One of the intriguing aspects of the Christian community here in America is the debate mentality. Quite frankly, we love to argue! Unfortunately, too often I’m no exception.
An unintended consequence is that sometimes we shy away from declaring truth. Why? Because we’d rather debate it. We falsely think we have to have a complete understanding of or complete unity on an issue in order to boldly proclaim it. So we debate and argue an issue thinking that, at the magical point that we all “come together” on it, we’ll then preach it. But waiting for a “kum ba yah” moment doesn’t really help us when we are dealing with the declaration of a truth that is profoundly deeper than any of us will ever really grasp.
Take, for instance, election. I don’t understand it completely. I can’t explain it adequately. I don’t agree with how some people describe it or define it. And I get frustrated when people try to make me fit into one of only two “camps” – the Calvin camp or the Arminian camp.
Yet, I know it is biblical. It is solidly scriptural. So even though I can’t quite get my mind fully around every aspect of the concept for a debate, I try and find ways to get my lungs firmly behind it for declaration. It’s what we preachers do at times – proclaim the unexplainable truth of our Sovereign God!
Personally, I don’t see myself as a Calvinist, trying to figure out which of the petals of the tulip I can agree with. Nor do I see myself as an Arminianest, seeking to figure out the extent of man’s will in relation to God’s call. With humble candor I admit I’m not sure what I call myself in regards to this issue. I’m thinking about tagging myself a Calviminianatic (the “-atic” being added because there are also aspects of spiritual gifts that are debated – charismatic vs. cessassionist – that I believe and feel compelled to declare). Maybe I’ll just tell the debaters I’m simply a Christian who believes the Bible even when I don’t understand it.
So yes, I believe in the “elect” – a people who have been ordained to eternal life through belief in Jesus (Acts 13:48), a people chosen and destined to obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus ((Eph. 1:4-12; 2 Timothy 2:10). I don’t know who they all are, but I know that those who have believed – and those who are yet to believe – are part of that wonderful “elected” multitude called by God and saved through grace given in Christ Jesus “ages ago” (2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:1).
So let me attempt to declare a few “election” truths that, without a doubt, will be difficult for all to grasp and be reason for some to debate. But in the end it will strengthen our faith in the God of the Bible, the One who has “saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9).
1. Election does not nullify choice. Often we feel we have to choose either between absolute fatalism (“we’re just robots who don’t decide”) or absolute free will (“we are absolutely free to choose”), as if it’s an all-or-nothing environment. When a person responds to the Gospel, it is still their choice even though that choice has been sovereignly affected — God gave them the faith and desire to make that choice. This is still understood as a real choice made by a willing person. As Wayne Grudem says, “[It is a] mistaken assumption that a choice must be absolutely free (that is, not in any way caused by God) in order for it to be a genuine human choice.”
This being the case, I also believe man has a free will. You may find that odd since I am declaring election. But the difference comes in what I mean by “free.” I do not mean absolutely free, as in the kind of freedom totally outside of the providential control of our Creator. To embrace this would be to deny what Hebrews and Colossians teach us about the sustaining power of God’s Son (Heb 1:3, Col. 1:17). But I do mean “free” as in willing and real choices that are made as a result of our desires, whether fallen or regenerated. The fact that our desires are superintended by God does nullify their freedom, but it does help define it.
2. Election is not unfair. To be perfectly honest, fairness is a red-herring in the election debate, because the only truly fair thing would be to cast all unbelievers into eternal judgment, just as he did to all the angels who rebelled (2 Peter 2:4). The fact that even one person has been saved by the grace of Jesus means God has already gone beyond what is fair and just and is operating from the depths of his mercy, regardless of how you think that person came to belief in Jesus for salvation.
3. Election does not deny that God wants all men to be saved. Nowhere in Scripture does election contradict God’s desire that all men repent and believe. In fact, both are clearly stated and, thus, do exist. But we have assumed that coexistence isn’t possible since we, as humans, can’t, in our finite minds, reconcile the two. May I suggest we let God balance the two and reconcile them, since it is obvious we can’t? Our task is to simply believe both and obey both.
Knowing God desires all men to be saved compels us to be very fervent in our evangelism and disciple making efforts. We should passionately extend the Gospel call to all who would hear, and encourage all men everywhere to repent. After all, as Paul said, “how shall they hear if we don’t go and preach?” The fact that the elect may be in every crowd should stir us to greater efforts.
Furthermore, the Gospel message is crucial to the saving process (Romans 10). So perhaps even the elect, if left without the Gospel, will not be able to “call on him” if they don’t hear? So we must labor intensely to take the Gospel to all the nations so that all who hear can be saved, for this is God’s will.
However, not all men are ultimately saved. So even though all agree it is “God’s will that none should perish,” the fact remains that this aspect of God’s will is, apparently, not fully accomplished, regardless of where you fall on the election issue. The bigger question then becomes, “Why?”
Some think throwing election out is the best way to solve this, leaving man as the reason God’s will isn’t accomplished. The problems with this are that you can’t really throw out a biblical teaching/concept, and this ultimately leaves you with a man-centered philosophy of history.
A better alternative is to affirm election, though we don’t fully understand it, as well as God’s ultimate purpose for history – maximum glory to himself (Phil 2). In this way you line up with what both the Old Testament and New Testament teach – that there is something even more important than the saving of everyone. What is that? In short, the glory of God (Romans 9). Truly, God’s overarching value and chief priority is his own glory, and, as hard as it is to humanly comprehend, sometimes this is achieved by the fact that some are not saved.
So let us keep declaring the truth of election, though we can’t fully describe it, so that we increasingly live in the wonder and worship of God, who has “chosen us before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4-6).