Basic Reformed Theology 3
Most people recognize this part of Reformed Theology (RT). In TULIP, the “U” (for ‘Unconditional Election’) stands out to many as the distinctive feature of RT. The Bible’s teaching on election should not be overlooked, understated, or denied. We would not say this doctrine is the “heart” of RT but it remains a very important part of it.
Paul says that God “chose (elected) us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God’s people’s names were written in the Book of Life “before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2Tim. 1:9). God’s elect are “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:23). We know that God works all things “according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11) and we can conclude from the context that part of His eternal counsel included the election of His people (v. 4). That means God chose certain individuals before He created the world and before individuals came into being. Though a mystery surrounds this mind blowing doctrine (which means we cannot understand everything about this doctrine) we can nonetheless conclude from Scripture God certainly elected some to eternal life before creation.
Most people assume God only elected those who would choose Christ. He saw from eternity if an individual chose Christ. On that basis or condition, God chose the individual. That means God reacted in response to our choice. He had to choose because we chose! This would make God’s choice dependent and conditional and therefore secondary and not primary. The word “unconditional” in unconditional election means that man’s actions and behavior did not condition or influence God’s choice. God did not choose His people because they chose Christ first or because they deserved it, were wiser, smarter, prettier, more promising, influential, powerful, etc. (1 Cor. 1:26-31). He chose to love us because He loved us (Deut. 7:8). Jesus’ statement to his disciples applies to the Bible’s teaching on election, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (Jn. 15:16).
Regarding Jacob and Esau, the Bible says “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…” (Rom. 9:11), that is, God’s electing purpose and not Jacob’s choice (before either of them did anything) determined the final destiny of the two individuals. God’s choice denotes God’s mercy: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). Man’s will does not determine God’s election: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom. 9:16) “Human will or exertion” simply means “man’s desire or effort” (NIV). Man’s desire or effort does not influence or control God’s mercy/election. We choose Christ because God chose us: “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)
Some Implications and Objections
That means that God’s children were chosen before the foundation of the world and that each person converted has been elected from eternity. We don’t know who or how many have been elected (a fixed number, cf. WCF 3.4) but God does. The doctrine is a source of consolation for God’s people; it should not be the concern of the unconverted because his duty is to repent and believe in Christ.
•Why evangelize? Because Christ commanded us to preach the gospel. Through the free offer of the gospel God gathers His sheep (cf. Jn. 10:16, 27). We preach to everyone without exception and those appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).
•It’s not fair! If we want absolute fairness, then we would all receive what we all deserve, namely, eternal damnation. We rightly merited damnation. Eternal life is God’s gift of mercy and He can give it to whomever He wishes (Rom. 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy…”). He could give it to all; to none; or to some. God chose to give it to many.
•What about foreknowledge? Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:1, 2 speak of God’s foreknowledge. Doesn’t that mean God elected those whom He foreknew would choose him? Romans 8:29 says “whom he foreknew” — not “what he foreknew” (a masculine and not neuter relative pronoun) — a foreknowledge of persons. God knew them beforehand and predestined them — it does not say he knew what they would choose and then he chose them! 1 Peter 1:1, 2 speaks of the same personal foreknowledge, they are “those who are elect… according to God’s foreknowledge”. As the person Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20) to redeem or ransom (vv. 18-19) so the elect were foreknown by God the Father whom the Son would redeem. It simply means God chose whom He loved beforehand (cf. Amos 3:2) because God foreknew everyone and everything. In these passages, God’s fore-knowledge connotes an intimate knowledge (like “fore-loved”).
•It doesn’t matter what I do! Paul takes on that exact question in Romans 9. After teaching that God can show mercy to anyone He wills, Paul answers the question that often arises from such a teaching: “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Rom. 9:19) That is, “How can I be held guilty? I can’t resist or control whatever God does!” In short, Paul says God can do what He wishes with fallen man. Some will become vessels of mercy (v. 23) and other will receive what we all deserve, become “vessels of wrath” (v. 22). Man is still responsible for his actions and will be condemned because of their sin and for refusing to repent and believe!
•Why? So no one can boast! “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 Cor. 1:26-31) God gets all the glory!!