Here are some thoughts on our true freedom in Christ. In his book, Divine Election, Berkouwer places great emphasis on the love of God as the eternal source of salvation. He emphasizes that, in salvation, all the glory belongs to God and not to ourselves.
‘ … in Scripture the election of God … does not come out of works but out of grace’ (p. 51).
‘God’s electing plan prepares the way of salvation in which man learns that salvation is obtained only as a divine gift and never as an acquisition because of good works’ (p.68).
‘ … salvation … has its eternal foundation in the love of God’ (p.168).
‘ … election … is not of works but of Him who called’ (p. 217).
‘God’s election is sovereign and gracious, and hence not based on any human quality’ (p. 308).
In his exposition of the doctrine of divine election, Berkouwer’s goal is to direct our attention to ‘the deep, unfathomable source of salvation in Jesus Christ’ (p.172). Emphasizing that ‘salvation … has its eternal foundation in the love of God’ (p.168), he suggests a way in which we might understand Paul’s use of the phrases, ‘before the foundation of the world’ and ‘God’s good pleasure’ (Ephesians 1:4, 5-9).
‘Before the foundation of the world’
‘ … “Before” indicates that this divine act of salvation, preached to us by the gospel, is free from what we know in the world to be arbitrary and precarious … in this depth-aspect of God’s salvation it becomes … evident that this salvation did not originate in our flesh and blood, and that is by no means of human merit or creation … “Before the foundation of the world” means to direct our attention to what can be called the opposite of chance and contingence’ (pp. 150-151).
‘God’s good pleasure’
In seeking to understand this phrase which is used in the Authorized Version, Berkouwer insists that ‘This pleasure does not stand in contrast to the historical gospel’ (p.51). In his article on ‘G C Berkouwer’ in Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology (edited by P E Hughes), L B Smedes comments:
‘the “good pleasure of God” is His gracious purpose to save’: Christ is the revelation of His “good pleasure”‘ (p. 77, n. 32).
Berkouwer’s concept of the depth-aspect of salvation may be viewed as a serious attempt to understand the complex problem of the relation of human language to divine revelation. In seeking to understand the divine revelation through which sinners receive divine grace, he takes account of three important factors :
(a) divine revelation comes to us in the form of human language;
(b) the inadequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine
revelation demands that due care be taken in the interpretation
of Scripture;
(c) the inadequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine
revelation demands an avoidance of undue dogmatism regarding the precise meaning of Scripture.
This approach to the doctrine of election is summed up in these words of caution: ‘he who speaks of God’s counsel in terms of human categories will have to be aware of the inadequacy of his words’ (p. 152).
By highlighting salvation’s depth-dimension, Berkouwer is seeking to understand divine election ‘in the light of the full context of the gospel message’ (p. 21). He insists that a proper understanding of theological language involves the recognition of the inexpressible character of the salvation we receive through faith in Christ – God’s ‘inexpressible gift’ (2 Corinthians 9: 15, RSV). God’s ‘out of this world’ salvation has reached us, bringing us into a new relationship with Him. We have been saved by grace. We worship God as those whom He has drawn near to Himself. All of the glory belongs to God and not to ourselves – ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy Name give glory … ‘ (Psalm 115:1). We look at our experience of coming to faith in our Saviour,Jesus Christ and we say, ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes’ (Psalm 118:23). By grace, Christ has come to us in the Gospel. By grace, we have been drawn to Christ through the Gospel.
Within this context, the language of predestination is to be understood as a form of expression by which the believer confesses his faith in Christ. When the believer seeks to express his gratitude to God for His inexpressible gift, he finds it quite impossible to give adequate expression to this gratitude which he feels so deeply. He is almost certain to use language which, at best, will contain certain ambiguities and, at worst, misleading impressions if his language is not recognized as a groping after a form of expression that is worthy of a virtually inexpressible Reality.
When we acknowledge that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways, we are not simply saying that He is divine and we are human. We are speaking out of a profound appreciation that He has graciously come to us with His wonderful words of salvation:
‘Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon’ (Isaiah 55:6-9).
Out of thanksgiving for what the eternal Son of God has done for us – ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15) – we use words given to us by God Himself to make confession of our faith. ‘Before the foundation of the world’ – such words take us ‘out of our comfort zone’ but they do not take us away from the comfort which we find in the gracious words of our Saviour – ‘Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). We are out of our depth, but we know that we are loved with ‘the deep, deep love of Jesus’. We are ‘loved with everlasting love’. We have been ‘led by grace, that love to know.’

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