Christians and Election
In this episode, I discuss election, or predestination, and free will. Are these two ideas mutually exclusive and how does this affect our evangelism?
What is free will?
Free will is the idea that sinful humans can choose to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. (e.g. Arminius, Erasmus, Pelagius)
Where do theologians get the idea of free will?
Theologians such as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all advocated fiercely for election, or predestination, over the human will. But what does the Bible have to say on the issue? Does the Bible offer us an opinion on the matter of free will over election? Let’s look at a few passages of Scripture.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (key verse: 19)
In Deuteronomy 29 and 30, God, through Moses, is renewing the covenant made at Sinai with the next generation of Israelites, who will be led by Joshua into the Promised Land. One interesting verse, however, highlights the idea of free will. Verse 19 says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…” The key phrase here is, choose life.
So, is this evidence that all people must choose life over death? That it is a choice for them?
Isaiah 55 (key verses: 6-7)
Isaiah 55 is an invitation for the lost and needy to turn to the Lord. It begins with this call, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Furthermore, in verses 6-7, Isaiah says,
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.”
The language here is saturated with the idea of the sinner choosing to return to the LORD.
Romans 10:9 offers us a New Testament example of Free Will. Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Does that mean, however, that every person can make this confession and believe on their own volition?
After looking at all of these texts, we might begin to conclude that everyone has the choice between salvation and damnation. Yet, we come back to the topic of election. In order for us to better understand these previous texts, we must first understand election: what is it and where do we find it in the Bible?
What is election?
John MacArthur defines election as, “the act of God whereby in eternity past He chose those who will be saved.” Theologians in ages past have advocated for the doctrine of election. Among them include Augustine, Luther and Calvin, whom we mentioned before. But, just as we did with free will, we need to ask the question of what the Bible has to say on the issue? Let’s look at a few texts that talk about election.
In John 6:37, Jesus says to the people, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” The “all” in this verse is people. Jesus is explicitly saying, “All of the people that the Father gives me will come to me.” He also says in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” So there is an obvious call that is happening apart from the actions of men. The Father is calling people to Jesus.
In John 15, Jesus is speaking to His disciples on the night before His death. He says to them in verse 19, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” There are many things to be said here, but I am focusing on the language of election, or Jesus choosing the Disciples out of the world. This obviously relates to us, as well.
2 Timothy 1:8-9
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul is writing to Timothy to strengthen him amidst persecution. He says,
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Again, we are struck with the language of being chosen by God. Here, however, Paul includes the fact that we are elected, “not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace.”
From a Transcendent God
Now, we have looked at 3 texts which support the idea of election, or being chosen by God, but it is also important for us to understand how this election came to be. Some people argue that God merely looked into the future to see who would turn towards Him and then “chose” them to be His people. What does the Bible say about this?
We find one of the most important verses on this issue in Romans 8:29-30. Paul writes,
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
The verses which we read before talked about the call from God. What’s important here, however, is the order of events. First, God foreknew the elect. Then, he predestined them to “be conformed to the image of his Son.” Election is not just a product of God’s foreknowledge. He decided it from the very beginning.
1 Peter 1:1-2
Peter writes something similar in his epistle. In 1 Peter 1:1-2 he says, “To God’s elect… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
Ephesians 1 further discusses this. Paul writes,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
When did election take place? Before the foundations of the world.
It is clear in the Scriptures that all those who are saved have come to salvation through the foreknowledge, predestination, and calling of God the Father. Does that discount, then, the verses on free will? How do we understand all of these verses when put together?
A wise and merciful Father
The only way in which we can begin to understand the complexities of free will and election is by falling to our knees before a wise and merciful God. Even then, we most certainly won’t understand it. However, I find it greatly unhelpful when Christians begin to argue on the issue. An issue which we all don’t understand! In my mind, the root of the problem is a simple misunderstanding. Allow me to attempt to bridge the gap.
Yes, the Scriptures are clear that God has elected His people. The Scriptures are clear that this is initiated by God, not by man. Furthermore, the Scriptures are clear that man, apart from God, can’t do anything to please Him. MacArthur notes that in Ephesians 2:1-3, “The Bible says prior to salvation, all people are dead in sin–spiritually dead” In addition, Romans 8:8 says, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”
It is clear, at least to me, that the Bible teaches that God has elected Christians to saving faith and that it is only through His calling of them that they move to Him.
Yes, free will
Even though all of this is true, the Bible also makes it clear that there is a need for us to make a response. Romans 10, which obviously comes after the verses we read in Romans 8, makes this evident! We read before that Paul, the same person who said that those who are in the flesh cannot please God, says that we must repent and believe in order to be saved! Is Paul contradicting himself? Did he forget what he just wrote? Or, is this not a contradiction, but rather another side to the same coin.
Bringing it all together
What I have understood about these two issues boils down to this: Those who are predestined for salvation have been chosen by God before the world was begun, apart from their own works or deeds. However, God still requires a personal response from all of His people. Election is not forced love, it is mercy.
Why am I even talking about this?
Many of you might be wondering why I am even discussing this issue. Besides having a desire for us all to understand the Bible more, I think that this plays an important part in our evangelism. Many people take issue with election because they say it disincentives evangelism. I would agree if you think that election does not require human response.
Another issue that people take is that they believe election stops some people from believing. Jesus responds to this directly in John 6, the very same verse that he explains election! He says in John 6:37, “ All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Anyone who comes to Jesus desiring salvation and forgiveness will not be turned away.
It is important for us, then, to continue to evangelize. Not in spite of the doctrine of election, but because of it. Why? Because without God’s election of the saints, there would be no hope to evangelize! No one would ever turn to the Gospel apart from God calling them to Jesus!
A means of praise
The final thing which I want to point out is that election is not an issue to struggle with as a believer. Some struggle wondering if they are ever saved or elected. What is Paul’s response to this mercy offered by God? He writes in Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
As Christians, this should be on our hearts and minds everyday. We ought to praise God because he chose us!
Check out my episode: Do I have to evangelize?
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