Audio Worship, 5/12/2024, "The U of TULIP" John 15.12-17

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1637

May 12, 2024

John 15:12-17        Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus


“The ‘U’ of TULIP”


12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17These things I command you, so that you will love one another.



Last Sunday we started our refresher course on some aspects of reformed theology and we began with our understanding of total depravity, that we are corrupted by sin through and through. But the good news is that sin does not have the final say in our lives. While there is nothing we can do to set ourselves right with God because of our condition, God has done what we could not and has set us free from sin. Total depravity is the first teaching in the acrostic TULIP: T – total depravity; U – unconditional election; L – limited atonement; I – irresistible grace; P – perseverance of the saints. These distinctions are drawn from the reformer John Calvin, known as the father of Presbyterianism. Today we take up the doctrine of unconditional election. This is the great Presbyterian distinction, perhaps over stated by non-Presbyterians, that God chooses some and not others. I completely understand why this draws criticism from those who either believe this doctrine eliminates free will or that, in so choosing, God is unfair. I get it. But the Scriptures give convincing evidence that we must consider unconditional election as the sovereign will of God.

  • Conditional Election


I do not recall if I ever considered the opposite of unconditional election before this week, but diving deeper into this doctrine I ran across the idea of conditional election. Conditional election is God choosing those who meet a particular condition before He saves. Some might argue that God chooses knowing those who will believe and those who will not. But that is also conditional election, that God saves only those whose condition He knows ahead of time, or that we meet some kind of criteria before we can be saved. If election is dependent upon what we do then salvation is no longer by God’s saving grace alone. If you were convinced last Sunday that we are so radically corrupted in sin, that we are unable to do anything to bring about our salvation, then conditional election is also an impossibility because our being dead in sin does not give us the ability to choose God.

What we can say about this? It is simply up to God who is saved. God makes choices! Why choose Israel and not another nation? Why choose the twelve disciples? Why choose me? Why choose you? Paul answers these types of questions with a quote from the Old Testament. In Romans 9 Paul writes:

For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (9.15-16, ESV). It does not depend on us, not by our will, not by our exertion, not any condition that we might meet, but on God alone. It depends on God’s mercy and compassion and will to choose. Once we understand that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, the only option left to us is what God will do for us.

  • Unconditional Election


The doctrine of what God has done is unconditional election. God chooses by His own will and mercy. God selects those whom He will regenerate and pardon. Everyone else gets what we all deserved.

So, it depends on God! We have no real say in the matter. Consider Ephesians 1:4-8,

4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight… (ESV)

It is this teaching of unconditional election that enables us to say: “I am the Lord’s!” It was in the fact that God chose Israel that Israel was and is able to say “I am the Lord’s”. The Gospel lesson from John reiterates the chosen status of God’s people as Jesus says to the disciples:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide...” (John 15:16, ESV).

And before we think that God only chose “famous” people like Abraham and Jacob, Paul or Peter, he also chose those never named, regular church people, like you, like me. Paul writes to the church (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15),

13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (ESV)

God chose us to be saved. He elected us by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that we would believe on Him. God does it all! He chooses, He elects, He sent His only Son to die for us and sends the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith. Two marks of election, according to 2 Thessalonians, are sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Sanctification is the process of God’s work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. God is at work in you and in us to make us more like Jesus. Our goal is to become more and more like Jesus. This is the path of sanctification. The second goal is belief in the truth. What truth do we believe? The elect are able to boldly proclaim what they believe and what we believe is found solely in our sacred book, the Bible.

Grace comes before faith. God elects before we believe. This grace filled election enables us to receive Christ. Reformed theology makes it possible for us to say we are chosen in Christ. We are the Lord’s. Now what we do with that election is another matter. Sometimes we get caught up in ourselves to the point that we fit well the label of “the frozen chosen”. Such a criticism is sometimes warranted when we grow complacent in thinking that there is nothing for us to do in light of predestination or unconditional election. But we misunderstand if we think that we can just do whatever we want or believe that everything is already decided. Someone will ask, if all are saved or not saved; what is the point of evangelism? If some are saved and some are not, if some are elected and some are not, then what are we left to do? Well for one thing, we do not know who those elected ones are! We could be the instruments God uses to reveal the grace of God at work in someone’s heart and life. We might be the ones who share a word or deed that God uses to reveal His grace to someone. So why do evangelism? 1) We do not know who is chosen and who is not, 2) Jesus commanded sharing the gospel, 3) We are not chosen for our sake alone but for the sake of others who are also chosen.

  • Is God Fair?


Another claim against unconditional election is that it shows God as unfair. Well, consider this, we are all sinners from birth. Scripture proclaims there are none righteous, not one (Romans 3.10). Everyone deserves justice/judgment. All are guilty. Everyone deserves the wages of sin which is death (Romans 6.23). RC Sproul gives the illustration to line up six sinner and if three are pardoned, the other three simple get what they deserved in the first place. Nothing unfair about that. If some receive mercy; hallelujah! If others do not receive mercy, justice is done. Who are we to determine that God is unfair in his unconditional election. You know the old passage from Isaiah 45.9, Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? (ESV) Who are we to say to the one who created us, what are You doing? The pot does not tell the potter what to make, whether to make a vessel for honor and another for dishonor (Romans 9.21).

  • Our Sovereign God

Unconditional election really speaks to the sovereignty of God. Our salvation is dependent upon the grace and mercy of the Sovereign Lord. It is not up to us. If it were up to us we would mess it up as much as Adam and Eve. God is sovereign. God reigns. God is the One in charge and it is not our place to question His choosing, His will, His ways, His thoughts. God is on a level we cannot comprehend.

God says in Isaiah 55.8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Doctrines like unconditional election are beyond our complete understanding. But this doctrine, as the others in TULIP, are biblical. And we all know that sometimes the Bible has to be believed even before it is understood. One more text that helps us understand unconditional election is Romans 8:28-33,

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.] 31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. (ESV)

God calls and God justifies and God glorifies. It is God’s doing; it is not our own. We are misguided to think that we can do anything to earn or deserve God’s grace and mercy. God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Unconditional election is our identity as a people. While other denominations may not articulate salvation in this way, it is, in our tradition, and we would say, in the Bible, a mark of the church. Believers are God’s people, chosen, called, sent, and only through faith, service, and witness to Jesus Christ will we affirm the unconditional election of God. Once again, in the reformed understanding of God’s Word, we give all the glory to God and all thanks to Him for His grace to pull us out of our total depravity. We we give all thanks and glory to God for His sovereign election and choosing. He is the potter, we are the clay. So let us present ourselves to God that we may demonstrate God at work in us and through us, because anything less than complete devotion to the One who has chosen us is a witness of ingratitude and unfaithfulness. Let us remember this week Jesus’ words:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide...” (John 15:16). Amen.