Happy Monday! Yesterday was the beginning of the church season known as “Advent.” The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming.” So during this time leading up to Christmas as we remember the incredible truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man, we also, as Christians living on the other side of Christ resurrection, look forward to our Lord’s second advent. Below are a few available readings you can use during this season of Advent. A couple from Desiring God (both by John Piper), Good News of Great Joy and The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. Focus on the Family has an Advent reading particularly for those with young children. While it doesn’t include all the coloring sheets and stand alone calendar the version here has the message and activity.
“Z” is for Zeal. Here we are, the last letter of the English alphabet and the last “A to Z Theology” blog (for now). Webster defines zeal in this way, “In general, zeal is an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object” (1828 Dictionary). A more comprehensive definition is given at the end of this newsletter so continue reading. Zeal when misdirected or grounded in some false beliefs or assumptions can have devastating effects. In the case of many dictators or rulers throughout the history of the world their zeal to eliminate or exterminate whole people groups is wicked and sinful, a greatly misdirected zeal you could say. Zeal can be found in virtually every arena of life: religion, politics, science, academia, sports, and many other areas as well. We will not explore zeal in all these areas rather we will begin by taking a look at the zeal of our Lord and then see how His followers are to have such zeal.
During the course of Jesus’ ministry our Lord cleansed the temple twice. Once at the beginning of His public ministry (John 2:13-22) and once during passion week shortly before His crucifixion, the end of His public ministry (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). Only John records this first temple cleansing. We read in John 2, “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (vv. 15-17).
Jesus enters the temple and observes the marketplace it has become. And this all taking place in the court of the Gentiles. The only place permitted for the Gentiles to worship God was instead a house of trade. In the second instance of the temple cleansing Jesus speaks of the temple as being a house of prayer yet they made it a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13). The disciples recalled here in John that it is written in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17b). The zeal, or passion, Jesus had in seeing to it that His Father’s house not be treated as “a house of trade” (or a “den of robbers”) is seen when He makes a whip of cords and drives merchants and buyers out of the temple, out of the court of the Gentiles. Jesus’ zeal was so great that it would “consume” Him. Jesus displays a righteous zeal both times as He cleanses the temple. Certainly our Lord was also zealous to do His Father’s will and be obedient to God’s commands.
What of our zeal? Paul writes, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). The picture Paul paints is great. Zeal is a passionate burning desire, and here Paul speaks about not being slothful, or lazy, in our zeal. Rather we are to be fervent, enthusiastic or zealous you could say, in spirit while serving the Lord.
Earlier Paul speaks about not having a zeal for God without knowledge (Rom. 10:2). One could understand how this could be taken to an extreme. Paul said of himself before his conversion to Christ, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Phil. 3:6a). Paul sought vehemently to stop this Christian sect from advancing further. His zeal to destroy followers of Jesus was extremely high. After the Lord met with Paul on the Damascus Road he still had a great zeal but the direction and focus of that zeal was forever changed. Paul would proclaim Christ crucified too much of the known world at that time. He was zealous for the glory of God (see also Num. 25:10-18) and the salvation of sinners.
When Paul’s zeal was being directed by false knowledge it equated to persecution of the church. RC Sproul Jr. said, “We don’t increase in our knowledge by decreasing in our zeal. Neither do we increase in our zeal by decreasing our knowledge. Rather, the two are supposed to feed and encourage each other” (Article: Knowledge Without Zeal). May we have a burning desire to understand the truth of God according to Scripture that our zeal to make Christ known would be like that of our Lord Himself.
In case you have any question about what zeal in religion looks like I close with this quote from J.C. Ryle. He said, “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature—which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted—but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men” (Practical Religion, 1959 ed., 130). Do you have a burning desire to please God in all arenas of your life? Do you have a burning desire to do His will when it is hard and opposite of what many around you are doing? Do you have a burning desire to advance God’s glory in every possible way? May we have such a zeal for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
“Y” is for Yahweh. This is the personal name of God Himself. Maybe you are wondering, “If it is God’s personal name, then why don’t we see it in Scripture?” It actually appears in Scripture more than 6,800 times! Now you might be wondering if we are reading the same Bible. In our English Bibles the name Yahweh appears most frequently as, LORD. This is to distinguish it from the word, Lord. You can see the word is the same in English but distinguished by the use of all capitals in the first example and a capital “L” with lower case “ord” in the second. The reason for this is that they translate two different Hebrew words.
A Quick Grammatical Look
The Hebrew word for Yahweh consist of the Hebrew consonants yhwh (yod-he-waw-he), and is called the Tetragrammaton, because of it contains four letters, hence YHWH. It has been regarded as the most sacred name of God, and in fact, the incommunicable name. Jews feared speaking the name because Lev. 24:16 says, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” So when the Jews read the Scriptures whenever they came upon those four consonants, YHWH, they would say ‘Adonai or ‘Elohim. ‘Adonai is translated in English as “Lord” like we already looked at above and ’Elohim is translated as “God” most often. ’Adonai or “Lord” is a title of God referring to His absolute sovereignty over creation. It is an exalted title of God. In the Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint or LXX) the translators substituted kurios which means “Lord,” with the divine name YHWH. It is likely for these reasons why most English translations translate YHWH “LORD.”
Jehovah, a familiar name for God to English readers at least, is not actually a Hebrew word found in Scripture. Ancient Hebrew when written did not use vowels but the appropriate vowel sounds were passed on orally. The divine name YHWH (the four consonants) received the vowels from ‘Adonai with a couple consonant changes to get the name Jehovah. It is highly unlikely that this is the correct pronunciation of the name of God.
Meaning of God’s Name
Let’s transition away from some of the grammatical and technical side of the name of God and focus on its meaning. What does this name reveal about God and His character? For this is the far greater questions. Exodus 3:13-14 is crucial for understanding the meaning of the divine name, YHWH. It is here in Exodus 3 that God appears to Moses in a burning bush as Moses cares for his father-in-law’s flock (vv. 1, 4). The LORD (YHWH) tells Moses what He is about to do in delivering His people from the hand of the Egyptians and He is going to use Moses (vv. 7-8, 10). Moses is uncertain, and will come up with a lot of excuses not to go (Ex. 4). But here in Exodus 3:13-14 we read, “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” A number of things are revealed about the name YHWH from the explanation here in Ex. 3:14 where God says, “I am who I am.” There is a variety of explanations of what this name means including: (1) that God is self-existent and therefore not dependent on anything else for His own existence; (2) that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists; (3) that God is immutable in His being and character and thus is not in the process of becoming something different from what He is; (4) that God is eternal in His existence (ESV Study Bible, 149). Then we should look in the context where God speaks these words to Moses and it is in promising to be with him as God uses Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. YHWH is telling Moses that He will be for the people in Moses’ day what He was for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in that He is faithful to His covenant (see Ex. 3:6, 16).
While there are lots of passages we could look at since the name of God is used so frequently in the OT let’s stick to the book of Exodus. In Exodus 20 we find the giving of the Ten Commandments. But before God lays out each of those commandments there is a prologue you might say. Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Within this verse we learn a number of things about Yahweh’s relation to the people of Israel. First, Yahweh has a personal relationship with the people. He is “the LORD your God” (emphasis mine). Second, Yahweh is a God of grace for it was He who “brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Certainly much more is wrapped up in what the divine name Yahweh tells us about His character. But it amazing to think that the Holy One, who is so high and exalted, is willing to be in relationship with those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. That He lavished grace upon us who were His enemies from birth. All praise and honor belong to Yahweh alone!
“X” is for eX nihilo. This is a Latin phrase where “ex” means “out of” and “nihilo” means “nothing.” Thus ex nihilo means, “out of nothing.” What in the world does that have to do with anything? Well the world has something to do with it along with all of creation. For creation itself was created by God ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” In this week’s newsletter we will examine a number of Scripture passages and will expand our understanding of the phrase, ex nihilo. Yes I do realize it begins with “e” but thanks for being gracious.
In the Beginning
Genesis 1:1a says, “In the beginning, God…” Now some advocate for ex nihilo nihil fit which means, “out of nothing, nothing comes.” The Christian view is not that from nothingness comes something. For God Himself is not nothing, and He has always been. God is the self-existent One (cf. Ex. 3:13-14). God is eternal and alone has the ability to create something out of nothing. Let’s clear things up. There has never been nothing as though there were a time when God was not. For Moses records for us in Genesis 1:1a, “In the beginning, God…” What we are saying is that God created everything without any preexistent materials or things that have always been. Only God has always been. There was no prior materials at God’s disposal by which He formed and fashioned the universe by using a little bit of “this” and a whole lot of “that.” Still confused? Maybe an example will help.
When living in Grand Rapids, Katie and I visited Art Prize each year. We have even gone since moving north. There are many pieces of art on display throughout the city of Grand Rapids. Let me quickly note here that I am not one who has a keen eye for art. There are some things I look at and wonder what in the world the artist was thinking. Nevertheless we enjoy seeing many of the displays of art from paintings to creative sculptures. Let’s say we are all looking at a very nice painting. We realize that the artist began their work with a blank white canvas before them, a number of paint colors, and brushes next to them. And then from these things came this beautiful painting we are now looking at. From the very same stuff, canvas, paint, and brush, I would not be able to duplicate the same work, or anything close to it. Now you are probably seeing why I don’t have a keen eye for art, because by no means am I an artist, but I still enjoy some of it. Well our artist in this story began with a canvas, a variety of paint colors, and a variety of paint brushes. God did not create the universe with anything “on hand.” There was no oxygen, nitrogen, methane, or to use the technical scientific language, primordial soup. Now I am hungry. So without the use of preexisting materials God created the entire universe. How?
A Spoken Word
Hebrews 11:3 tells us, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” God created the universe by His word. We see this in Genesis 1. God did not create with some preexistent material but rather by a divine command (sometimes referred to as the “divine imperative”). We read in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” You see this pattern continue as you go through the six days of creation: what God says, happens, and God sees that it is good. As RC Sproul says, “Nothing can resist the command of God, who brought the world and everything in it into being” (Everyone’s a Theologian, 92).
Agent of Creation
What becomes abundantly clear in the NT is that Jesus, the second person of our triune God, the Word made flesh, was the Agent of creation. And note that the Spirit of God is also present at creation (cf. Gen. 1:1-2). John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 says, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Colossians 1:16 adds, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” And lastly, Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Each of these passages makes it clear that Jesus, the Son of God, was the agent through which everything was created. And as John 1 tells us, the Word (Jesus), was not only with God but is Himself God.
We often speak about sharing our testimony with others since we are commanded to be prepared to do just that (cf. 1 Pt. 3:15). Creation itself is a testimony that is declaring something. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” A starry night, a beautiful sunset, a flower blooming in early spring are all for the glory of God. Romans 1:18-20 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Creation bears witness against us in that no one will have an excuse for not believing when they die and face the judgment. Creation bears witness about our God. However, no one can be saved by general revelation for we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.
“W” is for Wrath. While there is no need to translate or parse any aspect of this word it doesn’t mean that it isn’t regularly misunderstood. The wrath of God is not a subject much spoken of in our culture today. Our world would rather talk about the love of God and leave that wrath business out altogether. This is not a surprise given the fallenness of man and of our nation. What is the surprising offense is how the culture and its influence has seeped into the church and shaped it in regards to any number of theological subjects, the wrath of God being one, instead of the church being a light to the nations. But as Christians many of us are oftentimes maybe embarrassed about the wrath of God because we don’t understand it. JI Packer points out, “Why, when the Bible is vocal about it [referring to the wrath of God], should we feel obliged to be silent?” (Knowing God, 150). Of course your liberal churches and denominations have tossed it out long ago but even inside an otherwise solid evangelical (meaning, gospel preaching and Bible believing) church, the subject of the wrath of God is all but eliminated. Why is that?
In this week’s blog we will explore this particular attribute of God. We will take a look at a few of the Old and New Testament texts that either speak directly about the wrath of God or are a demonstration of His wrath. May our study of the wrath of God awaken in the Christian a burning desire for proclaiming the whole counsel of God for His glory.
What is the Wrath of God?
The wrath of God is an expression of His holiness. Or “the doctrine that God intensely hates all sin” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1257). Since God is holy (Matt 5:48; 1 Jn. 1:5) and He hates sin He cannot remain neutral in regards to it. As Dr. Steven Lawson said, “There is divine wrath that by necessity must react against all that does not conform to the purity of His holiness” (The Attributes of God Teaching Series). We struggle to understand this because we are not perfect, despite what a new mother might say about her child, and Scripture makes that abundantly clear (see Gen. 3; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23). Whereas humans misdirect and misapply our anger virtually daily, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is…God is only angry where anger is called for” (Packer, Knowing God, 151). God’s wrath is the justice of God in response to our sin.
Wrath of God in the OT
Some point to various accounts in Scripture like Noah and the flood (Gen. 6-7), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19), and the Ten Plagues in Egypt (Ex. 7-12) as examples of the wrath of God gone out of control. Even some Christians look at these texts among others and conclude, “Thank God that the God of the NT is a God of love.” This too is ridiculous and reveals a lack of understanding the Bible.
Yes, God judged mankind and a catastrophic flood covered all the earth. Yes, God rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24). Yes, God sent ten plagues against Egypt. But let’s quickly recap why God did each of these things. In reference to the worldwide flood we read, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Evil continually. All the time. God had been patient with man already since even just one sin deserves death and God withheld His wrath until the evil of mankind was “only evil continually.” And thankfully God looked with favor upon Noah (6:8). In the case of Sodom, Abraham interceded for the people there that if only ten righteous persons could be found would God destroy the city and God said He would not (Gen. 18:32). God even had sent two angels to observe. Certainly God knew, but He was showing them mercy by having not judged them already. Everything was confirmed. The men of Sodom sought to participate in homosexual acts, and while they were inhospitable among other sins (Ezek. 16:48-49) they were guilty because of an abomination (Ezek. 16:50, the same Hebrew word used in Lev. 18:22; 20:13 that links their sin to homosexuality). Sodom knew of their sin and boasted about it (Is. 3:9). And the people were rightly judged by God for their sin. Lastly, in the ten plagues God was going to show the Egyptians, who worshiped many false gods, “that I am the LORD” (Ex. 7:5). And by these plagues He was going to rescue the people of Israel from their slavery. God gave Pharaoh plenty of opportunities to repent (Ex. 8:8, 19, 24-28; 9:11, 28; 10:5-6, 17, 24), there were ten plagues after all. But Pharaoh continual hardened his heart and became monstrously evil, so God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and lured evil into the Red Sea where they were judged because of their sins (Ex. 14:27-28). In the case of Pharaoh, the Sodomites, and the people living in Noah’s day each reaped what their words and actions had sown (Gal. 6:7-8). And I pointed out how God was gracious even leading up to these just judgments.
Wrath of God in the NT
A quick look at a passage in Revelation (though more could be selected, John 3:36; Col. 3:5-6) shows how God’s wrath is very much present in the NT. Rev. 6:15-17 says, “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” Did you catch that? The wrath of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ.
Romans 1:16-17 beautifully shares the gospel message and the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith.” Rom. 1:18-3:20 speaks of the utter depravity and sinfulness of man (a message consistent throughout Scripture after the Fall, Gen. 3) and mankind being without hope apart from God’s direct intervention. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” We are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness, our sin. And while the day when God’s wrath will be fully realized is yet to come there are demonstrations of that wrath right now when Paul says “God gave them up…” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).
As with all the other attributes of God, the wrath of God is one we as Christians should not downsize or be embarrassed by but rather praise and glorify our awesome and holy God for. The Father sent His Son out of a great love for His elect even when we were wretched sinners who deserved His wrath. But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ His Son through whom we’ve received grace and mercy. May we be motivated to share with others of the wrath to come upon sinners and that only by repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus Christ can the wrath of God be removed from us for it was paid in full by Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).
“V” is for Virgin Birth. You have heard of Christmas in July, well this is Christmas in August. The biblical understanding of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ has been questioned by many for different reasons. Some think that no one can be born of a virgin and that includes Jesus. Others believe it would be a miracle but one that is not necessary to believe in order to be a Christian. What about you? Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus the Christ in order to be a Christian? Scripture makes it clear to us that Jesus was born of a virgin. It also provides clear reasons why it is necessary for our salvation. This newsletter will jump right into a number of passages of Scripture that will show us the miracle of the virgin birth and also the necessity of the virgin birth.
Matthew and Luke each describe for us the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew focuses more from the perspective of Joseph whereas Luke focuses more from the perspective of Mary. So in Luke when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he tells Mary she has found favor with God (Luke 1:30). “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (v. 31). Mary asks the obvious question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34). Or as the Greek literally says, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?” However you want to say it Mary is making it clear that she has never had sex and thus cannot possibly have a child. This is not rocket science. Even today there is the necessity of a male’s sperm and female’s egg to come together to create new life. While Mary and Joseph are betrothed to one another, they still have not consummated their marriage yet and thus Mary’s statement of still not knowing a man.
In answer to Mary’s question the angel Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). And as Matthew correctly recognized, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:23). Matthew quoted from Isaiah 7:14 and states that this prophecy is fulfilled in the miraculous birth of Jesus the Christ who is born of the virgin Mary.
Not Merely Preference but Necessity
Have you ever wondered, why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? Or, as was stated earlier, is belief in the virgin birth of Christ a necessary belief of Christianity? In other words, do I have to believe it in order to be a Christian?
Certainly the virgin birth is a miracle as is made clear by the Holy Spirit’s intervention in Mary’s life. So when we realize that the Son of God, the glorious, infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, holy One became a human it is astounding! For some it is humiliating or embarrassing that Christians believe such a thing. But this is exactly what the Scriptures affirm and as we will see more than mere preference but something of necessity.
First, Jesus had to be born of a virgin since by this miraculous birth the uniting of full deity with full humanity was made possible. This was necessary because only someone like us could redeem us, thus the Son of God became a man. As Romans 5:18-19 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” And His deity was necessary because only one who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all the sins of those who would believe in Him. In other words, one perfect man could substitute himself for one guilty person, though there are no perfect men. But one perfect God-man could substitute Himself for all those who believe in Him (Heb. 7:23-25).
Second, the virgin birth was necessary since it reminds us that salvation is solely of the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jon. 2:9). For no human mind could come up with such a plan and even if they did they would not have the power to carry it out.
Lastly, the virgin birth was necessary because it makes possible for Jesus’ true humanity to be without original sin. We all are born in sin. David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). As we just saw in Romans 5 the sin or trespass of one man, Adam, brought condemnation for all men. Adam was our representative and failed, so as a result all of his descendants come forth in sin and choose sin. So how is it that Jesus was not born in sin? After all, Jesus is said to be born in the line of Adam (see Luke 3:23-38). What separates Adam and Jesus from everyone else is both were born of the Spirit (see Gen. 2:7). Luke 1:35 again says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Jesus is thus the New Adam. He is the New Adam in that He is the second one, the “younger brother” who has inherited the promises of the firstborn (i.e. blessing and life for obedience versus cursing and death for disobedience) and replaces the older (i.e. Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; Perez and Zerah; David and his brothers). Jesus born of the Spirit, was the Lamb of God, one that was without spot or blemish, without sin (John 1:29; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pt. 1:19). By being born of the Spirit, like Adam, Jesus is the new federal head over the new creation born in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5 & 6).
In answer to our question, yes the virgin birth is necessary for Christians to believe. First, because it is taught clearly in Scripture and second, because it was necessary for our salvation in His name.
“U” is for Unconditional Election. In order for us to understand this biblical concept we must understand the total depravity of man first (hence the letter “T”). A quick recap of man’s condition will be given first. Then we will define our phrase unconditional election and see how this is not some concept forced upon the text of Scripture, like some may suggest, but that it is found directly within its pages. And while we look at Scripture we will see why conditional election is false. Lastly, we will see what the proper response of Christians should look like given this truth.
Many people today like to think, “All people are basically good.” Sure there are the dictators, communist leaders, serial killers, child abusers, and the like but they are an exception to the norm. While not everyone is a murderer in the strictest sense, first degree murder, we have all been extremely angry with someone before and Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22; see Ex. 20:13). When people speak of being basically good this is always based on our finite human understanding and our flawed human standard. We are always looking on a horizontal level because we can always find someone worse than us, so we think.
Ephesians 2 makes it clear what the condition of man is really like. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath (vv. 1-3). In other words we are totally deprived. This does not mean we are as bad as we could be but rather that every aspect of our existence has been negatively impacted by sin: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Dead people cannot do anything and this is our spiritual state according to Paul in Ephesians 2. Therefore, without the work of God in removing a heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26-28) there will be no positive action (i.e. belief in the Lord Jesus Christ) toward God on the part of man. So we now take a look at unconditional election.
From the Text of Scripture
A proper definition of election is, “An act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1241). God did not look through the corridors of time and see which individuals would respond positively to the gospel message and then choose them. For this to be true we would have to deny the total depravity of man. For in our fallen condition we said we are unable to make any positive action toward God. It would also deny God’s sovereignty over all that He has made. If it were true that God saw in us some positive action or response in advance than we would have reason for boasting for we would have contributed something to our salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). This then radically denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone (cf. Rom. 5:1-11; Gal. 2:16; 3:7-8). Thus God’s election is not conditional, it cannot be.
Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” This verse makes it clear that some were appointed (other translations “ordained”) for eternal life and therefore they believed. The clearest of places we see that God’s election of people is unconditional, meaning it is not based on anything foreseen in them, is found in Romans 9.
“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (vv. 10-13).
Paul speaks here about God choosing the younger son, Jacob, over the elder son, Esau. When reading Genesis you might gather that this was simply common practice since God chooses Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Joseph all of whom were not the firstborn. However, the practice in that day was for the firstborn son to receive a greater portion of the inheritance and blessing from his father. So when Paul references back to Esau and Jacob he reminds his readers of Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Why did God choose Jacob and not Esau? Was Jacob wiser, craftier, stronger, more handsome, a better son? None of these things. In fact Paul gives us the purpose for why Jacob was chosen over Esau “that God’s purpose of election might continue” (v. 11). And this was not based on works because it was before either was born and before either had done anything good or evil. The choosing of Jacob over Esau was based on Him who calls, that is, on God’s choosing. And this is true for those whom are elect, saved by God, that it does not rest on anything foreseen in them but solely on the sovereign decision of our gracious God.
Paul expects the possible push back he might receive in v. 14 by saying, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” A few things should be understood here. First, do you remember what our state was before the Holy Spirit regenerated our hearts? We were dead in our trespasses and sins and fully deserving of the wrath of God to be poured out on us. The fact is no one deserves salvation in the first place, not you, not me, no one. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9). Second, let’s say in a group of six people three are saved and three are not. The three that are saved received grace and mercy. The three that perish receive justice for their sins. No one receives injustice (analogy from RC Sproul). Thus Paul says in vv. 15-16, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
Some will interject here, “What about man’s free will?” Certainly Scripture makes it clear that we make choices that have real effects and consequences. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and later concluded that he was dead because of their actions (Gen. 37:25-28; 42:13). And yet Gen. 50:20 makes it clear that what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant it for good. So while Scripture does say man makes choices that have real effects it does not maintain that man is free from God’s control since everything is sustained and directed by our sovereign God (cf. Prov. 16:2, 9; 21:2). While we speak of man’s free will we ought to be concerned first and foremost with the free will of God.
Praises to the King
The biblical idea of the unconditional election of God highlights above all else the grace of God. For it stands out for what it truly is, a marvelous, amazing, nothing-else-like-it gift. The believer’s response must be a humble one that destroys any ounce of pride, and one of thanksgiving and praise to our King. And we know have greater fervor in sharing the good news because God has sovereignly elected men and women all over the world to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.