Election causes to believe, but Election not the Gospel?

Ephesians 3:9-11 –to make all (even gentiles) see what is the fellowship/union of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places would be known by the called out elect the manifold wisdom of God According to the permanent purpose which He decreed in Christ Jesus our Lord

Ephesians 2:4-5 –But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ…

We often hear the phrase “election is not salvation” so that “election is UNTO salvation”. Or that “election is not the gospel” but that election is what causes people to believe the gospel. In this essay I want to criticize these often-stated contrasts. Of course the word “salvation” can be used in different senses.. But if the denial that “election is not salvation” is saying that the righteousness Christ earned is not for the elect until the elect believe, it makes no difference if you say that the righteousness was earned only for the elect or also for others besides the elect: In any case, it is not the righteousness which is the cause of believing. The effect of this is that Christ’s work of obedience is not the ONLY cause of salvation, so that the work of the Spirit in the sinner causing the sinner to believe becomes not a result but a condition of Christ’s work.

This false gospel will end up not glorying in the cross but putting the Spirit’s work in the sinner in the determinative place. And this false gospel, in which Christ‘s work is not the cause, will also say that “election is not the gospel” but only that which makes sinners believe the gospel.

The texts I have quoted from Ephesians will not support leaving election out of the gospel and salvation. For us to think about these verses, let us first think about time. Another common denial is that God knows about or cares time. Instead of saying that God is both outside time and inside time, the typical procedure is to deny that God is concerned with order and sequence and time.

For example, it is taught by some that people are regenerate a long time before they know or believe the gospel. Many Calvinists  teach that the sheep are no longer under God’s wrath even while these sheep now continue in ignorance of the gospel. In other words, they teach that wrath is removed at regeneration and that continued unbelief of the gospel is not a manifestation of God’s wrath.

Other Calvinists deny God’s concern with time in order to teach that God’s wrath is never ever on the elect. When I point out that this logic would deny the reality of the Trinitarian wrath of God satisfied by the God-man, the response is that we do not understand God’s relationship to time.

This kind of thinking is common: “we cannot understand God’s relationship to time, therefore your understanding of God’s relationship to time is incorrect, and our understanding of God’s relationship to time is correct.” And this affirmation is founded on another: “we cannot understand God’s relationship to sin, therefore reprobation is conditioned on sin, instead of sin being a result of reprobation.” I want to discuss this last statement in some detail, but I will give you a more correct third view right now.

It is wrong to say that reprobation is conditioned on sin: both those elected and those reprobated are sinners–if sin were the cause/condition of reprobation, then all sinners would be reprobated. The reason for reprobation is like the reason for election. God’s justice is no less sovereign than God’s grace.

If we were only thinking about God’s  sovereign justice, then there would be no reason for either election or reprobation. But the texts in Ephesians remind us that there is more to know about God than His sovereign justice: His glory is also revealed in His sovereign love and in His sovereign wrath. To know His name is to know Him as the one who has mercy on some and who hardens others.

I deny that reprobation is conditioned on sin. But this does not mean that I think that sin is conditioned on reprobation, so that God only makes sinners (ordains and predestines them to sin) in order to reprobate them. As a more consistent supralapsarian, I teach not only that sin is included in God’s purpose (so that God is not REACTING to sin, not even logically) but also that God’s very first concern is to manifest His glory in discriminating between sinner and sinner, so that election in Christ from the beginning is an election of sinners and so that reprobation outside Christ from the beginning is a reprobation of sinners.

God does not wait for sinners to sin, and then decide to pass some of them by. In the very purpose to elect and to reprobate for His glory, God determines to elect some sinners and reprobate some sinners.

BOTH election and reprobation from the outset have God as their subject and sinners as their objects. God’s choice is the first thing. Sin is not the first thing, and then God reacts. Neither is creation the first thing, and then God reacts. Sin is necessary if God is to choose between sinners. Only because of God’s choice to choose between sinners, does God ordain sin.

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6 Comments on “Election causes to believe, but Election not the Gospel?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Let’s return to the texts in Ephesians. Notice first the time-language. First, from the beginning of the ages. Second, “has been hid”. Third, “created” in the past tense. Fourth, “to the intent that now”. Fifth, “purpose which He decreed”. Sixth, He loved us even when we were dead in sins. Seventh, “has quickened us together with Christ.”. Let us look at each of these seven particulars.

    First, the beginning of the ages. Many translations will read “the beginning of the world” and thus increase confusion about the words “eternal” and “world”. But without turning aside to that long discussion, let us assume this has to do with time and not with space, so that in the “before” there is a decision, a decree about the “after”.

    People who deny that God has any relationship to time seem to know that God never decides anything, so that it only “looks like to us” that there was a before and after when in reality everything was always decided and always created so that all God’s purposes have always already been fulfilled.

    Thus they tend to explain the time-language of the Ephesians texts as being only for our benefit so that we can understand things. And then they tell us that what the time language is really supposed to teach us is that order and time are of no concern to God!

    First, I think this is a rejection of what the texts teach. Second, why is it of such concern to these folks to make assertions about time if assertions about time are not relevant to our understanding of God and God’s gospel? If we don’t have to think about such things as the time of election in order to understand the gospel, why then do these folks want us to agree with them that election is timeless?

    Yes, God’s decisions and purposes reflect God’s unchanging character; God’s intent never exists independently of God. I reject ANY suggestion that God’s character is still in process so that God is inscrutable even to Himself. I am neither Barthian nor Sabellian.

    But I don’t think we can deny the fact that God is BEFORE election and reprobation. If we can say that God has purposes for creation BEFORE God creates into existence, then we can say–I think– that God Himself exists BEFORE God purposes. Maybe Barth thinks God’s purpose is God’s existence in Christ, the God-man, but I am not so persauded.

    At any rate, I think we are warranted from Ephesians 3:9 to say that God does have an “intent” for the creation before that creation exists. The creation does not exist as soon as God has decided to create it. Sinners do not exist as soon as God has decided to discriminate between them in election/reprobation. The righteousness of God (merited by Christ’s work) in justifying elect sinners does not exist as soon as God has decided to justify elect sinners.

    There is a difference between God’s righteous attribute and the God-man’s work of righteousness which satisfies that attribute. The attribute exists before the work was done in history. Though we may not know very much about God’s intent before the creation and existence of what God intended, we do know something because God has revealed to us something about that intent.

    That the intent is singular (not “intents”) does not mean that there is no order in the intent. God never intended to reveal things as soon as God intended them. Nor do all things intended exist (unrevealed) simply because God already intended them. Sinners do not exist apart or before God’s intent to elect and reprobate. Sinners only exist because of God’s intent to elect and reprobate sinners.

    Elect sinners do not exist for some other intent which is independent or previous to God’s purpose described in Ephesians 3:9 as ‘the fellowship”. The union of the elect with Christ (who always exists) before the elect exist was God’s purpose before that purpose was revealed. To deny that God has any concern with time is to deny the “has been hid” of the text. What was hidden existed, but what existed was God’s purpose of election/ reprobation. What did not yet exist was the sinners.

    To assert conditional reprobation, so that reprobation is only because of sins, if it is to somehow “justify” God as only “permitting” sin and thus not including sin in the first intent, must say that God “created” apart from any purpose to elect sinners. As if God only “foresaw” sin but that God did not ordain sin!

    But conditional reprobation will not fit the teaching of Eph 3:9-10 that when God “created” (past tense), the purpose of fellowship with elect SINNERS already existed in God. Before creation, a purpose to create. Before a purpose to create, a purpose to have fellowship with elect sinners.

    Before the need to obtain a righteousness for the elect by the obedience of the God-man (and the lack of need to obtain a righteousness for the non-elect), first a purpose to have fellowship with elect sinners. How dare we say that order and time don’t matter when God NOW reveals what God’s intent was before the creation of the world? Ephesians 1:4 “According as He has chosen us in Him BEFORE the foundation of the world…”

    How dare we say that this “before” has only reference to us and does not reveal anything about God? What we know about God “in Himself” can only be learned from what God has revealed to us about God’s actions and purposes. If Ephesians teaches us that God’s election is in Christ, then we have no liberty to twist this to say that election is “into Christ” as if somehow we managed to be created and to sin before being elected.

    God the Father Son and Spirit existed before the elect existed. The elect were in Christ before the elect existed and before the elect sinned. And the reprobate were already out of Christ before the reprobate existed and before the reprobate sinned.

    As the sin of the elect was for the purpose of election, so the sin of the reprobate was for the purpose of reprobation. As God never intended an election without a reprobation, we cannot say that reprobation is conditioned on sin. That ignores the predestination of the sin of the elect.

    Let us look quickly then at the sixth and seventh time words from Ephesians 2:4-5. First, He loved us when we were dead in sins. Not: he loved us before having any idea of us as sinners, and then after our sin, selecting some of us and passing others of us by. God’s love for the elect is before the cross, so that Christ died at the cross only for those God loves. Election is not to get in on the love; election is the love!

    Not only is God’s love for the elect before the cross, but elect sinners’“deadness in sins”is before the cross. God does not punish the innocent at the cross; God punishes the One who has been imputed with all the sins of all those united with Him. The elect are not elected to be in Christ; the elect are elect in Christ. And this before the elect exist and before the elect sin.

    • markmcculley Says:

      God never ordained any human sinner to be able to say that human was the cause of either reprobation or election. God’s glory in the reprobation of the reprobation is on purpose and NOT a reaction based on “foresight”. If reprobation is only a reaction to sin, then we can make no sense of “loved us when we were dead in sins”.

      Instead of asking “why me?” as we should, we will say that sin is the “why them”. SIN IS NOT THE ‘WHY THEM’. God loved the elect when they were dead in sins.

      Look again at the time words in Ephesians 2:4-5. Before the creation of all things by Christ, there is an union between the elect and Christ. The elect are chosen in Christ, not to be in Christ. The elect are loved as those “dead because of sins”; they are loved but not because of their sins. The reprobate are not loved as those who are “dead because of sins”; they are not loved but not because of their sins or because of their unbelief in the gospel of Christ’s righteousness.

      God’s glory is to be revealed in God never loving the reprobate, many of whom never hear the gospel.

      “Quickened together with Christ” is not about God’s purpose before creation to quicken the elect with Christ. Quickening with Christ is not the same thing as the purpose to quicken from the beginning of the world. Regeneration is an immediate result of God’s imputation of the legal quickening resulting from Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law for the elect.

      Imputed with all the sins of the elect, Christ paid all debts (both penalty and obligation) to the law for the elect. As a historical result, Christ Himself was justified (I Tim 3:16) and the elect became entitled to a future justification. They became entitled to “life from the dead”, that is, to life of people once legally “dead because of sins”.

      Before they are justified, the elect are entitled to future justification. Before they are glorified, the elect are entitled to future glorification.

      Righteousness is already accomplished for many elect people even before they are born. Though it may not yet be imputed to their own persons, it surely will be because of the justification of Christ the God-Man their representative AND substitute.

      The elect being quickened together with Christ does not mean that the elect take part in or participate in the work of righteousness that results in resurrection. NO. NEVER! Rather, Christ did the work (all of it by Himself) that the elect could not do for themselves.

      Why can we say that “all the elect died” when the “one died”? Only because of representation, only because of the legal union of the elect with Christ BEFORE the propitiation. In the work of propitiation itself, Christ the God-Man was there (given and sent by the Father) and the elect was NOT there; in that work, Christ the God-Man was alone as the SUBSTITUTE for the elect He represented (first “for”, but then more: “instead of”).

      The elect were replaced. The good news is that Christ the God-Man TOOK THE PLACE OF THE ELECT so that the elect one day would no longer be imputed with those sins. Praise God!


    unless the atonement can be left out of the gospel, then neither can election be left out of the gospel

    Lewis Sperry Chafer. ST, 3, p187—-”The highway of divine election is quite apart from the highway of redemption.”

    Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, volume 3, Reformed Dogmatics, 2006, p 469—-”The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian. Faith (not the atonement) has become the reconciliation with God.”

    Jonathan Gibson, From heaven, p 358—-Election and the Atonement do not operate on separate theological tracks. What God has joined together, let no theologian separate. Affirming union with Christ before the moment of redemption accomplished counters any disjunction between the effect of Christ’s death and the effect of His resurrection. (Those who put union later) sound as if Christ’s death might lead to the death of some sinners, but not also to their resurrection. This is not only analogy. if one, then the other. if death with, then resurrection with.

    Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.


    question for Barth—if election is universal, then why isn’t salvation universal ? Or is Barth back to the old idea that God is inscrutable, “God’s good pleasure”? Or does a human still have the choice to exclude self? does a human still have the will to bring into effect the wrath of God?

  4. markmcculley Says:

    John MacArthur: “When God forgives, He cannot merely overlook sin. Full payment (atonement) must be made for our sin. Christ’s death made full atonement for those who trust Him. If we believe Him, His dying counts in our stead, paying for our sins in full.”
    This sounds like it’s saying that Christ died for some sinners because he foreknew they would believe . if you believe now , then that made Christ die for you 2000 years ago. In this case, you may have “definite atonement” in that the extent of the atonement is only for the elect and it is also taught that election is what causes some sinners to believe. But you do not have the gospel of the elect’s sins imputed by God to Christ, and you do not have God’s electing love having decided for whom Christ would make propitiation.
    Instead you have your faith making God decide to forgive you, It’s like teaching that faith is the reason for the atonement, even if at other times (when you are not doing evangelism?) you explain that election is the reason for your faith.
    in any case MacArthur is not teaching that faith is given because of the atonement, even when sometimes he agrees that faith is given because of election.
    In that case, faith becomes way more important than atonement. Your faith becomes a request for Christ to please die for you. . Adding in the idea that God now sovereignly determines who makes this request does not change the false gospel which knows nothing of God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. tianqi wu

  5. markmcculley Says:

    election is easy

    all you need to know is that you are a Christian

    and then you know you are elect

    all you need to know is that God loves you

    even if you disagree with God about who God is

    in spite of that, because you know you believe in the God

    you believe in, you know you are a Christian

    if you must think about such things

    Some “Calvinists” believe in a “limited atonement” in that they say that “”Jesus only died for those He knew He would enable to ask Him to die for them”

    ie, if you ask Jesus to die for you, He will

    that is “limited atonement”, but it’s not what the Bible teaches about the nature of propitation for the imputed sins of the elect

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