Unmerited Favor


Unconditional Election


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.... In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” --Ephesians 1:3-6, 11,12.


The underlying question that dominates the issue of predestination is this: is God ruled by the will of man, or is man ruled by the will of God? Did God create the world as something that would move in terms of its own rules, or does He uphold all things by the word of His power? Does time move in terms of eternity? or does eternity move in terms of time? These questions, and others like them, must be answered by Scripture, not by man's imagination, which is vanity.


God's Primacy in All Things

The passage in Ephesians is clear.  Even if there were no other evidence in the Scripture, the answer to the above will be to affirm God's primacy in all things. We were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame. If unbelief is blameworthy, then we were chosen to believe. If being adopted as children in Jesus Christ secures for us eternal life, then this decision was made in eternity before we even existed, except in the mind of God. If the reason for this adoption is asked, the answer is plain: “according to the good pleasure of his will, to praise of his glory.” If the reason for us being accepted in the beloved is asked, the answer is again plain, “the glory of his grace.” If it is wondered how predestination fits into the overall government of the world by God, the answer is, He “works all things after the counsel of his own will.” If the purpose of this predestination is wondered at, the answer is again clear, “that we should be to the praise of his glory.”


Once we accept the doctrine of man's total depravity, then it becomes plain that the reason for man's salvation cannot lie in man (for he is without strength (Romans 5:6-8), then the reason must be in God Himself. The election to eternal life has nothing to do with anything that God sees in man, but is of His own purpose and plan. The reasons are hidden in His love and grace.  The scripture makes it abundantly clear that salvation is of the Lord.


Romans 8:28-31.

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”


God Is Active

This passage speaks of the activity of God, not the activity of man.  All things work together for good, because God works them for good for “the called according to his purpose.” Man does not control the work of God, but it is God who works and provides the conditions for blessing. There are five golden links here, all linked to the purpose of God for His people: Foreknowledge (God cannot know what He does not ordain--Isaiah 46:9,10); Predestination to be conformed to the image of Christ; Calling; Justification; and Glorification.   If Paul is not saying what he is saying, what on earth IS he saying?


The reason for the joy of the Christian is that God is for us, so who can be against us?


This assurance that all things work for the good of those called according to God's purpose is the foundation for Paul's great assurance in the end of this chapter (Romans 8) that nothing can separate us from the love of God. There can be no condemnation, no eternal judgment, no hell, no alienation from God for those so called, because their calling has nothing to do with anything in them but is completely based on God's eternal purpose. Nothing created can ever separate them from the love of God (vs 39), so that leaves only God, and He has purposed from eternity to do them good and to save and justify them. They are therefore absolutely safe and secure. Not even their sins can alienate them for these golden links deal primarily with sin and are the cure for sin. Nothing can be laid to the charge of God's elect (vs. 33). Hallelujah!


II Thessalonians 2:13

“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Again, it is God who is active. They were chosen from the beginning. What were the means of this election? Sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth are the means, but not the ground, of the choosing. They were chosen through, or in, these things, not because of these things. It was through the setting apart of the Spirit and through faith that they were called. But the thanks belongs to God. God will not give His glory to another, and He certainly will not take credit for what He does not do. If we are to thank Him for His choosing, then He must actually do the choosing. 


If Paul had meant that they were chosen because of their sanctification and because of their belief of the truth, the Greek language is certainly capable of expressing it. But Paul didn't say it, and couldn't have said it, for he said the opposite many, many times. They were chosen “in” or “through” sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Their choosing is within the context of a complete work of God in salvation that includes the setting apart of sanctification and belief of the truth.


Acts 13:48

“And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”

The words are plain. Those who believed were those ordained to eternal life. The ordaining brought forth the faith, not the other way around. This word “ordain” is used of earthly rulers in Romans 13:1, who are “ordained of God,” and means to set in order or to arrange, or appoint. It is used in Hebrews 5:1 and 8:3 of the high priest who was “ordained” to offer gifts and sacrifices.  Those who believed certainly did not appoint themselves.


The word is passive: they “were ordained,” and this ordination resulted in their faith. Of course they would have had no interest in being ordained if they did not have faith, for they would have had no heart for it.   How could they have ordained themselves when they were without faith?  Besides, the words are plain: the faith is the result of the ordination. What could be clearer?


John 17:6-9  (NKJV)

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.  I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”


In this great high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ He makes His mission to the earth abundantly clear: it was to manifest the name of God to the men which had been given to him. They belong to the Father first, and they were given to Christ. The results of Christ manifesting the name of God to them are also clear: they kept God's word; they know that the things of Christ are of God, and they received the words of God.


In the most sobering words of all, Christ clearly says that His prayers are not for the world, but for those who were given Him out of the world. How can men be saved if they are not included in the prayers of Christ? And how can they not be saved if they ARE included. The prayers of Christ are not hope-so, wishful thinking, for the Father always hears the prayers of Christ (John 11:41,42). For whom does He pray?  For those given Him by the Father (John 17:2).


John 6:37, 44

“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.... No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”  The elect do not belong to the Father because they come to Christ; they come to Christ because they belong to the Father. They come because they have been drawn by the Father to come to Christ. Jesus did not speak nonsense and did not say what He did not say. He received those who came to Him because faith in Him was proof of election, and was the result of election.


Romans 9:10-24.

This is a classic passage on this whole matter, and we do not reproduce it here because of space constraints. The gist of Paul's argument is this: Isaac and Rebecca had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Before the sons were born, before they had done either good or evil, God said that the elder would serve the younger. This was done for the specific purpose of showing that the election was not according to works, but according to the purpose of God. (vs. 11).


We might ask, “Isn't this unjust?” (vs. 14) The question would give Paul a perfect opportunity to qualify his statement about election to say something about God dealing fairly with men. But Paul doesn't answer the question that way (vs. 14). Instead, he simply drives the nail in more securely by affirming that God can have mercy on whom He wants to and can harden whom He wants to, for He is God, after all. It is not him that runs to gain a prize or him that wills, but  God who shows mercy (vs. 7). He uses Pharaoh as an example of an evil person raised up by God and hardened by God for God's own divine and just purposes (vs. 17).  The matter before us is not one of God making a good person evil, but of God using an evil son of Adam, righteously hardening him in richly deserved judgment, but not losing control of the government of the world.  God used the evilness of Pharaoh for His own glory.


“But, but, but,” we might object. “How can God be a fair judge in the world, if everyone just does the will of God?” (vs. 19) Once again Paul might have claimed that we misunderstood him, that he really wasn't teaching that God decides these things without regard to the works of men.   Instead, Paul reproves the objector for presuming too much: “Who are you to reply against God? Can't God do as He pleases?” (If the student wishes to pursue this subject, he might wish to go to my tract “One Lump or Two” by clicking on the following link.  You must have Adobe Acrobat reader installed on your computer.  This .pdf file will open in a new window.  Simply close the window when you want to return to this lecture.  One or Two.)


One of the strongest evidences that the apostle is teaching unconditional election in this passage is the fact that the very objections that men raise to the doctrine today are exactly the same objections that Paul answers specifically. He must have faced the same objections in his day.  In this passage as in all the others, Paul affirms that God is bound by no will but His own. He cannot deny Himself and pretend that He is not God. He cannot pretend that the universe has a life of its own that is not controlled even to the minutest detail (the fall of a sparrow and the numbering of the hairs on the head) by His will. He always acts in accordance with His own perfect and holy nature: He cannot lie; He cannot fail; He cannot do evil; He cannot but judge the earth in righteousness. He will not for a moment pretend that He is not God, nor give His glory to another.


I John 4:19:

“We love him, because he first loved us.”


Our love is a response to His, not the cause of His. He does not love us because we love Him, but we love Him because He first loved us. This is a special love that is reserved only for the elect of God. Those who are so loved of God will never be under the wrath of God, for they can never be separated from that love (See Romans 8:28-31 above).  In contrast to this love, the wicked will be tormented in fire and brimstone in hell forever and ever, forever shut off from the love and mercy of God (Rev. 14).


Problems and Objections

1. But doesn't this doctrine just make man a machine, a robot? In reality, it is in this doctrine that man finds his greatest and truest liberty.   Man was not created to live apart from God or from His will. If men pretend that God does not control their actions, then they will pretend that they are controlled by luck, by other people, by politics, by economics, by uncontrolled physical urges, by evolutionary processes, by beastly impulses, by a long chain of cause and effect, by evil spirits, by enchantments, by sorcery, by the evil eye, and on and on.  Even worse, some will think that they have overcome some or all of these things by their own strength, falling into the damnable pride of Nebuchadnezzar. 


The Reformation, and the theology systematized by John Calvin, gave the world the greatest outpouring of political, social, and economic liberty in the history of the world. It makes a great deal of difference if men believe they are under the power and dominion of God rather than under the control of evil, impersonal forces within or without.


2. How can man be responsible? Both doctrines, God's sovereign control over creation including man and man's responsibility to his Creator, are both taught in Scripture and are adjunct doctrines, not contradictory. If man is not the creature of God, and not under His power and authority, how can man truly be responsible? How can man truly worship and fear his Creator, if he believes his actions are controlled by accident, evil forces, wicked men, or blind evolutionary forces? If God is impotent in the world, either by choice or by necessity, how can man truly worship and pray and depend upon Him?  Further, how can he be thankful for all things, if God is not their author?


In truth, man was created to be the image of God, to give God glory and thanks for all things. But even in rebellion he cannot escape his Creator, for God would add sin to sin, and rebellion to rebellion, to give man over to do those things that would bring greater wrath and judgment upon him. Man would do the will of God either way, but if he did it believing and joyfully, he would know the fellowship and love of God forever. If not, he would know the judgment and wrath of God. Isolation and independence were never options for man (Romans 1:18 ff. and Psalm 139:7-11).


3. Doesn't this make God the author of sin? Of course not. The same action can have two moral dimensions. For instance, surely the crucifixion of Christ was an abhorrent, unjust, wicked and devilish thing.  Pilate and the people and the Romans were worthy of any punishment that came upon them for the horror of that terrible deed.


But the death of Jesus Christ was ordained of God from the beginning of the world. To deny this is to overthrow the whole gospel. But did God do evil in the death of Christ? Of course not. It was the greatest act of goodness and kindness and mercy in the history of the world, for by giving His Son to die for the sins of the world, God opened the door of grace to all His people, and made the way of salvation open to poor sinners everywhere. In the gospel of Christ the righteousness of God is revealed.


This does not excuse the wicked men who laid hands upon Christ to destroy Him, for they did not seek the glory of God. Their sin is their own. The fact that God had another, righteous, holy purpose in the death of Christ does not excuse them for their sins, and they, if not elected to forgiveness and mercy, will suffer eternal wrath and judgment for it. 


So it is in millions of actions every day. Evil is done to the saints, and wicked men are called to judgment because of it. Does this make void the promise of God that all things work together for good to them that love God? Of course not. To say that would overthrow the Gospel. Instead we behold the mercy and kindness of God even in our tribulations, and give God thanks. The wicked still go away to judgment, and even their wrath is used of God to praise Him. Any wrath that does not praise Him is restrained by Him (Psalm 76:10).


4. But doesn't this doctrine lead men to become careless and not work hard? On the contrary, this doctrine is the great impetus to faithful work  and prayer. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12,13).


What greater incentive is there to work than the knowledge that God is working in you and through you? We work out our salvation because God has worked it in. We work because God works; we pray because the Holy Spirit prays in us; we love because God loves in us.


What greater incentive is there for the child of God to know that he is not an afterthought in the mind of God; that he was created in Christ Jesus to do good works; that he is a laborer together with God? He must be as blind as a mole, and dead as a stump, not to rejoice and work as never  before, because he knows that his labor is not in vain in the Lord.


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