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  • « A Recommendation for those new to these issues | Main | Understanding Mark 11:23 »

    Election and Fairness...One More Time!

    I am thankful as a pastor to get theological questions daily from my congregation. Here is another question on election and the question of fairness that I submit to those who are still wrestling with what the Apostle Paul said they would wrestle with!

    Pastor Biggs,

    The other day my friends and I were discussing predestination and the elect and we started talking about essentially 'fairness'. The issue was brought up about how if everyone was given a chance for salvation, by Jesus dying on the cross for all of mankind, then how is it fair when tribes that are secluded from civilization never hear the word and yet are condemned to hell. I brought up that the Bible says the law is written on our hearts, meaning we know the difference between right and wrong, but I didn't know if that fully explained it. Another issue of babies and small children who don't have the capacity to understand the word was brought up. I really have no idea about that, but the argument was brought up that 'if God was just, He would save them.' In a broader sense, if God was just, why choose merely a few and not all.

    I wanted to be able to answer these questions, but I had no verses to back them up so I was gonna get your input on the Bible's view of this. There's no hurry to respond, just at your earliest convenience. Thanks.

    Dear Young Brother in Christ,

    You have asked an excellent question (s), and these are questions that many Christians caringly have asked before in the history of the Church. In fact, these are the questions the Apostle Paul himself said WOULD be asked.

    That’s why when considering this question (s), you must turn first to Romans 9 (read the following carefully):

    Romans 9:8-24: This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son." 10 And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!

    15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

    The next thing I would encourage you to notice above is that twice Paul says that if one is getting at understanding the Biblical doctrine of election (regardless of whether one likes it or not!), a person will say it seems unfair and thus makes God unfair on the surface of things.

    Notice above in Romans 9 in verses 14 (What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part?) and 19 (You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"). In other words, Paul is saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that regardless of whether we like this election thing or not, we must come to answer our objections and questions with verse 20:

    “Who are we to talk back to God if this is indeed God’s will and what the Potter wants to do?” (paraphrase).

    You will notice in verses 14 and 19 that Paul is essentially saying that if you understand what the Bible teaches about election you will say “That’s not fair!” but Paul goes on to remedy this thinking by teaching us to see it from God’s perspective (notice verses 13-19, 22-23). We must begin and end the so-called “fairness questions” with humbly placing God’s will before our own wills! I think this is helpful (although it may not satisfy some Christians emotionally, etc).

    There is one fallacy and assumption that was made in one of the questions you were asked that you want to recognize. You said: “The issue was brought up about how if everyone was given a chance for salvation, by Jesus dying on the cross for all of mankind, then how is it fair when tribes that are secluded from civilization never hear the word and yet are condemned to hell.”

    The assumption being made here is that Jesus died for “all” of mankind. He died for “all” in this sense: all people, tribes, tongues, nations, etc (or “the whole world” as John says in 1 John 2:2), but this “all” or “the whole world” does not mean “all” or “every single person” in the Bible. In John 12:19 when the Pharisees see the Greeks come to Jesus, they say: "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him." But they do not mean “every single person”, so when the Bible uses “all”, it means all parts of the whole world, or all of the elect from the foundation of the world (cf. Eph. 1:3-14; Luke 18:7; Rom. 8:31-33; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1).

    In fact, when Jesus was going to the cross to die, he specifically says that he is not praying or dying for any except his own (as hard as this may be for some to swallow and digest, it is true and we must submit to scripture and follow the teaching no matter where it leads us!). Read carefully John 17:

    John 17:6-21: "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

    Notice the truth of what Jesus prays here, in two main points: (1) Jesus has a people the Father has been given to him (v. 7; cf. Matthew 16:16-18, Simon Peter believes and confesses and Jesus tells him it is because his Father and heaven has made it known to him; Hebrews 2:8-14 indicates a people or “children” the Father has given to Christ. (2) Jesus prays and implicitly dies for his own that have been given to him, “all mine are yours, and yours are mine” (v. 10). Jesus dies for his own, not for the sins of every person in the entire world past, present and future, but his own past, present and future whom God has elected and given to Jesus. This brings up other passages such as Jesus’ clear teaching in John 6:37-44 where Jesus teaches that no one can come or will come except the Father who sent Jesus draws them to Jesus:

    ESV John 6:37-44: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." 41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42 They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" 43 Jesus answered them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

    My dear brother, regardless of what is popular in Christian teaching today (particularly in bible churches and more broadly in evangelicalism), and regardless of how we feel about this, we must submit to the clear teaching of Scripture, and I think the scripture is very clear on this. We must remind ourselves in light of this great and awesome teaching that God is great, sovereign, faithful and knows and loves his own in Jesus Christ. If Jesus died for “all” meaning every person who ever lived, then we have a big problem when it comes to the character of God. Let me explain.

    If Jesus died for all, meaning all people who have ever lived, and not meaning “all of his own that the Father has given them”, then we must conclude a few things that are unbiblical and lead us down a path of heresy and false teaching (and this path is well worn for it is similar to the wide road that leads to destruction, the narrow way has theology that is often difficult for us!). Consider these implications:

    (1) If Jesus took the curse upon himself on the cross from the Father, that is if he took the Father’s punishment on the cross, yet there are some who are not redeemed, God is unjust by punishing the unredeemed in hell for eternity, after he has already punished their sins in Jesus. This first heresy goes against the clear biblical teaching that God is just, and therefore in order to preserve God’s justice and faithfulness to what is right, we must get rid of hell (not good!).

    (2) If Jesus died for “all”, that is every person who has ever lived, then if all are not redeemed it makes Jesus’ work to be a partial failure, and we don’t want to go here either (not good!).

    (3) If Jesus died for “all”, that is every person who has ever lived and they do not believe, and thus our friends say that Jesus died for them but they did not believe it, so God is punishing them for their lack of faith, or because they did not believe, then there was a sin, particularly the sin of unbelief, that Jesus did not die for on the cross. Meaning, Jesus died for all other sins, but he did not die for the sin of unfaith, or unbelief, and therefore even though Jesus died for the sins of all, the sin of unbelief is not included (not good!).

    (4) If Jesus died for all, taking the wrath and curse of God upon himself, then all, that is everyone who has ever lived will be saved, this is universalism and we do not want to think in this direction because nowhere in Scripture will you find this teaching (not good!).

    The only option we have is by submitting to scripture, and thanking God for glorifying himself in Jesus Christ in a way that makes no sense to us! (Romans 11:33-36).

    ESV Romans 11:33-36: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" 35 "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

    Jesus died for those whom the Father gave to him from the foundation of the world, and Jesus lived a perfect life in their place, died a death for their sins (Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:1-11), and was raised for their justification and permanent declaration of righteousness before the Living God! This is our only option without falling into rank heresy and unbelief, just because something doesn’t sit well with us (I know good and rich food that also doesn’t always sit well with us, but it is good for us!).

    Let us consider the baby question, which is one often asked that causes a bit of emotion to arise in us because of the nature and character of those in question. We all may desire for all to be saved, but we must rely on God to be God with regard to this one. Those who are born with mental handicaps, those who do not hear, those who die in infancy, these are questions that we must teach what the Bible teaches with regard to God and election, and leave some stones unturned, some answers unanswered (Read Deut. 29:29 for a defense of this position and the sensitivity we must have to follow Scripture where it leads us, and cease to search out answers to some questions that God does not answer!).

    The clear teaching of Scripture, and remember what we have learned in our studies together, you only need one clear text of Scripture to establish a doctrine. Then you use the only infallible rule of interpretation, Scripture interpreting Scripture, to allow the clear text to interpret and explain the unclear one.

    I am going to leave you with an exercise in this, while you meditate upon what I have written. Go to 2 Peter 3:9. It says: ESV 2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Now I think I have given you clear texts above on election and how it works from God’s perspective. Now you come to 2 Peter in light of the clearer passages and you read: “God…is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Uh, oh! How do you explain this? Well, Scripture interprets Scripture, and we have already read in Romans 9 and John 6 and 17 that God elects, he is fair whether we can understand his ways, and Jesus died and prayed for his own, etc. Now we see that God doesn’t want “any” but “all” to repent. Again, we have that nasty word “all”. What does it mean?

    It cannot mean “all” in the sense of every human being. It must mean “all of the elect” and do I have additional evidence? (Even if I didn’t, we know that Scripture does not contradict itself, and we have seen that “all” does not always mean “all” etc. in the sense that some would have it mean). Look at 2 Peter 1:1: ESV 2 Peter 1:1 "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…" Peter is writing to believers (cf. 2 Peter 1:10).

    Therefore, in light of other Scriptures, and with the help of comparing scripture with scripture, we see the “any” to be God does not want “any of the elect, that is believers to perish”, and that “all of the elect should reach repentance.” Makes much more sense and clears up quite a lot of questions.

    Thank you for your excellent question, and continue to search for answers from Scripture. But be willing to submit to what Scripture teaches no matter how you feel about it. Be willing to show your submission to God’s holy and inerrant and inspired Word, by allowing it to teach you “all that Jesus has commanded you,” remembering that he is with you even to the end of the age! (Matthew 28:19, 20).

    In Jesus’ service and love,
    Pastor Charles

    Posted by Charles Biggs on April 21, 2006 05:37 AM


    For the sake of discussion, presuming that Jesus died for the sins of only the elect, then on what basis are the non-elect condemned? John 3:18 says that those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the one and only Son.

    If Jesus did not die for the sins onf the non-elect, then how can he condemn them for not believing in him? He was not offered to them, having not covered their sins on the cross. How can one be judged for rejecting something that was not offered to them?

    In that case, wouldn't the non-elect be guilty of violating the Law and, as such, fall under the old covenant? However, if Jesus died for the sins of the non-elect as well, they would have no excuse for rejecting him. He covered their sins and they are subject to his judgment.

    I don't see this as a partial failure on Jesus' part to die for the sins of those who do not believe in him. The reconcilliation of a corrupt world to its Creator is not a failure.

    Also, simply punishing the sins of the elect on the cross must be combined with the professed faith of the elect. The elect cannot presume they are elect, but must show evidence of it. If only punishing the sins was sufficicient, then there would not need to be an irresistable gospel call.

    In no way am I saying that universal atonement equals or even implies universal salvation. And, I do believe in the concept of the elect (as opposed to Arminian free will). What I am saying is that all of the corruption of the world was reconciled to God the Father by God the Son (Jesus) on the cross.

    1 John 4:5 and 1 John 4:14 both appear to use the same Greek word for "world". The first context is the worldy world and the second speaks of Jesus as the Savior of the world.

    I see the same word use in John 3.

    To me, it seems reasonable to say that Jesus died for all sins on the cross. In that act, he reconciled all corrupt things to God the Father. This act did not bring about universal salvation.

    Let me ask one final you think this disagreement is one of academic significance or one of eternal (a/k/a one of us isn't going to Heaven because of his view on this) significance?

    Very good and extensive answer. I'm sure that all that have been written is enough to answer the question about God's justice in the case of all the people who doesn't have the oportunity of hearing the gospel (like the mayas, native americans, ancient china, etc.) And in some aspect, it can be aplied to children who die in infancy. But it seems to me that this second question (about children) is not completely answered. For those who are interested in further meditation, I would sugest them to read this link:

    I must mention that i still don't agree with everything that is written in there, but is a good material to meditate upon. I say that the really important thing is what it says at the end;

    "Finally, for those who have struggled with this issue through personal loss, we would want to say that knowing what happens to infants who die is a good place to rest your soul. But it is only the second best place for resting your soul.... The first best place is simply this: Psalm 119:68—"Thou art good and doest good."

    At the end, as Pastor Biggs clearly teaches, God is good and just in ALL that He does (and we know that infant dying is not outside His sovereignity), and that He makes that all happen for good to His children (Romans 8), are the truths that must be enough to settle all kind of struggles in our soul.

    Johan Estrada


    While I might be mireading what your are saying but it appears that your anser assumes some kind of obligation on God's part.

    For the sake of argument, lets assume that Jesus never came to save us at all. He could very well have justly chosen such an option for we do not deserve his mercy. So if Jesus had never became flesh you ask on what basis then would the non-elect be condemned?

    We would be condemend on the basis of our sin in Adam and for personal rebellion against God. The sin of unbelief in Jesus Christ is the greatest of sins, but if Jesus left us in our sins, passed over all humanity and never redeemed us at all, He would certainly have the right to do so. He is not obligated to do anything for us. Otherwise mercy would not be mercy ... it would be obligation.

    Also, your answer assumes that if God commands us to do something, then we must therefore have the moral ability to do it, or it would not be fair. But this is also problematic. As an example, if a person borrows $100 million from a Venture Catpitalist to start a company and instead we speands it in a week of wild living in las vegas, does his inability to repay the VC alleviate of his resposnibility to do so? No. He is responsible to do something is is unable to do. That is our condition in Adam. We are responsible to obey the ten commandments and the law of Love perfectly. Does this mean we have the ability? No. If Jesus died for sin and we herald the gospel that all who believe have ever lasting life. That is simply His command. The purpose of commands are to show our inability, not our ability (Rom 3:19, 20). The command to believe does not put God under any obligation to grant anybody repentance. If He dies for anyone it is mercy. Their inability to believe in Christ does not alleviate their responsibility to do so. It is not a physical inability but a moral inability, like a debt we cannot repay.

    Furthermore, anyone who believes that grace is irresistable already believes in limited atonement. They are the same things looked at from different perspectives. Effectual grace is not given to the non-elect right? And this grace is from Christ correct?
    Therefore, Jesus died for the elect (to purchase effecual grace) in a way that he did not for the non-elect.

    You cannot have Christless effecual grace. If you believe that grace is effectual and given only to the elect then you already embrace limited atonement without knowing it.

    If I communicated that there is any other way to Heaven than through Jesus, then I have done a poor job of communicating. I truly believe that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" and that no one "comes to the Father" but by him.

    What I am saying, in my current understanding of the issue, is that I believe that Jesus paid for all sins on the cross. That in no way is meant to say that all will be saved. I guess in that respect I am a four-point Calvinist. However, in reading some other articles, there is some question as to whether or not four-point and Calvinist can co-exist or whether four-point Calvinists are really five-point Calvinists who just don't realize it.

    It's a good topic for discussion. Thanks for your previous response.

    Great commentary, John!
    I had never heard the
    Venture Capitalist analogy before! And you are right,
    God owes none of us salvation. That's why it's called GRACE :)


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