothy 2:10 (“For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory”), Calvin comments as follows:

[One might imagine] that it is superfluous that Paul should ‘endure for the elect.’ ‘Cannot God save those whom he elected and adopted before the creation of the world, without the assistance of men? Has the immutable decree of God any need of human help, or of creatures? Why then does Paul say that he endures on account of the elect?’ Now, it is true that God will transport his people to the inheritance which is prepared for them; but yet he is pleased to make use of the labor of men. Not that he is under an obligation of borrowing anything from us, but he confers on us this honor by his undeserved goodness, and wishes that we should be instruments of his power. Thus Paul does not boast that the salvation of the children of God depends on his steadfastness or on the afflictions which he had to endure; but he only means that God wishes to save his people by means of the word, and that he employs men whom he has chosen for that purpose, as for his own work, and makes them instruments of the power of his Holy Spirit. — John Calvin, Sermons on the two Epistles to Timothy.

Read the rest today!

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Chosen by Grace

The biblical doctrine of election is offensive. It collides with our demand for human autonomy. It removes our will from the throne. And it exposes our nakedness, revealing us to be the sinners that we truly are, undeserving of divine grace and mercy. But when our eyes are opened to its glory, we begin to see that the doctrine of election leads us to worship, praise, and give thanks to our Sovereign Lord. We recognize that we, as sinners, deserve nothing less than eternal condemnation. And yet, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world! In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, not on the basis of anything we have done, but purely according to the purpose of his will (Eph 1:3-5). It is this doctrine of election that Paul says is to lead us to praise the glorious grace of God (Eph 1:6). Therefore, the title of this May’s issue of Credo Magazine is “Chosen by Grace.” Contributors include: Timothy George, Paul Helm, Matthew Barrett, Bruce Ware, Fred Zaspel, Greg Gilbert, Thomas Nettles, R. Scott Clark, David Murray, Thomas Schreiner, Graham Cole, Greg Forster, and many others.

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