Pristine Grace

The Inception of Grace in Eternity
Unconditional Election
by Mike Krall

     God saves sinners! It should be evident that every true Christian believes that statement. But we need to ask if, by that statement, we mean that the triune God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all active in the salvation of lost depraved sinners -- the Father purposing salvation, the Son securing salvation and the Holy Spirit applying that same salvation? Is it the triune God working in harmony together in the plan of salvation? As we shall see in the next few chapters, a pure grace gospel is one in which the free and sovereign grace of the Trinity is manifested in the lives of God's people.

     Man's condition is so in need of grace that it was conceived in the mind of the Father in what the Scripture calls election. That is a phrase which always raises eyebrows in gospel circles today. Nobody that believes the Scriptures to be God's infallible Word can deny election since the word is Scriptural, but the difference is in what one believes the Bible teaches concerning the basis of God's election.

     One view is what one preacher referred to as "crystal ball" election. In this view, God looked down the corridors of time and saw who would respond to the gospel, and then He elected them. The problem with this is that it changes the meaning of the word election to mean "ratification". Another problem with this is as Loraine Boetner in his book, "The Reform Doctrine of Predestination," said is: "It makes the purposes of God, almighty, conditioned on the precarious wills of sinful men and makes temporal events (man's choice) the cause of eternal acts (God's eternal election)." One of the reasons for this view is the false meaning put on the word "foreknowledge". To some, this word seems to mean just a mere prescience. That may be the English meaning put on the word, but when that word is used in Scripture it's meaning is much more than that: The word in Greek is a word for which we get our English word, "prognosis". It is derived from two Greek words, "pro," meaning "before," and "ginosko," meaning "to know". On the surface, that appears to be the meaning of prescience, but a careful examination of the context will clearly prove otherwise.

     In 1Peter 1:4, we read "elect according to the foreknow- ledge of God the Father ...UNTO obedience"(KJV). Election in this context is not stemming from obedience but is unto obedience. Just as in Ephesians, we are told that we were chosen in Christ to be holy. Obedience and holiness are not the grounds of election but the goals of election. Another way this word is used is in 1Peter 1:20 where we read that Christ was "foreordained before the foundations of the world". The word "foreordained" is the same word translated "foreknow" elsewhere. A parallel passage with a similar meaning is stated in Acts 2:23 in regards to Christ being "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God"(KJV). Do these passages mean that God delivered up Christ to be crucified because He foreknew He would be? That sounds absolutely ludicrous; but that is what the passage would mean if the word could only mean prescience. There are two very important verses to look at that show what prescience does not mean. In Matthew 11:21, we read where are Lord was rebuking two cities that would not repent after seeing His mighty works: "Woe unto you, Chorazin! Woe unto you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes". Here is a very profound statement that clearly reveals that in God's mere prescience, He knew something that did not effect His eternal plan. Why were not these cities of Tyre and Sidon given the same light if they would have repented? 

     The reasons are hidden in the eternal counsels of God. Honesty forces this writer to admit to not being able explain the mystery of this verse. We know that all men by nature will not accept the gospel in their natural state, but the depths of this statement leaves us at loss for words to comment. Whatever our Lord meant, we do know that the true light was hidden from these cities not because they would not repent (compare Mark 4:11-12). To add to the depths of the mystery of God's eternal counsels, our Lord repeats the same thing in verse 24 in regards to Sodom, followed by a prayer thanking the Father for hiding the truth from these cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida. Why did God hide the truth from them? Verse 26 gives us the only answer we will ever get "Even so Father, for it seemed good in thy sight "(KJV).What answer would most of today's evangelists have given? Another verse to compare to this is in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 3:6. What does the word mean then? The only meaning that can be put on the word in the light of other passages is "to love beforehand." In Matthew 7:23, we have a negative use of the word "know" that will help us to understand this a little better. There we read that our Lord is telling His disciples that on judgement day, He will say to reprobates "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness". In John 10:27, we see a positive side of the use of this word "know" where our Lord says "my sheep hear my voice and I know them.."

     The question I propose to the reader is this: in Christ's prescience did he know both these groups of people or was he unaware of anything about the reprobates with only a knowledge of the sheep? When the word "know" is taken to mean "to love in an intimate way", as it is used in Luke 1:34 to describe the sexual union, the obvious meaning is clear as to be referring to a peculiar love that God has for his people. It is this love that is the ground of election. To get a fuller understanding of the intimate love between Christ and His sheep as described in the John 10 passage, we need to ask ourselves the question 'Do Christ's sheep, whom He loves, believe because they are His sheep or does believing make them a sheep?'  

     The answer is not hard to find if we look at verse 26 where we read "But you do not believe BECAUSE you are not my sheep". It is because we are His sheep that we believe and follow Him. This is exressed by the words of the Apostle Paul "because of His great love with which He loved us" (Ephesians 2:4). In John 6:37, the Gospel of John has many passages that support this doctrine: Jesus says that there are some who the Father gave to Him and all of them will come "All that the Father gives to me will come to me and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out". There are some that try to strip this verse from its obvious meaning by separating the 2 phrases as if the ones who come to Christ may be more then the Father gives. All one has to do is examine verses 44, 45 and 65 in this very chapter to see the futility of this interpre- tation. There we read "No one can [not WILL- but CAN] come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day". And in verse 65, we read "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come [again a word of ability] unless it has been granted [not offered] to him by the Father." From these verses it is obvious that it is those whom the Father gives to Christ, the sheep, who will come to Him. To buttress this argument a little more one only need turn a few pages in his Bible to John 17:1-2 where in the high priestly prayer of our Lord we read, "Father the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son also may glorify you, as you have given Him authority over all flesh that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him". Here again in the words of our Lord, Himself, we see the clear teaching of the doctrine of unconditional election.

     There are many that might argue that although these passages teach election they do not teach unconditional election. That is just a desperate attempt to evade the issue. The very context of these passages was the whole idea that the work of the Son was predicated on the work of the Father, which was the giving of some to the Son in electing love. What about the Apostle Paul's usage of the word? We saw Peter's use of the word elect as well as the teaching of our Lord, but what about the teaching of Paul? In Romans 8:29, we read "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son". Here we see two important things: First that it is the individual that is foreknown, not the faith or works of the same. "Those WHOM He foreknew". Second, in verses 29-30, we read that all those who were foreknown are predestined, called, justified and glorified. Who is it that he calls? The sheep! (John 10:3). In Acts 13:48, we have one of the most forceful passages in the entirety of God's Word to support this truth of unconditional election. There we read of Paul and Barnabas preaching in Antioch to Jews and Gentiles. After quoting a passage from Isaiah where it is said that God would bring light to the Gentiles we read in verse 48 "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed". Every attempt has been made through the years to take the sharp edge off the meaning of this text, but all to no avail.

     Although I will not deal with all the attempts, I would like to answer one such futile effort. One writer has tried to explain away the clear meaning of the word translated "ordained", by stating that it should be rendered "determined". Thus the reading would be something like this: "As many as had been determined upon eternal life believed". At first glance, this appears to carry some weight since the word is so translated that way in Acts 15:2. The Greek word is the "tasso," which can be translated either way. What the writer failed to acknowledge is that in the Acts 15:2 passage, the word is in the active voice and in the Acts 13:48 passage it is in the passive voice. When a word is active the subject of the sentence is performing the action. So in Acts 15:2 we read "they determined that Paul and Barnabas...". The "they" is the subject who is doing the action. But when the verb is passive, the subject is having the action done to them. You cannot translate the passive verb as "determined" since that is an active verb. If it is translated that way in Acts 13:48, it would make the subject of that sentence, which is the Gentiles, performing the action which would violate the grammatical structure of that passage. The word "ordained" can be both active and passive. One may say "I was ordained by John" or "I ordained John". But that cannot be done with the word "determine". This passage is so clear that it is a wonder that any serious student of the Scriptures would deny the doctrine of unconditional election after reading this verse. Now, in case someone wants to say it should readm, "as many as believed were ordained to eternal life," then please give me some grammatical support for such a notion. This is, in fact, a grammatical impossibility for this reason. The word "ordained" is not only passive but it is a perfect participle. But also it is attached to an imperfect verb "were". When these two are attached, it is known as a pluperfect periphrastic construction. What this is saying is that the action of the word "ordained" happened in the past, continuing in the future, but PRIOR TO THE TIME OF THE MAIN VERB! The main verb is "believed". This is emphatically saying that the ordaining happened BEFORE they believed. Coupled with the fact that the word is passive can only support the notion of unconditional election.

     Since many that deny this doctrine do so because of a few false assumptions, we need to make a few qualifying statements before finishing this chapter. First, this doctrine does not teach that a person will be saved, regardless of whether or not they repent and believe the gospel, if they are one of the elect. ELECTION IS not salvaton, it is UNTO SALVATION; simply God the Father purposing eternity to whom He will show forth His saving grace to. Only those who repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, and only those who are the elect can and will repent and believe. Secondly, there is the false assumption that if a person is not one of the elect, he can't be saved even if he wants to. That is ridiculous.

     Only those who are sought out by God will ever desire the things of God. That is why the strongest preachers down through the church age were believers in this doctrine. That includes such men as George Whitfield, C. H. Spurgeon, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards and many more. These men knew that their work would not be unfruitful since God is the one working in the heart of His elect. One need only read their sermons to see that these men had a passion for souls unmatched by many in the churches today. That brings us to the third false assumption which is that this will cause men to lose their zeal for evangelism. As we just mentioned, the preachers most used by God to the saving of souls have held this doctrine. This will not destroy true evangelistic zeal, but it will destroy all carnal zeal that disguises itself under the name of the gospel preaching. This teaching has been the backbone of the teaching of the church down through the years. It was Augustine, himself, who said "The grace of God does not find men fit to be elected but makes them so". It was this doctrine that was the buttress of the Protestant Reformation.

     It is a shame that much that goes under the name of Biblical Christianity knows nothing of this wonderous truth. It is ironic that if a man in society exercises the same rights that we are attributing to God in this doctrine, we praise him. For example, if someone goes and adopts an underprivileged child we praise him. We don't get mad because he did not adopt 2 or 3 or more children; then why are some offended by this doctrine that God only saves some? Those whom He passes by neither want salvation and, like His elect, do not deserve it. So why is this a cruel doctrine as some are reported to have said. As C. H. Spurgeon said "Election doesn't keep anyone out of heaven; it keeps a vast multitude out of hell." This doctrine should so ravish our hearts with the wonder of God's free and sovereign grace that we should be forever praiseworthy towards Him. It is this doctrine that should purge out the pride in man. To know that I contributed nothing to my salvation but the sin and that God did it all, most of which was before I was born, is very humbling. As we mentioned before, this doctrine should also purge out all fleshly zeal that resorts to all types of trickery to "help God along". It won't kill evangelistic zeal, but quite the contrary; it will give us more boldness to proclaim God's truth without compromise God's way simply because we believe that the sheep WILL COME! (John 10:16)