31 August 2010

The Doctrines of Grace: Part "U"

U - Unconditional Election

Here's where people start to get nervous and uneasy. While no one likes to accept the fact that he is depraved and will not, left to his own devices, choose God, the idea that God elects some and not others is often more than our human--and might I add, fallen--minds can comprehend. The doctrine of election just doesn't fit into our picture of what "fairness" should look like. In fact, most Bible scholars who disagree with this doctrine do so vehemently, claiming that it transforms the God of the Bible into a "monster." Strong words. Especially when Scripture so clearly tells us that God chooses us. It's not the other way around, no matter how much you twist Scripture.

If we're going to claim that it's unfair of God to choose His elect, then we have to go back to the Old Testament and argue with Him over His selection of Israel as His chosen people and nation. Then let's look at Romans 9, where Paul explains God's sovereign choice. Remember Jacob and Esau? God made His choice between those two children while they were still growing in their mother's womb! Are you going to tell God He was wrong?
"And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls--she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."
"You will say to me then, 'why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?' But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory--even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" Romans 9:10-16, 19-24
It's as if Paul anticipated all of the arguments man would raise against this great doctrine of election. Who are we to talk back to God? Who are we to say to Him, "No fair! You're wrong!"?
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?'" Romans 11:33-35
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9
I think we've established that we cannot reduce God to the mindset and rationalization of man. I want to offer just a few of many Scriptures that tell us that God has chosen us.
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." John 15:16
Doesn't get much clearer than that, does it? But here's a few more:
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." John 15:19
"[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." Ephesians 1:4
"Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall." 2 Peter 1:10
"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.." 1 Thessalonians 1:4
We see over and over again in the epistles that the Church is referred to as those who have been chosen by God.
"But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 
"And he said, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." John 6:65
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all , and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:27-30 
"For many are called, but few are chosen." Matthew 22:14
I think this last verse is key. "Many are called." A general, universal gospel call goes out to all. The Bible tells us that we can know simply from looking at creation that there is a Creator. The Great Commission entreats us to go out and declare this gospel call to everyone. "But," you protest, "if people are predestined to be saved, then why bother with sharing the gospel, why bother with missionaries, etc.?" My friend, to paraphrase the great Charles Spurgeon, if I knew who had an "E" (for "elect) stamped on their back, then perhaps this argument can stand. But how are we to know whose name has been written in the Lamb's Book of Life? And even so, how are we to know that we may be the means by which God intends for that person to hear His Gospel and be saved? A person can't be saved without hearing the Gospel of Christ, and so we proclaim it boldly and joyfully!

Now, here I will acquiesce a bit and acknowledge that, upon hearing the Gospel, a person must respond in repentance, faith and trust in Jesus Christ BUT this response is the work of the Holy Spirit because, as has already been illustrated, fallen man will not and cannot choose God on his own. Man has volition but it is not independent of God. Acts 11:18 shows us that it is God who grants repentance. The cross is absolute foolishness to a man dead in his sins, and so it is the power of the Holy Spirit which grants us faith.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
If I am fully responsible for choosing God all by myself, then this verse is obsolete! If I have chosen God and He only chose me because I chose Him first, then why do I pray in thankfulness for salvation? If I have chosen God first, I should be patting myself on the back and telling everyone how smart I am for making such a good choice. I think it's safe to assume that no one would actually do this, and so, like it or not, you believe in the doctrine of election.

Back to Matthew 22:14, "few are chosen." I can hear you from here saying, "That's not fair!" Really? Let me just pose this question: Who deserves to be saved? No one. That's easy to see from the doctrine of total inability! "Salvation never has been a matter of fairness...I don't think you want fair, do you? Election is rooted in pure grace. He is most gracious and it seems that He is most gracious to those to whom grace seems most undeserved. (Online Source)."

Do you believe that God is holy and just and perfect? Then if, as the Bible says, he does not wish anyone to perish, why is it that not all are saved? John MacArthur states it well:
God never ever planned to save everyone. You say, "How do you know that?" Because not everyone is saved, therefore God couldn't have planned to save everyone or everyone would be saved, right? Because God can do whatever He purposes to do. Is that not true? So, the question is then, why does God pass over some and choose others? And the other is, for His own glory, Romans 9 again tells us that God is glorified in His wrath as He is in His mercy. Now this is a huge issue, but denying the doctrine of predestination or the doctrine of election doesn't solve the problem. One thing is clear: God did not determine to save everyone. That is clear. Jesus said that when He said, "Many are on the broad road that leads to destruction." And so the question then is, if God in His perfectly just and holy, sovereign purpose determined to save some, by what means did He determine to do that? Did He determine to do it simply willy-nilly on the part of the people making the choice, or did He Himself make the choice? First, He determined we know not to save all or there wouldn't be an eternal hell and there wouldn't be "few" that find the way to life everlasting. (Online Source)
If God had planned to save everyone and everyone isn't saved, then we have a weak, ineffectual God. But then why would He create those who are not saved? Some here misunderstand the doctrine of election and assume that, if some are elected for salvation, the rest must be elected for Hell. That is double predestination and it is not what the Bible teaches. Saved or not, man is sinful and wretched and bound for Hell. So those who are not saved are given their just judgment for their disobedience.

Some like to soften this doctrine and say That God simply looked ahead and saw that we would choose Him, so then He chose us. Personally, I think this gives fallen man far too much power! I picture God in Heaven, wringing His hands as He is creating us saying, "Oh boy, I hope she chooses me! What if she doesn't choose me? Oh, I hope she chooses me!" We end up, however, back at Ephesians 2:8-9 because if it was my choice to have faith, then I should be walking around flaunting it and boasting about my awesome selection. How does that bring glory to God?

I admit, from a human perspective, it does seem as though we "choose God" or "accept Christ." This is not the true order of events, though. As Pastor Bob DeWaay says, "What really happened was Christ accepted me by providing forgiveness of my sins through His blood and apprehending me on the scene of history through the gospel...If being saved were the result of something we did through some innate ability that all humans have, then these passages [Ephesians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 1:30] would make no sense (online source)." Pastor DeWaay goes on to say,
[I]f God is indeed always doing everything He can to save everyone, and yet some are saved and some are not, then the reason some are saved has to be found in them, not God.
If, on the other hand, salvation is 100% undeniably, singly and solely from God alone, then we should preach the Gospel with even more confidence, knowing that we are merely the tools God will use to save whoever will be saved!

I believe that to deny the doctrine of election is to deny the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture. There are far too many times that God says that He chose us. Yes, there are passages that seem to contradict this truth as Christ declares that whosoever will may come. Yet do not forget that those who come are given Him by the Father (John 6:37). I cannot fully reconcile the truth of man's volition with the clear, obvious, and difficult truth of the doctrine of election. But I cannot deny election because it leaps from the pages of Scripture. It is truly a divine paradox that I ultimately leave to God to reconcile. For me, this doctrine is one more proof that God wrote the Bible, because no mere man would ever have composed such difficult truth!

Many dislike this doctrine because they have come across those who claim it haughtily and pridefully. Yet from the eyes of this wretched sinner, it is the most beautiful of all Bible truths, second only to the substitutionary death of Christ for the salvation of those who will believe. That God has chosen me has sent me to my knees and to my face many times in tears of gratitude. Painfully aware of my own inability and my own sin and fallenness, to even begin to fathom why I may be counted among God's elect is the most humbling experience. I am profoundly grateful for this truth because I know that, without God's grace, without His Spirit, I would not be among His children. I rejoice in this doctrine because it makes grace alive.



See Also:
The Doctrines of Grace: An Introduction
The Doctrines of Grace: Part "T"


Further Reading:
God's Will and Man's Will (a masterful sermon by Charles Spurgeon)
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Jonathan Edwards)
The Doctrine of Election, Part 1 (John MacArthur)
The Doctrine of Election, Part 2
The Doctrine of Election, Part 3
Recovering Reformation Theology: Rejecting Synergism and Returning to Monergism (Bob DeWaay)
Why I am a Calvinist (Phil Johnson)
Salvation is of the Lord (Charles Spurgeon)
Election (Charles Spurgeon)
Election No Discouragement to Seeking Souls (Charles Spurgeon)
A Defense of Calvinism (Charles Spurgeon)

3 comments:

  1. Romans is talking about God choosing nations for service, not salvation.

    There is a condition for salvation written all over the pages of the NT - Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice. If you say God chooses who will be saved then by extension he chooses who will go to Hell. SO no one has a choice, there is no free will and all of us are just pre-programmed robots. This is not the God I serve; what sort of love is that?

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  2. EBenz--Thank you for your Scriptural references. They really help to clarify such a misunderstood and controversial subject! Great Blog!

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  3. I agree with you completely Glenn....

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