Furthermore, whatever unconditional means (whether or not the word arbitrary is used), it must never be seen as contradicting the explicit words of Jesus: “ ‘Whoever believes in [Christ] should not perish but have everlasting life’ ” (John 3:16) and “ ‘The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out’ ” (John 6:37). If any sinner hears the Gospel and is not saved, it is because he will not come. Sinners perish because of sin. When they sinfully reject the Gospel offer of mercy, God with perfect justice declares, “ ‘He who does not believe is condemned already’ ” (John 3:18).
God will not force a person to believe against his will, though He may, if it pleases Him, graciously, unconditionally give that person a new will with which to believe. But for a sinner to blame God for his damnation is not an excuse; it is an aggravation of his sin. He thereby throws contempt on the precious blood of Christ. That God graciously, unconditionally chooses to save some is only cause to praise His matchless grace. It is no cause to condemn God’s choice as arbitrary in a pejorative sense. To hate God for such love and grace shows the depth of personal sin. Praise God that in His mercy and grace He saves even those who once despised His mercy as “arbitrary.”
There is one more lesson we need to learn in the haste with which we are prone to suggest that God might be unfairly arbitrary in choosing some, but not all, to salvation. Any pastor who has ever rushed to the hospital or a home in response to a sudden and tragic event has heard something like this: “What did he do to deserve this?” or “It’s just not fair; he was such a saint.” And many will think, if not outwardly express, “What did I do to deserve my particular plight?” Surely this is one of the most ungodly responses that can come from the lips of someone who professes to be a Christian. If I have any presence of mind at all, this much I know: I do not want what I deserve! If God gave me what I deserve, I would be without any hope. Wrath, hell, damnation, curse, eternal punishment—those are the words that describe what I deserve. They describe what you deserve as well.
To say, as our critics do, that eternal punishment is not what they deserve, that sovereign grace is an entitlement, is dangerous. But if you think carefully about this blasphemous opinion that God owes you grace, that God in condemning you is not giving you what you deserve, you may have a helpful framework in which to understand the glorious truth of unconditional election as the heart of the Gospel.
Think of it this way: There is salvation for those, and only those, who get what Christ deserves. God did not lower His standards in order to save you; He sent a substitute to meet those standards. If God chose you and gave you a new heart and working faith, Christ is your substitute. If Christ is your substitute, praise God you get what He deserves even as, on the cross, He got what you deserve. And if God lets all or some of the human race get what they deserve, “the wages of sin,” that simply glorifies His perfect justice.
We might have grounds to question God’s justice in unconditionally choosing some to eternal life and not punishing them had Christ not received what they deserved in His substitutionary death. Arbitrary? Jesus put it this way: ‘ “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” ’ Do you want to try to charge God with injustice, or would you not rather rejoice in the infinite mercy of receiving what Christ deserves?