Category Archives: Calvinism

Unconditional Election

 

There is so much more that could be said regarding the nature of mankind’s total depravity, or what we’ve more accurately termed total inability, than what I’ve managed to write in the last few posts. As a reiteration, man’s total inability does not mean that he lacks free will, as is so often the pejorative argument. It simply means that because of his fallen nature, corruption, and slavery to sin that his natural desires would never motivate him to make a choice of following the God of all the universe in humble submission. Indeed, he cannot. If you’re unfamiliar with this, below are several links to posts I’ve written recently that help summarize this important concept of man’s sinfulness:

That being said, our discussion here now progresses to the second major point of Calvinism. In order for this to even begin to penetrate our hearts and minds, we must first understand the Sovereignty of the Holy God, which you can read about (here: God’s Sovereignty) and the aforementioned inability of man. These two points combine to ask and answer the question, “Who then can be saved?”

To see the doctrine of election summarized alongside it’s Arminian opposition, recall the table[1] below:

THE “FIVE POINTS” OF
ARMINIANISM
THE “FIVE POINTS” OF
CALVINISM
Conditional Election
God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
Unconditional Election
God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

 

I’ve highlighted several of the more noteworthy parts of each position. As previously mentioned, the foundation for Calvinistic doctrine of election is based upon the sovereignty of God and subsequently the inability of man. The majority of those within the Arminian camp would agree that God is sovereign and would likewise agree that man cannot save himself, however when the discussion turns to the meaning of the Bible’s use of election, or other similar terms such as chosen, predestined, foreknowledge, and before the foundation of the world, it seems both of those previous pillars are forgotten. Look again at the Arminian doctrine of conditional election set forth above and note how it is dependent upon man’s choice of God. However, if we are to properly understand the effects of the fall on man, their enslavement to sin, and their total inability as expounded in the posts listed above, then how can we arrive at a position that supports man’s free (libertarian) choice of God?

Instead of the inconsistency in forgetting the pillars of sovereignty and inability, if we more consistently built upon them, we would in turn look toward the doctrine of election to answer our question of how it is that man can be saved. This isn’t a highbrow, top cookie shelf doctrinal position for only theologians to discuss. Instead, this is a pervasive doctrine that is unfolded on the pages of God’s holy, inerrant Scripture from both the Old to the New Testament and its purpose is for the glory of God and that His saints might understand that salvation is all a work of grace and take comfort and assurance in that.

Likewise, it should give comfort to the unbeliever who thinks that he or she is too far gone, too sinful for God to save; as though His arm were shortened by man’s sin. Instead, because salvation is entirely a work of God from beginning to end, even the chief of sinners may find grace in their time of need and then glory in the provision of a holy, merciful God.

God’s sovereign choice in Scripture may be seen in several different ways:

First, and I should point out that all thoughts of election should proceed from this example, God has elected Christ as His “Chosen One”. This might sound a little odd at first, but it is precisely what the Scriptures say, i.e. Luke 9:35. Christ is God’s chosen or Anointed One through Whom the plan of redemption is accomplished. This election of Christ is fundamental towards understanding how believers are in union with Christ. A point which we will hopefully take up in another post.

Secondly, we see God’s election of particular angels. “ I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” 1 Timothy 5:21 This becomes most evident in the Garden as Satan, the fallen, rebellious angel seeks to undo the creative work of God. This would mean that Satan and His rebellious angelic beings were not part of God’s electing purposes and it was therefore in accordance with His predetermined plan that they should be cast into the lake of fire at the final judgment.

Next we see a distinction in the Garden between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent as a consequence of the curses levied after the fall (Genesis 3:15). This theme of opposition between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is one that Scripture builds upon throughout its pages.  We won’t examine this in detail at this point, though we need to bear in mind that from the very genesis of Scripture, election was at the forefront of God’s redemptive plan. (for more on this, Jim Hamilton has written an excellent essay, though technical, which you can read here: Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman)

Fourth, and perhaps most obvious and less controversial, is the choice of Israel as a nation seen in Deuteronomy 7:6-8

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Clearly God chose Israel from among the nations. Through His call to Abraham He created for Himself a people that would be His own possession. He did not choose the Midianites, nor the Amorites, nor the Edomites, nor Egyptians, but the Israelites out of His sovereign free will.

It is important to make a distinction here that although God chose Israel corporately from among the other nations we have no indication that this was election unto salvation, i.e. that every member of that chosen nation was saved. In fact, all evidence points to the contrary. The important thing to note here is the why. In other words, why did God choose them and not another nation. This is important because God’s principle of election here is operating under the same principle as His election unto salvation that develops more fully in the New Testament, namely that God has chosen a people out of His sovereign choice.

Taking this a step further, as A.W. Pink helpfully points out, God has exerted His divine election within this corporate body of national Israel specifically, “an election within an election; or, in other words, God had a special people of His own from among the nation itself.”[2] We see this explicitly stated in Romans 9:4-8

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

And Romans 11:1-5

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”

These passages provide a helpful affirmation that God’s divine choice of national Israel was not unto salvation, but that within this corporate body were a remnant whom God had chosen by grace. This is election unto salvation.

Which leads us to our final point, and the point at which objectors to divine election begin to squirm uneasily, namely God’s divine election of people unto salvation. This can be observed in the following verses:

  • Matt. 22:14
  • Matt. 24:31
  • Mark 13:20
  • Luke 18:7
  • John 1:12-13
  • John 6
  • John 10
  • John 13:18
  • John 15:16
  • Acts 13:48
  • Romans 8:28-30
  • Romans 8:33
  • Romans 9:11-13
  • Romans 9:15-16
  • Romans 10:20
  • Romans 11:2
  • Romans 11:5-7
  • 1 Cor. 1:27-29
  • Ephesians 1:4-5,11
  • 1 Thes. 1:4
  • 2 Thes. 2:13
  • 2 Timothy 1:9
  • 2 Timothy 2:10
  • Titus 1:1
  • 1 Peter 1:2
  • Revelation 13:8
  • Revelation 17:8

This list does not include the equally numerous passages that allude to God’s sovereign choice in election.  Election does not fully answer the “How” but it does answer the “Who” in the question we’ve been asking, “Who then can be saved. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26) Though we may rest assured that only God knows whom He has chosen and we should therefore preach the Gospel indiscriminately to all. As Charles Spurgeon has written,

“Our Savior has bid us preach the Gospel to every creature. He has not said, “Preach it only to the elect.” And though that might seem to be the most logical thing for us to do, yet, since He has not been pleased to stamp the elect on their foreheads, or to put any distinctive mark upon them, it would be an impossible task for us to perform! Therefore when we preach the Gospel to every creature, the Gospel makes its own division and Christ’s sheep hear His voice and follow Him. It is unnecessary to stop the ears of other sheep, or to try to prevent your voice from travelling where other sheep are found—only the true sheep of Christ will recognize His voice in the Gospel message, or be obedient to it. Therefore, let not your zeal be repressed by any doctrinal views, however sound, for, depend upon it, sound Doctrine is never inconsistent with obedience to the command to preach the Gospel to every creature. Sound precept and sound Doctrine must agree!”[3]

Unconditional election is the outworking of God’s predetermined plan of redemption. In other words, those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the earth will indeed come to salvation by grace through faith and repentance. None will be lost; none will be forgotten. God is the Seeker of His lost sheep and He will save every sheep for whom He searches.

In the next few posts, I’ll hopefully be able to write more about this in a clear, succinct way and address common misconceptions and objections.

 

 

[1] Curtis C. Thomas and David N. Steele, The Five Points of Calvinism (1974: P&R: Philadelphia, Pa.), 16-17.

[2] http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Election/elec_04.htm

[3] http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols49-51/chs2937.pdf Charles Spurgeon Sermon No. 2937 Volume 51 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit “Too Little for the Lamb

The Sovereignty of God

 

In concluding our thoughts on man’s total inability to ever choose God out of his own volition, desire, or free will, the elephant in the room must be the question “If man is unable to choose God, how then can he be saved?” This isn’t all too dissimilar from the discussion between Jesus and His disciples over the salvation of the rich, young ruler to which Christ replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) So it was with salvation then, and so it continues to be a work of God to this day.

God’s sovereignty in salvation has often been considered the whole of Calvinism, and has also been referred to as election or predestination. As we have seen though, there is much more to biblically understand and Calvinism, even as it relates to salvation, is much more robust than simply election or predestination. This entire discussion, indeed Calvinism itself, begins no less with the sovereignty of God. And that is really what we need to come to terms with biblically if we are to understand God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Our question can be summarized: Is God sovereign over everything? And, by relation, does this extend to salvation?

When the term sovereignty is used it is sometimes confused with providence, but the two terms are distinct. God’s sovereignty refers to His rule and reign while God’s providence refers to how He executes His plan of ruling and reigning. What then is the extent of His sovereignty? To understand this, we begin where the Bible begins, at creation, with God as Creator.

Because God is Creator He is defacto sovereign over His creation.  The Genesis account of creation begins with the very words, “In the beginning God” as foundational for all that follows. As Creator, God is sovereign over:

  1. Nature
  2. Spiritual beings
  3. Man

Scripture is replete with references grounding God’s revelation of Himself in His role of Creator.  Even a surficial reading of Job 38-40 or Isaiah 40 should be enough to answer the question of the extent of God’s sovereignty.  In those passages we read of God as the One who “measured” and “laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:4-5), set the boundaries of the sea (Job 38:8-11), commands the morning (Job 38:12-15), possesses and controls storehouses of snow and hail (Job 38:22-24), directs the rains upon which streams to fill and which fields to water (Job 38:25-30), controls the stars and constellations (Job 38:31-33), directs the lighting, who reports only to Him (Job 38:34-38), provides food for the lion and raven symbolic for His provision for all creation (Job 38:39-41).  Space prohibits comment on the remaining chapters of Job, 39-40 that continue the exaltation of the sovereignty of God.  I encourage you to take the time to read through them.

It’s important to remember, God exercises His sovereignty through His providence, i.e. the methods He employs to bring His plan to fruition. In this sense, because God is sovereign AND providential, nothing can thwart or otherwise frustrate His plan because ALL things are in His hand. Satan’s rebellion in heaven did not cause God to be reactionary and wonder what He would do next. Satan’s rebellion in heaven was part of God’s plan to create and redeem and people for Himself. This is far from making God the Author of sin. It makes God the Orchestrator of the symphony.

God’s role as Lawgiver. If you’ve read the Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the Garden, then you’re no doubt familiar with the restriction that God placed on them with regard to what trees they may eat of and the one that they were forbidden from eating. This law, often referred to as the Covenant of Works, was given to Adam and Eve regardless of whether or not they agreed to it. There were no negotiations because as their Creator, God had the Divine right to impose law as He saw fit. Fast forward a couple thousand years to Sinai and the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses and the people of Israel. Again, God entered into a covenant with them and provided legal stipulations, which were non-negotiable. As one pastor I heard recently say, God did not negotiate the 10 Commandments with Israel. They did not say we accept #2,5,8 but would like to omit #1,4,9,10. That simply didn’t happen, nor should it have. There was no escape clause built into the covenant. It was do this and live. God, again because of His Divine right, imposed legal requirements upon the people. It was an exercise of His sovereignty that no less continues today.

God’s role as Judge is inextricably linked to His Creatorship and is a consequence of His role as Lawgiver. If God’s Law is to have any meaning at all, then God must be sovereign over the distribution of rewards and punishment of His creation; eternal punishment to those disobey and eternal life to those who obey. Contrary to the popular notion that somehow Satan is in charge of Hell while God is in charge of Heaven and the two equal forces are at continual odds until one prevails over the other, God is actually the one who holds the keys to Hell. More accurately, this is Christ (Rev. 1:18). Satan is not the authority of Hell, nor anywhere else for that matter. Though he is called the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2) and the ruler of this world (John 12:21), he indeed has no sovereign authority of his own. We need be reminded that neither Job (Job 1:6-12) nor Peter (Luke 22:31) were able to be touched by Satan apart from Divine permission from God. Let us also be reminded that this was equally true of Judas (John 17:12).

God’s role as Judge means that it is within His authority ALONE, to determine the fate of man based on the standard He has set forth. Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it is perfectly consistent with God’s sovereign rule as Judge to assign all men to everlasting punishment in Hell. Would God be any less just if He were to have done that? Was there anyone who actually deserved through their own merit to be standing in the day of the flood, Noah and his family included? Will their actually be anyone who deserves, through their own merit once again, to stand before God on the day of judgment and expect to receive eternal blessedness? I should hope not, otherwise God’s law has no meaning and God’s justice is violated.

God’s role as Redeemer. Again, as we have seen in the connection of God as Creator to God as Lawgiver and consequently to God as Judge, it is God’s own right to extend a verdict of mercy to whomever He wills. The question is how is God able to extend mercy to anyone without violating His own standard of law that He has given and still be just (Romans 3:26). The answer is that He is able to extend mercy through the work of Jesus Christ the only perfect Obeyer of His law. His death as a substitution and His life as the righteous fulfillment of God’s legal requirements are the means through which the mercy of God is able to be graciously extended. To whom are these benefits extended? If God is Creator, Lawgiver, Judge, and Redeemer, does He not also hold within His sovereignty the right to extend the benefits of His own Sacrifice to whomever He wills? (Romans 9:14-24) Or must we now insert some other being, man included, into the equation to help God orchestrate His plan? If these rights are extended to all, then all would be saved and the justice of God still upheld because of the universal substitutionary atonement of Christ. However, as we know and are aware Scripture does not affirm the universal salvation of all men. Because all men are not saved, then to whom are these benefits applied? If we were to answer, “to the one who has faith” this would certainly be the application of Christ’s redemption accomplished, but would leave open the question “by what manner or method has this faith come to them?” Is God’s sovereign plan of redemption awaiting the outside stipulation of faith to be added by man before it can be rightly implemented? This is what the Arminian posits. Though God is the Sovereign Orchestrator of the symphony, He awaits the penning of the redemptive notes by man who exercises his own faith and thereby receives the application of the benefits extended to him by God. Thus man intrudes on the sovereign plan of God and writes his own chapter or composes his own notes as it were. This would be akin to listening to a composition by Y.S. Bach, only to have the intrusion of Frank Sinatra’s I did it My Way. Or to put it more drastically, Bach intruded upon by Kanye West’s I am a god.

OR perhaps we would be better, more biblically aligned to say God has already finished the composition of His symphony, including the redemptive notes written before the foundation of the world and as He strikes each key, faith is extended by the Holy Spirit to those for whom Christ has purchased the benefits of salvation, predetermined by God alone according to the counsel of His sovereign will, thereby bringing to completion without any doubt God’s plan of redemption. Authored by the Father; Accomplished by the Son; Applied by the Spirit, from beginning to end a sovereign work of grace by God alone.

If none were to receive this extension of mercy would God still be just? Absolutely, as we have seen God has the right to judge, indeed it is His divine prerogative. Likewise, it is His prerogative to extend mercy as He sees fit. Who determines to whom mercy is extended? If it is anyone other than God, including man himself, then God has relinquished His own sovereignty as Redeemer, thereby as Judge, thereby as Lawgiver, and thereby as Creator. The Arminian doctrine that asserts the sovereignty of man’s free will is far more than an issue of whether man can determine his own fate. It strikes at the very heart and character of who God is and how He has revealed Himself in Scripture. It then is not in reality a secondary issue, but one of supreme importance.

We must then conclude with Scripture that God maintains absolute sovereignty. This must by necessity include His sovereignty over salvation. The Psalmist in Psalm 115:3 declares, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” and the prophet writes, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11) and again “for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

A right view of God, as absolute Sovereign would correct so much of our erroneous thinking about the nature and character of God. It would resolve our fears and worries when pressed against us from all sides. It would give us a sweet comfort to embrace all the circumstances that come our way. What guarantee can the church have that the gates of Hades will not prevail against her if God is not sovereign? What guarantee does the Great Commission have if all authority in heaven and on earth has not been given to Christ? What guarantee does the believer have that all things will work together for his good if God is not sovereign? What kind of promise could have been made to Eve in the garden for the coming of the Promised Seed, if it were not guaranteed by a Sovereign God? If God’s plan at any turn can be thwarted by any objection or frustrated by any means, then God has taken a backseat. Rest assured that this is not the God of the Bible. This is not the God who spoke creation into being ex nihilo. This is not the God who said it and will bring it to pass. It’s a false god, the product of an idolatrous mind that refuses to ascribe to God the worship He rightly deserves.

God is sovereign and as one theologian famously stated, “…There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”

Summarizing Total Inability

 

As we summarize and bring to conclusion several of the last few posts on the Calvinistic Doctrine of Man’s Inability, there are a few things left I’d like to add.  You can get caught up here:

First, is an overview list of several Scriptures which support the understanding of man’s total depravity and his inability to choose God:

  • Genesis 6:5
  • Genesis 8:21
  • Psalm 14:1-3
  • Jeremiah 4:22
  • Jeremiah 13:23
  • Jeremiah 17:9-10
  • John 3:3,5
  • John 6:44
  • John 12:37-39
  • Romans 1:28-32
  • Romans 3:9-19
  • Romans 6:16-19
  • Romans 8:7-8
  • Galatians 3:22
  • Ephesians 2:1,5
  • Colossians 2:13
  • Titus 3:3

Next, From R.C. Sproul’s book Chosen By God at the conclusion of the chapter entitled “Predestination and Free Will” he has provided a helpful summary of man’s free will, which is in accord with some of the conclusions made here:

  1. Free will is defined as the “ability to make choices according to our desires.”
  2. The concept of “neutral free will,” a will without prior disposition or inclination is a false view or free will.  Is is both irrational and unbiblical.
  3. True free will involves a kind of self-determination, which differs from coercion from an external force.
  4. We struggle with choices, in part because we live with conflicting and changing desires.
  5. Fallen man has the natural ability to make choices but lacks the moral ability to make godly choices.
  6. Fallen man, as St. Augustine said, has “free will” but lacks liberty.
  7. Original sin is not the first sin but the sinful condition that is the result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin.
  8. Fallen man is “unable to not sin.”
  9. Jesus taught that man is powerless to come to Him without divine aid.
  10. Before a person will ever choose Jesus, he must first be born again.

Finally, the video below is from R.C. Sproul’s Chosen By God 2008 Alaskan Cruise.  It helpfully adds to the posts that I’ve written.