We continue to examine nine biblical theses regarding election.
6. The individuals given to Christ by the Father are chosen in Christ.
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, (Eph. 1:4)
When Paul says that God has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that means that God not only determined who would be saved, but He also chose them in view of the plan of salvation and what Christ would do to get them saved. Christ is the salvific lens through which God could foreknow and choose. He could see us in Christ, see us clothed in Christ and love us and choose us.
7. The ultimate goal of God’s choice is the individual’s glorification, not simply the individual’s justification.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)
No justified person will fail to be glorified. God is focused not merely on saving people from Hell, but on ultimately beautifying them with His own glory, so that He might enjoy them forever.
having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:5-6)
that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:27)
8. These individuals were chosen before the foundation of the world.
(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), (Rom. 9:11)
The point of Paul’s illustration here is to show that God’s choice is not based upon something foreseen in the individuals. Jacob was chosen before they were born. God chose Jacob over Esau prior to birth that it might be perfectly clear that His choice had nothing to do with any amount of work or merit that might seem to pertain to one child or the other. This choice was made to exclude the possibility of anyone thinking God inspected the children, decided who was better and which one He liked or foresaw merit in. Thus, in making His choice prior to their birth, His choice was demonstrated to be an unconditional choice.
If God were electing based on His foresight, that would come out just the same as if God waited for the moment to see who would come out with the right response and then chose that person. The notion that we are chosen before the foundation of the world works against a conditional view of election. God is not choosing us based upon something He knows we will do, otherwise it is rather irrelevant to say God chose us before the foundation of the world. One may as well then say that God chose us the moment we chose Him. In placing the choice before our existence, the Bible is excluding us and our behaviour as a basis for the choice.
9. These individuals were chosen according to God’s foreknowledge.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom. 8:29)
elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1 Pet. 1:2)
Everyone in the Calvinist-Arminian debate admits that election is according to foreknowledge. The question isn’t whether foreknowledge is the basis of election, the question is, what is foreknowledge? Unfortunately, we don’t have a biblical definition. The previous point has shown why it is unlikely that foreknowledge is simply God’s foresight of what people will do. Indeed, the fact that no one seeks after God means that pure, uninvolved foresight would be God seeing all of the human race choosing to perish.
The pure foresight view of election also creates some logical problems. Let’s imagine we have three positions in time:
#1. God before the the foundation of the world.
#2. God foreseeing people believing.
#3. God choosing those who believe, and the world which now is comes to pass.
The logical problem is position #2. Who was in control of that world, where people believed, and God passively observed them believing? If God passively observed that world and saw people believing, and then retroactively chose them for world #3, who operated and controlled world #2 that God foresaw? Were people autonomous in that world? Were events self-caused in that world? If people don’t come to God on their own, but by divine drawing, was that operative in world#2? If so, then God was not simply observing world #2, but planning it and shaping it, which really amounts to eliminating world #2.
God is either shaping and causing a world, or He is passively observing it. A world passively observed by God is a world not ruled by Him, which could not exist.
Furthermore, we have one other text which uses the word foreknowledge. When used of Christ, this word does not simply mean passive observance.
He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you (1 Pet. 1:20)
Here foreknowledge must mean an act by which God chose the Son to do the redemptive work.
Since Scripture does not explain what God’s foreknowledge is, we can only speculate. Foreknowledge could mean God’s “fore-love” of the elect. Foreknowledge could mean “God’s fore-choice” of the elect. Foreknowledge could mean God’s knowing the outcome of all possible worlds and choosing the one with the maximum number saved. Foreknowledge could mean God’s knowledge of the world in which the Bride of Christ has a particular make-up of all nations. Foreknowledge could refer to God’s knowledge of all who would freely choose Him after being drawn by grace, even in eternity, whereas the non-elect are those second and third soils who would ultimately apostatise, even in Heaven. But all these possibilities are speculation, in the end. We simply do not know the content of God’s foreknowledge.
What is not speculation is that God has good reasons for His choice. We are told that God chose “according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5). What pleases God is what is good, right, just, and kind. All His works are done in wisdom. Shall not the Judge of All the Earth do right? We must not suspect God of that which He condemns, nor imagine He fails by the standard of the judicial sentiments He created within us. We must confess ignorance in ourselves, not assume guilt or wrongdoing in God.
It is understandable that we might wrestle with the doctrine of God’s choice. But in the end, that is simply a wrestle with the problem of evil: why is there evil in a world made by an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God? We cannot escape the problem of evil by denying it exists. Nor can we deny that Scripture teaches election, or re-make God into a lesser God to suit our sense of fairness. In the end, the words of A. W. Tozer, who called himself “an equivocating Calvinist”, retains something of the balance:
God has made us in His likeness, and one mark of that likeness is our free will. We hear God say, “Whosoever will, let him come.” We know by bitter experience the woe of an unsurrendered will and the blessedness or terror which may hang upon our human choice. But back of all this and preceding it is the sovereign right of God to call saints and determine human destinies. The master choice is His, the secondary choice is ours. Salvation is from our side a choice, from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest of the Most High God. Our “accepting” and “willing” are reactions rather than actions. The right of determination must always remain with God.
God has indeed lent to every man the power to lock his heart and stalk away darkly into his self-chosen night, as He has lent to every man the ability to respond to His overtures of grace, but while the “no” choice may be ours, the “yes” choice is always God’s. He is the Author of our faith as He must be its Finisher. Only by grace can we continue to believe; we can persist in willing God’s will only as we are seized upon by a benign power that will overcome our natural bent to unbelief. (The Divine Conquest, chpt. 3)