Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Welcome back to the podcast. As you page through the new APJ book, you’ll see some of the ways we’ve talked about election and predestination over the years. The fallout of this doctrine of God’s sovereignty over who is saved in the end leads to many, many questions about whether this is fair or unfair and whether election excuses the non-elect from their unbelief. You’ll see those themes compiled on pages 355–64.

We’re right back into this theme today in an email question from a listener named John. “Hello, Pastor John! I have often heard nonbelievers blaming God for not electing them and giving them a new heart to have faith. How can I persuade them that it is not God’s fault but their own unbelief? My friend’s son professed to be a Christian and even evangelized people and led people to God. But later, while in college, he realized he was not a true believer and left the faith. He now blames God for not electing him. How would you counsel this young man?”

Well, let me clarify immediately that I do agree with the premise that there is such a thing as unconditional election by God — namely, that everyone whom God decisively saves, whom he brings out of darkness to light, brings out of the bondage of sin and unbelief, he does not decide to do that on the spur of the moment, as though there were no plan. Rather, he saves in accordance with his infinite wisdom and plan, which he has had in mind forever. Ephesians 1:4 says, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” So, when he saved me, he saved me according to an electing plan.

Physically Free, Morally Bound

So, the question being asked is this: Why are people whom God does not save according to his purpose and plan nevertheless accountable? That is, they are not able to relieve themselves of the responsibility to believe and trust God because God has not planned to save them.

“God has his wise and holy reasons for why he does not overcome the rebellion of everyone.”

Now, I think a helpful place to begin in talking about the accountability of people to embrace and treasure the truth of God that they have access to is to distinguish two kinds of inability, because the kind of objection we’re dealing with here is that someone is saying, “I am required to believe, but I don’t have the ability to believe. And not having the ability to believe means I’m not responsible to believe.” These two kinds of inability that I’m talking about are moral inability and physical inability.

Physical inability is when you’re required to do something, but you do not have the physical ability to do it. For example, you’re chained to a pillar in a burning house, and you’re commanded to realize there’s a fire and to get out, but the chains physically keep you from moving. So, in that case, we would say that you are not accountable for remaining in the house. You may have wanted with every will in you to move and get out, but you were physically unable.

But there’s another kind of inability, which we call moral inability. You’re not physically limited or restrained, but your moral preferences — what you experience as good and bad, pleasing and displeasing, desirable and undesirable — are so strong in one direction that you may be unable to act contrary to those preferences. So, this time, you may be in the burning house, and you are not physically restrained at all, but you love what you’re doing in this house at this moment. You love it so much, you prefer it so much, you desire it so much, you find it so pleasing that you will not even believe every credible testimony that the house is on fire and you must get out, and you die.

So, you are physically free, but you are morally bound. You are in bondage to act according to those overpowering desires and die.

God’s Sovereign Grace

Now, I think the Bible teaches that if you are not free in the physical sense, you are not responsible to act according to the truth. You are physically unable to see or do (Romans 1:18–23, if we had time to talk about it — I’ll let you look it up). But if you are not free in the moral sense because your desires are so corrupt and so contrary to truth, you are nevertheless responsible to act according to the truth (Romans 2:4–5). Responsibility to forsake sin and trust Christ is not nullified because of our sinful desires, because they’re so strong that we are morally unable to turn away from sin.

In election, God freely chose, graciously chose, to set people free from this bondage of moral inability — to set people free from loving evil so much that they are morally unable to choose the good. None of us would be saved if God had not done this for us. The final and decisive answer to why I or you believed in Jesus and were set free from our bondage to the love of self and sin is the sovereign grace of God. As the apostle Paul said, God made us alive when we were dead (Ephesians 2:5). God granted us to believe (Philippians 1:29). God overcame our hardness against him (Ephesians 4:18). God gave us the ability to see the glory of Christ and the true and desirable Christ hanging on the cross (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“You cannot use non-election as an excuse for loving the dark more than the light.”

He does this for millions of people, and it is owing to nothing in us. It is free. God has his wise and holy reasons for why he does not overcome the rebellion of everyone. The fact that God does — in his mercy and the freedom of his grace — overcome the sinful corruption and rebellion and resistance of many does not mean he’s obliged to do it for anybody. Nobody deserves it, and nobody has a right to complain if he does not do it for them.

Final Verdict

So, let’s imagine a person coming to me as a pastor and saying to me, “Pastor, I believe that God has not loved me and has not set me free from my sin and my unbelief because I am not elect. And therefore, I believe God is to be blamed. He’s guilty of evil.” I would say to him, “How do you know that you are not among the elect?”

Now, perhaps he would say, “Because he hasn’t taken away my rebellion,” to which I would say, “But that does not prove you’re not elect, because he might take away that rebellion in the next hour or the next day or year. So really, how do you know that you are not elect?”

“Well,” he might say, “maybe I don’t know for sure I’m not elect, but if I’m not elect, then I’m not responsible to believe,” to which I would say, “Why don’t you believe and receive Jesus right now? You can’t say it’s because you’re not elect — you don’t know that. And you can’t know that ever, till the day you die. You can never say with any authority, ‘I’m not elect.’ You don’t know. But you can know that you are elect because only the elect receive Jesus. So, tell me right now, why don’t you believe and so prove that you are elect?”

Now, I don’t know what he’s going to say at this point. He might be honest and say, “Because I don’t find him very attractive. I don’t find Jesus compelling.” Or “I don’t find his way of life that he requires of me to be desirable.” Or “I don’t like Christians.” Or “I don’t think the Bible is true.”

I will say, “That’s right. That’s right. And if those are your last words, they will be your condemnation at the last day — not the fact that you are not elect. That fact will not enter into your judgment at all. You were presented with Christ — the most valuable, beautiful person in the universe — and you did not find him to be true or desirable. That will be the case against you at the last day. You cannot use non-election as an excuse for loving the dark more than the light. You will be self-condemned.”