The Glory of God – the Cross or Election?

Hello Reggie,

I have a question for you that was asked to me by a friend of mine. The question was:

“It seems to me that Calvinists seem to make more of big deal about election than they do about the cross – the glory of God in His sovereignty is even above the cross. Isn’t the glory of God all about the cross, and Christ crucified, and everything else is a lesser glory?”

I thought it was a good question, and I think I know how I would answer it. Of course, the explanation for this is in part because: even though Christ has died for our sins, a person is not saved unless God elects them to see and believe the good news, which in a real sense makes the sovereignty of God the catalyst for salvation, and the emphasis of our praise can shift. What are your thoughts, brother? What is the relationship between the two, and to what belongs the ultimate glory of God?

Your fellow-laborer,

There is always excess and extremes with any doctrine, particularly with one that is notoriously difficult and controversial. In this case, it is not either / or, but “what God has joined.”

It all depends on how we understand the cross, since its true nature is defined by its context. The cross is certainly centermost, but it is strategically placed in a very select and predestined context. In order for the cross to make the full statement and to have the full impact that God intends, it must be interpreted within its divinely chosen context; else it is hardly the same cross.

So what does the cross say? Certainly it declares the unfathomable extent of God’s incomprehensible love for sinners, but let’s consider what is less considered. The cross also says that anything and everything of man is insufficient, yea, utterly rejected. It removes all hope of human righteousness and guards paradise by a drawn sword. It is the ultimate renouncement of all that is ‘in’ man or ‘of’ man. The cross is not only the statement of who God is, but of what man is. This is particularly shown in Paul, since Jesus was not crucified by scoundrels, but by the most earnest and devout in Israel, who performed history’s greatest evil in total, albeit zealous and well meaning, ignorance (compare Lk 23:34; Acts 3:17; 26:9; Ro 10:2; 1Cor 2:8; 1Tim 1:13).

Election says much of the same thing. It too denies all natural claim on divine justice through works, to the end that no flesh might glory. It too puts to death any presumption of divine obligation. It too removes the ground of carnal confidence and shuts all persons up to he necessity of undeserved mercy through a faith that is itself a divine gift (Jn 6:29; Eph 2:8; Phil 1:29). This is not mere belief, since the devils believe and tremble. The “faith of God’s elect” is not something that is self generated. It is quickened from above; it is a sign of spiritual resurrection in one that was dead. It comes to those who have despaired of their own ability. The truth of divine election (i.e., the right of God to choose as He will choose without respect of persons) weakens the flesh of its deep presumption of any natural claim on God and this prepares the way for mercy.

Finally, consider where it is that we find one of the most exalted hymns of praise and exalted worship in all of scripture. It is at the end of Ro 11 (vss. 33-36). But notice what precedes. It is a highly predestinarian overview of salvation history that begins in Ro 9, actually even earlier at the end of Ro 8. Here as elsewhere, the cross is the underlying presupposition and center of all. But behold the setting! It is bounded by the election of Israel at one end (Ro 9) and the re-election of Israel at the other (Ro 11:25-29), with a called out number from all nations in between. It is only through this particular predestined plan that the cross shines brightest. Even a beautiful diamond shines by itself, but never so brightly as when it is placed in the particular setting that was specially created for its greatest adornment. Thus, the cross is best seen and admired in the context of the sovereignty of God’s eternal purpose.

Your friend might consider that many times what seems an exaggerated over emphasis of one thing to the seeming neglect of another might have something to do with a sense of need to shore up a deficit where some point of divine revelation has been especially neglected, undervalued, or opposed, as compared to something that is more generally agreed and acknowledged. Still, there is the ever present danger to become so caught up in the heat of controversy, so that zeal for some particular point of truth becomes disproportionate to the Lord’s purpose. To be moved ‘off center’ is to become eccentric and this tendency is a great loss to the cause of Christ. That’s when they say someone has “gone to seed” over some particular doctrine or burden. It’s a difficult tendency to avoid, particularly when God has revealed something that is tremendously important but equally unpopular.

Anyhow, that’s just what comes to mind. Hope this adds something useful to your own thought. By the way, what was your thought on the question?

In the Beloved, Reggie

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