- Love and Liberty
What is election in the Bible? Some tell us that before God created the world, he determined the circumstances of the birth, life, death, and eternal destiny of every individual on earth. Election has to do with the eternal destiny of people like you and me. This election of God, in this view, had nothing to do with anything foreseen about the character of the individual, nor based on anything the individual would do or not do. In short, God elected who would be saved, and those he did not choose to save are damned.
Others tell us that before creation God looked through the corridor of time and saw who would believe and who would not, and those who would believe were deemed his elect. In this view, any talk of predestination has to do with God’s plans for these believers, rather than a choice concerning who would or who would not be saved.
The first scenario has been repudiated by Christians repeatedly, and in fact, led John Wesley to make the following statement in his sermon entitled “Free Grace” in the year 1740:
In response to those who would deny Wesley’s proclamation that God’s salvation is free and available to all, he stated: “To this some have answered, “No: It is free only for those whom God hath ordained to life; and they are but a little flock. The greater part of God hath ordained to death; and it is not free for them. Them God hateth; and, therefore, before they were born, decreed they should die eternally. And this he absolutely decreed; because so was his good pleasure; because it was his sovereign will. Accordingly, they are born for this, — to be destroyed body and soul in hell. And they grow up under the irrevocable curse of God, without any possibility of redemption; for what grace God gives, he gives only for this, to increase, not prevent, their damnation.”
Wesley proclaimed later in the same message: “It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust. More false; because the devil, liar as he is, hath never said, “He willeth all men to be saved:” More unjust; because the devil cannot, if he would, be guilty of such injustice as you ascribe to God, when you say that God condemned millions of souls to everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, for continuing in sin, which, for want of that grace he will not give them, they cannot avoid. And more cruel; because that unhappy spirit “seeketh rest and findeth none;” so that his own restless misery is a kind of temptation to him to tempt others. But God resteth in his high and holy place; so that to suppose him, of his own mere motion, of his pure will and pleasure, happy as he is, to doom his creatures, whether they will or no, to endless misery, is to impute such cruelty to him as we cannot impute even to the great enemy of God and man."
Though the doctrines of Calvinism are consistent within themselves (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints), their contradiction of the scriptures is clear to many. But this post is not meant to get into the details of refuting Calvinism wholesale, but to provide a biblical understanding of the doctrine of election.
Viewpoint number two above is a marked improvement over the arbitrariness and unfairness of the Calvinistic system. In the second view, at least election is rightly based on the freewill choices of individuals, and not an eternal decree that saves some yet condemns most before they were ever born. But even this second view brings up questions that Bible students have grappled with. Can a person become a part of God’s elect group before he is born and exercises faith? If so, faith is not the condition for salvation as the Bible teaches us – something other than faith is the condition. If God already knows who will be a part of the elect, why does he call all people to repentance? Someone will inevitably say that just as God ordains the ends, he ordains the means to the ends, but this does not deal with the issue at hand. Why does God call upon people to repent, acting as if they can, if he already knows they will not do so? Why does he grieve over those who have not yet repented, but do eventually repent, if he knew all along they would indeed repent? Why does God use the word “may” and “if” repeatedly in scripture, if the conclusion of the issue he is referring to is already certain in his mind?
It appears that those who hold to view number one are willing for God to be described as cruel and arbitrary, while those who hold to the second view are willing for God to be portrayed as disingenuous and misleading.
Is there another interpretation of what it means to be a part of God’s elect that avoids these unfortunate portrayals of God? Yes, and it is a simple biblical concept.
God’s election of Israel is instructive. God chose Israel to be his elect nation, a body of people that he would work in and through, for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of the whole world. Though God decided that this body would exist, and he decided that certain things would be true of the people in this body, he did not decide beforehand who would belong to this body through faith. Though it is true that in a natural sense, people were born into the nation of Israel, it is also true that it was their decision whether or not to adhere to the faith of God’s people. In other words, they could be cut off because of unbelief, as we see in Romans 11:
“And if some of the branches (Israelites - GC) be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree (Gentiles – GC), wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural [branches,] be graffed into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this [is] my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, [they are] enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, [they are] beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God [are] without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.”
Israel was the elect body of God, entered into and continued in by faith, and it was up to the individual to choose if he would meet the conditions of belonging to the body of faith. It was not the circumcision of the flesh, but circumcision of the heart that joined one to the faith of Israel. As Paul stated in Romans 9:6 – “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel…”
God set aside his purposes through Israel and decided to form a new body, the Body of Christ, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles that follow Jesus as Lord. God decided there would be a body, he chose the conditions of entering into and continuing in this body, and he chose what the destiny of this body would be – a resurrection unto immortality (eternal life).
This is why I and others believe that God’s election is corporate, and that it is not about individuals at all. The notion that election is based on an arbitrary decision of God, or that it is based on the foreknowledge of future “facts” that do not even exist, are seen as unnecessary and harmful to the biblical message. When a person yields to the Lordship of Christ, he is joined to the elect Body of Christ – he becomes one of the elect. He is secure in the Body of Christ as long as he continues by faith, though he can remove himself from the elect body through unbelief.
This removes the unbiblical descriptions of God as cruel and insincere. God is holy, good, loving and kind. Any doctrines that teach otherwise are false.