Domingo, 03 de Março de 2024
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If I am already saved, why live in holiness?

Because a text I wrote some weeks ago, a reader sent me the following message:

Dear Pastor Marcos:

I would like to say I agree with what you wrote last week, but my doubts are different.

In view of unconditional election, what is the key point so that the believer’s love for God does not grow cold or so that he does not abandon good works for knowing he is an elect? Furthermore, why would he feel responsible to evangelize if God has already chosen the elect who will fatally be saved? Should I pray for God to save others? Is it worth praying for this when God has already elected just some? Since we are elected, is communion necessary?

My doubts remain on these issues once it seems the doctrine of election keeps believers with hands tied. It does not matter what I do, God has his elected ones either for his love or for his anger.

Brother Y


I know that brother Y’s questions are very common. Therefore, I hereby publish the response to him as well.

Dear brother Y:

Thank you for being brave enough to raise these issues. You have no idea how exactly these questions bother believers who learn the doctrine of unconditional election. In fact, Arminians often ask them in order to attack such doctrine, naively believing that they are a "checkmate" to the biblical theology of God's sovereignty in salvation. Beforehand, however, let me reassure you. These questions are not a checkmate. As you will see, they are just harmless moves of a pawn in the hands of a chess apprentice. First things first.

The depiction of someone who is born again by faith in Christ and goes through life without love for God, without good works and without concern for a holy life is an invention. This being does not exist. I will explain why.

Please note: to Arminianism, saving faith is just a human decision, something from natural origin that comes from one's mind, such as deciding to take a course in Spanish or the option to believe stories told by our grandparents. For them, saving faith is something ours - a human, natural and, sometimes, fleeting reaction.

According to the Bible, however, saving faith is not so. It is a holy, supernatural and transforming faith, whose source is God, so that he is the one who gives it to his elect (John 6.37,44,65; Eph 2.8; Philippians 1:29; Hb12.2). In fact, it would be a joke to believe that the depraved and deceitful human heart would be able to generate such a faith (Jer 17.9). That would be the same as believing that a pit would produce orchids or a slug give birth to a cherub. Nonsense!

Well, this holy faith, according to the Bible, is not only holy. It is also sanctifying. This means that it is dynamic and active, working the lives of those who received it and producing changes in that person's life. A teacher of mine said that men are saved by faith only, but faith only is not faith alone. It is accompanied by cleansing power. Thus, the individual who has this supernatural faith is transformed into a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), his guilt before God disappears (Rom 5.1; 8.1), the love of God is poured into his heart (Rom 5.5), the Spirit’s orientation (a new attraction and predisposition for the holy things) is experienced by him (Rom 8.5), the domain of flesh on him begins to weaken (Rom 6.6; CI 3.9-10), a work of spiritual improvement takes place in the life of that individual (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1.6), the special illumination of the Holy Spirit will operate in his mind, causing him to accept things he saw as absurd before (1 Cor 2.14-15). In short, that faith changes everything, leaving no room for the possibility you raised of a believer with hands tied for the good works; someone who spends their life in the pigsty of the world, not caring for anything and thinking, "I am already elected (oink!)."

You must be thinking, "Hey, wait a minute! The Bible speaks of carnal believers! Pastor, have you forgotten about the Corinthian church? There were immoral people, quarrelsome people and even people who got drunk at supper at that church! What then? Where is the sanctifying work of faith in these believers?".

Ooops! Good question! In fact, Corinthians were trouble! And it is no use trying to escape the problem by saying that they were not true christians because they were. Paul even goes on to say that they were sanctified! (1 Cor 1.2). How, then, to harmonize the sanctifying faith with the reality of believers like that?

Brother Y, something very evident in the New Testament is that saving faith does not guarantee the absence of temporary periods of weakness. Saving faith acts gradually in people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1.6). It does not eradicate at once the sinful nature of the believer, or guarantee that he will not fall into temptation. However, in spite of all this, it still operate, preventing the person from displeasing God for a time without end. Do you know how long the carnality of the Corinthians took? It lasted about three years (maybe less). During this time Paul wrote three letters to them (two of them we no longer have today) and sent two messengers to admonish them (Timothy and Titus). So the Corinthians repented and Paul wrote them a fourth (our 2 Corinthians) praising their attitude (2 Corinthians 7.9-11).

See? Saving faith is always active even though it does not transform someone immediately. The Spirit who dwells in someone who has such faith works in their heart, bothering them. Then that individual repents soon and continues their normal Christian life. Thus, the figure of the chosen in the Lord who thinks "As I am elected, I will leave God behind, abandon my brothers and live on a binge" and spends his whole life this way is a myth. By the way, do not believe the conversion of people who are far from church and from God for ten, twenty or thirty years. The true believer has a living faith (other than the dead faith mentioned by James). And such faith produces fruit of holiness, love and purity (Mt 13:23). If at some point, it all seems to disappear in the true believer, this phase will last just as the Author of faith is also its Perfector (Hb 12.2) and he will make that faith bring fruit forth again very quickly, as it did in Corinth.

I think I will be able to finish answering your questions today. As I noted in your message, you also have doubts about the need for evangelism (or even prayer for conversion) in case the doctrine of election is upheld.

Once again, I must say you are not alone regarding these questions. You may remain sure that many people are anxiously awaiting an answer so they can tidy up their set of theological convictions.

Well, regarding evangelism, you may be surprised, but throughout the history of Christian church, the doctrine of election has been a major stimulus to the preaching of the gospel. Calvin himself, great representative of such doctrine, held an intensive work of spreading the gospel through literature in Geneva. He also kept an academy for training pastors, aiming at preparing preachers of faith. Geneva, to Calvin's time, was perhaps the greatest missionary center of the world. John Calvin even sent ministers to Brazil! They were the first Protestants to arrive here.

Note the life of the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen: George Whitefield. He fiercely believed in the doctrine of unconditional election and, encouraged by it, surpassed Charles Wesley in his evangelistic thrust, on the advice of Martin Lloyd-Jones. Whitefield is not as well known today just because, unlike Wesley, he never founded a movement (Wesley founded Methodism). Also consider the greatest preacher who ever lived: Charles Spurgeon. He strongly believed in the doctrine of election and therefore preached powerful evangelistic sermons, knowing that the elect would attend to his message.

Now, think a little bit about Brazil. I`ve just said that the first pastors who came here were sent by John Calvin, the great exponent of the doctrine of election. But there's more: did you know that the first Brazilian indigenous church arose in the 17th century thanks to the missionary efforts of the Dutch Reformed Church, classical exponent of the doctrine of election? Did you know that John Ferreria de Almeida, the man who translated the Bible into our language in order to reach the Portuguese-speaking people, was a reformed minister, that is, held and taught the doctrine of election? All this shows that, for some reason, the acceptance of this doctrine does not inhibit evangelism or missionary activity. Instead, holy election encourages such practices.

You must be thinking, "Okay, but how?". The answer to this is, in part, in the book of Acts. There are other passages, but I think the one in Acts is the most clear and direct. I have in mind the episode in which Paul is in Corinth, feeling a little scared with the city environment and the opposition arising there (Acts 18). Then, at some point in the narrative, the Lord encourages the missionary work of the apostle telling him: "Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee: for I have much people in this city”. (Acts 18.9,10).

See what happens here: God says he had much people in Corinth. Those were the elected who had not heard the gospel yet. Then the Lord encourages Paul mentioning this fact. It is as if He said: "Paul, do not be discouraged in your missionary work and continue to preach, for mine elect are many here." Thus, the election, according to the Bible, stimulated evangelism, serving as a kind of guarantee to the preacher that, sooner or later, his message would be upheld, as the Lord had many elected scattered here who would inevitably attend to the word of Christ (in this sense, see especially John 10:16).

Remember, Paul called the saving faith of "faith of the God’s elect" (Titus 1.1). Therefore, this faith will be certainly welcomed by those whom God has chosen for his grace, making a major stimulus to the preaching.

You must be thinking, "But why preaching, then? If  there were elected people in Corinth, wouldn’t they believe anyway? ". Answer: the doctrine of the sovereignty of God teaches that the Lord has not only chosen WHO will be saved (the elect), but also HOW they will be saved. This HOW is described in 1 Corinthians 1:21: "it pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe”. Thus, God reaches those whom he chose only through evangelism - a task that is given to the church.

And from combining it all, we are left with both the "weight" and the "stimulus" to preach the gospel. Knowing that God saves by hearing, we assume the weight. Knowing that God has His elect, we receive encouragement and move on.

Well, you also asked about praying for people’s salvation saying that, if God has decreed everything, prayer is something useless. All right! I understand your thinking’s logics. The problem is that such logics do not apply to biblical teachings. In fact, the Bible logics is the opposite, as men of God pray for Him to do exactly what he decreed! In other words, the decree encourages prayer! Let me illustrate to make it clear: David prayed that God settled his throne. He did that as soon as God revealed his purpose to establish his throne! Daniel prayed for Israel when the exile reached 70 years, even though God had decreed that the exile would last 70 years. Finally, John, when getting to know God's plan regarding the return of Christ, prayed pleading: "Come, Lord Jesus!".

You see, human logics do not fit much biblical piety. In the Scriptures, the men of God pray for the fulfillment of decrees, even though the decrees will be fulfilled! The fact is, it seems God wants us to pray even though he decreed all things so that we become participants in the realization of his plans in the wonderful history of salvation as it unfolds before our eyes. And so, by praying, we actively participate in the redemption of people who were elected and did not know until now, pleading with tears for whom the Lord knew, loved and chose long before now.

Fraternal embrace,

Pr. Marcos Granconato

Soli Deo Gloria

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