“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”
1 Thessalonians 1 v 4 -5
The doctrine of Unconditional Election can be arrived at logically from the truth of Total Depravity. As we know that man is spiritual dead and cannot come to God, seek God, desire God or love God in any way, shape or form and we also know that Christians exist then God must work in some people through the Holy Spirit to bring them to him. Christians are only Christians because of God’s doing. Yet there are people who do not come to Christ therefore God must not work in them. For any work God chooses to do he will see to completion. Therefore there must be an elect, that is, a group of people God has chosen to bring to him. And there must be an unelected: a group of people God passes by.
That proves the doctrine of Election (or pre-destination). And we also know that there are “none righteous, no not one.” Therefore since we are all equally unrighteous there must not be anything special within the persons God elects. That proves the doctrine of Unconditional Election.
That’s all very well but what does the Bible have to say on the topic?
Given that truths can never contradict it would be impossible for the Bible to teach Total Depravity and not teach Unconditional Election. And unsurprisingly enough the doctrine of Unconditional Election is one of the clearest in the Bible.
As Paul writes:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
Ephesians 1 v 3 – 6
This neatly encapsulates the truth of Unconditional Election – that before the creation of the world God chose every single Christian in the entirety of human history! This election is also known as Pre-destination.
“To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
As John writes:
“We love because he first loved us”
1 John 4 v 19
I could easily just leave it here. Sure, I could quote 1 Peter 1 v 1 – 2
“To God's elect, … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:”
And I could quote many more verses from the New Testament but really what’s the point? The truth of Unconditional Election is clearly taught in Ephesians 1; it is reinforced in almost every New Testament book and as Jesus says:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6 v 44
To deny Unconditional Election is deny God’s sovereignty over everything. To deny Unconditional Election is to spurn the clear teaching of the Bible on the subject. Take Old Testament history and what do we see? The unconditional election of Abraham and so the Jewish people, the unconditional election of Jacob, of every single Old Testament prophet, etc, etc, etc.
That said this doctrine does raise some interesting questions.
How does God chose his elect?
In Romans Paul writes about Esau and Jacob – twins in Old Testament history. Jacob, the younger, was chosen to be the one from which the nation of Israel would come. Esau, the oldest, was passed by.
“Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."”
Romans 9 v 11 – 13
Election is not based on works! This is a deeply humbling truth for any Christian – we are not God’s elect by any good in us. No! We are just as sinful as everyone else. The only reason why we are Christian is because of God’s immutable and sovereign will and love.
That’s not fair!
As Paul continues in Romans 9:
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.”
Romans 9 v 14 – 16
To say that God is unjust is to lose sight of God’s total transcendence and sovereignty. As Paul continues in Romans 9:
“One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”
Romans 9 v 19 – 24
Is it not for us to tell God what is fair and unfair. God's election of his people does not detract from the responsibility of anyone for their sinful actions.
If only the elect will respond to God’s call why is the gospel message open to all?
It may seem as if we have a contradiction. This contradiction is best summed up by Jesus in John 6. First we have Jesus’ open invitation.
“Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
John 6 v 35
Jesus extends the good news of salvation to all men. As it says in 2 Peter:
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3 v 9
So we have here God’s revealed will that he wants all men to be saved. The gospel is open to everyone and never let anyone tell you otherwise.
However, we also have Jesus saying in the same talk:
“He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."”
John 6 v 65
And we have the truth of Unconditional Election that only those who have been chosen by God will become Christians.
How can these two truths be reconciled?
We know that truths can never contradict. We also know that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Light.” Therefore God sees no contradiction between the open invitation of the gospel and the fact that God has chosen exactly who will respond in coming to Christ.
I can’t understand that
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.”
Isaiah 55 v 8
Rather like the doctrine of the Trinity I think we will never be able to fully understand this truth. Humbly, we have to admit that some truths are beyond are mere human minds. The important matter is that God understands these two truths!
Can you say anything that will help me?
I can give you two ways of helping you to understand this. The first is that God has his revealed will: that he wants all to be saved. And God has his secret will: he has chosen an elect to be saved.
Another way of looking at it is that light is both a wave and a particle. It exhibits properties of both. It is not apparent how light can be both a wave and a particle but the evidence in there. In the same way there is Biblical evidence for both truths. Therefore both truths are true.
Why then should Christians evangelize?
Simple – God uses us! God uses his elect to bring more elect into his Kingdom. Amazingly God chooses to use his human servants to bring about his sovereign will in who shall be saved.
In the same way that Jesus taught election and salvation to all those who believe so should we. Jesus told everyone
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1 v 14 – 15
And yet Jesus knew the truth of Unconditional Election. So this cannot be an excuse not to proclaim the good news. When Jesus preached he always knew exactly how everyone listening would respond. He knew exactly who would repent and believe and who won't yet still he preached to all men. How much more then should we do the same not knowing what affects our words are having?
Final, final thoughts
“It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1 v 30 – 31
If I let my faith in God rule out then I see no contradiction between believeing in Unconditional Election and inviting everyone that reads this blog to come to my church's Easter Service on Sunday 3rd April at 6:30pm. A map to my church can be found here. It's on Arthur's Street (at the oppsite end to where Google maps says we are) and we meet in the Edinburgh City Mission Hall. And you're very welcome to attend.
On Wednesday next week I'll be looking at the topic of Limited Atonement or as Mark Driscoll puts it: Limited Unlimited Atonement.