Tag Archives: TULIP

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 Total Inability of Man

 

Recall from the last post summarizing the historical developments of Calvinism that the 5 points of Arminianism were compared with the 5 points of Calvinism.  The first of these points is Free Will/Human Ability vs. Total Inability/Total Depravity.  A summary of the differences[1] is below:

Free Will or Human Ability
Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
Total Inability or Total Depravity
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not — indeed he cannot — choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ — it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation— it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.

I’ve highlighted some of the important distinctions from the views above.  Fundamentally, the difference comes down to this, both sides agree that God’s grace is necessary in salvation; however, the Arminian view requires that man add to God’s grace by their own faith.  In other words, God provides the grace necessary for salvation universally and indiscriminately to all, but the final decision rests upon them to come to Him in repentance and faith.  The ultimate determination of salvation rests with man.  Therefore, the Arminian view neglects to properly weigh man’s sinful condition, the extent of their sin nature, and the bondage of their will toward sin and pleasures of the flesh.

Conversely, the Calvinists too recognizes that God’s grace is necessary, but that apart from God’s “irresistible grace” to change the heart of the sinner from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, i.e. regeneration (born again), the sinner will never choose God on his/her own, indeed they cannot because they are dead in sin and although they are not as depraved as they could be, their depravity certainly causes their inability to believe.  Therefore, in this view, God’s grace must overcome the inability of the sinner and enable them to repent and believe through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  The ultimate determination of salvation rests with God.

Both sides in this debate will appeal to Scripture and both sides have some legitimately difficult verses for the other side to reconcile.  So it is the responsibility of the reader to examine what the Scriptures say and allow the Holy Spirit to illumine their mind as to the truth of what God’s Word says.  It could be that starting with those verses that the Arminians/Free Will’s champion would be an appropriate starting point.  However, the better place to start will be what God has to say about the human condition and how it relates to Him and then move out from there to conclude whether man is able or unable to come to God by his own free will.  Likewise, it will serve us better from a biblical standpoint and allow us to understand those passages which support Arminianism.

There are 4 primary passages in the New Testament that I’d like to examine.  Of course there are numerous others, in both in the Old and New Testaments, but these are familiar.  First up is Romans 3:9-19:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14    “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This passage is the apex of the Apostle Paul’s argument for the condemnation of both Jew and Gentile under the wrath and condemnation of God.  Both have violated God’s law and both deserve God’s judgment.  In reaching this conclusion, Paul draws from several Old Testament passages to form one, single, consistent and logical idea, that there are none who seek God.  His quotation of OT sources proves that Paul is not the inventor of total depravity, but that instead it is a pervasive biblical theme.  As much as one would like to design a church using a “seeker-sensitive” model, there simply are no seekers.  Jesus states clearly in John 6:44 that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Notice what the Apostle is saying from our Romans passage above: None is righteous, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God; all have turned aside; no one does good, not even one.  Their throats, tongues, lips, mouths, feet, and purposes are condemned.  No peace, No fear of God.  The question must simply be posed, based on this passage does man have any ability within himself to choose God?  If God’s grace is universally and indiscriminately given to all, then based on this passage which of those men would ever seek out God?  Which of those men understand God enough to desire Him and make Him the object of their ultimate affections?  Who among them fears God enough to choose to follow Him, abandoning self and the world and turning from sin to Christ?

The next passage is also from Romans:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-8

Within the Apostle Paul’s argument here of the flesh vs. the spirit, we glean insight into our discussion concerning the inability of man.  We have already seen the condemnation against all men, that none seek God, indeed none understand.  Here, we read that natural man, those who are in the flesh, i.e. those who are unbelievers, are hostile to God and do not submit to God’s law.  One might ask, if those who are in the flesh are hostile to God, yet God has extended His grace universally to all, then what causes the sinner to overcome their own hostility to God?  A simple change in attitude toward God one day on a whim? As if this were not enough, Paul extends his condemnation by saying that those in the flesh do not submit to God’s law, indeed they cannot.  Totally unable to submit to God’s law.  How then does one overcome this inability?  By free will?

Based on just the two passages we have seen so far, the will is bound and the evidence is that no one seeks God, no one in the flesh submits to God’s law and in fact can’t.  Finally, Paul says those in the flesh cannot please God.  Certainly coming to faith in Christ would be deemed pleasing to God, yet the condemnation from Paul is all-inclusive and leaves man in a sinful, helpless, quagmire of sinking sand unable to choose God, simply because he does not desire to do so, indeed he cannot.

For the third evidence of man’s condition, we turn to 1 Corinthians 2:14:

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

In this passage we find another explicit example of man’s inability as it pertains to spiritual things.  The Apostle Paul again concludes that the natural man, that is man in his natural, unregenerate state, is simply unable to understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned.  He is emphatically stating once again that man not only doesn’t choose God, or doesn’t choose to delight in spiritual things, but that he is unable to do so, even unable to understand them.  If the Arminian view is correct, that God has bestowed and lavished His grace upon all men freely and indiscriminately, then those men in their natural condition should be able to be handed God’s Word and understand the things that are written in it.  Only Paul contradicts that notion and says no, they are not able to understand spiritual things.  It requires spiritual discernment and that comes only by the indwelling Spirit, as a result of the regenerating work of the Spirit.

Finally, the common view of man, at least from the Arminian perspective, is that man is sick in need of medicine.  God’s free grace is that medicine given to him enabling him to be well and now it is up to man whether he, working with the assistance of the physician, would rise up out of the hospital bed and walk.  The problem is that Scripture does not view man’s spiritual condition as a sickness.  It views man as spiritually dead.  Note our final passage from Ephesians 2:1-10 below:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

It is clear from this passage than man is not simply well (as Pelagians say), man is not merely sick (as semi-Pelagians and Arminians say), but man is born dead in trespasses and sins.  Therefore, man is not morally neutral, nor is he in a position to simply cooperate with the physician, but is in need of resurrection.  God doesn’t visit the hospital bed and apply the medicine, He visits the morgue and performs a heart transplant.  He then doesn’t say whosoever will, He says “Lazarus come forth!”

All the whosoever’s of the Bible must be viewed in light of the spiritual condition of man.  We must understand that God views man not merely as sick, but as spiritually dead.  We must come to understand that our sinful condition is far more dire than simply being able to choose out of our own natural volition to follow God.  Scripture is clear about our inability to do so.  It must be remembered that the “whosoever believes” of John 3:16 follows the “you must be born again” of John 3:3; 3:5; 3:7.  The “whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” from Romans 10:13 follows after the passages that we just listed above; the condemnation of man from the first three chapters of Romans, the inability of man described in chapter 8, and even the sovereign purposes of God from Romans 8-9 that we will examine in a subsequent post.

In all these things the sinner is in great need of the grace of God, not to be improved upon by their own faith, but to utterly and completely save them and draw them out of the pit, severing the bondage of the will with sin an enabling the sinner through the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ by grace alone.  His grace is sufficient and we should be cautious to either state, assume, or believe otherwise.

IT IS: But for the grace of God go I; NOT: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

 

Sola gratia.