What Does It Take to Become One of God’s “Elect”?

“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.

This entry was posted in Belief, Calvinism, Election, Faith, God's Love, Salvation, Scripture, Series: "Calvinism", The Bible, The Gospel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What Does It Take to Become One of God’s “Elect”?

  1. Bryan says:

    I am a pastor. This is great stuff. I have a small Bible study on Wednesday nights. I would like to use some of your info. Is that okay? It really clarifies some things for me.
    Bryan Eason
    IGNITE – First Baptist Church of Kennedale.

  2. Sophia says:

    Hello, I came across this post trying to understand my bible reading. After reading all your points and the counterpoints, it still has left out the very passage I was hoping to get addressed. And if anything, my initial questions that began to align with you as I read your post and its logical observances, but as I returned to the very direct words of the Bible, the passage I tried to understand, your argument seems moot so far.
    How would you address (or really, make sense of) Romans 9 on God’s sovereign choice, in light of your theology? Especially verses 11 ” though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—,” 14 “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”, 15- 26 “15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
    19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,
    “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
    26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

    I ask this question respectfully and with sincerity, and because you seem sincerely concerned with this topic as well to have respectfully discussed the Calvinistic view: who is the God of the Bible, as you say the Calvinists have gotten wrong? So in light of your thought processes, how would you make sense of this?

    • russellmckinney says:

      Thanks for your question, Sophia. As I read your comment, I didn’t doubt that it was asked in respect and sincerity. So, here is my answer given in that same respect and sincerity.

      In the first part of my post, I noted that biblically speaking the word “elect” simply means “chosen.” Israel, for example, was God’s elected (chosen) nation With this in mind, let me explain why Romans chapter 9 is all about the nation of Israel’s standing with God on a worldly, nationalistic scale rather than a spiritual, individualistic one.

      Abraham’s son Isaac fathered twin sons (Jacob and Esau) through Rebekah, but in God’s sovereign plan only one’s ancestral line (Jacob’s) would continue the unique nation (Israel) that God had begun with Abraham. Furthermore, God made the decision to continue the nation of Israel through Jacob’s descendants rather than Esau’s even before those boys were born or had done anything good or bad (Romans 9:11-12). Again, though, all this has absolutely nothing to do with either Jacob’s or Esau’s personal salvation. Notice in verse 12 that God doesn’t say to Rebekah, “The older (Esau) will be spiritually damned and the younger (Jacob) will be spiritually saved.” No, what He says is, “The older shall SERVE the younger.” You see, that is talking about worldly position, not eternal salvation or damnation.

      While Paul quotes only a selected portion of God’s words from the Genesis 25:21-23 story, we can read the entirety of the passage and see that God is speaking of Jacob and Esau as being two NATIONS rather than two INDIVIDUALS. Here’s the whole Genesis 25:23 verse: “And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger'” (N.K.J.V.). Do you see how God is speaking of each of Isaac’s sons as being a nation? This makes the prophecy mean that Esau’s descendants — they would ultimately be known as the Edomites — would always be lesser than (subservient to) Jacob’s descendants — the Israelites/Jews — in terms of how God would use them in His service on the world stage.

      As for God saying, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated,” that’s a quote from another passage altogether: Malachi 1:2-3. Here again it helps up to consult God’s actual quote there. Malachi 1:1-4 reads as follows: The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Says the Lord. “Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated. And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness. Even though Edom has said, ‘We have been impoverished, But we will return and build the desolate places” (N.K.J.V.). Notice how God interchangeably uses the names Israel/Jacob and Esau/Edom in this passage. The point is that each son represented the nation that flowed from his loins. Also notice that God doesn’t say anything about damning Esau’s eternal soul to hell. To the contrary, He talks about laying waste to his mountains and his heritage. That’s a reference to earthly matters, not eternal ones.

      On this same subject of God “hating” Esau, Jesus used the word “hate” in a way similar to this one. In Matthew 6:24, He says, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other.” Surely it isn’t a coincidence that here again we find the word “serve” in the context of how this word “hate” is used. Again, the topic is earthly service, not eternal salvation. As for Jesus using the word “hate” in a way other than we typically use it, there is also Luke 14:26. There He says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (N.K.J.V.). Jesus obviously doesn’t want us to literally hate our family members does He? Of course not. Well, along the same lines, God didn’t literally hate Esau in the way we use the word.

      I could go on with my explanation of the entirety of Romans chapter 9, but hopefully I’ve given you enough here to adequately answer your question. The plain truth is that Calvinism simply doesn’t offer a correct understanding of God’s plan of salvation. As someone has described the situation, “According to Calvinism, God makes an offer of salvation to some that they cannot refuse; then He makes an offer of salvation to others that they cannot accept.” That really does sum it up quite well. Thanks again for your comment and question and thanks for reading the blog.

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