TULIP – The Second Point: (U) Unconditional Election

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2013
There are only three lists concerning the plan and purpose of God in salvation; none of these three is complete, since there are over 30 distinct items which deal with salvation, and only two of the three lists give a sequence as to how salvation came about.

The Second Point: (U) Unconditional Election

Rather than as part of the Second Point, in the Canons of Dordt, Election is discussed under the First Point. Article 7: “Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, he (God) chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of people out of the entire human race,… to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely made us pleasing to himself in his beloved” (Eph. 1:4-6).

“Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).” Later, this sequence is called, “this golden chain of salvation.”

In Article 9 it continues: “This same election took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith, or the obedience of faith, of holiness, or of any other good quality and disposition, as though it were based on a prerequisite cause or condition in the person to be chosen, but rather for the purpose of faith, of the obedience of faith, or holiness, and so on.”

Article 10 states: “But the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God. This does not involve his choosing certain human qualities or actions from among all those possible, as a condition of salvation (Rom. 9:11-13): When the children were not yet born, and had done nothing either good or bad, she (Rebecca) was told, ‘The older will serve the younger, As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

There are only three lists concerning the plan and purpose of God in salvation; none of these three is complete, since there are over 30 distinct items which deal with salvation, and only two of the three lists give a sequence as to how salvation came about. The three lists are found in Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:4-14; 1 Pet. 1:2-5.

Ephesians 1:4-14 lists a number of doctrinal blessings in the plan of God, but does not give a sequence of events. The list includes election in Christ before the foundation of the world (v. 4), predestination unto adoption of sons (v. 5), accepted in the Beloved (v. 6), redemption and forgiveness of sins (v. 7), our inheritance and predestination (v. 11), our believing and being sealed with the Spirit (v. 13), which is the earnest of our inheritance and redemption of our bodies, in verse 14.

First Peter 1:2-5 states the following: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a living hope…. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Here Peter gives a sequence which begins with the foreknowledge of God as the basis of election, and then gives some of the blessings connected with salvation, but not a complete list, as already mentioned.

Romans 8:28-30 has the most thorough list, which is the one considered in the Canons of Dordt, and for that reason, will be discussed in detail: “And 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.”

It is vital to note what the Canons of Dordt do not mention in their discussion.

They begin in Article 7 by quoting Ephesians 1:4-6, that God chose “a definite number of people out of the entire human race,” which was accomplished before the foundation of the world “according to the free good pleasure of his will.” Later they quote the “golden chain of salvation” from Romans 8:30 which begins the list with predestination, but very carefully avoid any reference to Romans 8:29, which gives these words, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate” and only after this does the list continue in verse 30 with, “Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called….” In addition, they conveniently neglect to even mention 1 Peter 1:1-2 where Peter is writing to “the sojournersElect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Instead, without any proof, they continue in Article 9 that “This same election took place not on the basis of foreseen faith… but rather for the purpose of faith.” In other words, God’s foreknowledge of the faith of the elect had nothing to do with their election. It was not their free will, but God’s sovereign will and choice!

It is true that the word “foreknowledge” does not occur in Ephesians 1, but this is because the subject was when did election occur, not why did it occur, so that Ephesians 1:4 simply states that election occurred before the foundation of the world. However, when Paul wrote Romans 8:28-30, he included the basis for election, namely, God’s foreknowledge. But the question may be asked, “Foreknowledge of what, specifically? Why couldn’t this refer generally to God’s omniscience, that is, His knowledge of all things?” The answer to that question is found in the two lists where it is used. Peter is writing to the Christian sojourners, and Paul is writing to “them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Please note that Romans 8:29-30 repeatedly refers to “whom” God foreknew, “whom” He predestined, “whom” He called, “whom” He justified and glorified! This list does not have reference to God’s general foreknowledge; it is specific!

R.C.H. Lenski gives an excellent presentation in his Interpretation of Romans (Wartburg Press, Columbus, Ohio, 1945, pp. 558-561).

Both linguistically and doctrinally, the knowing cannot be eliminated and an act of willing, or decree, be substituted…. God’s omniscience in “foreknew” is thought to see only the total depravity; “foreknew” means that he appropriated some of these depraved people, this appropriation being the cause of their salvation, their eventual salvation being thus, and thus alone, omnisciently known. This view of “whom he foreknew” needs no refutation…. God did not close his eyes, then reach into the massa perdita to will the appropriation of a few, then open his eyes again and see them finally saved in heaven.

The older dogmaticans interpreted: quos credituros praevidit, “whom he foresaw as believers.” This is objected to by those who make “foreknew” an act of the will as described above, the more so because it established the doctrine that we are elected intuitu fidei, an abbreviation for, “in view of the merits of Christ perseveringly appropriated by faith.” Our fathers are charged with “impossible linguistics,” with “opening door and gate to all arbitrariness in exegesis.” This is plain injustice. What a pity that those fathers are not here to reply to these charges with their clarity and their vigor! We are glad to point to the many notable recent interpreters who second these fathers in supplying a predicative expression with “whom he foreknew” which states as what God foreknew them.

The doctrine of predestination has caused much trouble in the church. Because it was thought to involve many profundities, men have submerged themselves in self-made gulfs of darkness, thereby losing or almost losing the clear and precious gospel. The discussion of this has caused many preachers to steer shy of the whole subject as being one that is quite beyond them. But let us approach the subject in the simplicity in which Paul presents it. He wrote for simple Christians who also easily understood them.

This rather long quotation quite eloquently brings us back to the necessity of considering the meanings of words in Scripture, and of honestly looking at the entire passage instead of neglecting important parts of verses. However, I cannot leave Lenski’s interpretation without quoting one more sentence, which brings all this into perspective. Referring to the five doctrines in the list of Romans 8:29-30 he states, “The entire five acts are different, each succeeding one rests on the previous one” (Ibid, p. 560).

While we do not have details of the outworking of God’s eternal purpose which was planned before the foundation of the world, we can use the information we do have in Scripture to summarize a possible scenario. In eternity, before time existed, there were the Three Persons of the Godhead, each with unlimited positive attributes, one of which is holiness, or virtue. Since the Godhead existed by themselves, evil, the opposite of virtue and holiness, could exist only as an abstract concept in the intellect of the Godhead. It was therefore impossible for evil to exist in reality. Yet, in His foreknowledge, God knew that sin must be brought into reality, judged once for all, and thus bring honor and glory to God. This would necessarily involve more than soteriology (the plan of salvation); it would necessarily include the creation of the universe, including angels, man and all the other creatures on the earth. It must include the permission of sin, the judgment of Lucifer and the angels, plus the entire plan of salvation and the judgments. In short, the purpose of God had to be doxological (for God’s glory), not limited to (the soteriological aspect) the salvation of man.

The potential fact of sin was under consideration by the Godhead in devising the eternal purpose. Ephesians 1:11 reveals that believers were “predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” but this passage does not give the sequence of God’s will as do the lists in Romans 8:28-30 and 1 Peter 1:2-5. The reasoning does show how Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot could have been foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). In the counsels of the Godhead, when the question of permitting sin to become a reality came up, God the Father may have said, “If we allow sin to be brought into reality, it will have to be through created beings. But if we do that, what will happen if and when they sin?” God the Son may then have replied, “Father, I will become a true human being and will give myself as a spotless Lamb for their sins.” Perhaps God the Holy Spirit then added, “I will be ready to serve as their Comforter, indwelling their bodies and sealing them unto the day of redemption and resurrection.” Much, much more must have been included in such a vast, all-inclusive Purpose.

How then was sin to enter God’s perfect creation, since He can do nothing less than perfection? Perfection must have included the necessity that man be made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26) with a complete personality including intellect (the ability to know), sensibility (the ability to feel) and will (the ability to make decisions). Otherwise angels and men would have all been robotic machines without the possibility of choosing. Sin entered the angelic realm through the fall of Lucifer, the shining one, who then became Satan, the adversary (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-19; John 8:44). We know how he rebelled; it was through pride in his own beauty, but we do not know why he would sin against such a benevolent Creator, since there was no sin in the universe, nor a tempter to lure him. What his fall does prove is that the creature had a will to choose either way! Sin entered the human realm through the fall of man when Satan tempted Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-19; Rom. 5:12).

Thus, the angelic choice resulted in one third of the angels following Satan (Rev. 12:4, 9), the rest remaining faithful to God. Human choice also originated from within man, and there was free volition without any conscious necessity placed on man to sin. Man is responsible for his actions or there would be no need for a Savior, nor could man be condemned for his unbelief (John 3:18).

The fall of Adam and Eve necessitated free will. When God had to pronounce judgment upon Adam and Eve, He did not say, “I am partly to blame since I created you.” The blame rested fully upon them, and all their descendants became “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). In God’s decree, He provided for all things including the free will of man, and thus man is held responsible, though God is in absolute control. Man’s free will cannot frustrate the plan of God; it is part of that plan!

Therefore, while none deserve to be saved (Rom. 3:10), God has mercy on whom He will have mercy (Rom. 9:18), and, according to His foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2), He knew who would believe, and chose them on the basis of that foreknowledge. Thus we are commanded to preach to all men (Matt. 28:18-20), because we do not know who will believe, and we are to leave the results with God. In like manner, we are commanded to pray, even though God knows the outcome beforehand. It is just as wrong to think, “It is foreordained that I should live, therefore I do not need to eat.” God has also foreordained eating as the method for living; and we cannot presume that “It is foreordained that I will be blessed, therefore I need not ask.” We ask in order to receive, and we have not because we ask not (Matt. 7:7-8; James 4:2). Just so, the unsaved must exert his free will and ask to be saved.

If you remove the decree of God, then He is not sovereign; if you remove the free will of man, then God cannot possibly condemn man for his unbelief, or God would be unrighteous to ask man to do something he is not able nor warranted in doing: John 3:18 “He that believeth on Him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

To summarize the doctrine of Election:

Who were the elect? There are at least five groups or individuals whom God chose:

  1. Christ is spoken of as God’s elect: 1 Peter 2:6-7, “Wherefore also it is contained in the Scriptures, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore that believe, He is precious.”
  2. Angels are spoken of as God’s elect: 1 Timothy 5:21, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels.”
  3. The Nation Israel is spoken of as God’s elect: Isaiah 45:4, “For Jacob, my servant’s sake, and Israel, mine elect, I have even called thee by name.”
  4. The Church, the Body of Christ, is spoken of as God’s elect: Colossians 3:12, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, tender mercies, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”
  5. Tribulation saints are spoken of as God’s elect: Matthew 24:21-22, “For then shall be great tribulation… and except those days should be shortened, no flesh should be saved, but for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened.”

When were the elect chosen? Ephesians 1:4, “Before the foundation of the world.”

How were the elect chosen? Romans 8:28-29, “According to the foreknowledge of God.” In His infinite wisdom and mercy, God purposed to give all mankind the ability to believe, and in his infinite knowledge, He chose those whom He knew would respond to the Gospel.

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