Sovereign Grace - Part 3

Theme: Election and the Doctrine of Sin

This week’s lessons explain the importance of God’s sovereignty for a biblical

understanding of the doctrine of grace.

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-8

When people have trouble with election—as many do—their real problem is not with election itself, though they suppose it is, but with the doctrine of depravity that makes election necessary. The question to get settled first in any attempt to understand theology is this: When the human race fell into sin, how far did men and women fall?

Some people think that human beings fell upward. This is the view of evolutionists and many of today's humanists. They think mankind is getting better and better. Never mind that our cities are overwhelmed with crime, multiple brutal murders make every daily newspaper, television titillates us regularly with the latest sex offenses, especially by celebrities, and basic integrity is vanishing from western life.

Other people suppose that man fell in some sense but that he did not fall the whole way. We might say that he fell onto a ledge where he has some small chance of climbing back onto the canyon edge. This is the view of semi-Pelagians or Arminians (and probably most of today's American evangelicals). They admit sin's reality, but they deny its full effect. It's bad, but not so bad as to ruin the human race utterly. We may be disposed to evil, but not so much as to be incapable of repenting of sin and turning to Jesus Christ in faith when the gospel is made known to us. It does not require a miracle of grace in regeneration to enable us to repent and believe on Jesus.

The only other view, the biblical one, is that when Adam and Eve sinned the human race fell the whole way. Human beings fell to the bottom of the ravine and cannot get out by their own power. “I've fallen—and I can't get up” is the only accurate assessment of our spiritual condition. In fact, we are destined to remain down unless God on the basis of his own sovereign choice reaches out to perform the miracle of the new birth and thus lifts us up out of the pit of sin and sets us on the edge once again. The Bible says that we are “dead in...transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and Jesus taught, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

In the declining days of the late Roman Empire, these issues were debated at length by a British monk named Pelagius and the great early church father Saint Augustine. Pelagius wanted to preserve human choice, as he saw it. He saw men and women as being formed more or less morally neutral. He said that we make bad choices, which dispose us to make further bad choices. But we do not need to make bad choices, and we always have the ability to turn ourselves back, repudiate our sins, and choose God.

At one time Augustine thought like Pelagius. But he came to see, and then argued forcefully, that Pelagians do not do justice to the Bible's teachings either about sin or grace. They do not do justice to sin, because they try to preserve some little oasis, however small, of human goodness. They do not do justice to grace because a salvation that depends on human ability makes grace largely irrelevant. It is unnecessary. Besides, grace is no longer grace if it is based on something in human beings either seen or foreseen.

Whenever I talk about election I like to point out that although it is problematic for some people, it is actually a doctrine filled with important blessings. Here are four of them.

Election eliminates boasting. Critics of election often speak as if the opposite were true. They say that it is the height of arrogance for a person to claim that he or she has been chosen by God for salvation, as if that implies that there must be something special or worthy of praise about the chosen person. Election does not imply that at all. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. As I have been explaining, election has to do with God's choice only, entirely apart from anything that can be found in us. Look at verses 4-6 again. They put the entire focus on God, making him the subject of each sentence. God “chose us” in Christ. “He predestined us” to be adopted. “He has freely given us” all blessings. Moreover, all this is “to the praise of his glorious grace,” not ours (v.6). If any praise is due us, to exactly that degree glory is taken away from God and is given to man. It is only the pure doctrine of grace that keeps us humble.

Study Questions:

  1. What does Dr. Boice say is the real problem people have with election? Why?
  2. What are the three views of the fall? Which one do you think is the most popular today, and why?
  3. How does the doctrine of election eliminate boasting?

Reflection: Not only does election eliminate boasting, but how might a denial of election actually produce boasting?

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