Perhaps the keystone doctrine in the question of Calvinistic versus scriptural theology is the doctrine of election. The war has waged for four hundred years on what this teaching means. Partner to it is the doctrine of predestination which, although a correlate doctrine to election, is actually quite different again and not to be confused with the former. Calvin’s view of election and predestination was as follows. Calvin believed that from the beginning God chose those individuals who he would save from among fallen men. Knowing the outcome of the Garden of Eden and that all men would turn from him in Adam and walk in direct rebellion against his statutes, God by his own “gracious” will chose to save some and to make them holy. The rest, by way of contrast, he allowed to continue in their evil course to their just end of eternal judgement in hell. For Calvin election and predestination are individual and unconditional meaning that the person’s salvation has absolutely nothing to do with his own response or lack thereof. God does it to him. How else could it be said that God chose us and that we didn’t choose him?
It is not hard to see how this view of election fits the view of moral depravity Calvin held. If man is born a sinner with his will bound in sin so that he cannot but sin, then clearly no man can be saved by his own choice. Even for him to accept Christ, God would have to have already regenerated him so that he would choose Christ. And in contradistinction, if God did so regenerate him, of course he would accept Christ; he couldn’t help but. Thus salvation is all of God; man has nothing to glory in, for he did not choose God. God chose and saved him irresistibly and completely. This being the case, of course a person who is truly led to believe on Christ can never be lost, for that would say that God failed, which is impossible. And of course many passages of scripture seem to affirm Calvin’s view with statements like, “You did not choose me, I chose you,” and, “God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his son,” “chosen before the foundation of the world.”
How then can one deny this view of election? The primary error of Calvin was in failing to see that election is corporate primarily and only individual upon condition of association with the corporate body. Equally so, predestination is only of those individuals who meet the conditions of participation in the corporate body. But let us deal more specifically with the definitions of these two terms.
Chosen Or Elect
Election is the concept of God being able to choose sinners to live instead of die. All have sinned. Whether we hold to the Calvinistic concept of being born a sinner, or the Biblical concept of having freely chosen to turn from God, we know the Bible teaches each man is guilty before God, deserving the judgement of hell. In no way is salvation deserved. The question arises, how then may an undeserving sinner be saved? How may God be both just, and the justifier of sinners? Clearly, on the basis of their merit, God cannot choose them. How then can they be saved? They must be chosen in Christ. Everywhere that scripture speaks of election (The main passage is Ephesians 1) we are always “chosen in him.” Christ was God’s chosen. Those who are saved are chosen in him. Christ achieved salvation for men. Men obtain salvation by being in Christ.
The Bible shows Christ to be God’s chosen in two ways. First, he was chosen by the Father to come to earth and die. Second, having lived on earth without sin, he became God’s chosen and died for our sins. If Christ had sinned, and he could have, he would not have been able to become the substitutionary sacrifice for sin. As a moral being under God, he owed complete obedience to God’s law himself, just to be able to become the chosen sacrifice. Christ, when he obeyed completely, did not do anything more than what was required for himself to be declared righteous. He did not obey for us. His righteousness cannot become ours by imputation. He owed to God his complete obedience and having obeyed he did nothing more than what was his obligation. But because he obeyed completely, he owed no suffering to God’s law and hence obtained the right to suffer in our place, for our sins. So Christ became God’s chosen servant and having been made perfect (Hebrews 5:8) he offered himself as the substitutionary sacrifice for sin.
So Christ obtained salvation for man. The church is chosen in him. In other words, it is nothing we have done, or could do, which made God choose us. He chose us because of what he himself has done. The reason we are saved is because God chose us for salvation by providing a way that we might be saved. We did not choose to come back to God. We could not have, for we could not have deserved his forgiveness. Having sinned we made ourselves powerless to come back to God. We were not powerless to repent and believe but powerless because all the repentance and belief in the world couldn’t change what we had done. We are saved not because we chose him but because even though God could have sent us all to hell, being rich in mercy and grace and love, God chose to make Christ the source of salvation to all who believe. He chose all mankind potentially in Christ. But in order to participate in this chosenness, we must be in Christ. This is conditional upon repentance and faith, which are free acts of the human will that man is completely able to withhold or to give. God cannot irresistibly save any man.
Although all men are chosen in him potentially, only those who repent and believe are chosen efficiently. Because God knew there would be those who would receive his offer of pardon scripture does speak of a specific group of individuals whom he chose. He did not choose them unconditionally. The condition is that they repent and believe. As in our examination of moral depravity, we must distinguish between the reason of salvation and its conditions. God did not have to save any man. Nothing any man has done was motivation to save men. We did not choose him, he chose us. Even though we were sinners, even though everything we did deserved hell, God chose to save us.
But God could not save us without certain conditions being met. He must uphold his law. He made Christ the sufficient sacrifice for sins. Upon the condition of repentance and a return to complete obedience (faith), man may now be saved. God cannot save man before he repents. He cannot force man’s will without eliminating man’s moral character. We would be machines, not men, if God could save us irresistibly. We fell freely, we must return freely. But the reason we are saved is not because we repent and believe. That is not what motivated God to save us. He chose to save us before we repented and believed, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Repentance and faith are the conditions whereby we may participate in the salvation God has brought.
There is nothing to boast in that I believed. Where is the basis for pride in undeservedly receiving a free gratuitous pardon? I don’t deserve it to this day. It is a miracle! But this doesn’t change the fact that I must receive it. That is a condition, not the reason I’m saved. Believing is not earning salvation just because I must believe, and God will not force me to. Christ obtained this salvation but I must be in Christ to participate in it. I am in Christ by repenting of my sins and believing he is my justification, sanctification, redemption.
Election is corporate and certain. The church is saved and the church will receive all the blessings. But individuals participate in those promises upon condition of repenting, believing, and persevering to the end. This conditional view of election must be correct to harmonise with all the scriptural warnings of the necessity of persevering and the warnings concerning falling away. Scripture clearly says that apostasy has happened and can happen. Branches that were a part were cut off because of unbelief (Romans 11:19-21). Men who have been sanctified by the blood of Jesus do trample it underfoot and await the eternal fire that will consume the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:26-29). Calvin’s view of election is a logical, consistent correlate to his view of moral depravity but does injustice to the clear statements of scripture.
Tragically, in Calvin’s system there is little to no difference between election and predestination. With Calvin predestination is unto salvation. In other words, those individuals whom God chose he predestined to be saved. Biblically predestination has nothing to do with being saved or lost directly but has to do rather with the destiny of those who are saved. Predestination is unto the image of Christ. God predestined us to be conformed to Christ’s image. Predestination concerns the fate of an already saved church. It is the church corporately, and individuals upon condition of participation in the corporate body, which has been predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image.
Double predestination, unto salvation and unto reprobation, makes perfect sense in Calvinism but has nothing to do with the scriptural use of the term. What God is saying in this doctrine is that he is going to finish what he started. Those who meet the conditions of salvation will be conformed to Christ’s image. In no way is this predestination unconditional. Only the chosen are predestined. We are only chosen in Christ. We are only in Christ upon condition of repentance, faith, and perseverance. Only we can repent, believe, and persevere. Predestination is the consequence of salvation, not its cause. It is those whom he foreknew he predestined.
God will not force man’s will; thus he cannot save all men. The only reason they are not saved is because they will not believe (not cannot, but will not). They are saved potentially in Christ but by not believing they make God a liar (I John 5:10). If we will believe, and God knew there would be those who would, then he has predestined us to be conformed to his image. We are elect according to foreknowledge and predestined according to foreknowledge. This does not cease to be contingent upon our meeting the necessary conditions; hence all the warnings.
Again much could be said on this topic but the forgoing argument should be adequate to distinguish between Calvinistic and what I understand to be the scriptural view of the doctrines of election and predestination. These views should become clearer as we look in our supplementary notes at the several passages that deal with these doctrines.
Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)