Some who study God’s Word have concluded that because God knows beforehand who will obey Him, He therefore “pre-selects” certain individuals as His followers. According to this theory, these individuals must become Christians. But passages regarding election and predestination are often taken out of context. Strange doctrines have developed as a result. During the Reformation era, men such as John Calvin fiercely contended that God’s personal selection of individuals is absolutely unconditional. Rejecting Calvin’s stand on unconditional predestination, Jacob Arminius laid stress on God’s grace and individual choice. Arminians regard election as dependent upon personal repentance and faith. Thanks largely to the efforts of John and Charles Wesley, Arminian doctrine became the dominate doctrine among evangelicals. In essence, Calvinists say God selects Believers while Arminians say Believers select God.
God knew the human race He created would choose to sin against Him. He therefore predesigned a wonderful plan of redemption. The mind of God is impossible to fathom, yet many attempt to explain His intentions. The opening verses of Ephesians have formed the basis for spurious doctrines known as Predestination or Divine Election. However, these terms are used in the New Testament regarding the salvation of mankind as a whole rather than the fate of particular individuals. To predestine means “to preplan a destiny.” The concept of election refers to God’s sovereign initiative and determinate will concerning the entire human race. He has elected or predetermined to carry out His plans through His Son (Acts 4:28).
God created man with the power of choice. Although He has made known His will through His Word, every human being can either accept or reject His terms of reconciliation. Paul’s remarks regarding divine election inevitably point to the human will as the determining factor.
• God called Abraham and he chose to submit (Gen. 12:1-4). It was up to the patriarch to either obey or forgo the opportunity to serve Him.
• God chose Israel from among all other nations to be a holy people, but the nations privilege cannot be divorced from her obligation to remain faithful (Amos 3:3). Their national election did not ensure individual salvation. The promised blessings of the nation were ultimately forfeited through disobedience (Rom. 11:20-22).
• The Church has been called out by God from among the rest of mankind. The Body of Christ is not “elected” as a group, but is comprised of individuals who have decided to serve Him.
God did not allow a race of imperfect beings to exist without an impartial plan allowing every individual to accept or reject His Son. The Scriptures clearly teach the universality of the Gospel and the responsibility of each person to make the right choice. Whoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will have their sins forgiven (Acts 10:43). The ones who are lost willingly resist the salvation He offers (Acts 7:51).
But according to Calvinists, most people cannot accept Christ because God has not picked them to be saved. This not only pictures God as cruel, it creates a theological enigma. How can God condemn a man to hell for unbelief if He alone is responsible for them believing or failing to believe? Calvinists are at a loss to explain this. They believe because God foreknows everything, therefore everyone who becomes a Christian is irresistibly drawn to Him. God wants all mankind to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). But the call to serve Him is never viewed as a mechanical decision (Jn. 6:45). Jeremiah knew God had personal plans for him before he was born. However, it was up to the prophet to obey and carry out His plans (Jer. 1:4-5). Individual destiny is not established prior to birth. Salvation is never presented in Scripture as being “irresistible.” Believers are God’s “chosen” people only because each one has personally chosen Him (Jn. 15:16). The problem is not God’s willingness to keep us saved, but each person’s willingness to be kept.
It is common for predestinationalists to focus on a person’s initial act of repentance, rather than considering one’s entire spiritual life. If a person rejects Christ after serving Him for decades, they explain this away by assuming the person was never truly elected or saved to begin with. By making such allegations, predestinationalists make themselves judge and jury over the salvation of others.
Paul addresses the concept of divine election when he writes to the Romans (Rom. 8:28-39). In these verses, God’s plan is presented as the foundation of hope. In virtually every passage where the apostle uses the term election or predestination he is referring to the entire community of Believers rather than individuals. Each Christian must ensure he obeys the God’s invitation to be justified in His sight (Rom. 8:30). Predestinationalists herald the fact that “nothing can separate them from the love of Christ” (v. 39) as a text that proves personal divine election. However, Paul never denies a Believer can reject Christ at any point in their walk with God. While it is true no external force can separate a Believer from Christ, every Believer has the power to separate himself from Christ at any time (Heb. 6:4-6). Peter reminds us to “make our calling and election sure” (II Pet. 1:10). This suggests every Believer must endeavor to persevere spiritually.
To believe that God has pre-selected some to be saved is a two-sided coin. The flipside of this theological error infers God has subsequently condemned everyone else. According to this reasoning, God deliberately withholds His grace from 90% of the people on earth. Predestinationalists believe God in His foreknowledge looked into the future, saw who would accept Christ, and then “elected” them for salvation. This thinking is potentially dangerous. Non-Christians who hear of this doctrine might assume they are not among those especially pre-selected and use this as an excuse for not accepting Christ. Bad doctrine always results in bad actions. God’s plan of salvation is not fatalistic, for He is unwilling that any perish (II Pet. 3:9). Paul stands in the shoes of a sinner and hypothetically asks, “Can God really fault me for sinning if He has already determined my fate” (Rom. 9:19)? He answers his own question by stressing God’s patience and grace regarding sinners (vv. 22-24). It is not individuals that are selected, but the Church is “chosen” out of the world (Jn. 15:19). Through the cross of Christ, He has made provision for everyone to repent and serve Him.
Every person who repents must do so of their own free will. God has chosen preaching and teaching as the means to bring people into a personal relationship with Christ. But belief in extreme predestinationalism disregards the need for evangelism. There would be no mandate to preach to the “elect” if such privileged persons are destined to be saved anyway. Paul feels impelled to carry the Gospel message to other nations that they might hear and obey (Rom. 1:14-15).
Those who feel they are especially marked for salvation traditionally make an additional reckless theological leap. Most denominations that adhere to this doctrine have also fallen into the trap of “eternal security.” They allege that because they are God’s favorites, they can never be lost. According to this reasoning, any sin a predestined Believer commits is somehow automatically forgiven. No matter what sins they may commit, they will somehow find themselves in heaven one day. This notion naturally leads to pride and complacency. Although predestinationalists say their divine selection is an incentive to be joyful and thankful, it most often leads to license and disobedience. The idea of being a part of a specially favored group God has foreordained for salvation breeds vanity and spiritual slothfulness. Just as water always seeks its lowest level, so human nature gravitates and presumes upon God’s mercy and grace. This false doctrine has lulled millions into the trap of moral and spiritual laxity.
The Bible inevitably links the concept of election with warnings concerning the need for perseverance and steadfastness (Mk. 13:13-33). The New Testament writers are united in stressing that a Christian is only eternally secure as long as he stays firmly committed to Christ (Jn. 15:7). The same freedom that allows one to accept Christ can also be employed to reject Him. Every individual is saved by personal choice and remains in that state by staying true to God. Adamant, concentrated perseverance is the narrow path Jesus encourages every disciple to walk (Mt. 7:14). Jesus informs us we are His disciples as long as we continue to obey His commands (Jn. 15:4). It is by continuance in His Word we are His disciples, for His truth sets us free from false doctrines (Jn. 8:31-32).
How God maintains His sovereignty and at the same time allows human freedom of choice is a mystery He has reserved for Himself. Although the human mind will never harmonize God’s omniscience and man’s free will, no one should downplay one concept and overemphasize the other. God’s wondrous plan is perfectly designed but the responsibility for salvation is always placed in the hands of the individual. Although God’s foreknowledge is unfathomable, perpetual perseverance is still the fundamental rule for optimism and true happiness. We can rest assured that because His plan of salvation is predestined to succeed, all those who follow His plan are predestined to succeed.
Points to Ponder
1. What key word is common in the following verses? What does this suggest?
2. What key word is common in the following verses? What does this teach us?