BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE: Article 5a: God's Purpose of Grace, Election
Aug 16, 2002
By Thomas Nettles

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--This article of the Baptist Faith and Message is a noble condensation of a beautiful biblical and historically Baptist doctrine. "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners."

    The four elements of salvation discussed in Article 4 of the BF&M arise from God's purpose of grace in election. Election pulsates with the infinite grace of God.

    Sinners, justly condemned and God's enemies, when left to themselves persevere in their hostile ways all the way to hell. In pursuance of his gracious purpose, however, God's particular love rests on certain ones to bring them to salvation (Ephesians 1:4, 5; 2:4, 5). "Whom he foreknew (that is 'loved beforehand'), he also predestined" (Romans 8:29).

    The confession rightly calls God's saving choice "gracious," for it operates for the good of sinners in spite of their infinite demerit. God's election cannot fail. He administers his decree all the way to the glorification of sinners and to the glory of his beloved Son.

    "Just as He chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." What more glorious end can be imagined than a predestination "to be conformed to the image of his Son?"

    Election does not contradict the "free agency of man." When a person acts, he acts freely -- or exactly as he is disposed to act. While dead in trespasses and sins, he is a slave to sin. Sin reigns in his mortal body, and he has no desire for righteousness.

    Regeneration by the Spirit of God shatters the shackles of sin and its tyrannical power by creating such distaste for sin that the sinner repents. The Spirit implants such a desire for righteousness that the sinner turns to Christ, by whose blood and righteousness sinners may justly be accepted.

    Thus, the elect person acts freely and in accord with a spiritual sight sovereignly induced by God's Spirit in accordance with God's electing purpose, when God's choice is manifest in the coming of the gospel with power. In this way, election "comprehends all means in connection with the end." (Eph 2:1-8; Rom 6:12, 18, 20; 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5).

    Election manifests God's "sovereign goodness" by displaying his mercy and his justice. Since election results in eternal praise to his glory (Eph 1:14), it is infinitely wise.

    Because election marks out the beloved Son as the only acceptable propitiation, it is infinitely holy. In that all those eternally given to the Son will come, while not one fails, it is unchangeable (John 6:37-40).

    Such a display of sovereign goodness humbles its recipient to the dust and absolutely excludes any synergy in this salvation, and renders boasting of any sort an utter nullity.

    F. H. Kerfoot, a Southern Baptist theologian and pastor at the turn of the 20th Century, highlighted this doctrine when he wrote, "Nearly all Baptists believe what are usually termed the 'doctrines of grace': the absolute sovereignty and foreknowledge of God; His eternal and unchangeable purposes or decrees; that salvation in its beginning, continuance and completion, is God's free gift; that, in Christ, we are elected or chosen, personally or individually, from eternity, saved and called out from the world, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; ... Read Rom 8, 9, 10, 11; Acts 13:48; Eph 1:4-5; 2:1-10; 1 Peter 1:2-5; Jude 24; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5."


    Nettles is a professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

    Visit The Baptist Faith and Message website. Full text of Article 5: God's Purpose of Grace

                      Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He
                      regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent
                      with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in
                      connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign
                      goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes
                      boasting and promotes humility.

                      All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted
                      in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the
                      state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into
                      sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit,
                      impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause
                      of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be
                      kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

                      Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-8; 1 Samuel 8:4-7,19-22; Isaiah
                      5:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31ff.; Matthew 16:18-19; 21:28-45; 24:22,31;
                      25:34; Luke 1:68-79; 2:29-32; 19:41-44; 24:44-48; John 1:12-14;
                      3:16; 5:24; 6:44-45,65; 10:27-29; 15:16; 17:6,12,17-18; Acts
                      20:32; Romans 5:9-10; 8:28-39; 10:12-15; 11:5-7,26-36; 1
                      Corinthians 1:1-2; 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:4-23; 2:1-10; 3:1-11;
                      Colossians 1:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:12;
                      2:10,19; Hebrews 11:39-12:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:2-5,13;
                      2:4-10; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:19; 3:2.