If God did not act first, no one would be saved. -RC Sproul
A year and a half ago I would have opposed a belief that I now hold dear to my heart, and that is this: God chooses whom He saves. Today, I agree with AW Pink who argued that, “reduced to its simplest terms, election means that God chose me before I chose Him.” As Pink argues, the reason why this doctrine is so detested by mankind is that the doctrine of election “makes nothing of the creature and everything of the Creator; yea, at no other point is the enmity of the carnal mind so blatantly and hotly evident.”
God chose exactly whom He would save before the foundation of the world. The gut reaction of many modern-day evangelicals would is, “What! Why would a good God not save everyone?” The question we should really be asking in light of our radical sinfulness is, “Why would a good God save anyone at all?” We should never for a moment imagine that anyone on earth is entitled to grace in the first place. No one deserves, merits, or is entitled to any grace at all. If they did, it would not be grace, (Romans 11:6). God is not obligated to pardon a single sinner, yet His glorious grace has already caused countless sinners to not only be forgiven, but adopted as His precious sons and daughters for all eternity. The cost of saving them was high; He purchased His elect by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Paul describes the great love that God has shown His elect in Romans 8: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:33, 35). Let us then approach this issue with humility and gratitude knowing that we are recipients of unfathomable mercy and grace and that we are not in the position to question or criticize God, let alone ever claim that He is unjust.
Paul wrote in Ephesians that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1:4-5). In Revelation, John writes that the names of the elect were “written down before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8). Those whose names are “written in the book” will be saved. As believers, we can conclude from these two passages that God has loved us since eternity past and knew our names even before creation. Christina Perri’s famous song, “I’ve loved you for a thousand years,” is pathetic and soft in comparison to the love God has shown His children. Your name was so precious to Him that He decided to save you by the blood of “the Lamb who was slain” even before man had fallen or had even been created. But what about the obvious fact that not everybody’s name was written down on that list? Has God truly not chosen to save some people on this earth? Let’s discuss this.
I was afraid to study this issue, probably because I was scared where it would lead me. I knew that believing in predestination would result in believing God had chosen to save some and not others. I think I was so resistant because in my heart to some extent I believed we all deserve grace or that we all had to make a choice to “allow” God to convert us. I didn’t realize that God sovereignty is not limited by man’s free will. I believed my salvation rested on my decision to choose Jesus or something like that. But could it have been true that all along I never had autonomy over my life and destiny? Yep, pretty much. And thank God I did not. If God did not intervene and it was up to me, I would never have come to Christ and I would not be typing this right now. We are incapable of following Christ until God works in our heart. The Lord Jesus declares in John chapter 6 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), and, “All that the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (6:37). He also declares that “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he is giving me, but raise it up on the last day.” (6:39) When Christ here preached the sovereignty of God in salvation, “The Jews grumbled about him,” (6:41) and “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6:66), leaving only Him and twelve disciples. These verses make it clear that:
- The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation would be important even if Christ didn’t talk about it in the Gospels, but obviously because Christ Himself preached it, and was willing to lose followers over it, we can know that it matters to Him, and therefore, it should matter to us. This glorious truth was not concocted by John Calvin or R.C. Sproul, but preached by our Savior Himself, and written of throughout the whole Bible, (if you don’t agree with me, read Dr. Steven Lawson’s book Foundations of Grace where he goes from Genesis to Revelation showing how the entire Bible defends the sovereignty of God).
- We are hopeless and cannot “come to [Jesus] unless the Father” draws us to Him (verse 44).
- “All that the Father gives [Him]” will end up coming to Him, (37, 39). God’s call of sinners to faith in Christ is effectual. He is truly mighty to save.
- 100% of the people God chose before He created the world come to Jesus and He will lose none of them (37, 39). “No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:29)
- This will offend some, indeed, “When many of the disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (6:60) This topic is divisive, (66). It’s offensive and controversial; it always has been (41).
While it offended some and will offend more, this doesn’t make what Christ said any less true, and may we never apologize for the sovereignty of God. Paul celebrates how God is the one who saves us from start to finish: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30) Theologians call this passage “The Golden Chain.” It is unbreakable and none of the predestined and foreknown elect of God are lost. Foreknown here does not mean God had knowledge of what people were going to do and then acted accordingly, but that God chose these individuals out of mercy and set His love on them. All of those foreknown by God are regenerated, justified, sanctified, and glorified, and God is the one who carries out each step. 100% of the people God foreknew and predestined end up in glory.
Our Savior makes the truth of election more undeniably clear in John 15, when He states that, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16). Therefore, if you are a believer you cannot take credit for it. You ought to thank God that your eyes were opened. Now, did God choose us because we are better than other people? Absolutely not, for
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 1:27-30
Not only is it God who chooses who will be saved, but it is God who performs the act of salvation, leaving no room for anyone to boast; “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). Our good works are like filthy rags, (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore we cannot earn our way to God or do anything to appease His just wrath. Indeed, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…” (Romans 3:20), again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), and again “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6) When a group of men were shocked by some of Jesus’ teachings on salvation, they asked Him “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). Jesus “looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Our salvation depends on God, not on who we are or what we do.
Our salvation not only does not, but cannot hinge on anything anything we do, even a decision of the will. It must rest on God alone and His will. We can’t do anything good without God’s grace: “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). We are unable to please God until we have been born again, and therefore we cannot believe in or follow Jesus until we have been born again; “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The ones who “receive him” must be born of God, and that does not happen by the “will of man, but of God.” We therefore do not choose to be born again. Lazarus obviously cannot follow Jesus until Jesus raises his dead corpse back to life. We do not choose to believe in Jesus and then are born again, but rather we are born again and then we will choose to believe in Jesus. Any person who has not been born again has no will to receive Christ until he is born again. How can you argue that a spiritually dead slave to sin is free to accept the Gospel when “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)? It is impossible! The Bible makes it clear that a sinner who has not been born again cannot accept or understand the things of God: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) Therefore, those who receive Christ have already been born “of God.” Jesus makes this clear to Nicodemus:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” –John 3:3,5-6
When we understand the incredibly liberating truth that God is sovereign in salvation, it ought to make us the most humble creatures on the planet and give us rest. There is nothing we did to earn God’s love, and there is nothing we can do to lose it. As God’s adopted children, we are absolutely safe in His arms forever. Perhaps, you are unconvinced and reluctant to believe something that appears so unloving to you, or maybe you think it would be immoral or unjust for God to chose to save some and choose to damn others. In Romans 9, Paul boldly asserts that God, “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:16). God is God, and He is free to save whomever he chooses. Every single person in Hell deserves to be there, and especially because Hell is where we all deserve to be, we are in no place to question Him, or blasphemously accuse Him of being unjust. Yet still, our twisted and prideful hearts are inclined to do that exact wretched thing. Paul even writes that, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Romans 9:19) Here is his response:
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. –Romans 9:20-24
God is God, and we are not. Our chief end is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. This passage makes it clear that God will either be glorified in our salvation by His mercy towards sinners, or in our damnation by His justice towards sinners, and that it is up to Him, “the potter”, to do what he pleases. May God forbid us from blasphemously accusing Him of being unjust. No one deserves grace, the elect get mercy, the damned receive justice, and God gives no one injustice. Unless everyone deserves to be in Heaven, we have no ground to call election unjust. May we neither arrogantly use this glorious topic for foolish debates nor avoid believing and studying this truth out of anger or fear, but may we all praise and thank our God in tears for choosing vile sinners like us to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus as we get to know our amazing God more and more.