Thursday, August 09, 2007
Unconditional Election: Good News?!
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. - Acts 13:48 ESV
"Divine grace is necessary before a person can even begin to will to love God." - Gerald Bonner, Augustine's Doctrine of Man
The video presented below is one the most concise at clearly explaining the doctrine of unconditional election. John Piper does an excellent job illustrating the comfort that should be found in this biblical teaching.
As I finished watching this clip, I noticed the comment that was left by a fellow viewer:
"I am a Christian and i fully believe in free will, i respect Mr. Piper for his views, but one thing that made me uneasy about what he was saying is if God chooses people to enter His Kingdom then He must choose for people to be destined to Hell. That cannot be though because he wishes no one into Hell according to James. I just disagree heavily on what was said in this video. I appreciate Mr. Piper and his God gifted work."
The problem that I have with this comment is not merely personal. I'm indeed a fan of John Piper and his work, but I'm not solely coming to his defense because I like him. My first issue is based upon the assumption that Piper is simply expressing his opinion. This is not the case; he is basing his beliefs on the Scriptures themselves and what they teach. The comment offers no such biblical reference other than "according to James". What passage in James? Would you like to expound on this? Have you actually searched the scriptures to find out whether or not these things are so? When we are dealing with matters as great as this, we must always remember to approach them with the seriousness that they deserve. This is a doctrine that is at the very heart of our evangelism methods. Secondly, to make a claim such as, "that cannot be", we need to be absolutely sure that we have taken the time to properly hear the statement and compare it to the writings of the Holy Bible before we go out on a limb. The reason this is necessary to bring up is because the commentator opens up their statement with, "I am a Christian and I fully believe in free will". Here is where the hand is tipped; the statement makes it clear from the outset that regardless of the information presented, their presupposition was going to rule the day. It was not going to ultimately be based on Scripture - but rather, opinions and emotional attachment to their own views. It is because of this that the person fails to see the full doctrine and concentrates on a particular aspect that doesn't seem to jive with their own convictions.
But What Does the Bible Say?
For those unfamiliar with the doctrine of unconditional election, it can be summarized like this:
God freely chooses whom he will save, based upon his own sovereign will and purpose, not on the merits of the individual being saved.
Can this be backed up with scripture? Absolutely! We can look at the two passages alluded to by Piper. First, he quotes from 1 Corinthians:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." - 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV
It is clear from the scripture above that God does, in fact, elect or choose those whom will be saved out of the world. Notice that it even goes as far to say, "And because of HIM you are in Christ Jesus". That means that it is God who brings us to Christ. This is done so that we can stake no claim in our own salvation. The Glory belongs to God alone.
The next passage we can look at is about the conversion of Paul himself:
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." - Acts 9:10-16 ESV
It is important to note that Paul was perfectly fine persecuting Christians and had no interest in turning over a new leaf (Acts 9:1-2). Paul's conversion is a tale of a man interrupted. God elected him to be a witness to the gentiles. Paul's will of freedom of choice had nothing to do with it. It is the glorious intrusion of God that saved him from perishing - and so it is with all who believe (Psalms 65:4).
I Have Decide To Follow Jesus...But Why?
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. - Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV
So what shall we say about free will? Does it have any role at all? Yes. But, we must remember that we must look at the will and election in the light of the Scriptures, not mere human reasoning. This is the response that I offered to the commentator in regards to what we must believe in regards to the freedom of our will.
Man does indeed have a will. But according to scripture, the will is only free to act on its strongest inclination - what it desires most. Therefore, Jesus states that,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin..." - John 6:34 ESV
This is why Paul is justified in his statement in Romans 6:20:
"For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness."
So we can draw the conclusion from these verses that if we are slaves to sin, we can do nothing but sin. We can see this brought to our attention more severely in Ephesians 2:1-3:
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.
So in our natural state, how is it that you, me or any other believer comes to true faith in Jesus out of such a horribly depraved condition? Our will in bondage to sin and hearts darkened and hostile towards God (Colossians 1:21); what breaks our chains of bondage and brings us into the love of Christ? What causes me to choose to turn away from my sin? It obviously can't be me. From the scriptures, it has already been established that I am incapable of doing this! So, that leaves only one answer. Jesus states that,
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." - John 6:44 ESV
It is clear from this statement that we are not "free" to will ourselves to come to Christ apart from the divine initiative of God's. I always find it peculiar that all throughout the Old Testament, we find God choosing people and there's never an objection raised, yet when we get to the New Testament, we treat it as some sort of blasphemous or foreign concept. This objection, while it may be an earnest one, is misguided. It is the same objection that Paul expects and deals with in Romans 9:6-24:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 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. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
While this is a hard saying in scripture, it should ultimately bring us comfort for it is the only way that we can be certain that we are saved. As Jesus, again, says:
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." - John 6:37 ESV
So if God calls us by the power of his spirit, then and then only is our salvation secured. If we rely on our so-called "free" will to bring us to Christ, it will be an exercise in futility. Faith may come by hearing the word of God, but it cannot be forgotten that this is because the Holy Spirit operates through the Word of God alone. If left merely to our will, this would leave us under the law, not grace. This means that you are obligated to fulfill the law through your own will, which is impossible.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. - Romans 3:19-20 ESV
Praise be to the unconditional election of the Almighty God! But to see the beauty and mercy we must understand it from both sides of the coin. We can no more decide for God who he can save, than we can tell him who he can't. That is why it's called amazing grace...
Soli Deo Gloria,