Christian, who ultimately decided to save you? Was your salvation ultimately up to you, or did God make a decision that lies behind and even explains your decision, your belief in the past, your belief in the present, and that insures you will still believe in the future?
Last time on our program we considered Isaiah 48, where God teaches Israel that her salvation was not dependent upon her but was utterly and completely dependent upon God. Now we begin a more detailed study of the Bible’s teaching about salvation with what are commonly called the “Five Points of Calvinism.” Today and next time: “Unconditional Election,” which is about that question I asked at the beginning: Who ultimately decided to save you?
The Bible teaches that the ultimate decision to save me and you, child of God, is God, and that He made that decision before He ever created anything. This truth is called “unconditional election.” The Canons of Dordt give this definition of unconditional election:
Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.
This truth is taught throughout the whole of sacred Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament. And, as one would expect with a truth that is taught throughout all the Bible, the Lord Jesus, in His earthly ministry, taught it too. In John 6:37-40, we read of Jesus teaching this:
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Again in John 10:26-28, the Lord teaches:
But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
Let us observe seven things about this doctrine that we find from those passages of Jesus’ own teaching, when He was on earth, about unconditional election.
First, let us notice from the Lord’s teaching there that election is a decision about salvation that God makes in eternity past. That comes out especially in John 6, where Jesus says that the reason He came to earth was to do His Father’s will (v. 38), and then says that His Father’s will is to secure the redemption of those whom the Father had already in the past given to Him. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” God made this choice about the salvation of people before any one of those chosen had ever had salvation. God’s choice was first, their salvation was second. In John 10:28, Jesus says that He gives to them eternal life. And the “them” He explains in the next verse as those whom God had previously given to Him.
The apostle Paul, who knew his theology from the Lord, makes it most explicit when he says in Ephesians 1:4 that we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Before God ever created anything, He made a choice about people’s salvation.
Second, notice that Jesus teaches in these verses that when God made this choice way in the past, before He ever created anything, that choice was to give this people to Him, to the Lord Jesus Christ. The importance of that phrase that Jesus keeps repeating in the verses that we read (“those that the Father hath given me”; “those that the Father gave me”) is not only that it is in the past tense (He gave them to Me in the past), but also in that He puts the emphasis on that last word: in the past He gave them to Me. “My Father, which gave them me” (John 10:29). “All that the Father giveth me” (John 6:37). “…of all which he hath given me” (John 6:39).
When God made that sovereign choice of certain persons to be His people in the past, He made the choice that those certain people be given to Jesus. That is, that they would be given to Jesus for Him to be responsible for. When you go on vacation, maybe you give your pet to your parents for the time that you are away. You give it to your parents to be responsible for, for them to take care of. These ones out of the common race of fallen humanity would be given by the Father to Jesus to be responsible for, for Him to represent, for Him to redeem, for Him to make safe. Those would be the ones for whom Christ would die upon the cross and for whom He would rise again the third day.
Third, notice that the purpose for this choice, to give these ones to Jesus in eternity past, is that by Jesus’ representing them, they would positively have eternal life. In John 10:29 we read that the Father gave these to Jesus. In verse 28, Jesus says, “And I give [these ones the Father hath given Me] eternal life.” They are chosen to have eternal life. That is God’s purpose in giving them to Jesus. That is what Jesus is ultimately responsible for: to give them eternal life. Beginning in this life, and coming to fullness in the new heavens and the new earth someday, they are given ultimately salvation in heaven.
Fourth. Observe from these verses that we read that the Lord Jesus Himself, in His earthly ministry, teaches that this election, this choice of God, is of both individuals and of the body of Christ as a whole. In John 6:37, Jesus speaks of “all that the Father giveth me,” teaching that there is an all, there is a body, a whole, one whole that God gave to His Son—the universal church described in other places as the body and bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that the Lord also teaches that that body is made up of individual people. As Jesus says in the same verse, “…him [out of that number] that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” There is an “all,” and there is a “him.” There is a one whole and there is an individual, and many individuals that make up that whole.
The bride for Jesus Christ is one perfect whole. God has given to Christ a church, a church not one of which may go lost. And the church is important not only for her individuals, but for individuals together as a whole. He did not just choose an ear, but He chose an ear as part of the body. And our whole significance will be known when our place in that whole is revealed in eternity. Our place, as an individual, loved, preserved, determined, intricately created and redeemed is the story of life as it fits into His great story, this one whole.
Fifth. Notice that the Lord teaches that the result of this sovereign choice of God in eternity past is that these chosen ones in their life come consciously to Christ in repentance and faith. In other words, God’s choice in eternity affects the spiritual life in time. John 6:37: “All that the Father hath given me shall come to me.” John 10:27: “My sheep hear me voice.” Why? Because, verse 29, “My Father…gave them [to] me.” He gave them to me, and so in time, in their life, they hear My voice.
Coming to Christ, hearing His voice, is believing in Him, as the Lord Himself tells us in John 10:26. What explains that, when the gospel is proclaimed, some people respond to it with humility and a sense of their own sin and a need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ? What explains the fact that some become conscious, under that preaching of God’s Word, that it is talking about them, and they hear Christ calling to them in their heart and mind and soul, and it draws them to Jesus Christ? What explains that they want to know this Christ and grow in Him and study His Word and love Him, serve Him, be disciples unto Him? The only explanation for that, says the Lord, is that the Father gave them to Me already. So, now, in time, they come to Me. They have already been mine. And now they hear My voice, the voice of their Good Shepherd, in the preaching of the Word and witness of the church.
The doctrine of election does not mean that people do not come to Christ in time or do not have to come to Christ in time. It means, rather, that the ultimate explanation for why some do is that God has decided that they would already in eternity past. God’s decision stands behind theirs and is the explanation for theirs. It is the ultimate explanation why you have come to Christ, why you have heard His voice and continue to hear it daily. If you are a child of God, the explanation is not to be found in you. For me, as a child of God, the explanation is not to be found ultimately in me, in something about you or me, that we did better than someone else, or that we naturally had something as a part of us that was better than someone else, or a decision that we made that was better than somebody else’s. No, it was because God decided to give us to Christ in all eternity. And now He gives you to Christ in time by giving you faith as one of His sheep. All of salvation flows out of this decree of election in the past.
So, of course, the preaching and witness of the church must go to everyone. We do not know who the elect are. And the preaching and the witness of the church in this day is: here is who Christ is and here is who you are, and you must repent and believe. And any who do, do so only because from all eternity God had determined that they would.
Sixth. Notice that the opposite is true too. The ultimate reason many do not come to Christ is that God had not chosen them for heaven, but had passed them by, left them in their state, and determined that they would end in destruction. Jesus teaches the other side of the coin, too. In John 10:26: “But ye believe not,” He says of unbelieving Pharisees. Your sin is that you do not believe. Here is the ultimate explanation for why you do not believe. Here is the ultimate explanation for why you remain in your sins: “because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.”
Finally, notice the seventh thing Jesus teaches about election. The choice that God makes is unconditional. Every time someone makes a choice, there is a reason, a basis, for that choice. There has to be a reason, too, why God makes His choice that certain ones will go to heaven, will be given faith. It was Arminius who taught at the time of the Synod of Dordt that the reason God made His choice of some to go to heaven was to be found in those persons. Arminius said, Well, God must have looked ahead, down through the hallway of time, and He saw which people would, of their own free will, separate themselves from the other people on earth and show themselves better, of their own free will, to come to Christ. And, seeing which ones were better than the others, He decided to choose those. Those ones would be the ones who would be His people. So that God’s choice is not the source of man’s coming to Christ. Man’s coming to Christ on his own, apart from anything in God, becomes the source of God’s choice. His election, then, is conditional. It is dependent upon what man decides, so that, in the end, man is in control, man is the deciding factor, and God is merely reacting to what a man does.
But notice that Jesus does not say in John 10:26 something like this: “Because you people do not believe, that is why you are not of My sheep.” But rather He says, “You don’t believe because you are not of My sheep.” And notice that Jesus does not say, “All that come to Me, the Father will decide to give to Me.” But He says, “All that the Father previously gave to Me, they are the ones who come to Me as a result. Their coming to Me is dependent upon the fact that the Father has given them to Me, has chosen them.” His choice is first and man’s faith is the result. His choice is the source of their faith. God’s choice is unconditional. It is not conditioned upon something that God foresaw His creatures would do. It is a free decision. God’s will is not bound to what man decides. God’s will is free; it is not dependent upon something that man is or does.
The reason then, what is the reason God made His choice? It is not anything outside of God Himself. Jesus further explains in Matthew 11:25 and 26, and the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:4, that the reason and ground for His choice is simply His own good pleasure. The reasons are closed up in Him. It is what He decided was pleasing to do.
This is why the election part of TULIP is a “U” and not an “E.” This is why it is not a TELIP, but a TULIP. It is “U,” unconditional election, not just election. The Canons of Dordt in Head I, Article 10 are correct when they say that scriptural truth, which may not be compromised, is this, that “the good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election.”
All God wants you and me to know is that it was not for any moral difference in you or in me, any decision that you or I would make, that would separate us out from anybody else, and that I do not deserve His favor more than anybody else. But that, having received it as a result of His free, gracious decision, I may know that I shall never be without it.
Families have things that they know about their family that not everybody else knows. There are sometimes family secrets that the father tells the children about the family, about how the family came to be, about what the family is, that explains things about the family. This truth of unconditional election is a family secret. It is something that the family of God knows about themselves, something that explains how the family came to be, what the family is. It is a family secret. So, God gathers His children around Himself and in His Word He explains to them, “Now, here is why you are part of the family and here is why you have faith when others do not, though you are not any different in yourself from anybody else.” The family ought not be embarrassed about the family secrets that God tells them. They do not act like He has not graciously revealed them to us, do not act like there is no important reason why the Father decided to tell us this.
Why does God reveal this to us? Why does He determine to let us know this? There are a number of answers to that, and I will give at least two more next time, but today, let us close by seeing just one. He reveals this to the family so that His children know that their place in the family is secure, and so that they may live their life out of that security of their place in the family and not out of fear. He tells them so that they have a security that God, as Father to His family, wants His sons and daughters to have. If our father told us, “Here is a family secret, my children. Your place in this family has been, and still is, ultimately dependent upon you and someday you might wake up and not want to be in this family and take yourself out of it. And you will fall out of it. And you will be destroyed for it.” Then, what would motivate me when I get up in the morning? Fear, total fear would motivate me. For if salvation depends upon me, what if I wake up a year from now and I cannot produce that faith in me anymore. Its source is in me, it is not a gift from God to me. It has to come from me.
That is precisely what the Arminians at the time of the Synod of Dordt went on to say happens many times. Later a child of God may fall away, when he does not come up with faith anymore from within himself. But all your faith comes from knowing that your salvation is as changeless as the eternal decree of Jehovah God, that your faith will be there a year from now because it is rooted in Him and not in you, that, when I wake up and live my life, I live my life out of the joy and peace and security and gratitude for the sure salvation that will still be mine.
This is what the Lord Jesus wanted His disciples to gain from election. And you and me, too. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life. And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” What will uphold you in the days ahead? What will give you assurance, hope, and rock-sure confidence? It is that it was not I, ultimately, but it was He who decided to save me. Therefore, nothing can separate me from the love of my Christ. May that be your comfort and mine from this great truth our Father wants His children to know. May it give us joy and peace and service to God out of gratitude for that assurance.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we are thankful for the assurance that our salvation does not depend upon us, but is rooted in Thy sovereign decree from all eternity past. Nothing can change it. And that we are Thine and will be tomorrow and the next day, too. And we live in love for Thee with the joy and peace that that gives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.