What does it mean that God’s purpose and grace was given us before the world began?
First, this doesn’t mean that God sovereignly chooses some to be saved.
The doctrine of “sovereign election” as it was taught by Augustine and John Calvin, that God chose some to be saved and that God’s election has nothing to do with who will or will not believe, and that if I am not elect there is nothing I can do to be elect, might seem to be supported by some proof texts if those texts are isolated and if that doctrine is read into them, but the Calvinist doctrine of “sovereign election” is contrary to the tenor of the entire Scripture. 2 Ti. 1:9 does not say that God elected some to be saved. That is not the subject. From Genesis to Revelation, God calls men to repentance and faith and obedience. He reasons with men, beginning with Cain. Jeremiah summarized God’s dealings with men as follows: “Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the LORD, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith the LORD” (Jer. 29:19). Jesus said the same thing: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mt. 23:37). God calls, and man has a choice. This is as clearly taught as anything in Scripture. God loves all men; Christ died to make it possible for all men to be saved; God wants all men to be saved; whosoever will can be saved. See Isa. 53:6; Joh. 3:16, 18, 36; Ro. 11:32; 1 Ti. 2:3-4; 2 Pe. 3:9; 1 Jo. 2:2; Re. 22:17. Any theology that does not conclude that every man can be saved is unscriptural. Note that 2 Ti. 1:9 says that salvation is “not according to our works,” but it does not say that salvation is “not according to our faith.” Faith is not a work. Faith is the hand that receives the free gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).
The first and foremost way to interpret the verse properly is simply to let it speak and not to read anything into it.
We must practice exegesis (drawing out) rather than eisegesis (reading into). We must simply let the lessons flow out of the Bible’s words themselves. So let’s do that with 1 Ti. 1:9.
The very first thing that the words themselves say is that salvation is 100% God’s grace (“his own grace”). Salvation is 100% God’s free gift (“given us”). It is not by man’s works in any way whatsoever (“not according to our works”), it is entirely “in Christ Jesus.” That is a great line of meditation. It is perfect security and confident hope. It is unspeakable comfort. A major practical implication of God’s foreknowledge is that the believer can trust Him and rest in Him. There is nothing for me to do to gain His favor. He loved me and planned my salvation and accomplished it. I can rest in this. Salvation is the ultimate “sabbath rest.” Salvation is a house that grace built, and when I enter into it by saving faith, I will never be outside of it. I can get out of God’s will within the house, but I cannot get out of the house. This is the first and foremost lesson from the words of 2 Timothy 1:9. Those who do not believe in “eternal security” do not understand salvation by grace. It’s that simple. The more we understand grace, the more confident we are in God’s salvation.
Another lesson that is emphasized here is that God knows all things. God knew everything before the world began. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Ac. 15:18). Nothing surprises Him. He knows all about me and all about my situation. He knows it perfectly; He knows it eternally. Again, this is a solid basis for trusting God and yielding to Him. He knows me perfectly, yet He loves me!
Another lesson is that God has always known me. If God’s grace is given us before the world began, that means that He has always known me. This is a thought that is almost too large and wonderful to be believed, but it is exactly what the infallible Word of God teaches. Knowing that God knows me and has always known me powerfully motivates me to know Him.
Another lesson that leaps out from these words is that to save sinners by grace is God’s own plan (“according to his own purpose”). It is what God wants to do; it is what He enjoys; it is His will and pleasure to save all sinners (1 Ti. 2:3-4). It is a plan motivated by His eternal love (Joh. 3:16). This means that I don’t have to try to earn God’s favor; He is already favorable; He has a Father’s heart toward His creatures and particularly toward His redeemed creatures. He has provided the full atonement that makes it possible for Him to be favorable. It means that I can take the cup of salvation and enjoy it (Ps. 116:13). Christ’s very purpose in coming was to fulfill God’s plan to save the world (1 Jo. 4:14). Christ’s very purpose in coming was to seek and to save that which was lost (Lu. 19:10). He didn’t come to make life more difficult for sinners; He came to rescue them and to give them abundant life (Jo. 10:10). His yoke is easy (Mt. 11:30). That God’s grace was given us before the world began means that God knows me completely, yet He loves me. I don’t have to hide from God; God knew all about Adam; hiding was ridiculous. We need to bring our lives out into God’s light and confess our sins and walk in confidence in His perfect and all-sufficient grace.
A fourth lesson from these words is that I am a part of God’s eternal plan and that I have a part in God’s eternal plan. Salvation is to enter into God’s big, eternal purposes. The believer’s purpose was determined before the world was made, and the believer’s part is to surrender to God’s plan and do it. What a great line of meditation! I am not an accident. I am not merely a product of natural forces. I am known of God; I was formed in the womb by His blueprint (Ps. 139); I was formed for His purposes; He has had me in mind from eternity; He has had me in mind as I have walked through life. This is strong incentive to accept what I am--physically, mentally, etc.--and benefit from what I am and use what I am rather than being dissatisfied. This powerfully motivates me to want to know God’s eternal calling and to do it. It enables me to enjoy God’s calling. It’s what I was made for, and the One who made me is the loving, giving Jehovah God, so I can rest in Him and surrender to Him without reservation.
Another lesson is that God is the beginning and end of all things. The great emphasis here is on God Himself: His salvation, His calling, His purpose, His grace. God is the alpha and omega. He is the first and last verse of the Bible. To the Triune God be all glory forever.
Another lesson is that God’s purpose and grace is “in Christ Jesus.” “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (Joh. 3:35). Christ Jesus is the last Adam, the Head of the new creation. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).
Another lesson is that God’s purpose and grace is both toward individuals and toward groups (“saved US, and called US ... OUR works ... given US”). Paul refers to himself and to Timothy as part of something much larger. God foreknew individuals, and God foreknew groups such as redeemed Israel and the church. This leads to the understanding that I am not alone in salvation, that I am part of something very big, that I am a member of a body, a stone in a building, a priest in a priesthood, a citizen of a nation, a soldier in an army, a laborer among many in a harvest, a runner compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses. I am to find my particular place and calling within the big picture.
In conclusion, some of the main practical lessons of God’s eternal election are confidence in salvation, confidence in God’s goodwill toward me, trust in God’s omnipotent hand (Ro. 8:28), good understanding of the purpose of one’s life, and confidence in surrender to God’s will.
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Way of Life Literature
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Publisher of Bible Study Materials