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What is a Reformed Church? (8) "U" -- Unconditional Election

by Pastor Lars Larson, PhD line

(A sermon delivered on November 16, 2008, at the First Baptist Church, Leominster, Massachusetts, USA)

Introduction:

          We are addressing the subject of the doctrines of grace, or the five points of Calvinism.  These are five teachings of the Scriptures that describe how God brings salvation to sinners.  These five doctrines exalt God’s glory.  They declare that God is the author and the dispenser of His grace, that God is sovereign in these matters.  When we say that we are a Reformed Baptist church, we are affirming these five doctrines which the Bible teaches regarding God bringing salvation to us.  Once again, they are as follows: (1) the total depravity of man, (2) God’s unconditional election of the lost to be saved, (3) the definite atonement of Jesus’ death for His people, (4) the irresistible grace of God in His calling to salvation, and (5) the final perseverance of the true believers unto their full and final salvation.  Today we will address the subject of God’s unconditional election of His people unto salvation.  Let me read for us a passage which addresses this matter quite clearly, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God ‑‑ and righteousness and sanctification and redemption ‑‑that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” {from Jeremiah 9:24}

            I.  The context and meaning of our passage

            The church at Corinth was beset with many problems.  Paul wrote this epistle to address a number of them.  One of the major problems that characterized the church was divisions of the members into various parties.  Some said, “I am of Paul,” others, “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12).  At the heart of this problem was sinful pride.  The various factions thought that they were better than the others because of whom they followed.  Paul sought to bring them down to realty.  In fact there was nothing about them for which they could justly boast before God or before one another.  God had called them to salvation through the foolishness of preaching the gospel.  He had purposed to be gracious to them.  It was not because they had done something or had been something special that God had called them.  Rather, it was due solely to God’s grace. 
              Although there had been a few of them that the world might regard as “wise”, or “mighty”, or “noble,”  most of them were what the world would regard as “foolish” or “weak things.”  If they would but look at one another honestly, they would see that this was so.  They had been objects of God’s unconditional election.  God had chosen them according to His free and sovereign will.  And it was clear that God had not chosen them because there was something favorable in them that was not in others.  Rather, than having any inherent qualities that set them above others, they received everything needful and valuable through Jesus Christ.  He was their source and basis of righteousness before God, sanctification by God, and redemption from God.  God had saved them in such a manner that they had no basis for sinful pride and boasting.  God has chosen His people to be saved in a manner so that He alone would receive the glory (credit).

            II.  A Second passage that speaks clearly to these matters—John 17:1-26

             This is an account of our Lord Jesus praying to His Father the night that He was betrayed and arrested.  It reveals to us the matter of election.  The Lord prays for His own.  The Father had given their souls as a gift to Him.  The clear implication is that this promise of the Father to the Son had taken place even before creation.  From this passage the following may be said:

            A.  The believers are a gift from the Father to the Son.  Seven times in the prayer our Lord refers to the believers as those who have been given to Him by the Father.

                        a.  “as many as You have given Him” (v. 2)
                        b.  “whom You have given Me out of the world” (v. 6a)
                        c.  “You gave them to Me” (v. 6b)
                        d.  “those whom You have given Me” (v. 9a)
                        e.  “they are Yours” (v. 9b)
                        f.  “those whom You gave Me I have kept” (v. 12)
                        g.  “that they also whom You gave Me” (v. 24)

             One does not therefore give himself, or give his heart, to the Lord in the sense of salvation.  The ones who belong to Christ have already been given to Him from the Father.  Our relationship to the Savior is not established upon the basis of anything that we have done, could do, can do, would do, but rather it is established upon what has already been done by Jesus Christ on our behalf.  In all of this we are viewed as completely passive.  We were chosen by the Father and given to His Son.

            2.  The believers were originally the Father’s possession (v.6).

           In one of the above connections the Savior stated with reference to the believers that they were a gift from the Father: “They were Yours” (v. 6).  Since the entire passage has a redemptive setting and the believers are seen as separate from the world throughout, the reference could not be to the Father's ownership in the sense of creation.  This would encompass all mankind and the statement would be without meaning in such a context.  The only reasonable explanation of these words is that the believers belonged to the Father by election.  This is viewed as an absolute right--so much so that they may be given as specific individuals in the form of gifts from the Father to the Son.  Observe that this is personal and individual, rather than corporate election.  This is indicated by the repetition of the personal pronouns.

            3.  The believers are the objects of Christ’s mercy.

            In distinction to the world (i.e. the mass of humanity) these believers are set aside for blessing in several aspects:

                        a.  They are given eternal life (v. 2).While our Lord achieved supreme power “over all flesh” in His work, He does not grant eternal life to all.  Only those previously marked out in the election-gift receive salvation.  This is a ministry limited to the chosen ones.  There is a discriminatory grace.

                        b.  They are the objects of His intercession (v. 9).It should be noticed that He says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”  Here is a selected group and a limited ministry.  It goes no wider than to those who have been individually and specifically chosen in election.

                        c.  They are divinely kept (vs. 11, 12).  Worldlings, in the guise of believers, are not kept from falling.  Such was Judas, and he is lost.  Here again is a limited ministry of the Lord.  Only His own are kept from falling.

                        d.  They will be with Him in glory (v. 24).  Those who have been given to Christ by the Father will behold His glory in heaven.  This is guaranteed.  The mere professor, however, has no such “blessed hope.”  This is, once more, a limited ministry of Christ, extended only to the elect.  The non-elect will not see His glory, except in judgment.

            III.  Statement and Explanation of the Doctrine:

            The doctrine stated: God has chosen certain persons from fallen humanity to be recipients of His salvation, having chosen them before creation in Christ, not based on any foreseen condition or response of them, but solely due to His own good pleasure according to the purpose of His will.

            A.  Election follows the understanding of man’s total depravity, or total inability to come to God.  Left on his own, even after having been instructed, admonished, persuaded, and pleaded with, man would still choose to reject God’s rule over him, for he is spiritually dead, both incapable and unwilling to do the things God has commanded him.  Man’s salvation must originate from outside of himself.  It originates in God’s election.

            B.  There is no indication in the Scriptures of a reason that God chose the ones He chose, passing over the others, other than it was good in His sight and it was in accord with His purpose to glorify Himself in His grace.

            C.  Election is unto salvation.  Although certainly God’s election of some means His passing over others, hence, a doctrine of reprobation, nevertheless, election is always presented positively unto salvation.  Persons are not elected to damnation; persons are elected to salvation.  The First Baptist Confession states the matter well:

We affirm, that as Jesus Christ never intended to give remission of sins and eternal life unto any but His sheep (John 10:15; 17:2; Eph. 5:25,26,27; Rev. 5:9); so these sheep only have their sins washed away in the blood of Christ: The vessels of wrath, as they are none of Christ's sheep, nor ever believe in Him, so they have not the blood of Christ sprinkled upon them, neither are partakers of Him: And therefore have all their sins remaining upon them, and are not saved by Christ from any of them under any consideration whatsoever; but must lie under the intolerable burden of them eternally.  The truth of this appears unto us by the light of these Scriptures compared together, Hebrews 12:24; 1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 3:14; Matthew 7:23; Ephesians 5:6; 2 Timothy 1:9; John 8:24.  (First London Confession of Faith with an appendix by Benjamin Cox, 1646.)

            D.  To be precise in our speaking of these matters, we should distinguish between the doctrines of election and predestination.  Predestination speaks of God’s design for the ones He elected.  He has predestined them to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29), to become His adopted sons (Eph. 1:5), and to be to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:11).

V.  Other scripture passages that declare this doctrine

Romans 8:28-29.  "And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose.  For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren."

Romans 9:9-15.  "For this is a word of promise, 'According to this season will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.'  And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac,  for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, 'The elder shall serve the younger.'  Even as it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'  What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?  God forbid.  For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

Ephesians 1:4. "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love."

2 Tim. 1:9.  "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."

John 15:16.  "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: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you."

Act 13:48.  "And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."

            VI.  General objections to the doctrine

            This is a hated doctrine by unspiritual people.  The reason is that it humbles man and exalts God.  It does what every doctrine should do, exalts the glory of God and humbles the pride of man.  One aspect of the sin that indwells each of us is that we want to think of ourselves as better than we actually are.  Man wants to believe that there is something special about him, that he is a cut above others, and that is why he is to be distinguished from others.  But the Bible clearly teaches that God saves people according to His grace, therefore, it is totally unconditional on some merit seen or foreseen in the sinner.  What are some challenges or objections to this doctrine?

            A.  “This doctrine makes God unjust with respect to those whom He did not choose.  How can they be held responsible for their sins if God did not choose them?”

             This reveals a terrible lack of understanding of God’s justice and levels a charge against God which calls for rebuke (cf. Rom. 9:19ff.).  People are condemned because of their sin, not because they are not chosen of God.  Men are condemned “already” unless Christ pardons them (John 3:18).  Simply because God can pardon them, it does not follow that God must pardon them, or He is unjust if He refuses to pardon all.  God is perfectly just to administer judgment to sinful man for his own iniquity.

            B.  “To believe this doctrine would discourage evangelism.  What is the point of witnessing if God is going to save whom He will save, if not one He has chosen will be lost and not one He has not chosen will be saved?”

             On the contrary, some of the greatest soul-winners in church history were encouraged and emboldened because they knew that God had a people which would be saved through their instrumentality.  Election was a basis for Christ to encourage Paul in His work of evangelism at the city of Corinth (Acts 18:9-11).

Though some of our opponents do affirm, that by this doctrine we leave no Gospel to be preached to sinners for their conversion; yet through the goodness of God we know and preach to sinners this precious Gospel: “God so loved the world, (that is, has been so loving to mankind) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); and this faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, “That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1: 15, viz., all those sinners, how vile and grievous soever) not only which already do, but also which hereafter shall believe on Him to everlasting (1 Tim. 1:16), and that “to Christ all the Prophets give witness, that through His name, whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).  And this is called “The word of the Gospel” (Acts 15:7).  This is the Gospel which Christ and His Apostles preached, which we have received. and by which we have been converted unto Christ.  And we desire to mind what Paul saith in Galatians 1:9, “If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” -- First London Confession of Faith with an appendix by Benjamin Cox, 1646.

            C.  “This doctrine makes God a respector of persons, and the Bible teaches that God is not a respector of persons.”

             But this charge reflects a misunderstanding of what it means for God not to be a respector of persons.  God is a respector of persons if it means He chooses one and passes over another, but that is not what the Scripture means by this expression.  It means that God judges men impartially, not showing favouritism due to anything in and of themselves (1 Pet. 1:17; cf. Deut. 1:17).   It means that God does not bring salvation based of bloodline (Acts 10:43).

            D.  Other Challenges:

          The following is taken from Kenneth Good’s book, God’s Gracious Purpose, pp. 68, 69:

            The doctrine of election has been variously explained by different schools of thought--sometimes in obvious confusion about the actual meaning of the Scriptures, but in honest heart; and at other times with a deliberate determination to protect the notion of "free will" at any cost.  The following erroneous theories have been expressed:

1. That election refers only to Christ as the One who was marked out to provide the perfect salvation.  Those who choose to be in Him are therefore the elect among men.

2.  That election refers merely to a plan of redemption as the only way of salvation.  Those who choose to be saved by this plan are therefore the elect.

3.  That election refers to a corporate body rather than to individuals.  The redeemed of all ages or the church may thus be viewed corporately (and only corporately) as the elect.  Again, those who choose to become part of this predetermined number may be called the elect.

4.  That election refers only to service and not to salvation.  Therefore the matter of salvation is wholly in the realm of human choice, and those who choose correctly are the elect.

5.  That election refers to the action of God before the beginning of the human race in which He chose those individuals to salvation whom He knew (in His omniscience) would react properly to the Gospel when they heard it.  Again, those who choose to be saved become, by God's adjustment of His program to their wills, the elect.

Various modifications or combinations of the above mistaken concepts have been developed and set forth over the years in an attempt to soften, modify, evade, or contradict the plain teachings of the Scriptures.  Since it is not the purpose of this treatise to enter into theological controversy, but simply to set forth what the Scriptures teach (especially in John's Gospel), we therefore leave the matter of researching the related New Testament Scriptures to the student.  We would suggest a careful study of the following passages as providing ample refutation of the above theories as well as corroboration of the interpretation set forth of the doctrines of grace in the "whosoever Gospel.  " (Matthew 7:23; 20:13,15; Mark 13:27; Luke 4:25-27; 18:7; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 13:48; 18:10; Romans 8:28-9:24; 1 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:1-10; Philippians 2:13; 4:3;2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2:10; Titus 1:1; Revelation 13:8; 20:15; 21:27).  This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but represents some of those texts which, apart from John' s Gospel, teach the same truths emphasized in this treatise.  The truth of unconditional election is taught plainly in the words of our Lord and is corroborated by the words of the apostles.