The Real Struggle
THE REAL STRUGGLE
The foundational doctrines of election and predestination may be troubling to those who have never been seriously exposed to them. Perhaps you have been thinking to yourself, “The doctrine on the sovereignty of God in election cannot be right. The God I have known and worshipped all of these years would never elect some unto everlasting life and pass over (or leave) others to perish in their sins.” If this has been your train of thought, let me suggest that your real problem is not with election and predestination, but with the doctrine of human depravity. Indeed, if the post-fall condition of mankind is understood biblically, that is, that man is utterly sinful, totally depraved, and spiritually dead in his sins, the doctrine of God’s sovereign election makes perfect sense. It becomes a doctrine not to be despised, but joyfully celebrated “to the praise of [God’s] glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). Why? Because apart from God’s choosing us, and left to our own devices, we would be hopelessly and helplessly dead in our transgressions and sins, forever unwilling (and unable) to enter into a saving relationship with God. Calvin, in a sermon from Ephesians chapter one, states:
Although God should wait a hundred thousand years for us, if we could remain so long in the world, yet it is certain that we should never come to him nor do anything else but increase the mischief continually to our own condemnation.
It is the certainty of God’s absolute sovereignty, coupled with the reality of mankind’s fallen spiritual condition, which makes election for the Christian believer not only a joy and comfort, but a necessity.
The Bible teaches that God created mankind in His own image (Gen. 1:26). In their original condition, before the fall, mankind possessed an inherent righteousness which consequently led them to walk in perfect, sinless harmony with God. In this pre-fall condition, however, Adam and Eve possessed something that we do not, namely, the possibility of perfect obedience and the possibility of disobedience. However, when they gave into temptation and sinned against God during their probationary period in the garden, they entered into a new state of nature. In other words, when they rebelled against God by eating of the forbidden fruit they lost their inherent righteousness and with it the possibility of perfect obedience. In fact, as the federal representative of all mankind, Adam lost those things not only for himself, but for everyone subsequently born into this world … except one (Romans 5:12; 18). The only possibility mankind now has is the possibility to sin. By nature, we are all “enemies of God: and “children of wrath” (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:3). While elaborating on the spiritual depravity of mankind, Paul states:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12; from Psalm 14:1-3).
Notice what Paul says about mankind’s nature. First, he is not righteous. As I mentioned before, mankind’s original righteousness was lost at the fall. Second, mankind does not understand. In other words, his mind is darkened in sin. Third, due to mankind’s depraved mind and will, no one seeks for God. This verse contradicts the theological foundations of the “seeker church” movement which believes that man, in his unregenerate state, has the ability to seek after God. On the contrary, man is dead in his sin and unable to do anything but rebel against God. Fourth, man has turned aside. You may ask, “Turned aside to what?” He has turned aside to his own ways, desiring autonomy, believing his own ways to be better than God’s. Indeed, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a). Fifth, and finally, no one does good, no not one. The word “good” is employed to mean “unmixed good”, that is, a good that is unadulterated and pure; a good that meets God’s standards of perfection for both outward actions and inward motivations and desires. (According to this definition of good, the only person who did anything “good” after the fall was Jesus Christ).
In a word, mankind, in his fallen condition, is utterly depraved and corrupt in his mind, will, and affections (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21). He is born in sin, spiritually dead, an enemy of God, and a child of wrath (Psalm 51:5; Eph. 2:1; Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:3). Therefore, mankind’s greatest need – and only hope – is for the sovereign, life-giving, undeserved love and grace of God in Christ. The foundation of that grace is none other than God’s eternal purpose of election.
Understanding human depravity helps us to recognize that without election we would all be doomed to an eternity of separation from God. Indeed, none of us would have ever chosen God in our own power. But God, rather than leave us all to perish in our sin, chose, according to His own will and pleasure, a people for Himself, a people whom He set His love and affection upon even before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 11). Since His chosen people were guilty of sin, like the rest of mankind, and deserving of the full justice of God’s wrath, God the Father sent His beloved Son to bear the full force of His wrath on the cross. God bruised His own Son for us (Isaiah 53:10). This was done in order that we would be set free from the condemnation of the Law, forgiven of our sins, counted as righteous, adopted into God’s family, and guaranteed a place in heaven.
Salvation is not God’s grace plus man’s decision or choice, for as I have attempted to show, the only decision or choice man will make in his depraved condition is a sinful one, one that that is hostile to God (Romans 8:7-8). Salvation, rather, is accomplished by God’s grace … period. We add nothing to it. God does it all, and therefore He gets all the glory.
God plans salvation (in Christ) before time (Eph. 1:4), accomplishes it (in Christ) in time (Eph. 1:7), and applies it to His elect (in Christ) throughout time (Eph. 1:13), so that all those who, by grace through faith believe, will be His sons and daughters for all time (Eph. 1:14). This God-centered and Biblical view of salvation leaves no room for boasting, except, of course, in the Lord (I Cor. 1:31). Moreover, election gives us a reason to rest securely in God’s eternal promises while at the same time totally devoting ourselves to His praise and service.
Christ Church, if you are, perhaps, working through your understanding of the doctrines of election and predestination, I encourage you, first of all, to remember the fallen condition of mankind. Apart from sovereign grace there would be no hope of salvation for any of us, and we would all be left to our own natural desires, wicked tendencies, and sinful inclinations. However, with sovereign, electing grace there is hope. And this hope is rooted in God’s eternal love, a love which was proven in the sacrifice of His beloved Son, a love which is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. May this love cause our hearts to rejoice this week and compel us to sing the following words by James Montgomery Boice:
I once was rebellious, corrupted by sin, pursuing the
devil’s dark path, oblivious, dead to the state I was in,
an object of God’s dreadful wrath
But God who is rich in compassion and love, not
leaving my soul to the grave, has given me life
born again from above
by God’s sovereign grace I’ve been saved
Since grace is the source of the life that is mine
and faith is a gift from on high
I’ll boast in my Savior, all merit decline,
and glorify God till I die.