Piper on Pastoral Thoughts Concerning the Doctrine of Unconditional Election
On November 30, 2003, Pastor John Piper preached a message called “Pastoral Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election.” During his massive expository series through the book of Romans, Piper took a Sunday (at the time of exposing Romans 11) to reflect on the practical benefits of believing and understanding the doctrine of unconditional election.
Piper and BBC state that unconditional election
is the teaching that God chose, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), who would believe and so be undeservingly saved in spite of their sin, and who would persist in rebellion and so deservingly perish because of their sin. In other words, the wisdom and justice and grace of God's will is always the ultimate explanation of what happens in the world—all of it. Humans are not God. We cannot originate causes out of nothing.
In his message, Piper gives five points worth considering when valuing this important doctrine. These are very helpful and pastoral, and I encourage you to consider them for your personal benefit. If you would like to read the entire sermon, you can both read and listen to it here.
1. Not all things are good for us to know, and so God has not revealed them to us; and there are some things that are good for us to know, even when we can't explain them fully.
One of the implications of this point is that we will not always know how some particular doctrine in the Bible is good for us. We Americans are especially pragmatic and demanding. If we don't see the payoff of a doctrine immediately, we tend to ignore it. We are like foolish children when we do that. . . . The effects on our lives of what we know are always more than we know or can explain. Sometimes we must simply learn something because God says it's true. Then later we may see how the knowledge protected us, or strengthened us, or humbled us, or purified us, or guided us, or enabled us to see other things as true. The issue boils down to trust. Do we trust that God has revealed what is good for us to know?
2. The doctrine of election has a strong tendency to make a church rigorous about the truth and about the Scriptures, and so keep it from drifting into doctrinal indifference and conformity to culture.
The doctrine of election tends to give firmness and fiber to flabby minds. It tends to produce robust, thoughtful Christians who are not swept away by trendy, man-centered ideas. It has an amazing preservative power that works to keep other doctrines from being diluted and lost. In general it tends to press onto our minds a God-centered worldview built out of real objective truth. . . . The doctrine of election an amazing effect to awaken people who are drifting in the river of inherited assumptions with no engagement of the mind. Suddenly they are jarred by the radical God-centeredness of the Bible and the frightening man-centeredness of their own hearts. They are put on a quest to build a way of thinking Biblically about the God and the world that may avoid the tragedy Colson warns about: namely, the world discovering, at last, that truth really matters, just when the church has decided in the name of cultural relevance that doctrine doesn't matter. The doctrine of election is good for us and for our grandchildren in ways we can't even yet imagine.
3. A third pastoral thought about the doctrine of election is that it is one of the best ways to test whether we have reversed roles with God.
Paul addressed this issue most forcefully in Romans 9:6-23. As he did, he heard the ancient and modern objection, "Why does [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?" his answer to that was, "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?'" (Romans 9:19-20). In other words, it's not fitting for you to reverse roles with God. He's the potter. Few doctrines test more clearly whether we are judging God or God is judging us. . . . It is hard for a fish to know that it is wet. Wet is all there is for a fish. A fish doesn't even think of it. So it's hard for a modern person —a person living in the last two hundred years—to know that he is arrogant toward God. Arrogance toward God is all there is in the modern world. It's the ocean we swim in—the air we breathe. It's woven into the fabric of our minds. We don't even know it's there. We can't see it, because we look through it to see everything else.
4. The fourth pastoral thought about the doctrine of election is this: The humble embrace—not the discussion of, not even the intellectual belief in, but the humble embrace—of the precious truth of election and sovereign grace, produces radical, loving, risk—taking ministry and missions.
Embracing and being embraced by the doctrine of sovereign grace—beginning with unconditional election—first produces that kind of radical, risk-taking sacrificial love; and then it humbles us to rejoice in the truth that we did not produce this beauty in ourselves, God did. Then we give him the glory. . . . In Romans 8:33 Paul says, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies." The answer is: Nobody can make a charge stick against you if you are chosen by God. He is for you forever. It's crystal clear that Paul says this because he expects it to have a practical effect on us. He expects us to feel assurance and joy and then be courageous and fearless. As you stand before a decision today that seems right and loving, but risky, do you feel the effect of the question: "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?" Do you feel the assurance-producing gospel force in the word "elect"?
5. I close with one last pastoral thought. Don't think of election apart from Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:3 says, "[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world." In other words, when God planned in eternity to pluck us out of our bondage to sin, he had Christ in mind as the way he would do it. God planned before the foundation of the world to save us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, what God has done to save us and call us to himself is not to tell us ahead of time if we are elect. God never reveals this except through a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that Christ is central to our election. Instead of telling us if we are elect, what God did was to send his Son and say, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). "Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself" (1 John 5:10). He knows that he is elect.
So in the name of Christ I call you: Come, take him as your Savior and your Lord and the Treasure of your life. He never casts out any who comes in faith. He forgives sin. He clothes with righteousness. He gives the Holy Spirit. He will keep you. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27). Hear the voice of the good Shepherd and come.
********************* For additional reading, check out "What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism" published by the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN).