Illumination and the Doctrine of Election

       If you’ve believed in Jesus for salvation, then you are among the elect.  In order for a person to be saved, he must believe in Jesus as the Savior (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This, of course, is the Jesus of Scripture, for no other Jesus will do. From the human side of salvation, faith in Jesus is the necessary response to God’s call, and no one can be saved any other way (John 14:6; Acts 16:31).  Salvation is a gift from God, and it’s only with the empty hands of faith that we receive it. I say “empty hands” because we give nothing in exchange for it, but receive it as those who are spiritually bankrupt (Eph. 2:1-3), extending our hands of faith to accept God’s wonderful gift of eternal life.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it [salvation by grace through faith] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

       The good news about Jesus as the Savior is found only in the revelation of Scripture (John 3:16; Rom. 10:13-15; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Once the gospel is communicated, God is responsible to illumine the mind of His elect to understand and respond favorably to it, with the result that they will believe in Jesus as their Savior. As a medium of communication, God may use the Scriptures themselves, or He may use another person, a gospel tract, a radio show, or any means He thinks accurately communicates gospel truth. However, gospel truth itself, no matter how perfectly stated, will never lead an unbeliever to salvation if God does not illumine the mind to understand it. This was true for many who personally met Jesus but were never saved. I suspect Jesus met tens of thousands of people during His time of ministry, and yet only a small percentage were saved. As the God-Man, Jesus spoke and acted perfectly in every situation. His perfect words and actions did not persuade everyone to believe in Him as Savior. Why? Did Jesus fail to communicate clearly? Did He fail to show mercy, or grace, or righteousness?  Did He fail to “love them into the kingdom?” Could He have said or done something better so that more people might have been saved? No! He is the God-man, and He made no mistakes. Most rejected Him as Savior in His day, and most reject Him today. There’s nothing wrong with Jesus or His message, it’s the human heart that’s corrupt (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 1:18-21). If God does not reveal Christ to the unbeliever, then no amount of argumentation, no matter how well stated, will lead even one sinner into heaven. We might as well preach to a rock. As an example of divine illumination, we have Peter’s confession about Jesus:

Matthew 16:13-17 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

       Peter came to know the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not because he personally investigated the matter and came to a logical conclusion; but rather, because God the Father chose to reveal it to him. It’s no different today. Men come to know and accept Jesus not because of eloquent argumentation, but because God opens their heart to know the truth. Another example of divine illumination can be found in the book of Acts where Paul was preaching to a group of women, and one woman in particular “named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Here was a group of women, all hearing Paul speak the same message, yet Luke tells us that only one of them responded to “the things spoken by Paul,” because “the Lord opened her heart” to understand his words.

        In another place Jesus stated that “no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). God determines who will be saved, and only the elect will be illumined to God’s saving truth. This is troubling to some, because it strips them of any power to save themselves or others. Salvation is not what we do for God, but what He has done for us through the work of Christ. Salvation is appropriated only to those who believe, and a person believes because God has illumined his mind to the gospel. That God has elected some to salvation is the teaching of Scripture:

John 1:11-13 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 6:65-66 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.

John 10:27-28 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

       As Christians, I think we ought always to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s work in unbelievers, knowing that when God calls His elect to salvation, He may use us to share the gospel news. God has not only secured salvation in the person of Christ, but the method by which it is received (Rom. 10:11-15), and He will make sure His elect hear the gospel clearly. No clever argumentation or persuasive rhetoric is needed when witnessing to God’s elect, for they will hear the truth and respond with faith in Christ as God opens their hearts to the gospel. As believers, we are to know the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and be ready to share it at any moment as God gives us opportunity. We do not have to force the opportunity, but simply be ready when it comes; and then we are to be clear in our speech, knowing that God is working in the hearts of His elect.  To be saved, an unbeliever must know and believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4; cf. Rom. 10:11-15).  If you’ve believed in Jesus for salvation, then you are among the elect. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. The Doctrine of Predestination 
  3. The Work of the Holy Spirit 
  4. Essentials of the Christian Faith

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, conservative, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas. Steven’s ministry activity is entirely voluntary (articles, blogs, podcasts, and video lessons), as he works a full time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency that helps the elderly and disabled in the community.
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4 Responses to Illumination and the Doctrine of Election

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