The Doctrines of Grace – Unconditional Election, Part 1
TULIP is a familiar acronym which serves to state succinctly the doctrines of grace. Some theologians may reject one or more of them, but unless they reject them all simultaneously, they hold to an inconsistent theology. Each doctrine relates to the others in such a way that if you change or redefine any one of them, you violate their logical coherency, and they no longer fit together.
This may be illustrated by considering the first two doctrines in TULIP, namely, Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. As we have seen, Total Depravity is the biblical teaching that men are conceived and born in sin (Ps 51:5), that is, man is ‘sinner’ before he is ever born and commits his first sin. Elsewhere the sinner is described as dead in his sins (Eph 2:1), without spiritual understanding and unable to seek God (Rom 3:11; 1 Cor 2:15; Eph 4:17, 18). There is nothing in natural man that God looks upon and finds pleasing or worthy (Rom 3:10-18; Rom 6:5-7). We are all wretched sinners from birth, and if left to our own strength and ability, we would never please God, or even have the desire to do so – the holy things of God would be unpleasant and abominable to us. We would continually fulfill the wicked desires of our sinful nature and mind (Eph 2:3).
At the same time, the scriptures are clear that God has chosen some of mankind for salvation. The theological (and biblical) term is election: before the foundation of the world, God chose certain ones to be saved out of this awful spiritual condition (Eph 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2) and its terrible penalty – the wrath of God (Eph 2:3; 5:6; Col 3:6; 1Thess 1:10; 5:9).
Man’s depravity logically requires God’s election. Given man’s inability as a sinner to seek God or the holy things of God, if there is to be any hope for him, it cannot be a hope that comes from within, for there is no hope in himself (Eph 2:12). Hope must come from without. Man’s total depravity leaves him helpless such that without the choice on God’s part to act graciously toward the sinner, the sinner would remain and perish in his sins.
One’s hope ultimately resides in God’s choice to save him. This point is embedded deep in Paul’s theology and other New Testament writers. The ultimacy of divine election, that is, the fact that God’s election rests exclusively and sovereignly upon Himself, is a logical necessity because of our depravity and inability to choose God. The sovereign nature of this divine choice is underscored by the truth that it was a choice made not in our lifetimes, nor in the lifetimes of our ancestors, or in the ancient past of world history. It was a choice made before the creative events of Genesis, before the world began, to use the imagery of Paul (Eph 1:4; 2 Thess 2:13). It is Paul’s way of saying that God’s election of some is an eternal choice that has always been in the mind of God. There has never been a time when it was not.
The Doctrines of Grace – Unconditional Election, Part 2
We have seen that the doctrine of Total Depravity necessitates the doctrine of Unconditional Election because as sinners through and through, we would never choose God; if there is any hope, God must choose us, and that is precisely what the scriptures teach, Eph 1:4, et. al.
When we ask, Why did God choose to save some and not others? we are asking a question that is answered in somewhat general terms in the New Testament. Even so, Paul’s answer is blunt. Paul does not talk around the matter, but speaks directly to it, and his answer may not appeal to some, even for Christians who revere God by honoring the scriptures as his word. But if one accepts the scriptures as the God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and Spirit superintended (2 Pet 1:20,21) word of God, he must heed Paul honestly and submit to his understanding of election, for Paul, as an apostle, was a spokesman whose words were inspired by God (1 Cor 2:4,13; 7:40). As we look at the doctrine of unconditional election over the next few Sundays, Paul’s unabashed attitude over the subject will come through.
Election reveals the character of God, that is, it tells us something about his nature, what he is like. This is true of anyone; we can gain an insight into the psyche of another by looking at the choices he makes, especially his choice of friends or persons whom he devotes benevolent attention to. At the same time, care must be taken not to equate the rationale behind human choice-making with God’s. That is, the reason and purpose behind God’s election of some to salvation has no comparison to the way sinful and selfish man chooses his friends and beneficiaries.
Election reveals God’s sovereignty. Paul is unwavering in his conviction that everything that God does is done according to his purposes and his alone. This shines through in his Ephesians letter. We who have been saved have come into this state of grace because God predestined [determined beforehand] us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, Eph 1:5. We will consider the pleasure of God as it relates to his election in a forthcoming lesson, but for the moment note that the idea of God’s predestining us to adoption as sons was not merely pleasing to him, but it was an idea that actually materialized because he, and he alone, willed it to happen. Predestining us to salvation was not something he was compelled to do because of pressure from without. There was no one and no thing in his creation, whether among angels, or heavenly prinicipalities and powers, or any man on Earth that coerced him into choosing a single person for salvation. It was according to the purpose of his will. Paul reinforces this as he writes, In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, Eph 1:11. There is nothing that happens outside of God’s purposes. Nothing comes as a surprise to God, not because he has a mysterious power to know all things, but because he knows what he has purposed. Our election is a deliberate choice whose origin is solely within God.
The Doctrines of Grace – Unconditional Election, Part 3
God predestines his people to salvation. This is a doctrine that is through and through a biblical doctrine. The word predestine, as Paul used it when he wrote his letters in the koine (koy neh) Greek of his day, means to predetermine or to decide beforehand. Broadly speaking, the idea is of a determination or choice made without the slightest influence of any external situation or requirement. Another way to express it is that the one making the decision is doing so not because it is required by circumstances beyond his control, but solely to satisfy his own purpose and pleasure.
Election and predestination are related but not entirely identical. Both the election and predestination of some to salvation were eternally present in the mind of God and therefore existed before the world ever was, Eph 1:4; 1 Cor 2:7. However, election to salvation stresses the fact that it is a choice, and one made solely by God. Predestination, though it includes the choice, speaks more to the providential coordination of all things to bring that salvation about. This latter point sheds light on various New Testament texts.
Acts 4:28 recounts how Peter and John had been threatened by the rulers of
not to speak in the name of Christ. Afterwards, they reported to their
companions everything that had happened to them. The response was a confession
in prayer to God that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel
worked against the Lord Jesus Christ because
it was what God determined beforehand (predestined) they should do.
Christ’s death came through God’s synchronizing the plotting of Israel’s
rulers against Christ with the willingness of the Roman government to carry out
his execution. Even the form of capital punishment, crucifixion, was ordained
Romans 8:29-30 testifies that God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies those for whom he works all things together for good. This ‘good’ is at bottom the salvation of those who love God. This golden chain that begins with foreknowledge and ends in glory includes predestination wherein God, having chosen those on whom he had set his love, providentially accomplishes their salvation by effectually calling them (a call that is irresistible), justifying them, and ultimately glorifying them.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1-8, Paul testifies that when he first came to the Corinthians he preached the wisdom of God (as opposed to the wisdom of this age). This text tells us that God’s wisdom centers on Jesus Christ and his crucifixion (2:2), and extends to what God has prepared for those who love him (2:9). In 2:7, Paul states that this wisdom (that is, Christ’s death and, through it, our future glory) was ordained (predestined) by God before the ages. God had determined beforehand all that would come to pass to achieve the salvation of his people.
 Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints.
 Koine Greek, or Common Greek. This was the Greek of everyday use in Paul’s world as opposed to the Greek used by the literary giants of the day. Koine was discovered among the business records and personal correspondence that eventually were thrown onto the rubbish heaps.