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Be Grateful for the Doctrine of Election

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Man, Sin & Salvation, Systematic Theology tagged in: ,

Be Grateful for the Doctrine of ElectionUncomfortable with the Doctrine of Election

That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.Romans 9:11

Before us we have a verse from a passage of Scripture (Romans 9) that gives more than a few people an uneasy feeling. What is written about a pagan king is difficult enough for some, but it’s just too much for many when God declares His choosing Isaac not Ishmael and that while He loved Jacob, He hated Esau. I suppose there are people who struggle with this chapter, in part at least, because of all that is found in the preceding one. They wonder how Romans 8 can be so glorious in its teaching that the objective benefits of salvation are sure, unchangeable, and eternal only to have the doctrine of election and reprobation to wrestle with in Romans 9. In fact, what needs to be understood is that the latter follows, flows from and clarifies the former.

Doctrine of Election in Romans 9

This chapter begins a new section within this epistle but continues expounding the theme throughout, which is, as one commentator correctly noted, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed.” This is the gospel Paul was not ashamed to proclaim (1:16-17) and that he heralds throughout Romans, including here. Paul begins by giving a three-fold oath of his love for his kinsmen and describing the great benefits belonging to God’s covenant people (9:1-5). Then he writes, “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed” (9:6a). These words are crucial to understand the harder sayings of this chapter, and, indeed, all from the second half of verse six through 11:29.

Paul throughout this letter, being infallibly inspired by God the Holy Spirit, is anticipating questions that will be asked by his readers then and now. “Explain how,” the inquiry goes, “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, yet the Israelites have rejected the Messiah?” Or, to put it more simply, “Have the covenant promises of God failed, drifted off course, come to nothing?” The Apostles’ response in verse six is that this is by no means the case; rather, the Word of the Lord is sure and never fails to accomplish the purpose for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11). Also, he assures us that not all who physically descend from the covenantal line are true children of God, but those who are children of the promise (vv. 7-9). He goes on to boldly declare that the righteousness of God is displayed in His sovereign will of showing mercy to whom He wishes and hardening whom He wishes (v. 18) and that salvation is in no way dependent on the will or work of any sinner; but only upon the mercy of the One Holy Lord (v. 16).

Esau Have I Hated

In the midst of all this Paul gives us an example he considers to be greater and more clear than others — Jacob and Esau (vv. 10-13). These two children were not only born into a covenant home, but born to the same parents, and they were twins at that. Yet even before they were born and could think or do anything good or bad, God loved one and hated the other. This leads to further questions: does this mean God is unjust (v. 14)? and, isn’t it unfair for Him to blame anybody for sin since nobody can resist His will (v. 19)? Paul answers these questions powerfully and succinctly with, “Of course God isn’t unjust and why do you as a mere, fallible, sinful created being dispute with and rebel against the infallible, eternal and holy Creator of the universe” (vv. 14, 20). We all would do well to receive instead of resist these words.

But I want us to focus on two simple words often overlooked — “so that.” As in, “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand…” Herein we find the fundamental reason behind the unconditional election of those loved before the foundation of the world and the reprobation of those vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (v. 22). It will sound familiar to you I am sure because it is the fundamental reason behind all that the Lord does — the glory of His name. Whatever struggles we may have with this chapter of Scripture, this one thing needs to be comprehended and embraced with joy. God the Father has authored our salvation, God the Son has accomplished it, and God the Holy Spirit has and is applying it to us, not arbitrarily, not because of something good foreseen or found in us, not because we have earned it or cooperated with Jehovah to bring it about; but so that God’s purpose would stand and He alone would receive the glory.

God’s Promises Will Not Fail

This takes us back to the question under consideration throughout this section (v. 6a). The Lord’s promises cannot and will not fail because they, like election itself, are in no way contingent on man but only and always on our Triune God’s righteous and sovereign will. A righteous and sovereign will none can resist, yet we are still at fault for our sin. A righteous and sovereign will that says to some, “chosen” and to others, “rejected.”

Can we fully get our minds around all that is taught here? Surely we cannot. Is it possible such a passage was in Peter’s mind when he wrote,

…just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which some are hard to understand…

I believe it is very possible. But I do not think we need a deeper knowledge of predestination, but a deeper gratitude that we have not been predestined to wrath but to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ our Lord. As Calvin so wisely put it,

Let us treasure the following observation in our minds — never to feel the least desire to attain any other knowledge concerning this doctrine save what is taught us in Scripture. When the Lord shuts His sacred mouth, let us also stop our thoughts from advancing one step further in our inquiries.

Inquiring minds want to know more about the secret things that belong to the Lord our God, but captive minds, those taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, want to rejoice in the things revealed to us and our sons forever — that He is our God and we are His people. And this is only because of the good pleasure of the Almighty.

This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive magazine, 2008.

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