“And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48, AV)
One of the most difficult doctrines for many to accept, and is humanly impossible to reconcile, is that of the doctrine of election. It would be wrong to move through the Book of Acts and pass over a verse like this without comment, since this is one of the strongest verses in the Bible supporting the doctrine of election. However, I do have some fear in discussing it, for historically it has caused great debate and, unfortunately, division among Christians. This truth should not divide but strengthen our bond in Christ.
Here, the translators did correctly reflect the Greek text. The ones “ordained to eternal life believed.” The Greek text further amplifies this truth as we see the tense of the verb “ordained.” The verb “ordained” is in the perfect tense, indicating a past action with a present result. It is also in the passive voice, which indicates something acted upon them. Here, it refers to the sovereign act of God ordaining many Gentiles to eternal life.
The difficult part with this doctrine is to reconcile it with the will of man. The Scriptures teach that man is fully responsible for his sin and thus his place in the judgment. Yet, the Scripture also teaches that man is incapable of turning to God and believing unto salvation apart from the intervention of God.
Theologians have debated this doctrine for ages. Many have attempted to reconcile the will of man with election. I agree with many brilliant theologians, that these two truths represent an antimony. An antimony is a contradiction that exists between two apparently indubitable propositions, a paradox. In other words, we have two truths that seemingly contradict, at least in our finite human comprehension.
The reformer, Martin Luther, clarifies this in a letter to another theologian of his day.
“So it is right to say: ‘If God does not desire our death, it must be laid to the charge of our own will if we perish’; this, I repeat, is right if you spoke of God preached. For He desires that all men should be saved, in that He comes to all by the word of salvation, and the fault is in the will that does not receive Him. . . But why the Majesty does not remove or change this fault of the will in every man (for it is not in the power of man to do it), or why He lays this fault to the charge of the will, when man cannot avoid it, it is not lawful to ask; and though you should ask much, you would never find out.”
The great Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, in his sermon Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility, explained it in a clear metaphor.
“These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”
What is the point? I believe that we will resolve the debate when we realize that we are not God and that our finite minds cannot fully comprehend His infinite thoughts and ways (Isa 55:8-9). Neither can we argue against His ways, for they are infinitely perfect (Rom 9:20). It is best for us to simply preach the word of God and trust God for the results, realizing that His ways are higher than ours and realizing that He has called us to join Him in reaching people who are appointed to salvation (Rom 10:14-15).