The Doctrines of Grace, sometimes called the T.U.L.I.P. or Calvinism, are the belief that man is radically depraved and unable to come to Christ in his condition, but that God chose, by His sovereign will, to save a remnant of humanity, not according to any innate goodness in them, but according to His good pleasure. He did this by Christ’s actual atonement on the cross for His elect, God’s sovereign, and ultimately effectual call for them, and completion of His work in the glorification of His saints. This doctrine is often questioned, but should it be? Here will be a walkthrough of 10 important Biblical realities to consider before writing off this most beautiful of doctrines.
1. Radical Depravity: The Bible paints a clear picture of the spiritual condition of man. While humanism (and even most other world religions) paints humanity in a good light, Christianity gives a sober and accurate understanding of man’s condition. Romans 3:10 says, “None seeks for God.” This is a serious statement and one that limits all people in the following ways. The word “none” is qualified in v9 with “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” This means the word “none” used in verses10-12 is universal. According to Paul, no one seeks for God. Not only this, but Jesus states in both John 6:44 and 6:65 that no one can come to God unless the Father draws him or grants it to him. The phrase “no one” again is universal, and “can” speaks of ability. Thus, no one has the ability to come to God unless God first acts. Why is this? It is because all people are by nature dead in sin (Eph. 2:1) and slaves to sin (Rom. 8:18; John 8:34-36). This is a serious condition and one that necessitates the intervention of God for the salvation of the sinner!
2. God Chooses to Save: Since man is in need of God’s intervention, God graciously chose to save. This sovereign choice of salvation was for those the Scriptures describe as the elect. The elect were chosen not because they were “elite,” but for the very opposite reason. They were chosen because they were weak and lowly (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Not only this, but they were chosen ultimately because of the good pleasure and will of God (Eph. 1:5). The Scriptures are full of this reality: God chose and predestined us for adoption as sons before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6), He chose the elect for salvation from the beginning (2 Thess. 2:13), He causes us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3), and Jesus said many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14). These are but a few of the passages that speak to this reality.
3. All God Chooses will be Saved: God’s sovereign choice of salvation is not only seen in His decree to save, but also in the actual fulfillment and finishing of salvation in the elect. John 6:44 says that those whom God draws he will raise up on the last day. This means all those God effectually draws will be saved in the end. Likewise, in John 10:27-30 Jesus makes clear that the Father has given the elect to the Son, that He is greater than all, and that no one can snatch them out of His hand. In Ezekiel 36 we also see an Old Testament picture of the new covenant. Here God says I will, “cleanse you from all your uncleanness,” “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” These are realities that God says He will do to those who are His. God has the right and power to do this, and He only does this upon His elect.
4. God’s Will cannot be Thwarted: The will of God is not only sovereign but also unstoppable. His will cannot be stopped, nor can our will override His perfect plan. God does not coerce for His will to be accomplished, but He does cause things to happen, permits other things to take place, and does not permit many things of which we are not even aware! But if God’s will truly cannot be stopped, then His will in salvation shall be accomplished. Job said of God’s will in Job 42:2, “No purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Likewise in Isaiah 46:10 God says, “My counsel will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” We even see in Gamaliel’s words in Acts 5:39 speaking of the Apostle’s preaching, “but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or you may even be found fighting against God.”
5. The Golden Chain of Salvation: One of the clearest Biblical examples of God’s sovereignty in salvation is the Golden Chain of Salvation in Romans 8:29-30. Here we see Paul explain the process of salvation. He says, “Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.” He says, “those whom God foreknew.”This speaks of God’s loving intimate relationship which He ordained in eternity past. God does not foresee or learn things (He knows all things), and He knows all people who will exist, so this must be speaking of intimate knowledge (Example: Matt. 7:23). Those God intimately chose to love and know in eternity past He also predestined. This refers to God’s choosing/electing for salvation. Those God predestined He called. In some way all people are called to be saved. This is the general call of salvation we give when we evangelize. However, Romans 8:30 is speaking of the effectual call of the gospel (Notice that all of those whom God calls will be justified). Those God effectually calls unto salvation will be justified (declared righteous), and to all those God declares righteous He will finish His work in them at glorification. Notice there is no break in the chain. Every single person that God chooses to intimately love and know in eternity past will ultimately be saved. Obviously from Scripture not all people will be saved, thus, this golden chain can only be speaking of God’s elect.
6. God is not Obligated: Many believe it is unfair for God to show particular love to some and not to others. But is God really obligated to do so? By no means! In fact, God is not obligated to show mercy, grace, or love to any of us! We have all sinned (Rom. 3:23), we all deserve death and hell (Rom. 6:23), Grace is undeserved by nature (Eph. 2:8-9). God shows mercy to some and not to others (Rom. 9:15, 18). By way of example, I love all of the people in my church. They are dear to me, and I thank the Lord for them regularly. However, I am not called to love them in the same way as my wife. God generally shows love and grace to the world in common grace (Matt. 5:45), but He is perfectly at liberty to show His saving particular love to those He chooses. A common objection is that this is not fair, but if we want fair, we would all get hell. Praise the Lord He graciously and justly punished the sin of His elect on the cross that we might be forgiven!
7. God has the Right to do as He Wills with what is His: Often we think we have the right to tell God what to do with what is His. This, however, is not the case. God declares this reality in Romans 9:19-29. In this passage Paul preemptively answers those who object to the reality that God shows mercy to some and hardens others. Some, Paul says, may say, “Why does He still find Fault? For who resists His will?” God’s will cannot be thwarted as we have seen before, but Paul answers the question with multiple questions. He says in verse 21, “does not the potter have authority over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” In other words, does God not have the right to do His will with what is His? The obvious answer is, “Of course He does!” Paul then explains that God made some for honorable use and dishonorable use. Those God made for honorable use were made to display His glory through mercy and the glorifying of His elect. Those God made for dishonorable use were done so to display His power and wrath toward sin through their destruction. In other words, God has chosen out of those He has made to save some to display His glory and mercy and yet for others to display His wrath and power. God does not coerce those prepared for destruction into sin, but rather endures with patience their sinful rebellion and punishes them for their sin in the end. God has the right to do this, and it only magnifies the grace He shows to His elect that is so undeserved. Before anyone says the common objection to this text that “it is speaking of Israel and does not apply to the church or salvation,” verse 24 makes clear what it speaks of when it says, “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” This is God’s design for the salvation of all His elect.
8. Federal Headship: Many object to the idea of God’s sovereignty in salvation from the perspective that it would make God unjust in punishing sinners who had no choice to do anything but sin. This, however, is an objection which the Scriptures clearly answer. Before Adam sinned in the garden, he was originally good like the rest of God’s creation (Gen, 1:31). He was not dead in sin, under sin, or a slave to sin. In this sense he was free (though still under the sovereign hand of God). When Adam sinned, he did so freely and as a representative for all people. Adam did what we would have done had we been in his place. Not only did we inherit a sin nature through this original sin (Rom. 5:12), but we also inherited guilt from Adam (Rom. 5:19). Just as when a president declares war on another nation, all people in the country are represented by the federal head and are now at war, we too are sinners and sinful at the moment of conception through our first representative, Adam (Ps. 51:5). We were not there and yet we have consequences for the sin of our first representative. Many have a problem with this, but it is clearly in the Biblical text (Romans 5; 1 Cor. 15). Not only this, but we have no problem with federal headship when it goes the other direction. Jesus came and acted as our representative! He lived the life that we could not live, suffered the death that we deserve, and was raised from the dead that we might also be raised to newness of life! Through Jesus we can have His righteousness imputed to our account (2 Cor. 5:21). When we go from being under Adam to being under Christ as our representative, we do not do anything to earn this or to benefit from the work of Christ, but simply receive it by faith. As we will see even faith and repentance are gifts from God, thus, we receive merit that we did not accomplish on our own. Adam sinned and we are guilty for his sin (Rom. 5:19). We have also continued in the footsteps of our first representative (Rom. 5:12); thus, all people rightfully deserve the just penalty for sin in hell. God is completely just in punishing all sinners, and yet through the perfect work of Jesus, He is also just in saving a remnant for Himself (Rom. 3:25-26).
9. God Grants Faith and Repentance: As mentioned in the above section, those who repent and trust in Christ go from being under Adam to being under Christ as their representative. But some might argue that that means we have free will in salvation. As we will see here, even faith and repentance are something God grants to His elect. Ephesians 2:8-9 are clear verses that declare our salvation, the grace that makes it possible, and the faith that applies it, are all a gift from God. Likewise, Titus 3:4-8 declares the same reality. When we believe, according to John 1:12, we are made children of God, yet this comes not by man, his will, effort, or lineage, but from God (John 1:13). Faith is a gift from God! Not only this, but Acts 5:30-31, 11:18; and 2 Tim. 2:25 all declare that God grants repentance. Faith and repentance are no place for boasting since they come from God, thus, our only place to boast is in Christ (1 Cor. 1:26-31)!
10. Implications: Finally, we should consider a few of the implications if God is not sovereign in salvation. The first implication hits close to home for me as an evangelist. If God is not sovereign in salvation, failure in evangelism can result in someone going to hell. I have been doing street evangelism since 2009 and there have been many times throughout the years where I have failed due to pride, inexperience, or even laziness. If the weight of a person’s salvation depends on my cleverness or ability to communicate and convince someone of the truth, I am in trouble. I also will likely not evangelize much out of fear I will say something wrong. However, if God is sovereign, I can evangelize with joy, knowing His will is going to be accomplished, and that I am simply a tool He has chosen to accomplish. Next, If God is not sovereign in salvation we should not pray and ask God to save the lost. A common saying in free will camps is that God is a “gentleman.” They will say he has provided the way for salvation and now sits back and allows the individual to decide. He will not act unless invited to do so by the individual. If this is true, why would we pray for God to save the lost, open their eyes, or change their hearts? We would be asking God to do something He will not do. Praying to God for the salvation of the lost is only consist if He is sovereign. You may say, “but if God is sovereign, He has already chosen whom He will save, so why pray to Him?” It is because prayer is not God conforming to our will, but our will conforming to God’s. That is why we pray in Matt. 6:10, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Next, if God is not sovereign in salvation, Jesus’ death was, to some extent, in vain. If Jesus came to save every single person and the majority of people will die and go to hell (Matt. 7:13-14), Jesus mostly failed. But if Jesus came to be a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), to lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:15), Jesus did not die in vain but rather fully accomplished the will of the Father (John 6:38-39). Finally, if God is not sovereign in salvation, we have reason to boast. We can boast of the fact that we believed when others did not, we saw the truth when others rejected the truth. But if God is sovereign, all we can do is praise Him for His grace! Sovereignty makes man small and God big, while free will elevates man. Why would Paul say we ought to give thanks to God for the brethren in 2 Thess. 2:13? He answers, saying, “because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved.” We can praise the Lord because of His grace today!
The doctrine of election (The Doctrines of Grace) should not be despised, but should bring great joy; it should produce prideful boasting, but humble worship! Search the Scriptures and see the wonderful truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation. These are but a few of the wonderful passages and truths from Scripture that declare this doctrine. Come to the Scriptures not with human reasoning or personal opinion. Come to the Scriptures with humility and let the Word of God define for you who our God is and His role in the process of salvation. Let these truths provoke you to worship!