The Doctrine of Reprobation

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (v. 21).

- Romans 9:14-24

If only some people are predestined to be saved, then it logically must follow that other people are not. The doctrine of predestination to salvation is called the doctrine of election, and the doctrine of predestination to damnation is called the doctrine of reprobation.

There is some mystery in these doctrines of predestination, but as we have said before, if we don’t say that God predestines all things, we don’t have a God at all. If He is not totally sovereign, He is only a “big man” like Zeus or Baal. At the same time, there are some things we can say about the doctrines of election and reprobation, and we need to say them.

First, the fact is that all mankind is in sin and rebellion against God. God does not have to elect anybody. When God chooses to save a sinner, He puts forth an action to save that person. God works to create belief in us. This contrasts with the doctrine of reprobation. God does not put forth an effort to cause people to sin. When God chooses to bypass a sinner, He does not work to create unbelief in that person’s heart. Rather, God simply lets him go his own way.

Thus, second, we say that election and reprobation are not “equally ultimate.” In election, God powerfully acts to change a person from a sinner to a saint. God does not act to change a saint into a sinner. Election is an act of God; reprobation is simply the reflex of that action, the fact that God has not elected everybody.

Third, we have to say that God’s action of deciding to save some is simultaneously a decision not to save others. The decision to save is called election, and the decision not to save is called preterition. Since this is one action, it can be seen as two sides of one coin, and “equally ultimate” in that sense.

But, and this is most important, when God implements election by calling the saints, He saves us apart from anything we have done. When God implements preterition by reprobating the wicked, He does not do anything to them; He simply leaves them alone. In this important sense, the work of God in condemning the wicked is not the reverse side of His work in saving sinners.

Coram Deo

Many people are put off by the things we have discussed today. Read Romans 9:19–21. Notice how Paul deals with those who objected. The bottom line of Paul’s reply is this: We must bow the knee to God. He has decided not to save everybody, and we have no right to criticize Him. Can you agree?

Passages for Further Study

Job 22:5
Romans 2:1–27; 3:1–26
2 Timothy 3:13

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343