The description of how God saves His people, one that truly grasps the Bible at its heart, is one where all glory for that salvation goes to God.
We have seen in previous weeks that, 400 years ago, the Synod of Dordt defended that biblical doctrine of salvation at a national and international synod that they expected would settle the Bible’s teaching on salvation for Protestantism for the rest of history. Now, following the order of the Canons of Dordt that that synod produced, we have begun by examining that biblical teaching with the “U” of TULIP: Unconditional Election, the truth that, as Calvin put it, “God once established by His eternal and unchangeable plan those whom He long before determined, once for all, to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, He would devote to destruction”—the truth that the Lord Jesus Himself taught when He was upon the earth in many places, as in John 6 when He said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” Unconditional election is a choice that God makes, not because of anything in man, but only because, as the Lord Himself said in Matthew 11, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
Last time we saw that this truth has several effects in the life of God’s people. The first one that we looked at last time is a rock-sure confidence for the believer that he will not be plucked out of his Father’s hand, a confidence facing life and facing death. Calvin, a few days before he died, said, “I confess to live and die in this faith, which God has given me inasmuch as I have no other hope or refuge than His predestination, upon which my entire salvation is grounded.” A surety and assurance, a confidence that every believer may have from this truth in life and death: that he will not be removed from his Father’s hand.
There are at least two other practical results of this doctrine in the life of God’s people. The first of those two is a deep, deep humility. But in order for that to be, it is helpful to have some questions about this doctrine answered first, so that roadblocks can be removed and I can take this truth in with all my mind and heart and soul.
The first thing one might ask is: If God predestined to eternal life, then surely the church has no motivation to be holy. She will instead reason that she can do whatever she wants. After all, she has been predestined to glory, so it does not matter what she does. But suppose a son learns of his father’s choice to adopt him long ago, a choice that provides deep security, unconditional security, for his son, does that lead the son to disregard his father…or, rather, to love him and honor him even more? The Bible clearly teaches that anyone who knows the electing grace of God in his life will live in love for his Father for this electing grace. And anyone who reasons that he is God’s elect and then lives headlong after the world because he says it does not matter anyway, that person does not know the grace of God in salvation and does not understand in his soul this truth of election.
But a second question might be asked, and that is the question about missions and evangelism. Does not this doctrine keep one from a zeal for missions and evangelism? If God is going to save His elect out there anyway, and it is up to Him, His decision, then why do mission work? But God decrees not only the end, the salvation of His own, but He decrees also the means, the way, to that end. God has decreed to save His elect church, but He has decreed to save them through the preaching and witness of the church. Knowing that God had chosen certain ones to be His sheep, did the Lord Jesus then conclude from that that He might as well spend the rest of His life painting rather than preaching? After all, God had decreed their salvation. Did the apostles conclude that, knowing what they expressed in Ephesians and Romans? Has the church in history concluded that? Absolutely not! The Lord preached, the apostles preached, the church preached, day in and day out, fulfilling the great commission that the Lord left to her. For this is the way that God has determined to gather His sheep from the ends of the earth, and there is no other way. “Go, and teach all nations, and go, knowing that there are My sheep out there who will believe and will be discipled, for God has determined it.”
A third question that we might ask is: What about man’s freedom? If salvation is ultimately God’s decision, then man is not completely free. What about man’s freedom? To which I think the best response is, What about God’s freedom? You cannot have two sovereigns. It is either one or the other. Either God is completely and utterly free, or man is completely and utterly free. If man is completely and utterly free, then God is bound to man’s sovereignty. And if God is ultimately free, then man is bound to God’s sovereignty. The latter is the teaching of the Word of God. Man is a willing agent, no doubt. He is an agent with a will. He has a certain freedom, of course, to decide where to go, what to do in life; but God is ultimately sovereign over all. If He were not, then He would not be God.
But, the ultimate question, friends—and this is the ultimate question, is it not—Is this just? Is this fair of God to make this choice? Is it right of God to choose some and not others? Is it not unfair that He does not decide to save all? In answer to that, first of all, we have to recognize that if we are going to demand of God strict fairness and justice alone, then no one would be saved. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and if pure justice is what we want, then no one would go to heaven. Justly, all would go to hell. We have all sinned and we have all sinned willingly even though God is sovereign over all. We know that we did that thing because we wanted to do that thing. We are guilty of it and we know it. And if God stuck with pure justice, He would send everyone to hell. But God has decided to be just and also merciful; to give justice to some and mercy to others. And the fact that He chooses to show mercy to some and not to all is not unjust. It is His prerogative to be merciful to whom He wants. I might not like it that He does not show mercy to all, but it is not unfair. It is not unjust. Man is responsible for his sin. And mercy is not required.
If mercy were required, it would no longer be mercy. If someone were to come up to you and put a gun in your ribs and demand that you get into a car and drive him somewhere, you are not driving him somewhere out of mercy toward him. Is it our prerogative to put a gun into the ribs of God and demand Him to be merciful to everyone who has fallen? If we did, and He complied, it would not be mercy anymore. Mercy is free. And He has mercy on whom He will have mercy. He is God. And if He decides to be merciful to some and not to others, then that is His prerogative.
So, at the end of the day, we cannot say more than the apostle Paul did in Romans 9: “Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Who are you to determine what the Almighty should do and not do with His mercy? We need to hear the Almighty say to us sometime what He said to Job when Job dared finally to stand up and to say, “But it’s not fair, God. It’s not fair.” “Where were you, Job, when I ripped the heavens in two? Where were you when I tossed the stars into the sky?” You may ask, my child, you may seek to understand and work it through and see that I am not unjust; but, at the end of the day, you put your hand over your mouth in wonder and awe and humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.
That, right there, is one of the great effects of this doctrine, is it not? The practical result we were anticipating at the beginning. Here is a large part of the reason why God as Father has decided to gather His family around Him in His Word and reveal to them this family secret about the family and why they are in the family. Because the child of God, knowing that his salvation has its source not in anything in himself, but only in God’s sovereign, eternal, unconditional good pleasure, that child of God cannot help but at some point in the process of grasping this, understanding this, arrive at a sort of reflective thought and think about all of this with respect to himself before God and his own place in God’s family, and cry out, “Why did you choose me, Father, why me and not that person?” And then the Father responds to that question, “It was not for anything in you that was different from that person, nothing that was better about you, but simply because I willed to accomplish My purposes in you and through you and conceived of you in My love and made you have perfect peace in the body and bride of My Son.” There cannot be anything more humbling to our human pride than this.
Can there be anything else that makes you and me to sit down in wonder and awe? Is there anything else that highlights the unexpected and undeserved love of God to us? I did not make that love fall upon me. I did not separate myself out from the rest. So many times Christians can view God’s love as something to be expected, something that they deserve. Of course, of course God loves me. I love me. Why would not God love me? But this doctrine highlights the fact that we do not deserve God’s love in any degree. And when He gives it, from our point of view at least, He could just as easily not have given it to me, and He would have been just, utterly just, to withhold it. Then His love becomes astoundingly wonderful and my pride is thrown down. That is something that I need, that is something that you need, that is something that the church needs in this day, too.
This doctrine of unconditional election is the final great swing of the ax to cut down our great pride. That is why He revealed it. This truth tells me that I have nothing to do with my own salvation ultimately. It does not depend upon me. Nothing I can say or do or decide makes Him set His love upon me. I am in His hands. You cannot know that in your own heart, mind, and soul before the face of God and be lifted up in pride. It is impossible. Only this will lead me to say, “Thou hast saved me, O God, from start to finish, and I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I will submit to what Thy Word calls me to do. I am Thy child by grace and I do not deserve it. But, yet, I am, and I love Thee and I want to serve Thee. And I want all glory to belong to Thee, O God.”
God has said, in Isaiah 48:11, where we started with this series of messages, that He has committed Himself to sharing His glory with no other. And this doctrine, this truth, this reality, ensures it. The source of my salvation is not ultimately me but Him. Therefore, no glory goes to me or to my brothers and sisters. And it is the mature child of God growing in grace who wants that, who wants his salvation to end up there. He comes to love this truth precisely because it makes his salvation end up there: All glory to Thee, O God.
Is this the effect it is having in you, believer? Is this the practical effect it is having in you who believe and who know why you believe? This is not just theoretical. It is not something that is just debated about at synods. Who is getting the honor for your salvation in your own consciousness, your heart, mind, and soul? Who is getting all the honor? Do you not turn your own election into Soli Deo Gloria in your own heart, in your own prayers, in your own singing, in your own life?
I submit to you that the more the child of God embraces this truth as God’s truth revealed in Scripture and grows in the knowledge and grace of it, there will be little else that fuels his worship like this truth. In fact, I can promise you that it will fuel your worship in greater depth and urgency. It is biblical that it will. How did the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1 treat this doctrine of election? He sings it: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” And the apostle’s whole treatment there is one long song and exaltation. A praise, a worship that arises out of election: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath chosen us unto the adoption of sons, who hath chosen us to be accepted in the beloved to receive redemption in the blood of Christ, who chose us unto the revelation of the mystery of His will.”
Will you give Him all the glory for your salvation, brother, sister? Then you must know this doctrine. Unconditional election functions like a backhoe, digging deep into the earth. It digs deep, deep into the heart, lifting up the most genuine, deepest praise from the bowels of the soul of the child of God. And knowing it, knowing it as the source of your own life with God personally, and your own sure hope for the future. And why you, why me? Only because He decided to love me. It will lead you and me with Israel, who knew it to be true for them, to cry out in Isaiah 48:20 with a voice of singing: declare ye, tell this, utter it to the ends of the earth: “The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.”
That is the end. That is why the Father, ultimately, has revealed it to you and to me: for praise, for worship, for the glory and the honor of His name.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we are grateful for Thy Word and its revelation. Throw down our pride, Father. It so easily rises up. Use this truth to throw it down, and, throwing it down, may it lift up praise and adoration to Thee alone who is the source of our salvation. In our Savior’s name, sent according to this decree, do we pray. Amen.