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Archive for August, 2008

Unconditional Election Means God is Sovereign

Posted by heyrandy on August 16, 2008

Having posted an essay regarding the issue of Total Depravity, I will now explain the meaning of the U in the Tulip acrostic.  The U stands for Unconditional Election.  The Calvinists emphasize the truth of God’s sovereignty when they speak of election as being unconditional.  It is to this doctrine that most who claim to be Christians object.  This teaching can be real argument starter.

The doctrine of unconditional election states that God is totally sovereign in regard to man’s salvation.  In a previous post I listed many questions that must be answered by those who deny unconditional election.

Election means choice.  We often hear the word used of political voting.  The Calvinists mean that God has chosen some to salvation in Jesus Christ and has past by all others, leaving them to the just punishment that their sins deserve.  It is always to be remembered that God does not chose some men from a world of deserving or at least neutral men.  God choses from among sinners.  These are people that have violated God’s law.

Election by God is a demonstration of His grace.  We must never forget this.  If God had not chosen any to life in Jesus Christ, there would be none forgiven.  All men would suffer the eternal punishment God gives to those who violate His law.

Much of the trouble people have with election is found in their view of grace.  Many people think that they deserve grace.  After all, God is fair.  It is just not right, they say, that God would prefer some to others.  When we look at this objection and the others raised by the opponents of election, we see immediately that they reflect a very shallow view of the Bible and of the God who wrote it.

If I were to give away dollars to everyone on my Christmas card list, does this mean that I am unfair to not include you on my list?  What if I gave the dollars to only half of those on my list?  What if I gave no dollars to anyone?  What right does anyone have to my dollars?  You cannot demand of me a dollar just because you did not get one.  You might think it is unfair, but it is not unjust.  Do you object if you received five dollars when all the others got only one?

Fairness is a human attribute based on the idea that everyone (or at least almost everyone) should get what everyone else is getting.  Life does not work that way.  It never will.  It is not fair that I was not born rich, good looking, and smart.  However, it is not unjust.  Fairness is very American; it is not very Biblical.  Fairness has nothing to do with God’s election, sovereignty does.  Paul address this objection on Romans 9:15.  Citing God’s words to Moses, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  Paul  continues the thought in v. 16 concluding that “it does not depend on man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”

It is God’s sovereign right to distribute and withhold His blessings as He desires.  God chose to bless Jacob, a liar and a cheat, and to hate Esau (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). This sovereign right of distribution includes His gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.  We may chafe at this, but without sovereignty in everything, God becomes a servant of His creation.  The clay dictates to the potter for what purpose the pot will be used.  Paul uses this analogy in Romans 9:20-21 when he says, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why have you made me like this,’ will it?  Or does not the potter have the right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”  Paul concisely expresses the idea of God’s sovereignty:  the right to do as He pleases with His creation.

The Bible does teach election of individuals, not classes of people, to eternal life.  The doctrine of election does not mean that God chose believers in Jesus to be saved.  No, election to life in Christ means that God chose individuals to become believers in Jesus Christ.  The individual believes in Jesus because God in eternity chose that person to believe in Jesus.

We can see the truth of election in many biblical texts.  One of the most direct is John 10:26, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”  In this text we see the state of natural, unregenerate man:  he does not believe because he is not a sheep.  He does not believe to become a sheep.  No, it is the characteristic of a sheep of Christ to believe, but it is a characteristic of one who is not a sheep of Christ not to believe.  Jesus was speaking of the miracles that He had performed in His Father’s name.  The people he was addressing saw the miracles but still did not believe in Him.  This is always the case with unregenerate man.  Until the heart of stone is transformed by divine power into a heart of flesh, the unregenerate man will never, can never, believe.

In John 6:37 Jesus says to those who followed Him because of the miraculous sign He just performed, “All that the Father give Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”  The elect are a gift of the Father to the Son.  There is no human effort involved.

It is maintained by some that by believing on Jesus one becomes “born again”.  In John 1:13, however, this idea is expressly denied.  Speaking of those who do believe in the name of Jesus, John writes, “who were born, not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.”

There are other texts where the truth of election is stated: John 15:16, Acts 13:48, 2Thessalonians 2:13, Ephesians 1:4-5.

The doctrine of election is unconditional.  This is the U letter in the TULIP acrostic.  Just what does it mean by unconditional?  It means nothing in anyone makes anyone favorable to God.  We cannot earn God’s electing grace.  We cannot buy it with our good works.  We cannot even make God favorable towards us if we believe as He requires us to believe in His Son’s paying the price of our sins.  This is a shock to many people.  They think that God chooses those who have chosen Him.  It makes election after the fact.  These people think you can become elect by doing something, by believing.

The Bible does command all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel.  The Bible nowhere says that all men have the ability to do so.  Remember, the Bible also commands us to be holy as God is holy.  This is admitted by all to be impossible.  So it is with believing to become elect; it is impossible.

Very frequently we hear the idea that God knows who will believe and who will not believe, but He does not foreordain these people to one or the other group.  Often Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,” is used to support this view.  When we look, however, more closely at the text, we see that God is not speaking of foreknowing who would believe as the basis of election.  No, rather it is those whom He fore loved that He predestined.  This is how the word “know” is often used in the Scriptures.  It is used that way of Adam and his wife (Gen. 4:1).  Other examples are in Genesis 18:19, Exodus 2:25, Psalm 1:6, Jeremiah 1:5, Amos 3:2, Matthew 7:23, Galatians 4:9, 2 Timothy 2:19.

God’s mere foreknowing but not foreordaining does not escape the problem.  It is certain that God perfectly knows all things in advance of their occurrence.  This renders such events certain.  If a man is foreknown by God to believe unto eternal life, how can that man do anything but believe?  It is not possible for this man to do anything except believe.  To say, then, that God merely foreknow who will believe and makes His choice based upon this foreknowledge is no solution to the problem it seeks to solve.  Otherwise it would be as if Pilate having said, “I find no fault in this man,” ordered Jesus released.  The prophecy of Jesus’ death would have been unfulfilled.

It is not known why God chooses some to eternal life and does not chose others.  There is nothing commendable to God in those chosen.  Nor is there anything more worthy of condemnation in those passed by.  The choice is entirely God’s.  This is a cause for great humility and thanksgiving in those whom God chose to bestow His grace.  It is also a cause for hope.  Since salvation is exclusively the work of God, from beginning to end, we can rest in the assurance that God is going to fulfill His plan.  God does not make any mistakes.  “Those whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 9:30)


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Total Depravity: It’s the Way It Is

Posted by heyrandy on August 11, 2008

In the previous post that introduced this one, I mentioned that the five points of Calvinism could be easily remembered with the acrostic TULIP.  It is with the “T” that I am dealing in this posting.

The “T” stands for Total Depravity.  This important point is often misunderstood by many unfamiliar with the teachings of Reformed Theology.  By Total Depravity it is not meant that we are as bad as we can be.  It is quite true that most people do not do all the evil they are capable of.  If they did, there would be so many of us in prison that there would not be enough jail space.  It cannot be objected against this doctrine that “We haven’t murdered, raped, robbed, etc. like so and so.”  True, we have not, but we are nevertheless totally depraved.

Some of the confusion comes from the way that depraved is commonly used in English.  The word is often used to refer to a calloused attitude on the part of someone, a hardened wickedness, a lack of pity or mercy.  “With depraved indifference” is how some unusually heinous crime is described by the judge at the sentencing of a convicted criminal.

The Calvinists use depravity to indicate the state of man in relation to God.  The Calvinistic view of God and sin is such that any sin, no matter how minor in the our opinion, renders us subject to God’s righteous judgment and wrath.  God regards us as objects of His wrath.  Any sin transgresses the pure holiness of God.

Not only does depravity mean that we are standing under the judgment of God for our sin, depravity also means that we can do nothing about our state.  It is this idea of human helplessness that is at the heart of the issue of depravity.  We cannot change our state. We are immovably fixed in the state of sin and helplessness.  You are “dead in trespasses and sin” (Eph.2:1).  No amount of effort, no strenuous good doing, no amount of religious ritual will alter our state.  We are depraved.  God will not spare us.

In addition to the deadness in sin, depravity also has other effects.  To be part of the fallen mankind means to rebel against and abhor the things of God.  It is to reject God and all that is His.  This the unchangeable characteristic of natural man.  Natural man “does not accept the thing of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”  (1Cor. 2:14)  In this text the apostle expresses the great truths the man both cannot, not “will not”, understand the things of God, and man does not accept these thing because he regards them as foolishness.

Man is spiritually dead to God; man rejects what he hears of God; and man has not ability to understand the truth, because he regards it as foolishness.  It cannot get any worse in terms of effect, but in terms of affect it does get worse.  Satan has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  (2Cor. 4:4)  In addition to the natural inability and hostility of the unbelieving, there is the active effort of Satan to preclude man from believing.  This combination is deadly.

This sad state all began in the Garden of Eden with our first parents, Adam and Eve.  In Gen.3 we read of the temptation and fall of the first couple.  The effects of this sin were, and still are, profound.  We see in their actions immediately after they eat the forbidden fruit the effects of depravity.  They hid from God when they heard Him coming.  They lied and made excuses about what happened and how it happened.  We do the same thing.

There are no exceptions from this.  “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12)

I have discussed depravity, but not the “T” part, the Total.  What does it mean to be totally depraved?  It means that depravity is complete through out all of our being.  There is no area that is exempt from the effect of your sinning.  Total depravity means that all of our good works are contemptible, like “filthy rags”.  (Isa. 64:6)  These works not only do not justify us before God, they condemn us before God.

We live in an age of human potential.  We are constantly told that we have hope of improvement.  If we just had the latest perfect diet, exercise regimen, or a positive thinking attitude, we could be perfect.  Onward and upward.  This line of thought does not account for the fact of God’s pending judgment.  Self-improvement may make us feel better and give us an ephemeral earthly happiness, but it will never suffice before the throne of God on Judgment Day; it will not change our nature.  We are still totally depraved.

Total depravity reflects the fact of our true nature: that of a practicing sinner born as a sinner in Adam into a world that is cursed by sin.  It is this nature of a sinner that each of us gets from Adam and Eve that makes us so helpless before God.  We are dead and blinded.  We are incapable of receiving the truth as anything but foolishness.  It is impossible for any of us to change our nature.  It would be like a leopard changing its spots.  (Jer. 13:23)  We are stuck.  We are without hope in ourselves.

It is because of our depraved state that God takes the initiative.  Left to ourselves, we would be content to remain just as we are: dead in sin and rejecting the things of God as foolishness.  Without God’s prior regenerating grace we would never understand the Gospel.  Without God first opening our hearts, we cannot believe the gospel.  Praise Him that He does this!

We see the action of God in the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:14) where God “opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”  Lydia was no different then than we are now.  We too need the opening of our hearts by divine action before we will believe the Truth.

Yet the Bible speaks of an even more radical transformation: the heart transplant.  In Ezekiel 11:19 the prophet tells of God’s action to remove from His people the “heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”  The Apostle Paul speaks of confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing “in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Rom. 10:19)  Without the heart first being made to believe, the heart is incapable of believing.  It is as dead as a stone.

The doctrine of depravity is no small matter.  It states the condition of fallen man.  It is because of this condition of helplessness, of rejection of the things of God, of inability to obey God that God must first act upon man.  Total depravity is the way it is.

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