In this episode of TGC Q&A, we conclude the five-week series “Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity” with Josh Butler, who answers two questions regarding predestination and salvation.
- Shifting from a mechanical vision to a romantic vision of predestination and election (0:00)
- A paradigm shift from country club to war-zone medics (3:45)
- We are elected to a redemptive community (6:40)
- How do I know I’m saved? (8:20)
- Final encouragement—keep asking questions (11:15)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of election.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Narrator: You’re listening to TGC Q&A, a podcast from The Gospel Coalition. And this is a new series called Gen Z’s Questions about Christianity. In this five week series, we’ll focus on some of the toughest and most common questions the younger generation has about Christianity. How can we winsomely respond to the issues that are driving young people away from the faith. On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Josh Butler again as he answers to important questions on predestination and salvation. Josh is the Pastor of Teaching and Direction at Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona, and his passion is to help others who wrestle with tough topics of the Christian faith. We’ll start with the first question. What’s the point of evangelism if God has already predetermined and elected who will be saved?
Josh Butler: That is a great question. I know I’ve encountered that question a number of times and while it’s a great question I’d suggest that it’s often rooted in some popular misunderstandings of actually what’s happening in predestination and election. I’d like to offer a few shifts, paradigm shifts, that I’ve found from a caricature to a healthier biblical vision that I think address the question on the way implicitly. The first shift is what would I call shifting from a mechanical vision to a romantic vision. What I mean by that, by a mechanical vision, I think of being in college and I had this class, it was a world religions course, and the professor was not a Christian. I was a new Christian, and the professor though, he explained, he’s like, “Hey, so there are some Christians who believe that we’re all puppets pulled around on strings from above or pre-programmed robots.”
And he’s talking about predestination and the assumption there, and this is the caricature, the assumption is that we’re controlled from the outside in, that predestination means that you think of the puppet on strings, it’s like we’re being controlled from above or pre-programmed robots, we’re being controlled from the past. But a healthy, biblical understanding is not so much that we’re controlled from the outside in as that we are controlled from the inside out. We are driven by what we love. We are creatures of the heart driven by our desires, by our affections, by the things that our hearts are most captivated by. If you think of an example, let’s say you’ve got a vulture and it’s in a room and you put before the vulture, maybe on one side, you put a plate with some lettuce, a head of lettuce, and on the other side, you put a plate with a hunk of raw meat. Which one is the vulture going to go to? And we all know it’s going to go to the raw meat.
And it’s not because there’s necessarily something on the outside in constraining it, but because from the inside out, that’s just what the vulture wants. That’s its nature. It’s going to be drawn towards that thing because of who it is. And, similarly, it’s a healthy vision, the romantic vision, so to speak, is going, we are creatures of the heart driven by our heart. And what this means for the Gospel is that it’s not so much God controlling our behavior as it is our hearts being captivated by the beauty and the glory of God by the holy splendor and majesty of who Christ is, that actually we want him more than anything. And how this relates to the question is, when your heart is captivated by someone, you want to tell the world about them. If this is actually about our affections being drawn in adoration and devotion to the majesty of who Jesus is, that leads to mission. It doesn’t contradict it. It actually leads to it, because you want to lift him up and tell the whole world and share about, “Oh my gosh, look how great and awesome and glorious Jesus is.”
So the second shift, I’d suggest, second paradigm shift would be from what I call from country club to war zone medics. What I mean by a country club is I think that there can be this caricature of election where it’s like, what you’re elected into is the country club, the gated community that keeps the riff raff out and you get all the privileges and perks and the good life, everything inside, but you don’t have to deal with the suffering and mess of the world. And I’d suggest that the Gospel actually moves in the other direction. Now, there is privilege. There’s something amazing to being a child of God and the nuance of God’s spirit and all, but all that takes place on mission as God’s people, almost like those medics in a war zone entering into a suffering and broken world. And so we see throughout the biblical story, the election takes place, God elects Israel, God elects the church, and he elects them to bear his redemptive presence in a suffering world that we’re actually elected to join God’s mission into.
It’s a vocation to love and serve and live a different life in a hostile and fractured and war torn world. And so when you think about election, I like to say an elected official, well, what are they elected to? They’re elected to a vocation to actually serve the flourishing society. And suddenly when God elects us, it’s not just to the country club. Again, God elects us. There is a dignity to the office [inaudible], but there’s also a vocation that comes with it. And so there is a dignity to God’s people that God has given us with this calling, but there’s a vocation to it too, which is to say we’re to be like those medics in the war zone who are laying down our lives like Jesus did for us to bear out his redemptive presence in the midst of a hostile world. I think of in the Old Testament where in Isaiah 49 verse six, God calls Israel and he calls them to be a light to the nations.
God calls the church, and in second Corinthians 4:7, Paul describes the church as, “We have this treasure in jars of clay and even though we’re perplexed. We’re struck down, but not destroyed. We’re afflicted and yet God’s presence is still with us holding us together.” And if you think ultimately, Jesus himself, Jesus is the ultimate, the elect of God, but what did that mean? Yes, his office, and yet Jesus was elected by God to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. And so Jesus was the ultimate medic in the war zone. His election meant that he became that medic to heal and care for us and to restore us when we’d been battered apart in a fallen world. How that relates to mission again too would just be that we join Jesus and it’s not if election and why mission, it’s no, you’re elected to mission. We’re elected to join Jesus in his mission like those medics in the war zone.
The third and final paradigm shift here, I’d suggest, is from what I call from names in a hat to a redemptive community. And by names in a hat, I mean, I think some people have the image that God’s just picking out names in a hat. It’s a very individualistic image like God’s just getting isolated, lone individuals. What we see rather in Scripture is that God is calling, electing a redemptive community, Israel in the Old Testament, the church and the New Testament. And when God elects them, yes, there are individuals. Think of, say, Abraham, Moses, David are elected and called by God. And yet when God calls these individuals, he calls them for the sake of the redemptive community. So Abraham is elected to be the forefather of this nation. Moses is elected to be the liberator and law-giver for God’s people. David is elected to be the King of Israel and the lineage through which the Messiah is going to come.
And so while God does call, elect persons in all, he calls them for the sake of this redemptive community, which means that, again, as it relates to mission, yes, it’s personal [inaudible], and yet it personally integrates us into God’s people in this community. So, in sum, if election why mission, I’d say it’s actually the opposite. It’s election for mission or election to mission, that why mission, what you’re elected to is a community who’s on mission with hearts captivated by the glory of Jesus wanting to lift him up and exalt him and bring him splendor. And so election actually generates mission rather than pushes against it.
Narrator: The second question Josh answers is, how can I know for sure I am saved?
Josh Butler: One of the temptations is to try and to answer that by looking to surface external things I’ve done. So some people might go, “Well, hey, it’s because I prayed the prayer,” or others it’s, “Because I spent this much time serving the homeless at the soup kitchen,” or someone else might go, “It’s because I signed this doctrinal statement that [inaudible] these beliefs.” But if we go back again to what we were saying earlier, that at the root of it, the heart of the issue is the issue of the heart, that actually it’s about our hearts captivated by the glory of Jesus. Then I’d give two questions I’d want to ask that I think can help us really have that assurance. The first is just simply, do you want Jesus? Do you want Jesus? Because, if you want him, that’s the heart of it.
I love in John 10, in John 10 verse 26, or is it 28? But Jesus is talking about himself as the good shepherd in John 10. And he says, “For those who want a sheep, those who want me, those who hear my voice and they recognize my voice, they’re going, ‘We want Jesus'” he says, “Nothing, no one will snatch them out of my hand.” If you want Jesus, there is nothing, no one, no amount of things you’ve done, no amount of [inaudible] can do to you, no amounts of death or principalities or powers.” Paul says in Romans Eight, “Neither life nor death nor principalities or powers, anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So my first question would just be, do you want Jesus? Because if you do, man, that’s it. He’s got you. The second question is related to that and I’d say, are you growing in the way of love? Are you growing in God’s love?
I love in First John chapter four, John makes this connection in verse 16, here he says, “God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment because it as he is so also are we in this world.” And what John is saying is, man, God’s love, and if we’re following God, if we love God then we’ll be growing in the love of God. It’s a process. It’s over time. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect overnight, call it sanctification. It doesn’t happen overnight, but are we growing in the way of love? Are we growing in the way of holiness and love of God. love of others over time? John says that’s actually a sign that we can have confidence on the day of judgment because we love God and God’s love is working its way throughout our lives.
So love Jesus, grow in the way of love, and if you do, the Gospel’s going, “Man, Jesus has got you. There’s nothing that can snatch you away from his hand. There’s nothing that could pull you apart. His love for you is even stronger than your love for him and there’s nothing that can get in the way of that.”
Narrator: To close out this episode and the series, Josh offers a final encouragement.
Josh Butler: As questions come up, keep pressing into it. I know in my life there have been seasons where questions that friends would have for me or that I would have that I’d be wrestling with, and I have found the deepest treasures have come out of some of the hardest places. And that includes some of the hard questions where, honestly, I think there were times in the past where I thought it’s either got to be this or this, but the process of wrestling the Holy Spirit and God actually changed things. I had actually seeing the Gospel again through fresh eyes from different angles and there’s a reward on the other side of the wrestling, so to speak. There’s a beauty of the depths of the Gospel that I believe will come through when we actually wrestle with it rather than use it as an excuse to throw in the towel, thrown in the hat, and actually grapple with it.
But the image of Jacob wrestling with God, I think there’s something to wrestling honestly with him. God’s big enough to take our biggest questions and yet there’s something powerful that happens I think in us when we wrestle through those with him. Let them press us deeper into seeking him, trusting him, seeking to know him better. So my encouragement would be to keep wrestling, keep pressing it.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Gen Z Series on TGC Q&A. For more Gospel-centered podcasts within our network, go to tgc.org/podcasts.