Elect of God
Vol: 27 Issue: 2 Thursday, August 2, 2018
Sovereign election is one of those doctrines, like eternal security or dispensationalism, upon which everybody has an opinion, but few seem to fully understand.
Election seems obviously true when viewed from the macro-level. But it seems so unfair at the individual level that many simply choose to deliberately misunderstand it rather than deal with it head on.
First let’s define what we’re talking about when we say “sovereign election”. It describes a Divine decree in which a definite number of individuals were chosen by God before the foundation of the world for salvation.
It means that God chose me before I chose Him.
When taken to its extreme interpretation, it means that an elect person will be saved no matter what that person does. There is no need to spread the Gospel. No need to lead someone to Christ. God has already ordained that person’s salvation — you needn’t bother.
Of course, that is the extreme view, as expressed by its opponents, hoping to make it sound silly.
Preaching or teaching sovereign election invariably leads to a challenge to defend Calvinism, a five-point system of theological thought developed in the sixteenth century that eventually gave rise to Presbyterian and Reformed theology.
Calvinism’s opponents are generally followers of John Calvin’s debate nemesis, Jacobus Arminius, whose teachings came to be known as Arminianism.
Broken down to the lowest common denominator, those churches steeped in the Arminian tradition believe that you can lose your salvation, whereas those emerging from Calvinist tradition subscribe to the doctrine of eternal security.
I believe the Bible teaches eternal security. I also believe that the Bible teaches sovereign election. But I don’t accept challenges to defend Calvinism, since I am not a Calvinist. Which really, really really upsets those who insist that I am so.
While I am familiar with the five points of Calvinism, I wouldn’t attempt to defend any of them as written. They are some guy’s opinion of what the Bible teaches. I have an actual Bible.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)
That seems to me to be clear and unambiguous. The good work of salvation was begun by Jesus, Who promises He will perform it until His return. And if THAT isn’t clear enough, is there another way to interpret what this next verse says?
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)
If righteousness is a consequence of one’s conduct, then His death changed nothing from the system — it only modified a few laws.
If eternal security is a Calvinist tradition, that’s nice. But the Bible said it first, and in any case, it doesn’t follow that it automatically makes one a Calvinist.
(A Christmas tree is a German tradition. But it doesn’t make one a German. Mistletoe is a pagan tradition. It doesn’t make one a pagan, either.)
Arminianism denies the doctrine of eternal security in favor of limited atonement. Limited atonement requires the believer to maintain their salvation by their conduct. Traditional Arminianism teaches that a person can sin themselves out of salvation.
Once this is done, one cannot jump in and out of salvation. Once one loses one’s salvation, it is impossible for that person to return to saving faith and so that person is forever lost, based on Arminianism’s interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
This also seems clear enough, except for one thing – the reason that it is impossible to renew them to repentance. It is because IF they could be lost, then Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough. THAT is why the writer of Hebrews said it would put the Son of God (and not the newly lost sinner) to an open shame.
Jesus said during the Agony in the Garden that He would keep all those given Him by the Father, including those believers that would come later.
“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given Me; for they are thine. . . While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name: those that thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. . . Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.” (John 17:10,12,20)
“But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. . .”
(Don’t miss the key sentence in this next verse — I’ll set off the key words in italics)
“For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)
Ok. One offering (prosphora: – to offer up) He perfected (telioo: – consecrate, complete) FOREVER them that are sanctified (hagiazo: – made holy, or set apart).
If having set me apart forever as made perfect by His sacrifice, of course it would be impossible for me to be renewed unto repentance.
Any other understanding would mean that His sacrifice was insufficient and that my sin is more powerful than His grace.
We return now to where we began our discussion about that other doctrine of division, sovereign election. Those who decry it as “Calvinism” essentially argue against it on the same grounds they use to object to eternal security, which is that it isn’t fair.
The Apostle Paul (not Calvin) took on this argument head-on. Paul was not concerned with our opinion of what seems fair. Evidently, Paul took the whole, “I am God and therefore you aren’t” thing to heart.
“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Romans 9:13-15)
I noted at the outset that most Christians embrace the doctrine of sovereign election at the macro level, but reject it on an individual level as unfair. The Bible makes it clear that God chose the Jews as His People.
“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the Father’s sakes.” (Romans 11:28)
Insofar as the Church is concerned, the Bible is equally clear on the subject of the predestination of the elect.
“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
Yet there are those who run from the room screaming “Calvinist” the moment someone brings up the doctrine of predestination or sovereign election.
Predestination, when viewed from the macro level (from the perspective of nations) is called “Bible prophecy.”
Predestination, when viewed from the micro level, (the perspective of individuals) is immediately rejected on the grounds it is an unacceptable Divine interference with an individual’s free will choices.
When we read Bible prophecy about the burden of Damascus, or the Gog-Magog War, on what grounds do we accept it as Bible prophecy?
Do we accept it on the grounds that God has perfect Divine foreknowledge that Gog will lead a confederation of nations against Israel in the last days?
Or do we view it as an unacceptable Divine interference in the free will decisions of the national leaders of that time?
What is the difference? If one is approaching that question as an Arminian or a Calvinist, it makes a BIG difference. If one is approaching it from the perspective of the Bible, it makes absolutely no difference whatever.
The Biblical truth of predestination raises difficult intellectual problems, but you can’t escape from them by rejecting the concept of predestination while preserving faith in God’s Divine foreknowledge.
God foreknew you before the world began. Yes? No? Are you saved? Yes? No? Do you think God already knew that before you did? Yes? No?
If God foreknows all things, then they are just as certain as if they were predestined. Yes? No?
Let’s bring it all together here. Bible doctrine is Bible doctrine. The fact that John Calvin stumbled upon the same doctrine before I did doesn’t make me a Calvinist.
It is the Bible that teaches sovereign election and predestination. Indeed, if God is omniscient, it cannot be any other way. You think God doesn’t KNOW who won’t get saved? Or who will? Can you surprise God by your choices?
It is the Bible that teaches eternal security. If salvation is maintained by good works, then righteousness comes by the Law and Christ is dead in vain.
The difficulty that church systems have with these doctrines is that they impart no power to the church hierarchy. The Vatican claims the power to forgive sins. Arminian church systems claim the power to undo the efficacy of the Cross. Evangelical church systems claim the power to spread the Gospel and change lives.
The Bible gives all that power to the Holy Spirit of God.