Category Archives: God’s Sovereignty

Objections to the Doctrine of Election

 

Having already laid the foundation for the doctrine of election and looked at some important distinctions in the various uses of related biblical words, we now turn our full attention to several of the more prominent objections to this doctrine. In introducing this we find several tensions and incorrect responses that must be addressed before looking clearly at some stated objections.

When addressing a doctrine such as unconditional election, it naturally stirs the emotions and immediately all manner of objections soon ensue. Thankfully, God’s Word is true and not only answers these objections, but anticipates them. One such passage where God sets forth the plan of His redemption by way of election, and anticipates the subsequent objections, is Romans chapters 9-11. Naturally, these chapters build upon and help explain Romans 8, which we have already looked at it some detail.

Using Romans 9 as our springboard into the arguments, we find the Apostle transitioning from the arguments of God’s unconditional, unbreakable love towards His elect people to the solemn, heartbreaking anguish of Paul. We must ask, given the glorious nature of the hope-filled chapter 8, which should serve as an anchor for the Christian soul, why now does Paul have such a somber tone to start chapter 9? Note how he begins:

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 9:1-5

Paul begins be establishing the truthfulness of his statements and heartfelt emotions, which he will unpack, on the basis of Christ, his conscience, and the Holy Spirit. This emphasis is meant to frame the seriousness of what’s to come and to express to the utmost how he is feeling. Lest there be any notion of anti-Semitism in the Christian, Paul undercuts that right away by expressing his sorrow which he tells us in verse 3 is for “his kinsmen according to the flesh,” in other words, national, ethnic Israel. Paul is not an outsider setting forth a doctrinal position that alienates the Jews, he is an insider, a Jew according to the flesh. As he has asserted in Philippians 3:5-6

5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Therefore, if anyone is qualified to speak the truth concerning Christ to the Jews, it is Paul.

The Apostle then proceeds to tell of the advantages of the Jew in Romans 9:4-5, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” An argument could be made that this is a continuation of a thought that began in chapter 3 when Paul wrote, 1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”   We can see here that Paul is establishing the advantages that the Jew has historically had. Summarizing the advantages listed in chapter 9:

  1. The Oracles of God, i.e. the inscripturated Word of God
  2. Adoption; Israel was the chosen nation of God, though we must be careful here to qualify this and ask “Chosen unto what?”, as we will see later in chapter 9.
  3. The glory; likely a reference to the glory of God that traveled with them out of Egypt and resided in the temple until the Exile of 586 BC.
  4. The covenants; A Reference to the collection of covenants that God established beginning with Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David (and others).
  5. The giving of the Law; Note here that this is seen as a positive appendage from God; a clear reference to the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai.
  6. The worship; God had provided Israel with explicit instructions for how He was to be worshipped.
  7. The promises; Likely the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that included Land, Blessing, and Seed
  8. The Patriarchs; Again, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
  9. The Christ; Paul here brings his argument to the present with the incarnation of Christ from the Jewish race.

All of this has been written to show the favor of God toward the Jews, but why was this necessary? The Jewish people considered themselves to have exclusive rights to God. We can see this vividly portrayed in the ministry of Jonah to Nineveh, but more recently in the book of Acts. From Pentecost, to the stoning of Stephen, and the vision given to Peter concerning Cornelius, we see the tension building between Jews and Christian Jews/Christian Gentiles. Much of the strife that the Apostles faced in establishing the Church built on the cornerstone of Christ was from the Jews. They persecuted them fiercely. While we may rejoice over such passages as Acts 11:18, the majority of the Jews were not rejoicing that salvation had come to the Gentiles. In fact, the promulgation of the Gospel by the disciples led to their martyrdom at the hand of their own people, just as their Master, Jesus Christ.

Given then the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s plan of salvation combined with what Paul had just written in chapter 8, it would give the appearance that God had abandoned the Jews in favor of the Gentiles, that all He had promised them was worthless, and that He had failed to be faithful to His promises. This is why Paul goes to such great lengths in enumerating the advantages that the Jews had to show that they were not worthless, but had value in pointing toward Christ.

The argument then that Paul is anticipating to begin chapter 9 of Romans is that election was for national Israel and if it is to include the Gentiles, then God has been unfaithful to His word. This objection argues that on the basis of nationality, Israel is the chosen nation/people/race of God and that God does not elect individuals unto salvation. Tangentially, this belief is not limited to the doctrine of election, but shapes many people’s understanding of Israel today and has led to such errant beliefs as Zionism, Dispensationalism, and the assumption that the secular, atheistic state of Israel today remains God’s “chosen people.” You can see then how unconditional election is intimately related to an understanding of the New Covenant promises and people of God, which we were examining from Dr. Sam Waldron’s brief but helpful book A Reformed Baptist Manifesto. This nationalistic objection is the one that Paul anticipates at the beginning of Romans 9 and is felt in the transitional tension of chapter 8 through verse 5 of chapter 9.

To ease this tension and attempt to provide an answer to the doctrine of election that Paul unfolds here, some have assumed that Romans 9 is addressing the national election of Israel and they would use the arguments that Paul sets forth as referring to Israel verses the nation of Edom (Romans 9:13), thus stripping Romans 9 of any notion of election on an individual basis. However, a simple reading of Romans 8 will show that the context is election of individuals who collectively and corporately make up the people of God. This view is generally held by Arminians who deny that God would ever choose anyone unto salvation.

A second attempted answer to this national election dilemma is that God has elected national Israel, but the inclusion of the Gentiles is an entirely separate plan of redemption. Therefore, God has two peoples and two separate and distinct ways of salvation; Elect National Israel under the Old Covenant/Future New Covenant economy and believing Gentiles under a Parenthetical economy. They would argue that all of the advantages that Paul has listed are strictly for the Jews and all lend themselves to Jewish salvation. Upon Christ’s arrival and subsequent rejection by the Jews, God turned His plan of redemption temporarily to the Gentiles, who were a Plan B. There were then those who were saved in the Old Testament under Plan A, which has since been paused while Plan B has commenced and salvation of Gentiles under an entirely different plan, namely Christ, has begun. This explanation is the one given by Historic Dispensationalists such as Scofield and the Two-way of salvation dispensationalists.[1]

Introduction of this tension that Paul feels at the beginning of chapter 9 will go a long way towards helping us understand the objections that are answered concerning election in the remaining verses. Paul will unravel this tension in his response to the first implicit objection found in verse 6, namely that God’s Word has failed. Lord willing we’ll examine that in a subsequent post.

[1] Those these sentiments can be seen and deduced in more modern works by Charles Ryrie, largely dispensationalism today has rejected this two-way of salvation scheme.

The Exclusivity of Christ

The history of Christianity has held without apology to the exclusivity of Christ, namely that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, being God Himself is the only, i.e. exclusive, path to God. In short, familiar language it might be phrased, “Jesus is the only way to heaven.” To see this, we needn’t immediately jump to the New Testament, though we could. Instead, we may turn to the beginning, of creation that is, to see Jesus, the Promised seed of God as the only hope for mankind to be redeemed from their sin and have their relationship with God restored.

Many people today have given themselves over to the view that “All paths lead to God” arguing that you’re ok and I’m ok as long as we do good and live right. But this assumes a variety of errant thoughts not the least of which is a denial of the authority and truthfulness of Scripture. It is here we must turn if we are rightly to understand the exclusivity of Christ.

In Genesis 3 we read of the familiar account of Adam and Eve in the garden.

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:1-15

Immediately, it is important to come to terms with the truthfulness that Scripture establishes concerning the historical reality of Adam and Eve. It’s clear that they were actual people whom God created and that all mankind can trace their lineage back to them. This is the elementary truth that secularism tries to destroy in the name of science in order to avoid accountability for sin and the judgment of God, but it simply cannot be denied. The historicity of Adam can be readily found in the numerous genealogies of Scripture (which is why they are there, to establish the validity of the line of Messiah); see Genesis 5; 1 Chronicles 1-9; Luke 3:23-38.

Additionally, the prophet Hosea through the divine inspiration of the Spirit, draws a relationship between Adam’s disobedience and the disobedience of Israel and Judah, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” Hosea 6:7 If Adam is not real, then one has to arrive at a different origin for the entire nation of Israel and has to then make sense of the correlation made between Adam’s covenant unfaithfulness in the garden and Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness as a nation. In similar fashion, Romans 5 provides yet another example of the historicity of Adam and again shows a parallel relationship with Adam’s sin though this time the counterpoint is Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Here we see that because of Adam’s sin, condemnation came to all men and this is an inclusive term to include all mankind. That means every single individual person who has ever lived, because of their relationship to Adam, are condemned. Though alive, are spiritually dead, alienated from God and under His wrath of God. All people, regardless of the religion with which they identify or the race/origin/color/sex that they claim, all. All are condemned in Adam. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Secularists, Atheists, Agnostics, Nominal (in-name only) Christians, Villagers on a remote island. All. In Adam. Condemned.

With this in mind, we now return to our original passage from Genesis 3 and can better feel the weight of the actions committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. Literally billions of people condemned because of a single act of rebellion against a holy God. Let that sink in the next time you think God doesn’t take the “smallest” of sins seriously. He is infinitely holy and the slightest of sins is enough to condemn the entirety of mankind.

Certainly God knew the outcome, that so many would be born condemned because of this treasonous act. Certainly God would have been just to simply destroy creation at the fall, never to allow sin’s progression or its guilt and condemnation to advance beyond the Garden. But this was not the plan of God. As He justly delivers the sentence to the serpent and Adam and Eve, we read the following verse:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

As has been noted before, here in Genesis 3:15 is the “first Gospel”, the first message of good news. It is hope in the midst of despair because God 1) Lets Adam and Eve know they will have offspring, not suffering immediate physical death and 2) Lets them know that there will be retribution and redemption that comes through the offspring of the woman. This is precisely what we read about in Romans 5 above and precisely what we likewise see in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The only hope for all of mankind is the seed of the woman, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. The only hope to overcome the condemnation that came to man through Adam, is by way of the second Adam, the Messiah who perfectly obeyed the commands of God, suffered death on the cross under the wrath of God for sinners, and overcame death through His resurrection, now ascended into heaven and seated with power and glory at the right hand of the Father. The hope is exclusively His. All authority has been granted unto Him and He alone commands the way to God “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me” John 14:6

There is simply no other way. Not through Islam, nor Buddhism, nor Judaism, nor Atheism, nor Secularism, nor any other works based religious system, but exclusively through Christ by faith in Him alone. This message is offensive because it assaults the independency of man and his innate desire to earn his own righteousness. It is offensive because we live in an age of tolerance and “Coexist” stickers that wants to see everyone make it to “heaven” through whatever path they choose, ultimately not for their own good but spun out of a self-preservation mentality that takes comfort in saying “my way is ok, so yours must be too.” Either that is a lie or the Son of God is lying when He claims exclusivity. Perish the thought. It is in Christ alone that salvation comes through repentance of sin and faith in Him. There is only one path to God and it is entered into by the narrow gate of Christ. This path is narrow, difficult, and blazed by Christ Himself. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

Solus Christus!