Jeremy Sarber

I'm Reformed Baptist, pastor of Joy Christian Church, and founder of Sermon Transcription Services.

Honest With Me

Many Are Called But Few, Effectually Called

If you haven’t already, please read this series’ introduction.

What you are describing of this broad publishing of the gospel, and the duty of all sinners, elect or non-elect, does not square up with the teachings of election. Paul tells the church at Corinth in the first chapter that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1Co 1:18). Also, that the things of God are “spiritually discerned” and the unregenerate cannot know them (1Co 2:14).

Whereas we may agree on the point of command does not necessarily imply ability, what I cannot make work with the teachings of election and God’s workings is him requiring something like faith from a group of people that he expresses hatred for, and that he knows cannot follow due to the fact that he has not given them the ability to do so.

When Christ first sent his disciples out, he sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans (Mt 10:6). Paul was prevented from going into Asia. Why would these restrictions be in place if the God’s ultimate desire is for all to respond in faith?

Beyond that, why does God condemn anyone if he really desires them all to be saved and come to faith? Why doesn’t God give everyone the ability to come to faith if he really wants them to? This just doesn’t make sense to me in regards to election.

Either he has love, affection, and choice for one group of people (elect) and takes care of the requirements necessary for faith (referring to the Scripture you referenced from Ezekiel), or else he loves, shows affection, and chooses all. Otherwise, it does not seem to work in conjunction with his justness to command men to do things they cannot because he has not given them the ability.

I think Scripture makes it clear God’s view of the non-elect: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Ro 9:13). God hates the non-elect and will send them to their deserved judgment without some requirement of faith.

At what point do you stop and question your current understanding of election? At what point do you accept the Bible for what it says and readjust your thinking accordingly?

There is no disharmony between God’s sovereignty in salvation and the universal call of the gospel. Yes, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” but it’s also “the power of God” to God’s people (1Co 1:18). How do we discern between the elect and the reprobates without preaching the gospel? It is through the gospel that people are either drawn to Christ or reveal the hardness of their hearts.

Consider what Jesus told his apostles when he first sent them out to preach:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38)

Before he said that–I believe that I quoted this passage already—he told them that many of the towns and villages they would enter would not accept them or their message. But he said, “If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave” (Mt 10:14).

The gospel inherently creates division between people, separating believers from unbelievers, the elect from the non-elect, those who are perishing from those who are being saved. Obviously, Christ intended for the apostles to preach his message to everyone. Otherwise, how would they ever be rejected?

I referred to this parable already as well, but Jesus made the issue abundantly clear in Matthew 22. He said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Mt 22:2-3).

First, notice that the king is extending an invitation to come. Preaching the gospel is not merely the recital of historical facts about Jesus and salvation; it’s an invitation to turn from sin to Christ the Savior. The Bible essentially ends by saying:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)

It is nothing short of fatalism to suggest that we should preach the death and resurrection of Christ without inviting sinners to come. The pattern in Scripture shows that those who preached Christ always included an invitation to come, or believe, or trust in Christ for salvation, or repent from sin.

When Philip first found Christ, he went to his brother and said, “Come and see” (Jn 1:46). When Jesus revealed his identity to a Samaritan woman, she quickly ran into town, telling everyone, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29). When an Ethiopian man was searching for meaning in the prophecies of Isaiah, Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Ac 8:30). And the man responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Ac 8:31). From there, Philip led him to see Christ in the Scriptures.

Going back to the parable in Matthew 22, you’ll also notice that those whom the king first invited would not come to the wedding feast. In fact, he sent his servants out a second time, “but they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them” (Mt 22:5-6). The invitation to come was not limited to only those people who would respond positively.

Of course, this parable is teaching us about God’s kingdom. The Lord’s plan was for his disciples to first preach the gospel to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:6). As God’s Old Covenant people, the Jews were afforded an opportunity to hear about the Messiah’s arrival before the Gentiles. Paul said, “To the Jew first” (Ro 1:16). And their obligation was—what?—to come to the wedding feast, to have faith in Christ for salvation rather than “seeking to establish their own [righteousness]” (Ro 10:3).

But according to John’s Gospel, “[Christ] came to his own [the Jews], and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:11-13).

Despite the necessity of God’s sovereign work before anyone can receive or believe in Christ, God sent Jesus to people who would utterly reject him. Why did they reject him? The implication in John is that they were not born of God, so they did not believe and, consequently, were not given the right or power to become children of God.

Again, Paul said, “All day long [God] held out [his] hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Ro 10:21). He was telling the people to come. He was offering “the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). At the end of his ministry, Jesus lamented, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mt 23:37).

If the universal call of the gospel (specifically, the responsibility of everyone to believe in Christ) seems contradictory to the doctrine of election, it is not a result of what Scripture teaches; it is a flaw in our own thinking that probably stems from years of debating against Arminianism. Worse yet, it has led to fatalism. Even Christ who knew the sovereign will of God did not limit his preaching or his invitations to come to him.

Getting back to the parable, Jesus continued:

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:8-10)

Since Israel had largely rejected Christ, the invitation was extended to the Gentile world. Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1:8). The call of the gospel began in Israel, but would eventually leave its borders and travel to the end of the earth. Gentiles would be “justified by faith in Christ” just as believing Jews (Gal 2:16).

After Jesus showed the reality of false believers in the church—John said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1Jn 2:19)—he concluded his parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14). Put another way, many are called, but few are effectually called. How can we interpret his statement to mean anything but that many are called by the gospel though few are effectually called by God?

It’s rather simple. God has instructed us to preach the gospel, inviting sinners to turn from sin to Christ while he works behind the scenes to draw his people to himself. As for those whom God has not chosen, their rejection of the gospel only reveals their hard hearts and further indicts them as sinners. The fact that there are unregenerate people does not diminish or limit our responsibility to preach the gospel nor does it limit anyone’s God-given obligation to trust God and his Son, Jesus Christ.

You mentioned the restrictions that God put on his disciples. Those restrictions weren’t based on who would or would not believe. How could they know before preaching the gospel? No, he sent them to Israel first because they were his Old Covenant people. Similarly, he prevented Paul from preaching in places like Asia Minor because of timing. God had people in that region who eventually believed. In Acts 16, he stopped Paul from going there, but Paul was preaching in Asia Minor by Acts 18.

Now you asked why God would condemn anyone if he wants them to come to faith? Why doesn’t he give everyone the ability to come to him? Well, how far are we willing to go with this question? When God gave Adam a choice to obey or disobey, what did he want Adam to do? He wanted him to obey. Right? So why didn’t he prevent him from disobeying? Only God knows.

Paul said, “This is good [meaning, praying for all people], and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti 2:3-4). Is it really that hard to imagine that our merciful, benevolent God does not enjoy seeing his creation rebel against him? Is it that difficult to think of God as grieved by the world’s rejection of him and of the truth? I don’t think so.

Through Ezekiel, he said, “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Eze 18:31-32). And he said that while knowing that no one could genuinely turn to him without “a new heart and a new spirit.”

Obviously, God’s mercy does not extend to reprobates as it does to his elect people, but hatred against sin and his desire for people to trust and follow him are universal. You said that God hated Esau. That’s true. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Ro 9:13). But keep reading. In the very next chapter, Paul confessed, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [Israel] is that they may be saved” (Ro 10:1). His desire was a godly desire. His desire was the same as God’s desire according to 1 Timothy 2.

Now before you claim that Paul wasn’t talking about eternal salvation, look at the context. Romans 9 is the context of Romans 10:1. If Paul was teaching about eternal salvation in Romans 9 but not in Romans 10, then where is the transition?

First, Paul makes the case that God is sovereignly merciful. Second, he shows that God has not saved everyone (namely, the Jews), which actually glorifies him by revealing his just nature. Third, he shows that God has extended salvation to the Gentiles just as the Old Testament prophesied. Finally, he says, “I truly wish Israel would be saved.” What kind of heartless monster would say otherwise? He wasn’t contradicting the sovereign will of God. He was simply honest about his affection for Israel. He wasn’t contradicting God any more than Jesus when Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me” Mt 26:39).

Perhaps the most telling passage of all is found in Matthew 5. Jesus preached:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

What greater enemies do we have in this world than those who oppose Christ? Yet Jesus teaches us to love them as God loves them. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Where you see a contradiction in God’s nature, I see a God with enough love to save his children and still have enough left over to show (albeit limited) mercy to the unrighteous. I see a God who holds out his hands to a disobedient people. I see a God whose heart breaks at the thought of doling out even well-deserved punishments.

You said that God hates the non-elect and will judge them without requiring faith. I believe it’s more accurate to say that God judges them because they have no faith. Neither God’s sovereignty or man’s inabilities negate our responsibilities. God’s commands are not based on the sinner’s ability to keep them. His commands are based on what is good and right. If not, then sin ceases to be sin for the non-elect.