Calvinists Believe Every Verse

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We are at Ephesians 1:3–6, and we ended with the praise of his glorious grace. That’s where we’re going to now pick it up. So let’s make sure we get the whole sentence before us again.

The Ultimate Aim of Election and Predestination

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 1:3–4)

So he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, and a proximate, not ultimate, aim is our holiness and our blamelessness. “In love he predestined us” — as part of that choosing, and here’s another proximate, not ultimate, penultimate, not ultimate — “for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4–5).

Here is the ultimate. Would you agree? “To the praise of [the glory of his] glorious” (Ephesians 1:6). Literally. They turn this into an adjective. It’s literally “to the praise of the glory of the glory of his grace.” So if you ask me what is the ultimate aim of election and predestination, I would say God has done it this way so that we might live and be for the praise of the glory of his grace, which is simply amazing.

The ultimate aim of creation, history, redemption, everything God does is our praising of his glory, and that glory reaches its apex in grace. All the glories of God, and there are countless glories of God, come to a pinnacle in the overflow of grace towards sinners. That’s the goal of the universe, that we might spend eternity praising, glory, and more particularly than any other glory, the glory of grace. We’ll be back to that, but that’s where we ended last evening.

Lingering on Electing Grace

Let’s linger on the word grace for a moment. If it’s that important and that ultimate, what is it? So I’m jumping over to Romans 11:4–7. What is God’s reply to Elijah? When Elijah says, I’m the only one left. There’s nobody else faithful,” and God answers: “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (Romans 11:4). “You’re not alone. I have seen to it. I have a remnant. I keep a remnant for myself.”

“So too at the present time.” So in Paul’s day, and I would say today, in the present time, Paul’s day, “there is a remnant, [according to the election of] grace” (Romans 11:5). So we’ve got the same thought world here. This remnant has come into being. It has been kept by God for us by election, and it is particularly an election of grace so that grace would be praised. Election is grace. It’s all of grace. Nobody deserves to be elect. Completely gracious, which is another way of saying unconditional.

Election is unconditional, but if it is by grace, so he’s picking up, he’s going to explain more now, if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works. Nothing that you do or will do or have done brought about your election. God didn’t foresee your life and choose you because of anything you did. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace. So now we’ve got a definition of grace emerging out of this text, don’t we? Grace wouldn’t be grace if it were a response to your performance.

Let me be precise here. Electing grace would not be grace if it were a response to your performance. Other texts in the Bible do describe a kind of grace that is a response. In James 4, God gives more grace to the humble. There is electing grace, just like there’s electing love, which is completely unconditional, and then there are graces of another kind that come to you in proportion to your lowly willingness to receive them.

But here we’re talking about this grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking, which breaks Paul’s heart. He talks about it in Romans 10:1 where he says, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” He says in Romans 9:3 that “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

He does not say this, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking with a cavalier indifference.” It makes him weep and be in anguish daily, he said, which is amazing. The elect obtained it, this remnant, God always sees to it. “I kept for myself, I kept for myself a remnant according to election, which is by grace,” and therefore, they do obtain what they were seeking because they are the elect whom I always preserve. The rest were hardened.

To Shame the Proud

So there’s a glimpse into how unconditional, free, radical, and eternal grace is, and why Paul would say that’s the goal of the universe. I’m going to be praised for the glory of that grace. First Corinthians 1:26 offers another glimpse of grace: “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

God chose — here we have election. “God chose what is foolish.” Why? “To shame the wise; God chose what is weak.” Why? “To shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not.” Why? “To bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27–28). So three times, he says, “God chose,” contrary to human expectation, with a view to shutting the mouths of proud people so that — here he sums it up — “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29).

That’s a negative way of stating the goal of God in history. God’s goal in history is to strip human beings of all boasting. He’s going to take every boaster down. “The Lord alone will be exalted in that day . . . against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up” (Isaiah 2:11–13). Every cynic, every agnostic, poo-pooing these silly Christians will be taken down in due time.

So that’s the goal, that no human being might boast in the presence of God. Nobody boasts in the presence of God. Well, what would be the positive way of saying it? So keep reading. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus.” So you were chosen, chosen, chosen, and more than that by his agency. Because of him, you are in Christ, you are grafted. So he chose you in eternity in relation to Christ. We’re seeing Christ die for you.

And then he moved in, we’re going to see this in Ephesians 2:5. He made you alive, united you to Christ, set you with him in the heavenly places so that you are in Christ because of him who became your wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Here’s the first so that, and this is negative, and here’s the second so that, and this is positive. “So that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:31). No boasting in the presence of God. Oh yes, there will be boasting in the Lord. So this means no boasting, no boasting in ourselves in the presence of God, only boasting in the Lord.

And what will we boast in? We will boast in the glory of his grace because election here was so utterly free and contrary. We weren’t chosen because we were wise. We weren’t chosen because we were powerful. We weren’t chosen because we have noble birth. We were chosen because we were chosen.

The Problem of Election

This causes all kinds of problems for people, but I hope you can make your way through the problems to the glory. We’re going to talk about four or five reasons why this is glorious, but I just wanted you to see in a couple of other places, glory. I mean grace, the glory of grace. So now here’s my question.

A couple of questions I want to ask. Stand back and ask questions about election. If we’re chosen before the foundation of the world, like Ephesians 1:4 says, and if we’re chosen apart from anything that we do, like Romans 11 says, and if we’re chosen that we might solely boast in him and not anything in ourselves, are we still accountable in this life, praiseworthy, blameworthy, responsible human moral agents and is God just in doing that?

Those are two massive questions. Let me just point to a few texts in Ephesians that answer those questions. They don’t necessarily explain how it can be, but that it is. So are people accountable and is God just?

The Moral Agency of Believers

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29–30)

There are, I think, what did I write down? There are 41 imperatives in Ephesians — 41. This is a couple of them. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.” “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” I just put these two here because this second one especially is very provocative. God, in his sovereignty, in choosing you for himself and then in bringing you to himself, as we’ll see in Ephesians 2:5, can be grieved by you if you do things that contradict his will of command.

The Holy Spirit of God can be grieved, which means we have remarkable moral agency. We are human beings with wills and emotions that can please or displease God. We’re not puppets. We’re not robots. A lot of people go there with predestination and election and they say, “Oh, then we’re just robots. We’re just puppets.”

Well, in order to say that, you have to depend on your logic, not biblical truth. A lot of people do that methodologically. So many people hear a truth and they extrapolate, they infer, they draw out implications according to their logic and make those implications contradict 41 passages in the Bible and reject the Bible.

My disposition is to go with the Bible and question my extrapolation. That’s my disposition. It seems wise to me to not say to God, “But I extrapolated from what you told me over here and that doesn’t fit with these ten places over here. So I think these ten places are mistaken.” That’s stupid. I think that’s really dumb to treat God’s word that way.

Far better to look at those ten places and say, “Whoa, I must have made a jump that the Bible just doesn’t make, so I better go back and check, do a little fact check on my inference, and I simply reject the notion that election and predestination turn you into a robot or a puppet, that is a being whose moral agency is of no significance.” That’s just wrong.

The Bible treats you as responsible 41 times. Do this, don’t do that. If you do this, you please God and not grieve the Spirit. If you don’t do this, you displease God and grieve the Holy Spirit, so you count. Your moral being counts in this universe, big time. When you come to the last day and all your sins are taken away and you are praising the glory of God’s grace, you will be a beautiful, praiseworthy, moral agent forever. And all the embattled soul that you’ve had to deal with here will be gone.

God’s Justice and Our Accountability

A second observation on whether we are accountable and God is just from Ephesians 4: “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). I just point that out because if the likeness of God is righteousness and holiness, then God is righteous and God is holy. Therefore, when he elects us freely, predestines us for adoption, he’s not stopping being righteous and holy. That’s my answer to the question. Is God just? He is. God said so.

The Wrath of God

Number three on that issue of accountability and justice: Ephesians 5:5–6.

You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [the ones listed right here] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Which simply underlines that we really deserve wrath if we give ourselves to sin impotently to the end. Just sell out. Done with Jesus, done with the church, done with God, done with salvation. I’m living for myself and maximum pleasure. A puppet wouldn’t deserve wrath. A robot wouldn’t deserve wrath, but you do.

“Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” That phrase right there occurs in two and we’ll look at it later today. It does mean you do this by nature. Disobedience is your nature. You’re a son of disobedience, daughter of disobedience. Disobedience does not have to be learned.

It’s who you are when you’re born. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. You get up in the morning, your inclination apart from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is disobedience. That’s who we are. We are children of disobedience and nevertheless deserving of wrath. That’s the biblical position. Real blameworthiness, real accountability, real responsibility, and real sovereign divine election and predestination.

That’s the paradox we live with. You can devote your life to figuring that out. Edwards did. Jonathan Edwards did, came close probably, in his book, Freedom of the Will. Frankly, I doubt you’re going to succeed in giving a satisfactory explanation to how God can be absolutely sovereign and you can be completely responsible. Defer to God’s word and hold them in tension. Some days they’ll look like they perfectly fit, other days they’ll look like they won’t fit, but you get your convictions from the Bible, not from your extrapolations. With your head, you say, “It cannot be.”

Well, that’s a philosophical presupposition that’s not in the Bible. The philosophical presupposition is that you cannot have moral accountability when God is in total control of everything, is a philosophical leap that’s not taught in the Bible.

John Piper’s Journey Through Ephesians and Calvinism

I remember when I was in seminary just crying in the afternoons with my face in my hands as I was discovering the sovereignty of God that I had never seen before in the Bible. Ephesians was a big part of it. I was crying because my Sunday school theology was kind of crumbling, and I didn’t know where I was going to wind up, and I just felt so disoriented as these things were happening.

I was in school with a bunch of people who said, “Oh, you Calvinist, just a bunch of logic choppers trying to make everything fit.” I’m sitting there thinking, “Fit?” I had things fitting in my theology. Free will was the glue that held everything together. Come on, my logic has been destroyed. I’m not being driven by logic into this truth, thank you very much.

I am being driven by texts, and I’m weeping all the way as my logic is being dismantled. It wasn’t logic, but that was the common notion. I’ve heard it over and over again. All those reform people, they’re a bunch of logic people trying to fit everything together. Here’s the reality I’ve dealt with. Whatever you want to call the people who don’t believe in the sovereignty of God, absolutely, unconditional election, irresistible grace, people who don’t believe in that, they are the ones who bring to text a philosophical presupposition.

What you say cannot be that God is absolutely sovereign and I am absolutely responsible. That cannot be to which I respond, “Where’d you get that from the Bible? You’re getting that from your logic. That’s where you’re getting it. You’re getting it from philosophical — actually, it’s not logic. It’s metaphysical. That doesn’t mean anything to you? It’s okay.” You are buying into a philosophical presupposition about what must be, be which is not taught in the Bible.

So those were difficult days, and I have a lot of, I hope, patience for people in process on this issue. It may take you years, and you may come out on the other side, and I’ve talked to hundreds of people who through tears and agony and difficulty in their lives have come out on the other side of restfulness and activity with boldness and sacrifice and joy in the service of God because they believe in his sovereignty in everything.

One last one, I think, on this issue of accountability. Are people accountable, and is God just? Ephesians 2:3: “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath.” This is just underlining what I already said. “Like the rest of mankind.”

So we, apart from a new nature being given by the Holy Spirit in the new birth, in conversion, we are by nature not just doers of evil, but deservers of wrath. So God is just in giving wrath, and we are accountable in deserving it. All that stands in view of Ephesians 1: elect before the foundation of the world.