Five Reasons Calvinists Love Election

Live Look at the Book | Portland

What are the things that make election so wonderful? One way to ask about it is what God’s aims are. As I walk through these four or five, you should ask, are these aims coming true in my life? I mean, the doctrine of election may be new to some of you. I don’t know how many churches are represented here, where you’re coming from, whether this sounds awful or glorious or strange or new or old. I don’t know. But I want it to feel wonderful for these four or five reasons. Here are God’s aims in election that I find in the Bible. Some of them.

1. Election Awakens Joyful Praise

Number one: to awaken and intensify everlasting joyful praise for the glorious sovereign freedom of God’s grace. To intensify and awaken joyful praise. That’s coming right here from what we’ve seen. Ephesians 1:5: “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Why did he do it? That little to is all important. He did it unto the purpose of “the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).

That is the most ultimate thing I can say about why God saves the way he saves, beginning with unconditional election in eternity. He does it so that grace will be praised. Because if he did it any other way, grace couldn’t be praised. I think that’s what he’s saying. That’s number one.

Number one continued. This is Ephesians 1:1–11: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Don’t miss that. Because we’re passing over that too fast. We’ll get there in a minute. But he works, “having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things” (Ephesians 1:11). Now, you can decide whether you want to put any limits on that. I don’t put any limits on it. All things according to the counsel of his will.

Jesus said, “Every hair of your head is numbered. One hair turns white or black. Not one bird falls to the ground apart from your father.” Now, Jesus didn’t live in a day where molecules, atoms, electrons, and subatomic particles are known about by everybody. If he lived today, he’d say what R.C. Sproul says. He says, “There are no maverick molecules.” Or he’d say what Spurgeon says, “The spec of spray as the boats move through the harbor is guided by God.”

The dust moats you can see when the sun is shining through your window. You’re lying in bed. It’s a dark room, but there’s a beam of light. You see. “I’m breathing that,” these tiny, tiny little dust moats or whatever they’re called. As soon as that light goes out, they’re gone. It’s just upping your nose. Every one of those is going in your nose or not according to God’s choice.

If you balk at that, you just say I just swept over my grandmama. I don’t know if she’s in heaven. Frankly, I doubt it. She lived with us. We invited her in. When my mom was killed, we invited my grandmama in. She was a skeptic to the core. We only kept her two years because she was really jeopardizing my kids’ faith. She would say things like, “God’s got more important things to do than to guide dust moats.”

Now, do you see what that is saying? In her mind, God is just a big person. Big human. Big human. Well, that would certainly be true for me. If God told me, “Snap to it and guide some dust moats,” I got to get ready to talk at the church because I’m limited. For God, he is not the least taxed by guiding every electron in every molecule in every galaxy in the universe. You just need to expand your vision of God.

If you think he’s got better things to do, like he’d have to leave something undone to care for you this afternoon, he’s caring for millions and millions of people. He’s listening to millions of prayers right now as I’m talking. He’s helping me. He’s helping you, individually, right now and millions of other people right now. You see. He’s not saying, “When will this day be over?” They don’t ever get over. The sun never goes down on God. He never takes a day of rest. He’s never tired. He’s never bored in spite of being active in that city called Boring. Never. I’m so glad when I arrived here last night, we’re still outside Boring. I saw the sign. We turned in Boring one mile. Good. Still a mile away ‘cause I don’t want to be that here.

We’re now at Ephesians 1:14. The Holy Spirit is “the guarantee of our inheritance.” I never did get to the end of that sentence. “Works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). Just like Ephesians 1:6: “To the praise of his glorious grace.”

Doesn’t say grace here. Just glory. Understand grace, I think, from the context. Or Ephesians 1:14: “[The Holy Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14 — I have watched that triplet change people’s lives over and over when they realized everything in the world is about bringing God’s people to the praise of the glory of his grace. That’s the ultimate goal of everything.

Then, one more continuation of the first reason election is wonderful is that God intends to be praised. “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off” (Isaiah 48:9). This is mercy. I’m not going to cut you off.

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11). Six times: “my glory,” “my name,” “for my sake,” “my praise,” “my sake.” Get the message. God is running the world, including and especially mercy for his praise. That’s what Ephesians 1:6, 1:12, 1:14 are saying.

I’ll come back and raise a question about that in a few minutes. But let’s keep moving with these aims. I’ve got five of them. Let’s go a little faster here.

2. Election Gives Humble Assurance of Salvation

God’s aim in election number two: to give humble, unshakeable assurance to the saints that God is for them and will keep them forever. Watch the logic of Romans 8:28–30. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew.” He’s arguing now for why Romans 8:28 is true. This is the massive pillar foundation under the promise we all love. Romans 8:29–30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might 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.”

What’s the point of that logic? What’s the point of that string? That chain? The point is nobody drops out. Nobody drops out. They cannot drop out. It says, “Those whom he predestined, he called.” He does not say some of those he predestined, he called. He didn’t say there’s paring down. It’s a big group predestined and then a little group called. No, they’re all called. Everybody predestined, called.

Then he doesn’t say, “Some of those who were called, he justified,” like there’s a paring down from the call. There’s no paring down. All of them who are called are justified. Between justification and glorification, which hasn’t even happened yet, and he treats it as good as done. Between justification and glorification, nobody drops down. Are you justified by faith right now? If you are, you’re home. You are home. You are going to be glorified. That is all traced back to predestination.

And God’s foreknowing beforehand, “These are my people. I’ve chosen them for myself.” The point of election number two is to give you more pillars under the promises of your security. He wants you to be as bold as a lion. The righteous are as bold as a lion. Wimpy, hesitant, insecure, uncertain, inactive Christians are a contradiction. Let this state be filled with bold, unshakeable, lion-hearted women and men. That’s who we are. If you’re not that way, if that’s not your disposition, you should plead with the Holy Spirit to help you see which is where he’s going in Ephesians 1:17. He’s going to pray like that when we get there.

3. Election Gives Encouragement

Third reason election is so precious: to give counselors encouraging words to hopeless sinners. Pretend you’re a friend of a hopeless person. You don’t have to be a counselor or a pastor. You’re just a friend. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15). It’s just another statement of God’s unconditional election.

Here’s the person sitting in front of you. They’re so depressed. They’re discouraged out of their mind. They’ve heard you give your testimony of how God saved sinners. Now, they’re talking to you over lunch or walking in the woods or just wherever. Just talking. They say, “That just could never be true for me. God could never choose me. You don’t know what I have done in my life. You don’t know how many times I have spurned God’s grace. You just don’t know me. You’re nice, squeaky clean, Christian. I could never be chosen.” You know what I would say to that person? “Who do you think you are?” I’d say, “Who do you think you are to dictate to God the conditions under which he may choose you?”

Of course, they’d be, “Don’t talk to me. I’m a broken, sad, depressed person.” Sometimes, people need to be brought up short. God did say to Israel, “Who are you, O Israel, to fear man?” Fear is pride. Fear is pride. It looks weak, and it’s arrogant. Here, he is saying, “God could never choose me.” Your theological answer is, “I got something to tell you. God chose before the foundation of the world whom he would save, and he did it with zero respect to all the sins they would ever commit. You cannot rule yourself out on any grounds whatsoever.”

I bet they’d never heard anything like that. “Never thought about it like that before. I thought unconditional election was a problem. That sounds like a window of hope to me. Like he chooses people apart from anything they’ve ever done or anything ever will be? He chose them.?” Yes, if you say you can’t be chosen, you are an arch-heretic, slapping God in the face. So, stop it! Right now! Just stop it! Like Bob Newhart. You stop it!

Then, of course, there’s lots of other things you have to deal with. But God may use that to open a window where he could conceive of what grace really means. Paul here, in 1 Timothy 1:15, gives you the next thing to say. Here’s the next thing you say. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Paul is claiming top rank sinner so that all the lower ranks will take hope. Top-ranked sinner, murderer, persecutor, hater of God, hater of Christ. “But I receive mercy.” You did. Thank God.

“For this reason.” Why did Paul receive mercy? “That, in me, the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example,” to this guy you’re talking to or this woman you’re talking to here. “To those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). You say to them, “Do you know why God chose Paul while he was still in his mother’s womb? Let him become a murderer and a Christian persecutor and a liar and a hater of God, and then knocked him off his horse, saved him, made him one who wrote thirteen books and the New Testament. Do you know why he did that? For you! For you! Specifically for you so that you would know what kind of patience God has with sinners like you.”

Those are two ways that the doctrine of election, I believe, advances evangelism in places. What else are you going to say to somebody who says they can’t be chosen? You start denying the doctrine of election. That will not serve anybody.

4. Election Makes Prayers Possible and Bold

Number four. This is the answer that was asked at the beginning: to make prayer for souls possible and bold. The question was if God predetermines everyone who will or will not be saved, why should we pray for the salvation of the lost? Do our prayers make any difference? The answer is they do make a difference. You have not because you asked not. That’s second-grade clear. You have not because you asked not. They make a difference. I mean the second part of the question is why should we pray for the salvation of the lost? The answer is because God answers prayer to save them.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Do what Paul does. You’ve got friends in Gresham? Pray that they would be saved every day. Got family members, kids, mom, dad, brother? They’re hurdling towards eternity without Jesus. Pray. Pray that they would be saved.

The way I put it here was the sovereignty of God in predestination and election and in effectual calling and irresistible grace. All those glorious things we’re going to see in Ephesians 2 do not create a problem for prayer. They make prayer possible.

Here’s a person dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1: “Dead in trespass and sins.” Maybe your son, maybe your mom, maybe your neighbor, maybe your colleague. Dead. They have zero, absolutely zero interest in spiritual things. You’ve tried over and over again to tell them the beauties that you see. They just yawn and think you’re just strange. They have nothing. Nothing. What hope is there for them? The sovereignty of God is their hope, that God saves sinners, that God knocks Paul off his horse.

The last thing Paul was interested in was submitting to the lordship of the risen Christ whom he thought was a hoax and was calling his whole life view into question. God just takes him. Just takes him! “You’re mine!” That’s our only hope for our kids. He does it in answering a prayer.

If you don’t believe in a sovereign God who has the right to change hearts, what are you asking for? What are you asking him to do? Make a suggestion. Nudge them. “Don’t push them too hard into salvation. Just nudge them.” You pray like that? Give me a break. You get on your face. If you have a child who’s not following Jesus at whatever age, and you say, “God, do whatever you got to do. Take him at any cost to me. At any cost to me or anybody, take him. Do what you have to do. Make him yours.” That’s the way you pray. You can’t pray like that if you don’t think God has a right to do that.

It’s people who believe in the sovereignty of God who can pray. People who don’t, they have to always ask God to skirt the issue. It’s got a sovereign free will right here that you can’t touch. You can just circle around it and make suggestions and toss in little influences. But don’t toss them in so much that you overcome the free will. Well, I’ll tell you. If he doesn’t overcome your free will, you’ll never be saved, ever. You are a son of disobedience and a child of wrath. You are dead in your trespasses and sins. The only hope for anybody to be saved is resurrection. You don’t raise yourself.

I mean, imagine Jesus standing outside Lazarus’ tomb and saying, “Maybe you should come out. Not wanting to be too forceful here.” What he says is “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out. The dead people obey God. When God issues the command, “Live,” you live. That’s the only way our kids will be saved or your friend. Therefore, we’re the ones who can pray and ought to pray without ceasing for everybody we love. Be a praying person. Lay hold on God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:20–21)

5. Election Makes Evangelism and Missions Possible

Last one. Number five: to make fruitful evangelism and missions possible. I’ve already said it. I’ll just put some texts under it now. The two objections that are regularly brought up to those who believe in unconditional election or sovereignty of God or predestination — the two objections that are regularly thrown up — are why evangelize if God’s chosen will be saved and why pray if God has chosen who will be saved.

Those are the two objections that are often brought up. My answer to the prayer is God does answer your prayer. It is just through prayers that God exerts his sovereignty to save dead sinners. So, pray.

And evangelism. Let’s go here. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5). If you’re a Christian today, if you have a heart that leans in faith on Jesus — a heart that turns away from self-reliance — cast yourself utterly on mercy. You can know beyond the shadow of a doubt a miracle happened to you called resurrection from the dead. God made you alive because you were dead. You were dead in your trespasses.

Dead people don’t believe in Jesus. Dead people don’t love Jesus. Dead people don’t hate sin. Dead people love sin. They love the dark. They don’t trust Jesus. If you trust Jesus and hate sin, you’ve been made alive. You didn’t do it. You didn’t do it. Oh, you decided. You did decide. You may have walked the aisle. You may have prayed a prayer. Praise God. You did. Why? Because God made you alive. That’s why you did it.

“I am sending you to open their eyes,” this is Jesus talking to Paul on the Damascus road or after the Damascus road. I’m sending you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light. This is evangelism. This is you and me doing this. Turn from the power of Satan to God that they may receive forgiveness of sins in a place among those who are sanctified. This is God’s will for your cities/your state. Go open people’s eyes. You say, “I can’t open anybody’s eyes. I can’t open the eyes of the heart.” That’s exactly right. You can’t. Go, do it! The Bible says, “Do it,” so do it. This is the Christian life: doing the impossible in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11), confident that when you open your weak, imperfect, fumbling, stumbling, witnessing mouth, almighty God, if he please, will make people alive and open their eyes.

At that moment, the Bible would say, “You opened their eyes.” I mean, isn’t it amazing that Paul says, “I become all things to all men in order that I might save.” Really? You save them. The Bible’s okay with that. You have a theology that doesn’t make an idolatry out of that. You talk to somebody. You become an agent of eyeopening/an agent of salvation, and God is happy to say, “You saved.” You saved like a scalpel did surgery. Praise God for scalpels. You can’t do surgery without scalpels. God does no salvation without human intervention. None.

This is a strong conviction of mine. I don’t think people get saved in unreached peoples without the gospel, which is why I believe in missions. Let’s go. Let’s go. Look, ‘cause God is pleased to make your agency your means, the end of his sovereign miracle, salvation.

A few more texts on that: Luke 18:23 — rich young man. “When he heard these things, he became very sad.” Jesus said, “Sell everything you have. Give it to the poor.” He became very sad. Why? For he was extremely rich, and he wasn’t going to obey the command to downsize.

“Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, ‘How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” Everyone in this room should perk up and shake because we’re all rich. “‘For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’” Well, camels can’t go through the eyes of needles. Period. None of this hocus pocus about “I think there’s a gate in Jerusalem called the Needles Eye. They’ve got to get down on your knees. They’ve got to get down on their knees to get through it. We need to get on our knees, and then we can save ourselves.” I’ve heard that. That’s called eisegesis.

How do you know? How do you know? Is that Piper’s opinion? You know it because of that word right there. Read! Look at the book! Don’t get to right here. You can’t see what I’m doing when I do that. Don’t get to right here. Close the book. Have a big argument. Big argument with somebody.

Let’s argue about whether there’s a gate in Jerusalem called the Needles Eye. Camels will get out on their knees. They can squeeze through and save themselves. You don’t even need to argue about that. Just read the rest of the paragraph. “Those who heard it said, ‘Well, then who can be saved?’” They got it. They got it. You just said it’s easier for camels to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to heaven. Then, nobody can be saved. That’s their conclusion. Nobody can be saved.

Jesus doesn’t say, “No, no, no, no. You misunderstood. There’s a gate.” He said, “Right. That’s right.” He said, “You’re right.” Impossible is the right word. Nobody can be saved. But I save people because I do the impossible. I use people to do the impossible. Get out there and save rich people in Gresham, in Boring. If you’re living like Jack in the mountains, there’s got to be somebody up there somewhere who needs saving.

This is really big. This is really big because this is so full of hope for evangelism. Do you hear it? You walk up to somebody. You know they’ve been an unbeliever, an out-and-out sinner for 55 years. Don’t have the slightest interest. You walk in there with total confidence. “God can save this person.” God’s not the least dependent on anybody’s trajectory.

One more text in this regard: Matthew 28. We’re talking evangelism. “Jesus came and said, ‘All authority is given to me.” Now, we’ve seen how big that is. “All authority is given to me in heaven, Middle East, on earth, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria.” Bless their painful, broken hearts. All the refugees in Europe. He has all authority on earth. “Go, therefore. Make disciples of every nation. “Little teeny you. Fifty million Muslims in Turkey. Go there. Make disciples because I reign in Turkey. I rule Turkey. I’m God and sovereign in Turkey. Go and open your mouth. Teach them to observe everything I’ve commanded.”

Here’s the sweetness of it. I mean, this is big right here. This is big. Really, really, really, really big. This is close, sweet, intimate. I’m with you. I’ll be with you. I’ll tell you. Missionaries need those two things like nothing else. It’s just got to be big ‘cause I feel so alone surrounded by millions of tribal peoples or Muslim peoples or Hindu peoples or Buddhist peoples or pagan European, post-Christian peoples. I’m just so little and tiny and insignificant and alone. I feel like, “Are you far away? Or are you near?” You need it right here, too. It’s not just missionaries who need this.

Everybody who’s a Christian needs to know we have a massive, authoritative Lord in heaven who rules the world. He loves to climb up in a tree with you like he did with John Paton. Remember that story? New Hebrides. Four years, works, one convert: Ibrahim. He’s being chased by 1,500 natives who are going to kill him. Ibrahim’s trying to save his life. He says, “Climb up in this tree. I’ll divert them down there. When they’re gone, get on a boat. We’re done on this island.”

They were. They came back later. I mean, massive success in the New Hebrides later. But he said, at the end of his life when he wrote his autobiography, “In that tree, this promise came to him like it had never come. I am with you.” Those who were trying to kill him. Going underneath. At any minute, his life could be over with a machete.

He said, “I wouldn’t trade those moments in that tree with Jesus for anything.” This really moved me to tears. He said, “Do you have a friend like that?” Don’t you love it when people have a massive God and a sweet and tender friend? We tend to stereotype people, don’t we? “Well, the sovereign of God people, they talk about how big God is.” “I just need a friend. I just need a friend. That’s my problem.” “I’ll be with you.” “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). I love that God. Great God to have.