Ask Me Anything - What About Election? - Part 2

February 05, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Ask Me Anything

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


Let’s just pick back up and jump into our study of election. Last week we kind of looked at it from a broad perspective, seeing it in light of things such as God’s sovereignty and predetermining of all things. I gave you the gist of election as we see it directly mentioned in the NT. Let’s look at another text in 1 Peter where it is mentioned directly and see where it takes us.

1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

This greeting is interesting for a number of reasons. One, because it’s addressed to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” Dispersion is from the Greek word diaspora, something historically associated with the Jews. The OT is an account of how God made them a nation and gave them a kingdom but they were sent away because of their disobedience. They were dispersed all over the civilized world, living as exiles among the pagan nations. Archeology shows Jewish settlements in just about every major Roman province and city. Somehow, they managed to get along with their heathen overseers.

Though there were very likely Messianic Jews living in the places mentioned here in our text, for the most part Peter had to have been addressing the non-Jewish Christians in these Roman provinces. It’s a play on words and ideas. Christians, like the Jews, are dispersed among the pagan nations living as exiles because they are citizens of God’s kingdom. 

It’s interesting secondly because Peter addresses the Trinity’s role in saving us. God foreknew us, the Spirit sanctified us, and we were saved according to the Son’s blood sacrifice.

And yet another reason this address is interesting is because Peter calls these exiles elect. From last week’s study we learned the elect means those chosen to be saved by God beforehand, and idea closely linked to the sovereignty and predetermined will of God. Remember this passage from last week…

Ephesians 1:3–10 (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.

It’s from this text and others that we get the idea election is “an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”[1]

So here’s how it would fit into the salvation order of things:

1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved before the foundation of the world)

2. The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)

3. Regeneration (being born again)

4. Conversion (faith and repentance)

5. Justification (right legal standing)

6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)

7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)

8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)

9. Death (going to be with the Lord)

10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)[2]

When we think about salvation, we start with number two and generally overlook or ignore number one. But biblically we can’t, even if you define election differently (which we’ll cover in a minute). Now back to our text.

Tim Keller in a sermon says when Peter addresses the “‘elect according to the foreknowledge of the Father.’ The words according to roughly mean because of. It’s the best way to translate it… Actually it’s saying the foreknowledge of the Father results in election through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Then election through the sanctifying work of the Spirit results in obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood. Three things. The foreknowledge of the Father leads to the election, through the sanctifying of the Spirit (that’s what the word is), and the sanctifying of the Spirit leads to sprinkled blood and obedience to Jesus Christ.”[3]

So in this greeting Peter is trying to say, “The reason today you know the sprinkled blood of Christ in your life and you have experienced it and you’re rejoicing in it and you’re grateful for it is because of the election of God.”[4]

This idea is all over the Bible either directly or indirectly, as I said. We looked at the direct last week. Let’s look at the indirect tonight.

1 Thessalonians 1:2–5 (ESV) — 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

I’ll defer back to Keller:

“It doesn’t say you were chosen because you were receptive to the gospel. No. It says you were receptive to the gospel because you were chosen. Here’s how we know he chose you: when we preach to you, it hits you. It doesn’t say he chose you because it hit you. He says it hits you because he chose you…”[5]

In other words, Paul says he knows the Thessalonian Christians are God’s chosen, God’s elect, because they responded positively to the Gospel, which was evidenced by power of the Holy Spirit at work among them and the magnitude of their conviction. They weren’t chosen because they said yes, they said yes because they were chosen.

That’s the kicker in the idea of election that we touched on last week. Some reconcile the difficulty of it by saying the foreknowledge of God as it relates to election and choosing is God knowing beforehand who would choose him so he chose them before the foundation of the world. I think Paul’s argument for the grafting in of the Gentiles and God’s plan for salvation in Romans 8 shoots that down…

Romans 9:1–26 (ESV) — 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ” 26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”

Look at verses 11-13…

11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 

Election is mentioned here as it relates to God’s choice of one brother over another to carry out his promises to Abraham. Is there any hint that this election had to do with God foreknowing what kind of person these brothers would be? No, it’s just the opposite. God chooses as he wills to elect people and no one has a right to question him. Based on that idea of election, how can we say that election is God choosing those who would choose him? Rather, the Bible seems to indicate those who choose him did so because he chose them beforehand.

There’s more. Look at Acts 13:48. Barnabas and Paul had been set apart and sent off as missionaries to the Gentiles. In Antioch they preached the Gospel… 

Acts 13:48 (ESV) — 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Look very carefully at that. It does not say that as many as believed were appointed to eternal life. It says many as were appointed (chosen, elected) to eternal life believed.

And there’s Jesus words to the Pharisees in…

John 6:36–39 (ESV) — 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

Back to Keller…

[Jesus] says, “You have heard me and you don’t believe me because you weren’t given to me.” It doesn’t say, “You were not given to me because you don’t believe,” but “You do not believe because you were not given to me.” On and on and on. What is great about these passages is none of them are trying to teach the doctrine of election. None of them are, but it just shows it is so assumed by every biblical writer, including Jesus himself. You’re not chosen by God because you believe; you believe in God because you’re chosen.[6]

This understanding of election has its detractors, those who oppose it and say that is not what it means. And these folks are our brothers and sisters in Christ and they may be right. Here’s a very brief and general understanding of how they view election.

Election in Christ is primarily corporate, i.e., an election of a people (Eph 1:4-5, 7, 9). The elect are called “the body of Christ” (4:12), “my church” (Mt 16:18), “a people belonging to God” (1 Pe 2:9), and the “bride” of Christ (Rev 19:7). Therefore, election is corporate and embraces individual persons only as they identify and associate themselves with the body of Christ, the true church.[7]

For them, election ties in with salvation on a corporate level, not a personal one. The elect are a group, a classification of those who hear the gospel and believe. So…

Election to salvation in Christ is offered to all (Jn 3:16-17; 1Ti 2:4-6; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9) but becomes actual for particular persons contingent on their repentance and faith as they accept God’s gift of salvation in Christ (Eph 2:8; 3:17; cf. Ac 20:21; Ro 1:16; 4:16). At the point of faith, the believer is incorporated into Christ’s elect body (the church) by the Holy Spirit (1 Co 12:13), thereby becoming one of the elect. Thus, there is both God’s initiative and our response in election (see Ro 8:29, note; 2 Pet 1:1-11).[8]

With this view, you don’t become part of the group called God’s elect (a group created in Christ before the foundation of the world) until you’ve responded positively to the Gospel but yet somehow you are at the same time chosen before the foundation of the world.

Notice the order or here:

1.      The elect in Christ as a group/classification is created before the foundation of the world.

1.      The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)

2.      Election (being placed into the group created before the foundation of the world based on a positive response).

3.      Regeneration (being born again).

4.      Conversion (faith and repentance).

And so on…

I think I’m presenting this fairly when I say this view has the believer participating in his or her election because their choosing Jesus is the condition on which they become God’s elect. This view understands…

Foreknowledge [as] virtually a synonym of God’s sovereign and far-seeing purpose to redeem according to his eternal love. The “chosen” are the company of true believers, chosen in harmony with God’s determined plan to redeem the church by the blood of Jesus Christ through the Spirit’s sanctifying work … All believers must participate in their election by their response of faith and by being eager to make their calling and election sure (see 2 Pe 1:5, 10, notes).

…[in regards to Romans 8:29] those God “Foreknew” in this verse is equivalent to “foreloved” and is used in the sense of “to set loving regard on,” “to choose to bestow love on from eternity” (cf. Ex 2:25; Ps 1:6 Hos 13:5; Mt 7:23; 1 Cor 8:3; Gal 4:9; 1 Jn 3:1)…

…Foreknowledge means that God purposed from eternity to love and redeem the human race through Christ (5:8; Jn 3:16). The recipient of God’s foreknowledge or forelove is stated in plural and refers to the church. That is, God’s forelove is primarily for the corporate body of Christ (Eph 1:4; 2:4; 1 Jn 4:19) and includes individuals only as they identify themselves with this corporate body through abiding faith in and union with Christ (Jn 15:1-6… 

With this alternate idea, people are elect according to the foreknowledge of God in that he purposed to love and redeem them from before the foundation of the world and they become part of that fore-loved group when they believe. So we play a major, if not the primary, role in our election.

Back to Keller on this…

Many people who really get concerned and uncomfortable around the doctrine of election say, “Oh, okay. The foreknowledge. There we go! Now I have it! God foreknows who is going to receive him and who is not, so he chooses.” You’re defining foreknowledge as foreseeing. “God sees what’s going to happen, he foreknows what’s going to happen, and then he chooses you on the basis of what he foreknows.” Does that fit in with what the Bible says?

Some of you are saying, “Probably not. At least, that’s what you’re going to say.” That’s right. If you go to a place, for example, like Romans 8, it says, “… those God foreknew he [justified] … those he [foreknew], he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” It doesn’t say some of those he foreknew. If foreknowledge is foreseeing, then he foreknows everybody, right? He foreknows everybody. He knows what you’re all going to do, but he should only choose some of you, but it doesn’t say, “Some he foreknew he called, and some that he called he justified.”[9]

Wayne Grudem writes…

Yet another kind of objection can be brought against the idea that God chose us because he foreknew that we would come to faith. If the ultimate determining factor in whether we will be saved or not is our own decision to accept Christ, then we shall be more inclined to think that we deserve some credit for the fact that we were saved: in distinction from other people who continue to reject Christ, we were wise enough in our judgment or good enough in our moral tendencies or perceptive enough in our spiritual capacities to decide to believe in Christ. But once we begin to think this way then we seriously diminish the glory that is to be given to God for our salvation. We become uncomfortable speaking like Paul who says that God “destined us … according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5–6), and we begin to think that God “destined us … according to the fact that he knew that we would have enough tendencies toward goodness and faith within us that we would believe.” When we think like this we begin to sound very much unlike the New Testament when it talks about election or predestination. By contrast, if election is solely based on God’s own good pleasure and his sovereign decision to love us in spite of our lack of goodness or merit, then certainly we have a profound sense of appreciation to him for a salvation that is totally undeserved, and we will forever be willing to praise his “glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6).[10]

Now, I told you from the beginning that I would not take sides on the issues surrounding election but that in all honesty I lean towards one. You may have guessed what it is. It’s the side where election means we choose God because he chose us before the foundation of the world. And I lean towards it because for me, it stays true to the plain meaning of the text and fits in with my understanding of how God’s sovereignty works. It also ties into eternal security in that if God chooses me there’s no way I can un-choose myself. And it puts the burden of salvation on God’s shoulders and not mine. If God doesn’t trust me with my own salvation he won’t trust me with others. And it humbles me beyond belief that he’d choose me at all.

Regardless though, this is hard. We struggle to reconcile it with our human understanding of fairness. The debate won’t end until we see the new heavens and earth! But at the same time I know and believe with all my heart that… 

Romans 10:13 (ESV) — 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV) — 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

[1] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 670). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[10] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 678). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

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