“Calvinism” series: (post #3)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father… (1 Peter 1:1-2, N.K.J.V.)
Make no mistake, it’s a good thing to be one of God’s “elect.” The way the Bible uses the word, to be “elect” is to be “chosen” by God (1 Peter 2:9). Consider the following examples from scripture:
- Israel is God’s elect/chosen nation. (Isaiah 45:4)
- Jesus is God’s elect/chosen Messiah. (Isaiah 42:1; Luke 23:35; 1 Peter 2:6)
- The unfallen angels are God’s elect/chosen angels. (1 Timothy 5:21)
- Christians are God’s elect/chosen people. (Matthew 24:22,24,31; Mark 13:20,22,27; Luke 18:7; Romans 8:33; Romans 11:7; Colosians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 Peter 5:13; 2 John v.1,13)
Actually, the fact that Christians are elect/chosen by God gets even better. Try to wrap your mind around the list of blessings that Christians enjoy. Ancient doesn’t even begin to do justice to how far back these blessings go:
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were chosen for salvation. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were chosen in Jesus. (Ephesians 1:4)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were “given” to Jesus. (John 6:37,39; John 17:2,6, 9-12).
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were given grace by God. (2 Timothy 1:9)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were promised eternal life. (Titus 1:1-2)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were appointed (ordained) to eternal life. (Acts 13:48)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were saved and called according to God’s own purpose and grace. (2 Timothy 1:9).
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were predestined for adoption into God’s family. (Ephesians 1:5)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were predestined to obtain a heavenly inheritance from God. (Ephesians 1:11; 1 Peter 1:3-5)
- In eternity past, the elect/chosen were predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. (Romans 8:29)
- In eternity past, a kingdom was prepared for the elect/chosen. (Matthew 25:34)
Okay, so God has an elect, Christians are that elect, and it’s awesome to be a part of that elect. Still, the theological question that must be asked is: “Way back there in eternity past, what was the basis upon which the elect got elected?” Well, two possible answers have been proposed.
Answer # 1 goes like this: God chose the elect in eternity past based upon the fact that He looked down through history and in His foreknowledge saw each one of them making the unaided, completely voluntary decision to place saving belief (faith) in Jesus. In other words, God chose the elect only after He foresaw them choosing Jesus. This is the answer non-Calvinists give.
Answer #2 goes like this: God unconditionally chose the elect based upon His sovereignty, and His choosing had absolutely nothing to do with any foreseen belief (faith) on their part. Much to the contrary, their belief (faith) is the result of their election rather than the cause of it. This is the answer Calvinists give. Hence, the “U” in Calvinism’s T-U-L-I-P acrostic refers to “Unconditional Election. (By the way, this Calvinist definition of Unconditional Election makes perfect sense in view of what we learned in the previous post about the definition Calvinists give for total depravity: “A dead person can’t make a decision.”)
Based upon Calvinism’s answer to the question of how the elect became the elect, non-Calvinists assert that Calvinism makes God out to be a biased, prejudiced God who was playing favorites even before He created the heavens, the earth, and the human race. They say that the inescapable result of God arbitrarily picking an elect for salvation is that anyone who didn’t get picked is therefore doomed to be born, live, die, and spend eternity separated from God in a fiery torment. After all, if an individual who is “dead in trespasses and sins” has no ability of his own to place saving belief (faith) in Jesus, and if God decided in eternity past that the individual wasn’t one of the elect, that really doesn’t leave much hope, does it?
Calvinists, for their part, are loathe to admit that the flip side of God choosing some for salvation is that everybody else fell into the damnation category by default. They know that God showing such partiality contradicts multiple passages of scripture (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9, etc.). Despite their attempts to downplay the issue, though, the conclusion remains self evident as surely as one fact follows the other. Even John Calvin wrote in Book III, chapter 23, of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
…Not all men are created with similar destiny but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, is predestined either to life or to death.
Of course, the problem with the whole notion that God, by His own choice, foreordained eternal damnation for the majority of the human race is that it cuts directly against all the Bible passages that plainly teach that He desires everyone to get saved. Here are those passages (all from the N.K.J.V.). Pay careful attention to the section that I’ve highlighted from each verse:
- Ezekiel 18:23: “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?”
- Ezekiel 18:32: “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”
- Ezekiel 33:11: “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'”
- Matthew 18:11-14: “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.“
- John 3:17: For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
- 1 Timothy 2:3-4: For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- 2nd Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Strangely, Calvinism is forced to interpret these passages to mean that even though the vast majority of Adam’s race are going to spend eternity suffering in flame and torment, God sure does hate it, takes no pleasure in it, and wishes He could do something about it. Unfortunately for Him, however, He can’t offer these people a legitimate chance to get saved because He only affords that luxury to His chosen ones. Therefore, His hands are tied. Does this interpretation sound absurd to you? It should, because it is.
And so how do Calvinists explain this colossal problem with their theological system? They say that God choosing to save anyone (even a low-percentage remnant) from Adam’s sin-ruined race shows His great love, mercy, and grace because by rights He could have let the entire race remain eternally dead in trespasses and sins and separated from Him. In this way, Calvinists focus upon the good news concerning the elect rather than the bad news concerning everybody else. To them, God doesn’t come off looking like an unjust God who refuses to flip the “on” switch inside billions of people so they can at least have the chance to get saved. Instead, He comes off looking like a merciful, loving God who got left with the biggest mess of all time through no fault of His own and was kind enough to pull millions out of it.
This circles us back around, again, to the fundamental question: “Way back there in eternity past, what was the basis upon which the elect got elected?” The Bible answers this question by giving us 1 Peter 1:2. There we’re told that the elect are elect “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This means that everything — and I do mean everything — rides upon the issue of just how much is involved with God’s foreknowledge.
Clearly, God is omniscient. He has all knowledge, and this knowledge includes all knowledge concerning future events. The proof texts for this are numerous (Isaiah 42:8-9; Isaiah 46:9-10; Psalm 139:16; 1 Samuel 23:10-12; Luke 22:31-34; Acts 15:18, etc.). Furthermore, Acts 17:26 says that He has determined the preappointed times and boundaries of every nation upon the earth, and Acts 11:13-14 even proves that He has a foreknowledge of who will be saved. But should God’s foreknowledge be defined simply as Him having knowledge beforehand? Or, is there more to it than that? Calvinists say there is more to it, a lot more.
Calvinists point out that the word “know” is at the heart of the word “foreknowledge,” and they define God’s foreknowledge as Him making the deliberate choice to “know” certain individuals eternally. From that starting point, they cite the Bible’s many passages where “know” is used to describe an intimate, deeply personal relationship. For example, in Jeremiah 1:5 God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (N.K.J.V.). Admittedly, God seems to be describing much more there than Him merely having a beforehand knowledge of the decisions, deeds, and details of Jeremiah’s life.
God speaks of having this same kind of relationship with Abraham when He says of Abraham, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him” (Genesis 18:19, N.K.J.V.). In the New Testament, Jesus uses “know” in this same way in John 10:27, where He says of His followers, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (N.K.J.V.). Paul does the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:19 when he says, “The Lord knows those who are His” (N.K.J.V.). He also does it in Romans 11:2, where he describes the Jews as the people whom God foreknew.
But then, in the other corner, we have Acts 2:23, which says of Jesus:
Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; (N.K.J.V.)
The simple meaning of this verse is that God knew ahead of time that Jesus would be delivered to death on a cross. There is no indication that God the Father made the crucifixion happen. He certainly didn’t betray Jesus. He didn’t arrest Him. He didn’t nail Him to the cross. He didn’t manipulate the actions of men or cause anyone to make a choice they otherwise wouldn’t have made. He merely knew beforehand what choices and actions people were going to display, and in His sovereignty He used it all in His plan to have Jesus die as a substitutionary sacrifice. Being able to use the freewill choices and actions of others is not the same thing as causing those choices and actions.
In the end, I’m willing to concede that God “knowing” individuals from eternity past probably does involve more than Him just having an exhaustive file on their lives ahead of time. Certainly He has those files, but some type of intimate, personal relationship does seem to be included in the files of the elect. However, in no way, shape, or form does this mean, as John Calvin contended, that God has foreordained eternal life for some and damnation for everybody else. To the contrary, not only does God want everyone to get saved, He provides them with all they need to have legitimate chance to do so. Those verses I listed earlier are irrefutable.
So, based upon those verses, we’re left with the logical conclusion that the individual’s foreseen belief (faith) in Jesus must have been the deciding factor in God choosing the individual to be one of the elect. And, no, this does not mean (as Calvinists claim) that the individual, rather than the Lord, is responsible for salvation. Remember that the Bible describes salvation as a gift (Ephesians 2:8), and when a person accepts a gift the person doesn’t get the credit for the gift. It is God who must always be given credit for an individual’s salvation because, let’s face it, He invented salvation. But let’s not depict Him as the type of God who only offers the gift to certain people — people whom He favors for reasons unbeknownst even to them. That’s the God that Calvinism presents, but it’s not the God of the Bible.