Christmas Presents and TULIP

The Adoration of the Magi by Charles André van Loo (1760)

The Adoration of the Magi by Charles André van Loo (1760)

Looking for a real-life illustration of unconditional election and total depravity this Christmas? Here’s what I just learned this last couple of days.

The subdivision in which we live is ringed on all sides by squatter communities. Every year, one of the residents invites some of these squatter communities to his home to give them Christmas goodies and toys for their children, presents he has gathered from other caring friends. But some of his neighbors complained, presumably from the clamor of so many people who came. So this year, the homeowners’ association forbade this benevolent resident from holding such a Christmas handout.

“Okay, fine, if we can’t hold the party inside the subdivision,” thought some of the other benevolent residents, “we’ll go to them.” So they devised a plan to go to two of the squatter communities and distribute the Christmas gifts there. They met with the two communities and hashed out the details of an orderly distribution.

But there was a hitch. The other communities which were not targeted—because the group of residents didn’t have unlimited resources—became angry and made threats against the benevolent group. Since they didn’t want to put themselves in unnecessary danger and to avoid any trouble with the squatter communities, the resident group cancelled their gift-giving plan.

I’ve heard about these kinds of experiences from a few other people, so in relation to our Biblical view of God and man, there are a couple of lessons to be learned here.

First, many will be thinking, what right did the non-targeted communities have to be angry? Do they have the right to demand that they be given gifts? Are gifts obligatory? And doesn’t the gift-giver have the sole prerogative to choose to whom he wants to give gifts? These are all lawful questions. Do I see nodding heads? Do I hear, “Amens” and “Absolutely”? But here’s the catchy Biblical implication: “Then the sovereign God has the sole right to choose whom he will give mercy and compassion to according to his gracious will and purpose, or else he ceases to be God” (Eph 1:5,7,9,11; cf Rom 9:15,18,21). Do I hear moaning, groaning, and a big uproar? Do I hear lots of protests, “No way!”?

Then, you’re one with the squatter communities who made threats because it’s unfair that the gift-givers didn’t choose their communities. When a presidential pardon is given to a prisoner, would the rest of the prisoners cry, “Unfair!”? For the non-Tuliper, that’s what the “U” stands for, not “Unconditional Election.”

Second, as Reformed believers, our thoughts would of course take us to our famous “T”—that is, total depravity. These squatter communities are totally depraved sinners. No concept of what is ethical, shameful, lawful, proper and fair. But remember that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Together with all these unruly squatters, and with all humanity, we are all wretched sinners who deserve God’s wholly just and righteous wrath. Only by God ‘s grace and mercy do we become believers.

And what if, like those squatter communities, some people wanted to be given the gift of salvation, and God didn’t want to give them the gift? This is a most preposterous accusation against God, bordering on blasphemy. Paul says there’s no chance—nil, zero, none, nada, zip, zilch—that an unregenerated believer will be interested in God or salvation:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).


For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot (Rom 8:7). (all emphases mine).

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