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Unconditional Election

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
January 3, 2023 12:01 am

Unconditional Election

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 3, 2023 12:01 am

Scripture plainly teaches that the Lord sovereignly chooses who will be saved and who will not. How can this be? Today, R.C. Sproul examines the doctrine of election.

Get R.C. Sproul's Teaching Series 'What Is Reformed Theology?' on DVD with the Digital Study Guide for Your Gift of Any Amount: https://gift.renewingyourmind.org/2565/what-is-reformed-theology

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I was moved to teach on the doxology and the benedictions, first of all, because of what they mean to me in my own devotional life. I turned to them in my own private meditations for refocus, for worship, for self-examination, for building up a faith. And then, as a result of that, I've been looking for opportunities to teach them to our church, because I believe they aid the people of God in looking up and seeing the greatness of God in these succinct statements of blessing and or doxology that are memorable and meaningful. We take them for granted, but they are there for our blessing and benefit. Wishing and praise by H.B. Charles, Jr. Visit Ligonier.org slash teaching series to learn more.

Today on Renewing Your Mind. If God chooses sovereignly to bestow His grace on some sinners and withhold His grace from other sinners, is there any violation of justice in this? What conditions did God consider when He elected those He was going to save?

Did He look ahead through the tunnel of time to see who would choose Him, or did He sovereignly choose some despite their actions? Ulysses S. Grant, who was the head of the Union forces in the war between the states and later became the President of the United States, received the nickname during his military career based upon his initials U.S. Grant of Unconditional Surrender Grant, because when he defeated the enemy, he would not allow for a negotiated peace that meant acquiescing to certain conditions. And so we have this concept of that which is unconditional. And so in the acrostic tulip, the U stands for unconditional election.

It's another one of those terms that I think can be a little bit misleading, and I prefer simply to use the term sovereign election, but that totally destroys our tulip, and not only is it now Rulip but it becomes Zulup and doesn't quite work. Well, what are we talking about when we use the term unconditional election? It doesn't mean that God will save people no matter whether they come to faith or not come to faith. There are conditions that God decrees for salvation, not the least of which is putting one's personal trust in Christ. But that is a condition for justification, and the doctrine of election is something else. It's related to the doctrine of justification, but when we're talking about unconditional election, we're talking in a very narrow confine here of the doctrine of election itself. The question at this point becomes then on what basis does God elect to save certain people? Is it on the basis of some foreseen reaction, response, or activity of the elect? That is, many people who have a doctrine of election or predestination look at it this way, that from all eternity God looks down through the corridors of time and He knows in advance who will say yes to the offer of the gospel and who will say no. And on the basis of this prior knowledge, those whom He knows will meet the condition for salvation, that is of expressing faith or belief in Christ, knowing that there are those who will meet that condition on that basis then He elects to save them. So conditional election means that God's electing grace is distributed by God on the basis of some foreseen condition that human beings exercise themselves. Whereas the Reformed view is called unconditional election, meaning by this that there is no foreseen action or condition met by us that induces God to decide to save us, but that election rests upon God's sovereign decision to save whomsoever He is pleased to save. Now we turn to Paul's letter to the Romans to the ninth chapter where we find a discussion of this difficult concept, where in Romans 9 beginning at verse 10 we read this, and not only this, but when Rebekah also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac, for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand not of works, but of Him who calls.

It was said to her, the older shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob I have loved, but Esau have I hated. Here in chapter 9 the Apostle Paul is giving his exposition of the doctrine of election. He had dealt with it significantly in the eighth chapter, and now he is illustrating his teaching of the doctrine of election by going back into the past of the Jewish people and looking at the circumstances surrounding the birth of twins, Jacob and Esau.

And in the ancient world it was customary that the firstborn son would receive the inheritance or the patriarchal blessing. But in the case of these twins, God reverses the process and gives the blessing not to the elder, but to the younger. And the point that the Apostle labors here is that this decision is not with a view to anything that they had done or would do. The point is that the decision is not only made prior to their birth, that would be manifestly obvious, but what Paul labors here is that it is not with a view to their doing any good or evil, but Paul uses this illustration to show that the purposes of God might stand, so that it does not rest on us, but it rests solely on the gracious sovereign decision of God. Now in verse 14 we read these words, what shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?

Certainly not. Or other translations read God forbid and still others by no means. Now I find it fascinating that Paul raises this rhetorical question immediately after setting forth his metaphor of the birth of Jacob and Esau and the preference of God for one rather than the other without a view to their works. I remember when I was a seminary student and deeply struggling over the doctrine of election as most seminary students do.

And it was just something that didn't fit with me. It didn't sit right at all to think that God dispenses His saving grace to some and not to others and that the reason for giving some salvation and not to others doesn't rest in us, but solely in the determinate grace of God. That bothered me because my initial response was this just doesn't seem to be fair. And I thought how can this be fair that God would choose to save some and not others. Now I understood that nobody deserved salvation in the first place.

And I know that if God would let the whole human race perish, He would be perfectly just so to do. And I also understood by then that the only way we could ever be saved at all was somehow by the grace of God. But I certainly didn't think it rested this heavily on the grace of God. And I thought why would God give His grace to some people in a greater measure than He would to others.

It just didn't seem fair to me. And as I struggled with it and read Edwards and the other Reformed theologians, I still wasn't convinced and I had a little card I had in my desk in seminary and it said this, you are required to believe and to preach what the Bible says is true, not what you would like it to say is the truth. And that put some restraints on me because I've read this passage every conceivable way and I knew that there were people who said, well Paul's not really talking about the election of individuals here, he's talking about the benefits of salvation that were given to the Jews rather than the Arabs and he's talking about nations that are chosen, not individuals. That didn't persuade me for five minutes because even if he were talking about nations, he illustrates it by the individuals who are at the head of that nation and so no matter how you slice it, you're still back down here wrestling with one person receiving a blessing from God and the other person not and it's based ultimately on the good pleasure of God Himself and it still seemed not right.

Now I've written lots of books and I've taught lots of courses and I know that when I set a thesis forth that if I've done that often enough you have enough practice that you can almost anticipate or you can anticipate, not almost but altogether anticipate the objections or the questions that people will immediately raise to a certain thesis. And at this point at least one of the few points I can identify with the Apostle Paul as a teacher is here because the Apostle when he was setting forth this doctrine anticipated a response or a question. He no sooner spells out the sovereign grace that is given to Jacob over Esau that he stops and says, what then? Is there unrighteousness in God? And one of the things that persuades me that the Reformers had it right with respect to election was contemplating this very question because I thought like this, I thought if Paul is trying to teach a semi-Pelagian or Arminian view of election by which in the final analysis a person's election is based upon that person meeting some kind of condition so that in the final analysis it's on you and what you have done and this person hasn't done it, who would raise any objection about that's being unfair? Who would possibly raise an objection about that involving an unrighteousness in God? That would seem manifestly fair and I'm sure that people who teach Arminianism or semi-Pelagianism and articulate their views on this matter, they have certain questions that come to them all the time that they have to answer and they have to respond to just like anybody else. But I wonder how often people protest against their teaching by saying that's not fair. I doubt if they've ever heard that.

Well, wait a minute. This means that God is unrighteous. But the Apostle does anticipate that response. And what is the teaching that engenders that response? It is the teaching that election is unconditional. It's when you're teaching that election rests ultimately exclusively on the sovereign will of God and not of the performance or actions of human beings that the protest arises.

And so Paul anticipates the protest. Is there unrighteousness in God? And he answers it with the most emphatic response he can muster in the language.

I prefer the translation, God forbid. Then he goes on to amplify this, for he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So here the Apostle is reminding people of what Moses had to declare centuries before, namely that it is God's divine right to execute executive clemency when and where he so desires it. He says from the beginning, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, not on those who meet my conditions but upon those whom I am pleased to bestow the benefit.

Now I like to draw a picture on the blackboard of a group of stick figures representing people, and these people represent the masses of the human race, and I'll put six stick figures on the board and I'll put a circle around three of them and another circle around the other three. And I say let's let the one circle represent the people who receive this unspeakable gift of divine grace in election, and the other circle represent those who do not. And ask the question, if God chooses sovereignly to bestow His grace on some sinners and withhold His grace from other sinners, is there any violation of justice in this? If we look at those who do not receive this gift, do they receive something they do not deserve? Of course not. If God allows these sinners to perish, is He treating them unjustly?

Of course not. One group receives grace, the other receives justice, no one receives injustice. And God, like a governor in a state, can allow certain criminals who are guilty to have the full measure of their penalty imposed against them, but the governor also has the right to pardon, to give executive clemency as he declares, so that that person who receives clemency receives mercy. And if the governor commutes one person's sentence, does that mean he's obligated to do it for everybody else? By what rule of justice, by what rule of righteousness is that so?

Not at all. Paul is saying there is no injustice in this because Esau didn't deserve the blessing in the first place, and he doesn't get the blessing. God hasn't been unfair to Esau. Well, Jacob didn't deserve the blessing either, and he does get the blessing. Jacob receives blessing, Esau receives the justice. And nowhere in there is an injustice perpetrated. Well, why is that?

What is the purpose for that? Well, Paul then comes to verse 16, and this is a very important verse in Romans 9. He begins with this word, so.

This is kind of like the word therefore. He's coming to a conclusion, and he says, So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. Now, the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may display my power in you, and that my name may be declared in all the earth. Therefore, he has mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills he hardens. Now, you would think when Paul speaks as emphatically and clearly as he does here, when he declares it is not of him who wills or of him who runs.

You would think that that would end all of the debates and all of the discussions and all of the theories and all of the doctrines that in the final analysis make election conditional on the one who wills. But Paul demolishes human will as the basis for God's sovereign election. The only basis I can find according to the Scripture is that yes, salvation is based upon will, and yes, it is based upon free will. Now, I'm confusing everybody, but it is based upon the will and the free will of a sovereign God who lacks, as Paul teaches elsewhere, according to the good pleasure of His will. Now, if you ask me why I came to faith and why I am in the kingdom and my friends aren't, I can only say to you I don't know, but this much I do know, it's not something I did to deserve it.

It's not some condition that I met in my flesh. The only answer I can give is the grace of God. And you ask me why does He give that grace to me and not to somebody else, and if I begin to give an answer that suggests that it was something good in me that He perceived, I would no longer be talking about grace. I would be talking about some good thing that I did that was the basis for God to elect me.

But I don't have anything like that to offer. If the Bible teaches anything over and over and over again, it is that salvation is of the Lord. And this yes is at the heart of Reformed theology, not because we're interested in an abstract question of sovereign predestination and that we just enjoy the intellectual titillation that speculation on this doctrine engenders, but rather the focal point in this theology as it was in the tea of total depravity going back to Augustine is on grace, that the accent here removes all merit from me, all dependence on my righteousness for my salvation and puts the focus backward belongs on the unspeakable mercy and grace of God who has the sovereign eternal right to have mercy upon whom He will have mercy so that it is not of Him who wills except of the divine will, not of Him who runs but of God. That's where the accent is in the Reformed doctrine of election. And that's where the accent is in every Reformed doctrine.

God is sovereignly ruling over every aspect of creation. This week on Renewing Your Mind, we are examining the basics of Reformed theology. R.C. Sproul was concerned that modern Christians really don't understand the biblical distinctives that arose out of the Reformation, so he taught the series that we're hearing this week to introduce us to the doctrines handed down to us by Luther, Calvin, and even further back to Augustine, as R.C.

pointed out. The 12-part series comes on three DVDs and we'll send them to you for your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. You can make your request online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. The emphasis in Reformed theology is on the sovereignty of God, not the free will of man.

As Dr. Sproul pointed out, the question, what is Reformed theology, is virtually the same as asking, how do I know and love the God of the Bible? So again, we invite you to request this series. Our phone number again is 800-435-4343. Our web address is renewingyourmind.org, and once you've completed your request, we'll add the digital study guide for the series to your online learning library.

And in advance, let me thank you for your generous donation. Some of the doctrines that we're discussing this week can be a source of tension among Christians. We understand that, but we're also thankful for Dr. Sproul's ability to explain them from a historical and biblical perspective. Perhaps it would be helpful to share these programs with family members or friends as a jumping-off point for conversation. When you go to renewingyourmind.org, you'll see a share button next to today's edition.

You can share via Facebook, Twitter, or email. The website again is renewingyourmind.org. And tomorrow we'll look at another aspect of Reformed theology. There is a common view among Christians today that Jesus died for everyone, all people from all places in all times. That view is attractive, even charitable, until we take a closer look at it. I hope you'll join us tomorrow as we present Dr. Sproul's message on limited atonement here on Renewing Your Mind. Dr. Sproul's message on limited atonement here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-03 04:01:57 / 2023-01-03 04:09:37 / 8

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