We continue with the series of messages today on the Doctrines of Grace. We’re using the acronym “tulip.” The first of these messages was from the “T,” total depravity, dealing with the fact that man is a sinner, guilty before a holy God. We come to the second one now, the “U,” unconditional election, which refers to God’s choice of a people. Our text is 1 Thessalonians 1:4: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” This text clearly states that election is of God. So, if election is of God, it is good, it is right, it is something to be believed, it is something that we ought to be able to rejoice in.
There’s something in the human heart that resists the whole concept of God’s sovereignty. But God’s Word is clear and distinct about His purpose in saving a people. “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”
Election, then, is a Bible doctrine and cannot be denied. A person cannot say, “I believe the Bible, I believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, but I’ll have no part of the doctrine of election.” If you believe the Bible, you must believe something about it and what it teaches. Now, a person might say, “I believe the doctrine of election,” and have another view of it, but just to arbitrarily say “I don’t believe that doctrine at all,” would be a blatant denial of something that is clearly revealed in the Word of God. Election is a God-honoring truth, as all truth is God-honoring. It is a glorious doctrine. It is a doctrine of great blessing and should bring joy, then peace as we properly understand it.
What does election mean? Election is a sovereign act of God whereby He chooses certain individuals from the fallen race to eternal life for the glory of His name. Now, when we say it is the purpose of God to save a people from this fallen race, that brings us to grips with the fact that God would be just to pass by all men. God is not obligated to save anybody; that’s the mistaken idea that many embrace. The thought is that God is under some kind of obligation, and that if He does something for one person He must do the same for them all. Romans 3:12: “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” There’s nothing good in man by his human nature that would obligate God or attract His favor. Verse 19 says, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” The law showed us the impossibility of earning favor with God. Since man is sinful, since man has no merit, since man cannot perform a single work that would obligate God, God is not under any obligation to save anybody. So it is only because of grace that any are saved. Ephesians, chapter one, beginning in the third verse, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love...” (vv. 3-4). How could language be any more clear? Who did the choosing? He chose us in Him, that is in Christ. When was it? It was before the foundation of the world. And what was the purpose of the choice? That we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. The result of election is that those who then are drawn by the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit and are born again, is that they should be holy and live righteous, godly lives. It is “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (v. 6). On what basis can any of us stand accepted before God? Not in ourselves. Not based on our connection with our fallen parent Adam. Not based on our conduct in the past. Not based on our status today. Not based on what we might do in the future. But it is only that we have been accepted in the Beloved. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace...” (v. 7). Look at how glorious it is. Accepted in Christ. In Him we have redemption. It’s through His blood that we have the forgiveness of sins. All of this is according to the riches of His grace, “wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself...” (vv. 8-9). What’s the basis of all of this? God’s purpose in Himself. It’s not God rewarding man for his faithful conduct, it’s not God giving to man what he has earned, but it is according to that which He has purposed in Himself. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (vv. 11-12). Salvation is by God’s grace. It is God who planned it. It is God who designed it. And, you see, it is all in Christ. The choice was in Christ; you’re accepted in Christ; it was Jesus Christ who came in the fullness of time, at God’s appointed time, to go to the cross and redeem His people, so you have redemption in Christ. How do you have the forgiveness of sins? It’s only in Christ. If you’ve been born of the Spirit, that experience is Christ being formed in you, the hope of glory. And, as you live a righteous, godly life here, you’re being conformed more and more to the image of Christ. You have access to God through Jesus Christ. In the resurrection, you’re going to be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ. You’re going to be like Him. You’re going to live with Him forever. So there is no part of this salvation that is removed from Christ. He’s the center of it all.
The choice of God is not conditioned on anything in man. When Romans 3:12 tells us that there is none that does good, then it should make it perfectly clear that salvation cannot possibly be founded and based on man’s goodness. Election is the purpose of God to make a people like Jesus Christ. Romans, chapter eight, verse 28. Many know the 28th verse by memory, but it’s connected with the verses that follow, and consequently paints a beautiful picture for us of God’s overall design in the saving of a people. “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.” In John, chapter 17, Jesus, in His prayer to the Father, makes it clear what this whole scheme of salvation is about. “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” (vv. 9-10). The design and purpose of God is that Jesus Christ should be glorified in His people. Jesus says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you...” (John 15:16). Somebody may object and say, “Well, I did choose the Lord.” You may well have chosen the Lord, but I want to tell you, He chose you first. You say, “I’ve loved the Lord for a long time.” The reason you love Him is because He loved you first (1 John 4:19). He is the first cause in this whole matter of salvation. Since it’s all of Him, all by His grace, then He gets all the glory. Why do we believe Jesus Christ, why do we trust in His Word? Let’s go to the book of Acts, chapter 13, as Paul addresses a crowd in the synagogue at Antioch, “The Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (vv. 47-49). Gentiles heard of this “light of the Gentiles”, they were glad, and so they glorified the Word of the Lord. How did they glorify it? By believing on Jesus Christ. They believed because they were ordained to eternal life.
I couldn’t possibly deal in this one message with all of the objections that are brought against the doctrine of election. They are numerous, but we will deal with a few of them. One of the first things that people say when you talk about the sovereignty of God, or talk about His purpose in electing and predestinating a people, is that it just doesn’t sound fair. The Holy Spirit knew ahead of time that that was going to be the human response, and so He answered the question in anticipation that it would be asked. Romans 9:11: “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (vv. 11-13). Someone might say, “I just can’t believe that God would have hated Esau!” No, the amazing thing is not that He hated Esau, but that He loved Jacob! You see, if you’ve got the right concept of your fallen condition and of the holiness of God, you’re not amazed that God is a God of holiness that hates every evil way. You’re not astounded by the fact that God is angry with the wicked every day, and that God will punish sin and sinners. You’re amazed that He would love anybody! Verse 14, “What shall we say then?” Here comes the objection; the Holy Spirit knew it was going to be raised. “Is there unrighteousness with God?” You see, that’s what man says. Man says, “This isn’t fair. This isn’t righteous. This wouldn’t be the right thing.” What’s the answer? “God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (vv. 14b-16). Does God have the right to do that? Is God under some obligation to do it differently? Can poor, fallen, worms of the Earth make demands on the sovereign of the universe? No! “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” (vv. 16-18). The Spirit of God knew there was going to be another objection raised. Somebody’s going to say, “Well, if that’s the case, then how can man be accountable? So he says, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (v. 19) How can God find fault with a man if God is the sovereign ruler of heaven and Earth? “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory...” (vv. 19b-23) It is the potter’s freedom, not the freedom of the clay, that is the great concern of Creation. People will sometimes say, “I believe in election, but that pertains to the national Israel. That doesn’t have anything to do with individual salvation.” Look at the next verse, verse 24, “Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” That settles that issue. It concerns not only Jews but also Gentiles. Matthew, chapter 11, verse 25, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (vv. 25-26). You see, that may be all the answer we’ll ever get to some things. If it seemed good in His sight, it ought to seem good in ours. If it’s right and to His glory, we ought to bow in submission and say, “Even though I can’t understand it, I embrace it, I believe it to the glory of God.” The second objection is often, “This salvation must be based on foreseen faith.” Psalm 14 says that God looked down, and you know what He saw? He saw that the whole human race was corrupt, they were all going the wrong direction and there were none that were seeking after God. If man is dead in sin, does not love God, fear God, nor seek God — where would faith come from? Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that faith is the gift of God. So if God foresaw faith in anybody, it’d have to be the faith that He would give them, so we come back to Him as the first cause of our salvation yet again. The same passage in Ephesians also tells us that we are saved “by grace through faith.” Grace means God is giving something, not on the basis of your desert and merit, but for His own sovereign pleasure according to His love and mercy. So, if He saw something in you, then your salvation is based on you rather than on the grace of God. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” This choice of God is not based on the will of man, it’s not based on the running of man, the working of man, the effort of man, the merit of man. It’s not based on man, it’s based on His own grace given us in Christ. Psalm 110, verse three, says, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power...” So if God ever sees anybody that’s willing, you know why they’re willing? Because God made them willing. Does God force salvation on people that don’t even want it? Absolutely not. He makes them willing in the day of His power. I’ve been preaching over fifty years, and I have never yet had somebody come to me and say, “I’ve got a bad case of salvation. Can you tell me how I can get rid of this salvation God has imposed on me?” You know why? Because when God gives you salvation, He gives you the “want to.” He gives you the interest in it, the desire for it. Others object that election keeps some people from salvation — there are people who would be saved, but they can’t be saved because election has shut them out. Not at all. There would have been none saved had it not been for unconditional election. There would have been none! But because of God’s electing grace, there is salvation in the world today. Luke, chapter five, verse 32 said that Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are they that mourn...” (Matthew 5:4). If I’m talking to somebody today who sees himself to be a sinner, if I’m talking to somebody who mourns over sin, I can say to you, you’re not shut out, you’re embraced in it, you’re included in it, that’s the evidence that God has touched you by His sovereign mercy. Election doesn’t shut anybody out — we were all out to start with. Election is what takes somebody in. Election embraces a multitude and there’s nobody who’s out who wants in. You see? The only people who want in are the ones that are in. And everybody else said, “I don’t want anything to do with it anyway.”
What are the benefits of this doctrine? I remember in my early years in the ministry I was warned by some older ministers that this was a controversial doctrine. This was a doctrine that we knew was in the Bible, but it should not be preached publicly. It could be talked about privately among ministers, but you’d never want to preach it because it would confuse people. Friends, I don’t think there’s a military secret in the Bible! I don’t think there’s something in there that you have to try to cover up and keep in the background. I believe everything’s there that ought to be. It’s there because it ought to be preached, and it will be to the glory of God and the benefit of His people when it is preached. Election is profitable. It is profitable, first of all because it gives us the only right view of God. It recognizes God’s sovereignty. In Luke 4:18-26, Jesus pointed out that God had the power to feed every widow on Earth. He wasn’t lacking in power. But, it wasn’t His pleasure to do so. God had the power to cleanse every leper on this Earth. But, it wasn’t His pleasure to do so. He cleansed one, and he was a Syrian — an enemy of God’s people. The point is, God, being sovereign, had a right to do what was pleasing to Him. Jesus reveled in the sovereignty of God. Election puts God, in His sovereignty, in the forefront of the most important subject in the Bible — salvation. Election shows that God is a God of purpose. Are you saved? If you say, “Yes,” I ask you a second question. Who did it? Who saved you? I’ve asked a number of people that through the years. There might have been some that thought something else, but nobody has yet had the audacity to tell me that they saved themselves. Every time I’ve ever asked somebody the question “Who saved you?” they said “God did it.” I ask you the question today, who saved you? Is that your answer? God did it? Then I ask you another question: did He do it on purpose, or was it an accident? You say, “Well, sure, He did on purpose.” That’s what I’m preaching this morning! That’s the doctrine of election! Isn’t that simple? God saved you and He did on purpose! He purposed to do it before He did it. He purposed to do it from eternity past. All glory goes to Him. This doctrine evokes praise, because when you understand it, rather than trying to take any credit to yourself, rather than trying to boast, you’re going to praise Him. “To the praise of the glory of his grace… he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6). God has loved His people from all eternity. That’s what election is about. If God loves you, He didn’t start loving you today. He loved you from all ages past. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
John, chapter six, verse 37, “all that the Father giveth me shall come to me...” — there’s the doctrine of election — “and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” You say, “I want to come to Him.” Then come on. The door’s not shut. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17b). If you are willing, if you are thirsty, then take of the water of life freely. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You are weary. You’re burdened down with sin. “Come unto me, I will give you rest.”
Can Jesus hear a sinner pray, Yet suffer him to die? No: He is full of grace; He never will permit A soul, that fain would see His face, To perish at His feet. No sinner shall ever be empty sent back Who comes seeking mercy for Jesus’ sake. First John, chapter five, verse one, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” I ask you, are you a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you despaired of hope and help from any other source? Have you been slain by the law — convicted of your sin, to see your wretchedness before a holy God? If you, having despaired of any other source of help, have come to faith in Jesus Christ, he says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...” Do you believe on Him? That’s where we started, in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” How did he know that? “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” (v. 5). How did he know these were the elect of God? When the gospel came, they received it. Verse nine, “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God...” When you receive the gospel, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and turn from idols, that is evidence you’re one of God’s elect. Where are you today? You may say, “Well, I’m still struggling. I’m still doubting. I’m still fearful.” God says, he that comes I will in no wise cast out.
Sons we are through God’s election Who in Jesus Christ believe, By eternal destination Sov’reign grace we here receive Lord thy mercy, Lord thy mercy Doth both grace and glory give.
Ev’ry fallen soul by sinning Merits everlasting pain But thy love, without beginning Has restored thy sons again. Countless millions, countless millions Shall in life through Jesus reign.
When in that blest habitation Which my God has fore-ordained When, in glory’s full possession I with saints and angels stand Free grace only Shall resound in heav’n’s land.