The U in T.U.L.I.P. caused me to disdain Reformed theology for most of my Christian life. I well understood that it stood for Unconditional Election. It meant that I took no part in my salvation–that God chose to save me from the “foundation of the earth” apart from anything I could ever do to please Him.
This approach to understanding salvation attacked my pride (though I never would have admitted it at the time). I knew that Jesus died for my sins, taking the punishment I deserved, and I did understand that good works couldn’t get me to heaven. Yet I believed that I had accepted the Lord as an act of my own free will. As He had offered Himself to me, so I believed that I had chosen to accept His offer.
Many, and perhaps most professing Christians take this type of stance on salvation. Some of them do genuinely trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for their salvation, so I believe we must guard against automatically judging them to be false converts. At the same time, we might humbly direct their attention to various Scriptures which teach Unconditional Election.
Romans 9 makes the clearest case for Unconditional Election. Although many other Scriptures support this doctrine, I only have time today to discuss this one passage.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. ~~Romans 9:6-18 (ESV)
In context, this passage is about God’s choosing to show mercy first on Israel, and now on Gentile Christians. I don’t deny this point. But most Bible scholars also argue that the passage teaches election of individual believers. Consider, for example, John Calvin’s commentary on verse 11 alone:
11. For when the children, etc. He now begins to ascend higher, even to show the cause of this difference, which he teaches us is nowhere else to be found except in the election of God. He had indeed before briefly noticed, that there was a difference between the natural children of Abraham, that though all were adopted by circumcision into a participation of the covenant, yet the grace of God was not effectual in them all; and hence that they, who enjoy the favor of God, are the children of the promise. But how it thus happened, he has been either silent or has obscurely hinted. Now indeed he openly ascribes the whole cause to the election of God, and that gratuitous, and in no way depending on men; so that in the salvation of the godly nothing higher (nihil superius) must be sought than the goodness of God, and nothing higher in the perdition of the reprobate than his just severity.
Then the first proposition is, — “As the blessing of the covenant separates the Israelitic nation from all other people, so the election of God makes a distinction between men in that nation, while he predestinates some to salvation, and others to eternal condemnation.” The second proposition is, — “There is no other basis for this election than the goodness of God alone, and also since the fall of Adam, his mercy; which embraces whom he pleases, without any regard whatever to their works.” The third is, — “The Lord in his gratuitous election is free and exempt from the necessity of imparting equally the same grace to all; but, on the contrary, he passes by whom he wills, and whom he wills he chooses.” All these things Paul briefly includes in one sentence: he then goes on to other things.
Moreover, by these words, When the children had not yet been born, nor had done any good or evil, he shows, that God in making a difference could not have had any regard to works, for they were not yet done. Now they who argue on the other side, and say, that this is no reason why the election of God should not make a difference between men according to the merits of works, for God foresees who those are who by future works would be worthy or unworthy of his grace, are not more clear-sighted than Paul, but stumble at a principle in theology, which ought to be well known to all Christians, namely, that God can see nothing in the corrupt nature of man, such as was in Esau and Jacob, to induce him to manifest his favor. When therefore he says, that neither of them had then done any good or evil, what he took as granted must also be added, — that they were both the children of Adam, by nature sinful, and endued with no particle of righteousness.
I do not dwell thus long on explaining these things, because the meaning of the Apostle is obscure; but as the Sophists, being not content with his plain sense, endeavour to evade it by frivolous distinctions, I wished to show, that Paul was by no means ignorant of those things which they allege.
It may further be said, that though that corruption alone, which is diffused through the whole race of man, is sufficient, before it breaks out, as they say, into action, for condemnation, and hence it follows, that Esau was justly rejected, for he was naturally a child of wrath, it was yet necessary, lest any doubt should remain, as though his condition became worse through any vice or fault, that sins no less than virtues should be excluded. It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God, Paul withdraws us from this view, until he has established this doctrine, — That God has a sufficiently just reason for electing and for reprobating, in his own will. 293
That the purpose of God according to election, etc. He speaks of the gratuitous election of God almost in every instance. If works had any place, he ought to have said, — “That his reward might stand through works;” but he mentions the purpose of God, which is included, so to speak, in his own good pleasure alone. And that no ground of dispute might remain on the subject, he has removed all doubt by adding another clause, according to election, and then a third, not through works, but through him who calls. Let us now then apply our minds more closely to this passage: Since the purpose of God according to election is established in this way, — that before the brothers were born, and had done either good or evil, one was rejected and the other chosen; it hence follows, that when any one ascribes the cause of the difference to their works, he thereby subverts the purpose of God. Now, by adding, not through works, but through him who calls, he means, not on account of works, but of the calling only; for he wishes to exclude works altogether. We have then the whole stability of our election inclosed in the purpose of God alone: here merits avail nothing, as they issue in nothing but death; no worthiness is regarded, for there is none; but the goodness of God reigns alone. False then is the dogma, and contrary to God’s word, — that God elects or rejects, as he foresees each to be worthy or unworthy of his favor. 294
Of course people view election as arbitrary and unfair. God’s Word never explains His criteria for choosing some and not others. We hopefully concede that not one of us deserves anything less than His wrath, and yet it seems to us that there should be some reason that He saves some and condemns others. Our fallen wisdom concludes that, in His foreknowledge, He knows who will accept Him and who will reject Him. We clutch this reasoning tightly in our fists because we demand a way of understanding God’s methods.
We also demand to feel a sense of control. Actually, this demand for control lies at the heart of why we dislike the doctrine of Unconditional Election. We crave a sense of control!
But as we study Scripture, coming to terms both with God’s sovereignty and our Total Depravity, the doctrine of Unconditional Election transforms into a beautiful mystery. Why did He show grace to me? Knowing that I did nothing to achieve His election of me fills me with wonder at His grace. I don’t know why He has shown me such compassion in giving me the faith to believe in Christ, but my inability to comprehend His purposes only causes me to love Him more.