Ask Me Anything - What About Election? - Part 1

January 29, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Ask Me Anything

What about election? Or Is John Calvin a demon in disguise?


Mentioning the doctrine of election and/or the person of John Calvin (the originator of Calvinism) among Christians is like bringing up politics among family at the Thanksgiving table. Sparks are guaranteed to fly because folks get passionate about these issues.

In fact, one of the biggest battles brewing in our denomination is over Calvinism (something I’ll try to explain) 

FYI: this will span multiple Wednesdays. Also, though I will lean towards a side I won’t officially take one. My heart in this debate is one of a peacemaker. And I refuse to label or be labeled.

Surprisingly enough, when we hear the word election as 21st century, modern Westerners, we think of politics, don’t we? We think of someone running for an office and winning the popular vote. That is not even close to what this biblical term means.

If you’re going to talk about election, though, you have to first back up and talk about another biblical word/teaching very closely related to it called predestination (dummt, dummt, dumm!).

Please note that unlike a teaching such as the trinity or the rapture, this one  (as well as election) comes straight from Scripture by word. 

Simply put, “predestination is God’s predetermination of all things.”[1] 

That idea is assumed all throughout the Bible, even when it comes to the small, seemingly incidental things. “For example, [biblical writers] will say not merely that ‘it rained’ or that ‘there was a drought,' but that ‘God sent rain,’ or ‘God withheld rain…’”[2] Look at…

Psalm 135:5–7 (ESV) — 5 For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. 7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

And this…

Proverbs 16:33 (ESV) — 33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Think about what Jesus said. 

Matthew 10:29–30 (ESV) — 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 

The idea of predestination also applies to bigger things common to human existence such as “God sent a famine” or “he closed or opened the womb.” And even bigger things such as the rule and reign of kings and those in authority…

Proverbs 21:1 (ESV) — 1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

Daniel 2:21 (ESV) — 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;

Daniel 4:35 (ESV) — 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

God has even determined our days before we were born according to King David…

Psalm 139:16 (ESV) — 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

And Jesus’ brother, James, hints at predestination when talking about making plans for tomorrow… 

James 4:13–15 (ESV) — 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

The actual word predestination as translated from the specific Greek word proorizo is first seen in the NT in Acts 4. Peter and John had been arrested by the Jews for preaching heresy. They stood up to them with boldness and were released. When they gathered with other believers they prayed…

Acts 4:23–31 (ESV) — 23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

We see it also in Paul’s letter to the Romans…

Romans 8:28–30 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

And his letter to the Ephesians…

Ephesians 1:3–14 (ESV) — 3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

One commentator says…

Most fundamentally for the biblical writers, predestination is a necessary entailment of monotheism. The God who created all things rules over and directs those things to his intended ends. He does not leave his creation to its own outworking (deism), nor is any part of his creation beyond his control (a notion that would place God beneath his creation). God created all things in order to accomplish his own purpose (Rev 4:11; cf. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11). Moreover, to affirm that God is a personal God is to affirm that what he does he does intentionally. This “intention” is predestination. To say “God” in the sense of biblical monotheism is to say “predestination.”[3]

Predestination is closely linked to another consideration of God, his sovereignty (Acts 4:24) and how he works all things providentially according to his will. Look at what the prophet Isaiah said…

Isaiah 46:5, 811 (ESV) 5 “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? 8 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

Isaiah preached that God is SOVEREIGN and he works PROVIDENTIALLY in all things to accomplish his will, something established before the fact (end form the beginning). The Bible is full of direct and indirect references to these truths.

Pastor John Piper, who is smarter than all of us, explains God’s sovereignty this way: 

“God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means, God plans and governs all things.

When he says, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” he means, “Nothing happens except what is my purpose.” … nothing has ever happened, or will ever happen, that God did not purpose to happen. Or to put it positively: Everything that happened or will happen is purposed by God to happen.”

This means that God is sovereign over all creation, so that whatever happens in the universe couldn’t have happened unless he purposed it. God is sovereign over all human actions too, so that nothing anyone does happens unless he purposed it. And somehow, I don’t know how, God’s sovereignty still allows for us to have a free will, the ability to make choices. 

And yet I’m guessing you may be thinking: I’m not sure I completely understand it. I’m not sure I do either, friend! God is so much higher and bigger and more mysterious than we could ever imagine, so much so that pretty much anything we learn about him is just touching the hem of his garment.

Not only is it confusing, it can seem downright scary because it means that God is not just sovereign over good things, everyday things, big things and small things, even cosmic things, he’s sovereign over evil things (the story of Job; Peter and not James; Shadrach and friends).

It means God can choose to let suffering into our lives, he can choose not to answer our prayers the way we want, and he’s still just as much God, blameless and just and right and good, as he ever was. It means whatever happens to us good or bad was either caused by him or allowed to happen.

The deeper we descend into understanding God’s sovereignty and priesting and election, and all that comes with that, the tougher it gets. So some might be thinking…

Stop right there, pastor. That’s enough. I can handle God being sovereign over good things, everyday things, big things and small things, even cosmic things. But you want me to accept that he is sovereign over the bad things, the evil things in this world? 

If nothing happens except what he has purposed to happen, doesn’t that make him responsible for untold suffering and pain? You mean he purposed that my loved one got sick and died? That my spouse cheated on me?  That I lost everything?

You mean to tell me that God purposes all that?

I can’t go there. I won’t.

Many years ago, before being called into ministry, I sat in Sunday School class. Present was a woman whose son died in a tragic car accident. God’s sovereignty was the lesson that day, and at the end of the class she spoke up. In tears, in pain I cannot imagine, she said she could never believe in a God who would purpose or even allow her son’s death. In her mind she had to see God as not purposing that to happen to her son.

Can any of us blame her?

But let’s think about a world where God never purposes people to die tragically or get sick or hurt or suffer or experience bad things and yet they happen anyway.

Would you really want to live there? Yes, we could take comfort in knowing God didn’t want us to suffer, but it would mean things happened God didn’t want to happen. In that world, God isn’t able to always protect us. In that world, some of the bad slips through his fingers. In that world, the devil is mighty powerful. In that world, God can fail. In that world, God is sympathetic and even sorry but powerless to keep us from bad things.

That’s way scarier than a world where God is sovereign over all things, good and bad, and he uses them to somehow, in ways we will never understand, accomplish his perfect and good will.

In the beginning this world was free of pain and death and suffering. God never intended for us to know what is was like to lose a loved one or be betrayed or experience some tragic calamity.

Adam and Eve’s rebelliousness in the garden brought all that. It was their disobedience that ushered in sin and that sin infected the universe. It infected creation (tornadoes, earthquakes, famine, etc) and it infected us creatures.

God wasn’t caught by surprise. God didn’t fret and pace the halls of heaven. In his sovereignty, he somehow wove that into his plans! That God is BIG.

God is sovereign over all things. His sovereignty over all things means he has predestined all things according to his will (either directly or indirectly). In other words, nothing happens that he doesn’t want to happen and nothing doesn’t happen that he does.And that sovereignty has to extend to salvation. And that’s where the doctrine of election comes in.

Election is the idea that God has called or chosen beforehand people to a special relationship with him.

One Bible dictionary defines it this way…

This term is used in biblical and theological discourse to refer to the idea that God chooses a people or individuals to belong to him in a unique way.[4]

Another this way…

God’s choice of a person or people group for a specific purpose, mission, or salvation. The theme of election is prominent in both the Old and New Testaments.[5]

Particularly for Christians, it means a sovereign God has predestined, foreordained, chosen them beforehand. This idea is all over the Bible, but the specific word election — translated from the specific Greek word eklektos,  is first found in…

Matthew 24:15–28 (ESV) — 15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

If election is God’s choosing a person or people beforehand, then the elect are the ones chosen. Jesus has to be talking about his future followers, his disciples, the “saved.” So the elect is a synonym for the saved. The people referred to are the same but the meaning is different.

The saved refers to those who have followed Christ and been saved from their sins, saved, from hell. It points to God’s saving work through the cross. The elect refers to those who follow Christ in that they have been chosen to become his followers beforehand. It points to God’s sovereignty and his predestining of all things.

If you don’t see it that way — and you don’t have to — consider Paul’s use of that exact same word in the Greek as it is found a few verses down from a text we’ve already covered…

Romans 8:28–33 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Those predestined to salvation are God’s elect (remember, the two are closely related). You still might not be convinced this is the idea intended for these biblical terms. Next time we’ll dig a little deeper. But for your convenience I’ve included all the occasions in the NT of the Greek word translated as “elect” in the ESV.

[1] Zaspel, F. G. (2018). Predestination. In M. Ward, J. Parks, B. Ellis, & T. Hains (Eds.), Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Freedman, D. N. (Ed.). (1992). Election. In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 2, p. 434). New York: Doubleday.

[5] Thornhill, A. C. (2016). Election. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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