This is from my Theology class. Let me tell you, few things are more … interesting … than teaching election to folks who don’t believe it. It is not conducive to getting out of class on time. :-) We’ve been going on election for 3 or 4 weeks now, and still have at least one week to go. I had been just posting my teaching notes on my Theology 101 site, but I decided to kill two birds with one stone and post an expanded version here.
Election answers the question, “When and why did God decide to save me?”
Did He decide to save me at the instant I put my faith in Christ? Did He decide to save me from the foundation of the world? Did He choose me because He looked into the future, saw what I’d do (receive Christ) and then ordained what would already come to pass? Did He see something special in me, that I was somehow “better” (in any sense) than others, and choose to save me because of that? Or did He choose me for His own reasons?
There are two ways of dealing with election. One is “corporate election” which says that God chose “all who are in Christ” but did _not_ define who was in that group. It’s an undefined group. God chose to save “all who are in Christ” but the membership of that group is decided by humans.
This is in contrast to the idea of “individual election”, which says that God chose particular individuals for salvation. Not only did He choose to save “all who are in Christ”, but He also defined who would be in that group.
The following scriptures support the idea of individual election:
* Acts 13:48
* Romans 8:28-30
* Romans 9:11-18
* Romans 11:5-7
* Ephesians 1:3-12
* 2 Thessalonians 2:10-14
* 2 Timothy 1:9
* 1 Peter 1:1-2
* Revelation 13:7-8
* Revelation 17:8
This is not a comprehensive list, but I think it demonstrates election is not taught in just a few isolated passages. Luke, Paul, Peter, and John all speak of it here. Sometimes it’s just mentioned in passing.
There are ways to explain each of these verses to make them teach something other than individual election. You can “explain away” just about anything you want. But if we just read them, and take them in their plainest sense, taking all of them together, I believe the Bible clearly teaches that, from the foundation of the world, God chose individual people to be saved.
We were chosen because God knew us. This is entirely different than saying God knew about us or knew about what we would do. In other words, God did not look into the future, see that we would believe, and then predestine (elect) us. Predestination is not based on our faith. Election is unconditional. God knew us, so He chose us. And by “knew us”, I mean, He thought of us in a saving relationship to Himself. He did not base His choice on our merit or lack thereof.
When my oldest son was about to turn 3, he announced “I am going to turn three, and then I will be the boss!” And to establish his position as the boss, he began to tell us what to do. But my son is sneaky. He knew if he just ordered us around, it wouldn’t work. So he’d wait until we were about to do something, or even in the middle of it, and then tell us to do it.
God’s election based on foreknowledge of our faith is roughly equivalent to my son’s attempts at being the boss. It’s meaningless to predestine or ordain something that is going to come to pass anyway. God’s sovereign decrees are not meaningless expressions of events that would happen anyway.
It’s helpful to consider the logical consequences if election were based on God looking into the future to see what we would do.
First, it would mean that something other than God was ultimately in control of the universe! If God can know, with absolute certainty, that something is going to happen, then it’s going to happen. But why? What makes it happen? What ensures that God isn’t wrong?
Ignoring the absurd notion of an additional, higher divine influence, we are left with two options: (1) God, or (2) fate / random chance.
If you answer that God causes these things to come to pass, then we’re back where we started. God knew I was going to come to faith, and caused it to happen. That’s not really different from election. You still have God causing some to come to faith, and by definition, passing over others.
If you answer that “fate” is ultimately in control, then you’ve essentially de-throned God. And in His place, you’ve but a cold, impersonal, mechanical fate. Things just happen, for no apparent reason. I came to faith “just because”, and Lost Larry is going to hell for the same non-reason. Bah. As troubling as election can be, at least it gives us some meaning for the eternal damnation of souls. It’s better than “just fate”. At least a loving, personal God is in charge and ordaining events in accord with His good character. Things didn’t “just turn out that way”. He caused them to go that way, for His own good purposes.
The second implication is that salvation would be to some extent based on my merit, not God’s grace alone. If God saved me because of something He saw in me, the you know what? I do have grounds to boast. I was smarter, I was wiser, I was more moral, I was raised better, I was more spiritual. Because after all, God saw something in me that He didn’t see in Lost Larry. In that area, I’m better than Lost Larry. I chose Christ, and Lost Larry didn’t, because ultimately I’m better than Lost Larry. Boasting is indeed justified!
There are only two answers to the question “What makes people different when it comes to salvation?” One answer is “something in man”. The other is “God’s favor alone.” If the answer is “something in man”, then salvation is based ultimately on the presence or absence of whatever that trait is. Which means, ultimately, salvation is based on merit. God gave me grace because I was/am (fill in the blank). Whatever goes in that blank, that’s merit, and that ultimately got you saved.
The Biblical answer, though, is “God’s grace alone.” Which means God didn’t see anything that makes me better than Lost Larry; indeed, He didn’t even look. I am no different, ultimately, than Lost Larry – except that God, incomprehensibly, chose me.
So those are two very negative logical consequences of insisting on election based on God’s foreknowledge of our character or deeds.
Ironically, this incorrect view still doesn’t give you free will. If God knows you will come to faith, then you’re coming to faith. You don’t have absolute free will if God can know the future with certainty. He knows it, it’s happening. If it didn’t happen just like He knew it would, then His knowledge would be imperfect. That can’t be the case. So whatever view you take of election, you simply can’t get free will out of it unless you deny God’s total and correct knowledge of the future and replace it with God the Good Guesser.
Given all that, we must be careful not to reach unbiblical, but seemingly logical, conclusions.
In my class, at this point I work a math problem beginning with “a=b+1” and going through what appear to be simple algebra steps. In the end, I come up with “a=b” and thus “b = b+1” and from there, “0=1”. (You can see this problem here.)
Then I ask, “How many of you think I just proved that math is wrong? Or that 0 is in fact equal to 1?” Nobody raised a hand. Then I ask, “How many think I did something wrong?” Of course, all the hands go up. And then I ask, “How many of you can tell me what I did wrong?” And all the hands come back down.
The point of this exercise is that you don’t have to know where I messed up to know that I did. You can see that I start with a perfectly valid beginning, and apply what appear to be some valid transformations. But you know my result is invalid because it contradicts known facts.
Similarly, we can apply logic to the doctrine of election and come up with apparently logical, but clearly unbiblical, conclusions. These unbiblical conclusions do not disprove election. They only mean our logic is flawed, even when we don’t know where.
The doctrine of election does not logically mean that our choices are somehow less than real, or that we are puppets. God is the one who decides whether or not our choices are real, and He says they are. Even though He also takes “credit” for many of the choices we make.
Exodus 4:21-23 The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘”
Much ado is made about how often the Bible says “Pharaoh hardened his heart” and “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. But in this passage, none of that had happened yet. And God is clear – He is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart, to the point of the Passover. But He also holds Pharaoh responsible for his refusal to free Israel.
Or Proverbs 16:9 “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” You make your plans, but God directs your steps. And He holds you completely responsible for those steps. They are real, voluntary choices you make. But they are in line with His eternal decrees.
The doctrine of election also does not mean that the lost never had a chance to believe, or that we had no choice but to accept Him. Rather, God always lays the blame for disobedience and rejection at the feet of those who disobey and reject Him. And Jesus treats our acceptance of Him as a free, voluntary decision we make. But He also speaks of God’s sovereignty.
In almost one breath, Jesus says “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” And then He says “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” (John 6:35-37, John 6:43-44)
You can’t come to Christ unless the Father draws (drags!) you, and if God has given you to Christ, you will come. But the invitation and responsibility is still “Come”, and He rebukes them because “you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.”
These things are both true. God drags us, violating our fallen, depraved natures, to Himself. We come to God, making a voluntary decision. Two apparently paradoxical things, both true.
One thing I remember from high school physics is the idea of relativity. Pretend you have a person in a transparent railroad car, moving relative to the ground at 20 mph. There’s also an observer on the ground. The man in the railroad car drops one of those super bouncy balls. He sees the ball bounce straight up and down. The man on the ground sees the ball bounce along a curved path.
Relativity says they are both right. It just depends on the frame of reference of the observer. But they are both right. For the man in the railroad car, the ball did bounce straight up and down. And for the man on the ground, the ball did bounce along a curved path. It didn’t just look like that, it was that way.
I think this is true when it comes to election. From one perspective, yes, God ordains everything that will come to pass and we are following a script. God will harden Pharaoh’s heart. From another frame of reference, we are making voluntary decisions. Both are right. Both are Biblical. It is a paradox.
Can I just be real honest and confess I do not understand this? I don’t. I’m a programmer. I like if-then-else, do-while, and so on. I like to make diagrams showing how my code should work. I like nice and simple cause-and-effect. Even multithreaded applications bug me, because I don’t like to deal with concurrent data access.
But God doesn’t work that way. These things are both true. You can’t diagram it. It won’t fit in my cause-and-effect box. And I just have to deal with it, just have to believe it without understanding. Much like I deal with the Trinity. Or the eternity of God. I just know it’s true, and have to leave it at that.
This is a lot more than I plan to usually post, but I couldn’t find a good breaking point. It took me a couple of weeks to get through all this in class. The next topic I address will be, is election fair?