Why Election to Salvation, and Why Reprobation to Damnation? Part One

Peter Ditzel

The hands of a potter shaping a pot on a potter's wheel. Like a potter, God has control over His creation. Why does God elect some to salvation and reprobate others to damnation?
“Hasn’t the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?” But why does God elect some people to salvation and reprobate other people to damnation? Image by thomasgitarre from Pixabay

Those skeptical of the doctrines of election and reprobation commonly ask questions that go along these lines: “Why would God elect some people to salvation and allow the rest to be damned?” “If God can save the elect, why doesn’t He just save everyone?” “If God is love, how can He have reprobated some to damnation?” These are good questions, and they deserve good answers. Let’s start with answering why God determined to use election to salvation and reprobation to damnation, because if we answer that first, the answers to the others will fall into place.

In the first question above is the word “allowed.” I used it in that question because it’s the word many people use in such questions. But “allowed” immediately sets any discussion on the subject off in the wrong direction. It is not correct to say that God has allowed the rest to be damned. “Allowed” hints that God could have done something else but He allowed something bad to happen. Maybe God didn’t want to interfere with the person’s free will. That is not at all correct. No, God determined for good reasons to reprobate people to damnation.

Essentially the Same, but Conceptually and Positionally Different

We must understand the essential sameness of all humans if we’re going to see why God uses election and reprobation. The elect whom God has chosen to be saved and the reprobate He has chosen to be damned are essentially the same. That is, all are humans and all sin. Those whom God elects to salvation don’t deserve salvation any more than those God doesn’t choose to save. This fact should be humbling to all believers. Yet, while this is absolutely true, it’s not the entire picture.

Two things can be essentially the same but conceptually and positionally different in the mind of a third party. A woman may walk into a room full of five-year-old children. They are all essentially five-year-old children. All have the characteristics of five-year-old children. But the woman walks over to only one of the children and gives that child a hug and kiss because that child is her child. Conceptually (in the mother’s mind) and positionally (because of the mother-daughter relationship), that one child is different to the mother from all the others.

Figurative Representations Show That There Is a Difference

The Bible speaks of people as people. Speaking broadly, they are all essentially the same, including the fact that they are all sinners. Yet, using figurative language, the Bible speaks of some of those people as sheep and some as goats; some as good fish and some as trash fish; some as wheat and some as chaff; some as wheat and some as weeds; some as wise virgins and some as foolish virgins. Scripture also likens some people to wandering stars or clouds without water or beasts made to be slaughtered. And, the Bible also plainly tells us that some people are God’s children or sons. Why? Why these differences in people who are essentially the same? The answer must lie in how God sees them conceptually and positionally.

In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus says, “Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Notice that it’s not their good works that earn them the kingdom. The good works merely identify them. The kingdom was prepared for the sheep from the foundation of the world. “Prepared” is in the perfect tense, indicating a past and already completed action.

Of the goats, Jesus says, “Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). As with the sheep, their actions only identify them. “Prepared” is again in the perfect tense, but so is the word translated “you cursed.” They are not cursed at the end of the world, but from the beginning.

The purpose of this parable is to show that the difference between the two groups has been determined from the beginning, their works show the difference, but the separation to different destinies won’t occur until the end. If we read this parable alone, however, we likely won’t perceive why there are two groups.

The parable of the wheat and weeds gives us more information. Matthew 13:25 tells us that the weeds are from the seed of an enemy. Matthew 13:28-30 explains that the wheat and weeds are left to grow together lest, in pulling up the weeds, “you root up the wheat with them.” Taking out the reprobate before the end of the world might harm the elect, but it’s still unclear why.

The parable of the dragnet gives us still more information. A quick reading seems to reveal only that the net contains good and bad fish (Matthew 13:47-50). The good are saved, but the bad are thrown away and burned. But think about the sea and the various creatures that live in it. If we took away all of the fish not considered good for eating, the good fish would also likely soon die off. All of the kinds of creatures are needed to maintain the ecosystem that produces the good fish. So, there we begin to see the answer. The bad fish (a figure of the reprobate) serve a necessary purpose, but that purpose ends at the end of the world. And, we might even say that God created the bad fish (the reprobate) for that very purpose.

John the Baptist’s quick illustration of the wheat and chaff makes this even easier to understand: “His [Jesus’] winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). When a grain is harvested, the chaff (achuron) is anything that is not the grain. But when the grain is growing, these things—the stalks, leaves, and husks—serve a vital purpose. The grain could not be produced at all if it were not for the parts of the plant that, at harvest time, are thrown away and burned.

What does this tell us? God in eternity determined to raise up people who would become the brothers of His Son (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:10-13) and who would, themselves, become sons (though, unlike Christ, not divine) and heirs (Romans 8:17) with Jesus to inherit the kingdom (Matthew 25:34). God had in His mind in eternity each individual who would be one of the brothers (regardless of human gender) of Jesus Christ. This was God’s purpose and focus.

Why Would God Elect Some but Not All?

So, why did God create more people than just the elect? He had at least two, related reasons. One of these, we saw in the parable of the dragnet. The net revealed that, all along, the sea had held both good and bad fish. This present, fallen world needs this sea of good and bad humanity, the elect and the reprobate. At the end of this world, however, the bad will be cast away. God knew the reprobate would be needed to help run the governments, run the businesses, do the labor, invent the technology, make the medical breakthroughs, and so on, that the elect alone can’t do.

But why didn’t God just determine a larger population of the elect? After all, if the world were entirely populated by the elect, just think what a nicer world it would be. And that’s exactly the problem! Not only does the world need people to care for it, a large portion of those people have to be reprobate. Why? They’re needed to help develop the elect.

The Lesson of God’s Sovereign Choice

So, the second reason God determined to create the reprobate is because they’re needed to help the elect grow into the people God wants them to be. The bad fish vie for food, and some are even dangerous. The weeds among the wheat compete for nutrients. But these troubles strengthen the good fish and the wheat that picture the elect. And all of the parts of the wheat plants, the parts that get thrown away in the end, serve the one purpose of creating and bringing nutrients from the sun and soil to grow the wheat kernels. God uses the reprobate to bring the elect to maturity.

Acts 14:22b tells us “that through many afflictions we must enter into the Kingdom of God.” And,

Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering works perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

What trials would there be in life if it weren’t for sin and the reprobate?

Here’s something else to ponder: Since God determined in eternity that He would create reprobate people, He had to know that there would be sin in the world. After all, reprobates are sinners who don’t ever repent and believe on Jesus as their Savior. In other words, if God in eternity determined the existence of reprobates, then He had to also determine that there would be sin.

Looking at it a different way, the Bible tells us that Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:19-20). And, Ephesians 1:3-7 tells us that God “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world,” “predestined us for adoption as children [this actually says “predestined for sonship”] through Jesus Christ to himself,” “in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Since, from eternity, God chose us to be in Christ through whose blood we are redeemed, we must conclude that God had to have determined in eternity that there would be sin.

This means that, right from the beginning, God had to have created Adam and Eve with the tendency to sin as part of their nature. They were innocent, but they could sin when there was an opportunity. When God gave them a law—don’t eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—their proneness to sin caused them to sin by breaking the law.

Why would God determine that this must happen? I believe that it’s because people cannot have an appreciation for the righteousness, goodness, and love of God without experiencing sin. Without sin and seeing their need for forgiveness and grace, people would never understand that the only source of true righteousness is God Himself. Without seeing evil, they can’t perceive God’s goodness. To grasp true forgiveness, they must receive God’s forgiveness. To understand self-sacrifice, they must understand the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on their behalf. And, yes, to really understand love, they must experience the depth of God’s love for them, and that requires God’s sending wrath on the unrepentant.

Additional Reading: “God’s Wrath

This can be seen in Adam and Eve themselves. They actually met God, and He gave them everything good. Yet, Eve suspected God of withholding goodness from her, and Adam listened to his wife rather than obeying God. Before sinning, Adam and Eve were innocent, but they were shallow. If they hadn’t sinned, the first humans and their descendants would have forever remained shallow creatures who would never have been able to truly understand God’s goodness, who would have remained blasé toward the perfect world in which they lived, and who would have been unfit for the eternal future God has in store for us.

John nails it succinctly, “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Without Jesus sacrificing His life for us, we would not know love. Apparently, understanding God’s righteousness and our showing forgiveness and sacrificial love toward others can’t be created by fiat.

Am I saying that for the sake of showing the difference between good and evil, God had to create billions of people for reprobation? No, that’s not quite what I’m saying. I’m saying that the difference illustrated is more than just good and evil. The difference between who will live eternally with God as His sons and who will not be with God depends entirely on God’s sovereign choice. The result of this sovereign choice is worked out in time through God’s grace and mercy as demonstrated in Jesus Christ. All humans died in sin. They all deserve to remain dead in sin, separate from God, and to experience that separation for eternity in hell. And those people whom God never intended to save in the first place He reprobates to that fate. How would we ever know what we are saved from if everyone is saved?

But what about love? Surely, the fact that God is love means that God would never have determined to create people to be damned! Or, does it? We’ll answer that in Part 2.

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