EXPLORING THE WORD
TULIP Part 3b
Imagine if you will, a state penitentiary with ten inmates on death row. All ten have been duly convicted of a capital crime and are awaiting their execution by the state. The governor decides to commute the death sentence of one inmate and grant him a full pardon. Is the governor being unfair or unjust to the other inmates by not pardoning them? Some may wish to argue why the governor chose this one inmate over the other nine. Some may even wish to argue that if the governor pardoned one inmate, he is obligated to pardon the other inmates. One is perfectly free to argue in this manner, but one would be wrong.
The question comes down to one between justice and mercy. All ten death row inmates deserve, and will receive, justice. None of them ‘deserve' mercy. That the governor extended mercy to one does not obligate him to extend mercy to the remaining nine. Therefore, one receives mercy, nine receive justice, and no one is being treated unfairly or unjustly.
This is scenario is a good analogy for the doctrine of Unconditional Election. When God freely chooses to elect someone unto salvation, he is extending mercy and grace to that person. If God freely chooses to not elect someone unto salvation, he is letting that person receive the justice his sin and rebellion deserves. This is the argument the Apostle Paul makes in Romans chapter 9: "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:21)"
God is the Potter and we are the clay. Notice what Paul is saying here. God freely chooses out of the same lump of clay some for honorable use and some for dishonorable use. In other words, God has the sovereign right to choose out from the fallen mass of humanity ("same lump"), some to whom he will grant salvation and to leave the rest in their sin and misery.
Some will cry, "foul" over this sovereign right of God. It's not fair that God chooses before hand who will be saved and who will not be saved. Paul addresses this all throughout Romans 9. The thrust of his argument is to answer the question why the Jews, who are God's chosen people, have rejected their Messiah, Jesus. Paul's reply is that the word of God has not failed because not all who are from Israel are Israel (Romans 9:6). In other words, physical descent from Abraham does not make a person one of God's elect. Paul then goes on to explain how God has always been in the business of "electing" – Abraham over everyone else, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau.
At this point, Paul anticipates a second major objection: Is there any injustice on God's part? To which he answers an emphatic "NO." "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills" (Romans 9:18). God has the freedom to show mercy to whomever he wishes to show mercy. Mercy is never obligated. God is the sovereign and he can freely dispense his mercy on whomever he wishes; and it is not unjust for him to do so because mercy is not unjust.
The third and final objection comes forth: How can God still find fault? If he has mercy on whomever he wills and he hardens whomever he wills, who can resist his will (Romans 9:19). Paul's reply? "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'" (Romans 9:20). Contrary to some, this is not a non-answer. Paul is making perfectly clear that there is a distinction between the Creator (God) and the creature (us). We exist for God's good pleasure, not the reverse. We answer to God, not the reverse. Simply put: God is God and we are not.
The doctrine of Unconditional Election is not an easy doctrine to swallow. For that matter, the Doctrines of Grace are not easy to swallow. The main reason behind this is we want to be in control of our lives, and the fact that God unconditionally elects us is an offense to us. Offense or not, Unconditional Election is biblical, and we must submit to the truth of God's word. The Doctrines of Grace humble us because they proclaim that God is God and we are not!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Next: Limited Atonement Part 1
Image Credit: Thomas Totz, Germany; "5 tulips"; Creative Commons
Introduction: What are the Doctrines of Grace and what is their historic importance?
Total Depravity: Are we all as evil as we can be? What about the good that people do?
Unconditional Election Part 1 | Part 2: Does God choose those who are going to be saved ahead of time?
Limited Atonement Part 1 | Part 2: Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or only for the elect?
Irresistible Grace Part 1 | Part 2: How does God draw people to himself? Can we resist?
Perseverance of the Saints: What does it mean to persevere in faith? What about apostasy?
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