Understanding Purposeful and Temporal Election versus Unconditional Salvation Election
by Terry W. Benton
The second point of Calvinism in the TULIP acrostic is "Unconditional Election". It means to Calvinists that God picked Randy and not Bob, Suzie and not Janet for salvation and that His election of Randy and Suzie was "unconditional". That means that they did not get chosen and elected because they met some "conditions" that Bob and Janet did not meet, but that there was nothing but God's right to be arbitrary. All four people were born totally depraved and could not meet any conditions anyway. So, if any would be saved, it would be totally up to God and on an unconditional basis. Now, this would seem reasonable only if the starting premise of total inability was true and if God was going to save only some. Well, God is going to save only some (Matthew 7:13-14; 25:31-46), but man is not totally unable to meet some conditions if God planned for conditional salvation or conditional election.
Gene Taylor observed:
This basis is set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Written by the Westminster Association from July, 1643 to February, 1649, it is the doctrinal foundation of English and American Presbyterianism. It states, "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III) It also says, "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished."
The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 says, "Those of mankind who are predestinated unto Life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable Purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ to everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto."
Calvin's Institutes states, "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death."
We will show in the context of this study that we are not "unchangeably designed" and that salvation has been placed on a conditional basis that can be chosen or rejected on a self-hardened-heart basis or an open-heart basis. We will show that blame for "neglecting so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:1ff) does not fall on God for "unchangeably designing" us to neglect it, but that the blame falls entirely upon man for choosing sin and hardening his heart in sin to the neglect of God and His great salvation.
We will begin by looking at a passage that seems to speak of God's right to be arbitrary in His election and have mercy on whom He will have mercy (seemingly arbitrary if He so wills it), because this is a key passage in the Calvinist's understanding or misunderstanding of unconditional election. We will discover that even this passage speaks of conditional election as far as salvation is concerned, but it is misunderstood as to the "purpose of God" in electing men to temporal positions over other men versus whether God is also "unchangeably designing" certain people to be eternally saved based purely upon an arbitrary desire to do so for them with an arbitrary desire to design others for hell and condemn them for no fault or "condition" within them that they themselves created. After we examine Romans 9, we will show other passages that test the validity of the doctrine of unconditional election.
Israel's Rejection of Christ
"I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen* according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen" (Romans 9:1-5).
Observations: Please notice that Paul is grieving about Israel in the flesh because they are accursed. Why are they accursed? They are accursed because they rejected Jesus, the means of their salvation, and are deceiving themselves that they were right to do so, and they are deceiving themselves about their being able to be justified before God on the basis of having God's law. Paul is very upset and concerned about them. Please observe that if Paul believed that Israel was "unchangeably designed" to reject Jesus and be "accursed", there is really nothing that can be done for them. However, he thinks their rejection and accursed position can be reversed. He thinks that saving Gentiles by faith may provoke some back to jealousy and "save some" (Romans 11:13,14). Also notice that "because of unbelief" (the conditional basis for their rejection) "they were broken off" (Romans 11:20). He also holds out the possibility of an "if" (a condition that could change the whole situation with them) "they do not continue in unbelief" (Romans 11:23) God could graft them in again. So, Paul's grief is not that God made Israel reject Jesus and His great salvation by unchangeable design, but that they could and should have believed in Him, but they stumbled over Him instead and it breaks Paul's heart. But, if Paul understood that each one is "unchangeably designed" and "unconditionally elected," then his tears are merely programmed into him and he has no power to desire that the unconditionally non-elect be elected anyway.
Israel's Rejection and God's Purpose
"But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called." That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son"" (Romans 9:6-9).
Observations: The choice between Isaac and Ishmael was with regard to which one the Seed (Christ) would come through. Both were physical seed of Abraham and both became great nations. This choice of which son would carry the messianic seed of Abraham was not an election of which child would remain totally depraved and which would be elected to salvation. However, it illustrated in allegory that the physical seed of Abraham (Jews in the flesh only) were not the promised seed of Abraham (Christians who are Jews in spirit and faith). God had illustrated His divine plan to reject the physical persecutors of God's promised seed and bless the persecuted promised seed (See Galatians 4:21-31). But, it was clearly not because He had arbitrarily and unchangeably designed each individual to believe and not believe a certain way that could not be altered on their part. God chose Isaac for the seed line to Christ, and did not elect Ishmael to that role, but that is not a matter of unconditional election to personal salvation. It was a temporal and purpose-oriented election to a specific role, not to personal salvation and "tough luck to you Ishmael, you have been unconditionally elected to go to hell". No! This is a case of God's right to choose for His purposes which seed of Abraham would carry the seed-line to Christ. His purpose was to illustrate the thing that would happen in the Messianic age. The older son of Abraham would be rejected for persecuting the younger son. Unbelieving Jews were older, but were rejected in favor of the younger (the church of Christ). There was a fleshly son and a promised son. Ishmael was a fleshly son of Abraham, but Isaac was a promised son. Likewise, God promised to bless believing Jews, not mere physical descendants of Abraham. So, the mere physical unbelieving descendants of Abraham are not blessed just because they are physical descendants, but the real descendants of Abraham are those who had the faith of Abraham (Romans 2:28; John 8:39-47; Romans 4:12-16). That was not unchangeably designed into each individual, but was a matter of which way each individual inclined their own hearts.
""Now therefore," he said, "put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel"" (Joshua 24:23).
They had a choice and an ability to do this. It would be foolish to tell someone to do something they had no ability to do. The very fact that Joshua commanded this is because he did not believe that people are unchangeably designed, but have freedom to make such choices and power to change their choices. It was an appeal to "incline their heart" to God, so that God could work with them and through them and for them.
"Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth" (Psalms 78:1).
They had the ability to incline their ears in a different direction. They could obey this command. Otherwise it would be as silly as me commanding my hammer to listen to me and obey me.
"My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints" (Proverbs 2:1-8).
"My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:20-23).
The reason, then that fleshly Jews were rejected and cut off, was not because they were unchangeably designed to do so, but because they did not incline their heart to believe God's many infallible proofs within their scriptures and in the credentials and miracles of God's Son. Their unbelief made them unrelated to Abraham in belief, and that made them merely fleshly descendants like Ishmael.
"Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you - The sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3).
The covenant and its benefits were promised to those Jews who would incline their ear, come to God (remember Jesus' invitation to "come unto Me" - Matthew 11:28ff) and their soul would live. The majority of Jews did not and the result was they were rejected by God and cut off from His blessings and favors.
"Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them. Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers" (Jeremiah 7:24-26).
So, although the temporal and purposed election of Isaac over Ishmael was for the necessary choice of the seed-line, not for personal salvation to Isaac and damnation to Ishmael, the purpose also was to illustrate how the blessing would work out in the Messianic age.
"And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (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), it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated"" (Romans 9:10-13).
Observations: The purpose of God here was to illustrate that He purposed to choose the younger over the older in the Messianic age, because the older would represent the Jews, His first people, and the younger would represent the church of Christ. Now, while the text says that Jacob was loved and Esau was hated, this is still not a matter of personal salvation. Remember, the doctrine of Calvinism is that all are inherently and totally depraved. So, there was no reason to love Jacob above Esau. So, what is going on here? He is using a figure of speech for effect. But, the effect is that which we expect when God was looking at the future Messianic age in which He foreknew that the older (the Jews) would be replaced by the younger (Jesus' people). Esau was hated, not personally, but in his future representation of an older brother that would play a similar role. Older Jews that were first before would not get the blessing the new Jews (the church) would receive. Paul is not arguing that God arbitrarily elected Jacob to be personally saved, but that he was elected for the purposes of typifying the Messianic age and also having a part in the seed-line to Christ. Esau was not "unchangeably designed" personally to go to hell, but was elected to fill a purpose in typology, typifying the role the unbelieving Jews would fill in the Messianic age. There was nothing in these boys themselves that made God decide on Jacob over Esau, but God had a purpose to typify something specific about the Messianic age. The older would miss the blessing and the younger would receive the blessing.
Israel's Rejection and God's Justice
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens" (Romans 9:14-18).
Observations: Here we have a third illustration of the point that Paul is working toward. Pharaoh was raised up for a purpose. It was to show God's purpose of showing His power and doing something that would get His name declared in all the earth. Now, the "raising up" of Pharaoh is likely raising him up to kingship and power, not bringing him into birth for this purpose. So, in this case, God selected a man who had developed his heart and disposition already, and then raised him to power as Pharaoh of Egypt so that God could show His power in him and do something that would cause God's name to be declared in all the earth. Pharaoh did not himself set his own will on such an objective, but was nevertheless the man that God knew would be hardened in his rebellion against God's orders and would be the perfect candidate to fill this particular role with this particular object in mind. He was not "unchangeably designed" from birth to fill this role, but was "raised up" to power for this purpose. Likewise God chose a rebellious people (the Israelites) to fill the role of bringing in the Messiah, but such a people that God knew would not all believe and obey God when they had plenty of good reasons to do so. Moses said of them, "You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you" (Deuteronomy 9:24). Of them God said: "I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts" (Isaiah 65:2).
Notice that they had their "own thoughts" not pre-programmed thoughts that God designed into them. Pharaoh was such a rebellious person that would be hardened when opposed and challenged and God knew it. He served as a perfect illustration of how a hardened person can still serve God's purposes unconsciously. To Ezekiel God said:
"But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God .' He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 3:27).
It seems here that there were possibilities of hearing and refusing to hear, and it was not designed into them. It was their own developed dispositions that would determine which ones would hear and which ones would not. God told Ezekiel that there was a possibility that they would hear and consider.
"It may be that they will consider, though they are a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 12:3).
So, they were not "unchangeably designed". There were possibilities still open, which is not true if everything has been pre-planned and predesigned a certain way. Pharaoh illustrated that God can use the developed disposition of people and use them for His purposes even though they are not consciously aware of the role they are playing in God's purpose. God already figured into His plan that there would be rebellious Jews and obedient Jews. The rebellious Jews would play a role in God's plan. They were not individually designed to be rebellious, but that free-will opens the door for that probability and God had a plan for those who would develop hardness against His evidence.
"You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?" (Romans 9:19-21).
Observations: Paul anticipates a misunderstanding of what he is saying, for his opponents would argue that nobody is resisting God's will, but all are fulfilling God's will, and if Paul is arguing correctly, then God was the potter that made them the way they were and they could not help it. In anticipation of that argument Paul counters with a reminder that God is indeed the potter, and the clay in His hands can be from the same lump but used for two different purposes. Does the clay have anything to do with this? Yes! But, the potter-clay illustration is here used to affirm God's right of sovereignty over the clay for different uses. Now, this does not affirm that the potter will be arbitrary and that the clay is already pre-designed on an individual basis. No, this is not inherent within the argument of Paul at all. The potter-clay illustration was used precisely to remind them of an earlier use of this illustration.
"The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord , saying: "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words." Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the Lord . "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
"Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the Lord : "Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good."'
And they said, "That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart"" (Jeremiah 18:1-12).
Notice that God was not being arbitrary as to which way He would make them as a people. They decided their own fate, but God used their decision in which role they would play in His great plan. They were not "unchangeably designed" from birth what role they would play, but were able to choose which role they would play. They can play the role God had in mind for the rebellious, or they can play the role God had in mind for the obedient. They could decide to return to God and be made vessels of honor or they could continue to rebel and be made into vessels of dishonor. As Paul said to Timothy:
"But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (II Timothy 2:20-22).
The clay, being marred by its own developed nature (not inherently designed nature), makes the potter decide what kind of vessel He will make of it. There was a plan God had in mind for both the rebellious and the obedient, but each individual had a say on which role they would fill in the potter's hand.
"What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:22-24).
Observations: God had a plan to make His power and wrath known, and endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath that were prepared by their own developed disposition to fill this role to end in destruction. God did not design them against their will, but they developed their own will and disposition, and God prepared a role for such people. His plan was that those in that role would fill the role of showing to the world God's wrath and power. Likewise, those who would fill the role He had in mind for vessels of mercy (again, their own disposition was involved in determining if they would individually fill this planned role) would fill a glorious role. But, this was "us" whom He called (the church = the called out). The church had both Jews and Gentiles who themselves had the disposition to answer the gospel call to salvation in Christ. Again, no one was unchangeably designed. Each person developed their own predisposition toward the gospel call. On Pentecost, "they that gladly received his words were baptized" (Acts 2:41). Three thousand Jews had such a disposition and the rest were either hardened "in part" or fully hardened against the gospel evidence Peter presented. Later, Gentiles were added to the number, and the church of Christ was composed of Jews and Gentiles who were vessels of honor and glory. Those outside the church were fitting themselves to the role of vessels of wrath and destruction. Now, Paul will show that the glorified vessels would include Gentiles as the prophets had said:
"As He says also in Hosea: "I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God."
Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth."
And as Isaiah said before: Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah."" (Romans 9:25-29).
Observations: The Jews who were rejecting the gospel call could not argue that it was not in God's written plans to include other people such as Gentiles, nor that the bulk of Israelites would be on the outside of God's blessings. There own prophets told them ahead of time so that they could decide whether they wanted to go with the crowd or stand with the few. They could not argue that more Jews rejected Jesus than accepted Him and use that as proof that the churches of Christ were wrong and had only converted a few ignorant Jews. Their own prophets told them that only a remnant of Israelites would be saved. So, the Israelites in Jeremiah's day determined not to listen and therefore became vessels of wrath, and the Israelites in the days of Jesus and the apostles had made their own individual determination which role they would play in God's plan for vessels of wrath and vessels of glory.
Present Condition of Israel
"What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."" (Romans 9:30-33).
Observations: Gentiles attained righteousness by faith. They were not seeking to be righteous before God until faith convicted them of sin and their need for Jesus and the forgiveness He provides. They attained the righteousness of faith. On the other hand, the bulk of Israel was pursuing righteousness on the basis of their own performance up to the Law, but they came short there and therefore did not attain righteousness. Why? Because they were "unchangeably designed" and totally depraved and unable to believe in Jesus? No! They did not seek righteousness by faith as they had been instructed. They were looking in the wrong direction for righteousness and stumbled over Jesus as an offensive rock in their way. They went around the rock they should have stood on for upholding them in righteousness. They would not have been put to shame had they stood on this Rock for their way to true righteousness before God. Had they listened, they would not now have been in the shameful position they were in. They should have remembered Isaiah's words:
"The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured." Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him" (Isaiah 8:13-17).
Or as Isaiah warned later:
"So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place" (Isaiah 28:16-17).
God was here telling Israel that trusting or faith would be key to having a sure foundation for a house of righteousness and justice, and they would not need a refuge of lies to hide in. Yet, the bulk of Israel trusted the lie that possessing the Law of God was proof enough of their righteous relationship with him. They had made a refuge out of this lie. Possessing the law is not practicing the law, and possessing the law should have pointed to them their sinful condition and need for Jesus. It should have been a tutor to bring them to Christ instead of stumbling over Him the way they did.
Now, let us summarize this chapter. Why was the bulk of Israel wrong and how could God reject the bulk of Israel? Paul answers that God had a right to choose faithful Jews over unfaithful Jews just as He had a right to choose a purpose of honor for Isaac over Ishmael, and just as He had a right to choose a purpose of letting the older serve the younger, just as He did in the case of Jacob and Esau. Likewise, He had a right to raise up Pharaoh to serve in a hardened against God role that would ultimately serve to display God's power and spread His name around the earth. And likewise, a potter can make of the clay what He wills, and He can have mercy on whom He will have mercy. None of this was unfair or unjust. But all of it worked with God's purposes, and His purpose was that hardened Israelites would serve as vessels of wrath and believing peoples would be His people, the true Israel of God. Now, remember, that any Jew could reverse his status and his role. They did not seek righteousness by faith, but they could still yet reverse this. "If they do not continue in unbelief" (Romans 11:23) they can be grafted back into the honored vine again and become vessels of honor. None of this affirms the doctrine of unconditional election, or the doctrine that we are all unchangeably designed for certain roles. Thus, we have taken time to analyze Romans 9 so that we can put this matter to rest. If God is arbitrary, He indeed is unfair and unjust. Romans 9 does not argue God's right to be arbitrary and design people to go to hell and to arbitrarily design others for eternal salvation. It is about God's right to reject unbelieving Israel "because of unbelief" and that God had purposed that such would be rejected. God did not design unbelief and hardness into them individually, but He did plan that those who filled the unbelieving role would indeed be chosen for the role of destruction while submissive believers would be chosen to the role of glory and everlasting honor.
Conclusion on Romans 9
Whatever one thinks about the unconditional election of Isaac over Ishmael for the role they played in God's purpose, which was to illustrate or typify or allegorize an older people persecuting the younger and being rejected (which found fulfillment in the Jews persecuting the church), it does not prove the doctrine of unconditional election to personal salvation and damnation. The same is so with choosing Jacob over Esau. It was for God's purposes of typifying the younger people (church of Christ) being blessed over the older people (unbelieving Jewish people), not to show that God has a right to be arbitrary in election. It is not showing that Jacob was elected to go to heaven and Esau was elected to go to hell, but simply illustrates that God has a right to choose the roles that will be played out in the Messianic age, and the roles of Jacob and Esau to illustrate it. But, when all is said and done, Romans 9 actually shows that salvation is based upon conditional election. The bulk of the Jews were rejected "because they did not seek it by faith" (Romans 9:32). They therefore, as unbelievers, were fashioned by the potter for the role of dishonor and destruction. To further show that this is not unconditional election based on unchangeable design the text goes on to show that they could still yet turn back to belief and join the ranks and role of the blessed (Romans 11:20-24).
Other Proof-Texts for Unconditional Election
"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, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Ephesians 1:4-5).
Observations: There is no doubt that certain things have been predestined by God. He has predetermined that there will be a day of judgment, that the righteous will go to heaven and the wicked to hell. He even predetermined that salvation would be available through Jesus, and that people could get into Jesus through faith, and that faith could be acquired by revelation of the Spirit of truth (Romans 10:17; John 16:13). But, the error of Calvinism is seen in the assumption that God predestined the exact individuals He would allow to come into Christ and be saved. Calvinism's God is not the true God. That God "is willing that some should perish". The true God is not (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:4). Calvinism's God not only is willing for many to perish but He also unchangeably designed them to perish and there never was a chance for them to change their destiny. So, what is Paul telling us in Ephesians? Let me observe that if God predestined and chose us, the church that would include Jews and Gentiles, in Christ before the foundation of the world, it does not necessarily follow that He designed us, the specific individuals, before the foundation of the world.
Furthermore, it would not prove that the choosing of us was "unconditional." He could choose those He foresaw would meet His conditions. For example, He could have foreseen the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost gladly receiving His word and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins (Acts 2:37-41) without unchangeably designing the individuals and unconditionally electing them. Why does Ephesians not allow that God foresaw the 3,000 meeting His conditions (conditional election) and electing them that came into Christ? The True God "is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:1-3). Calvinism's god died only for the arbitrarily elected few. The true God "is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). That means that the blame falls entirely on man and not on an arbitrary and unconditional choice God made.
City Hall can predestine a city-wide Little League Park with teams and foresee that there would be teams and coaches and umpires and boys trying out and some making the teams and some not. Those that made the teams were the ones chosen in the League before the park and League was ever actually formed. It moved from the minds and planning board of the City Hall to how it worked out. Those on the teams were chosen in the League before the foundation of the park and the formation of the League. How? They were the ones (the ones that met the conditions) and City Hall foreknew that some would meet the conditions. Therefore, they were chosen (not specifically before they were born, and not individually predesigned, but chosen as a class of people that would meet the conditions of the League rules and election of the coaches).
On a bigger scale God did basically the same thing from the foundation of the world. He chose us (the class of believers who would obey the gospel call) in Christ before the foundation of the world
"And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
Observations: The word "appointed" has various shades of meaning. In some verses it means "determined" or inclined. So, as many were were inclined to eternal life believed. It is like the Little League team illustration. Those boys that were determined or inclined to play ball tried out and those who were not did not. If we take the word "appointed", it would not mean that God pre-designed me to eternal life. It could very well be that the appointed refers to the inclination and appointment that the individuals decided upon. I can make an appointment with the doctor. As many as were appointed to see the doctor showed up at his office. It does not mean that the doctor predesigned us to come, but that we were appointed by our own desire and determination to see him. In the context Paul is contrasting those who "judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life" (not inclined to it and not determined to have it) (Acts 13:46) with those who were determined, inclined, and appointed to everlasting life. All they needed was the evidence and they "gladly received his word." We could look at the Day of Pentecost again. 3,000 were appointed to eternal life, gladly received his word and were baptized. The others counted themselves unworthy by not determining to be open-minded and receptive to the evidence Peter presented. If you are not inclined and determined, you are not seeking and open. Only those with a heart appointed to have eternal life will believe the evidence when it is presented. So, once again, this is not a passage affirming that "as many as had been unchangeably designed to eternal life believed", but those with a heart inclined to listen and learn how to get eternal life are the ones appointed to believe the evidence when it is clearly presented.
I fail to see where any major translation disagrees with my understanding of this passage. None of the versions say:
- How these people became appointed, or
- Who appointed them, or
- When they became appointed.
This is all assumed by the Calvinist to be before they even heard the word of God. The text does not say these people were "pre-appointed" or "pre-ordained" by God to eternal life. The appointing, inclination, determination, ordination to eternal life took place after the preaching revealed which way their hearts were inclined by the evidence presented. Their hearts were affected by the word of God and they were then ordained or inclined to eternal life and believed. If the group in verse 46 "judged themselves," then it is not hard to see how that those in verse 48 "appointed themselves." If one group moved themselves away from the opportunity for eternal life, then the other group inclined and appointed themselves toward eternal life.
Now, notice this, "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." If the appointing was something God did before these people heard the word of God, then only those particular people in that town at that precise moment would ever be saved. There could never again have been any others who would be saved. If the "appointing" was done by God from eternity, then "as many" (all) who were pre-appointed by God to have eternal life got it right then and there would be no others. However, if the appointment takes place after the hearing of the word of God, then "as many" (all) who heard and were then appointed to eternal life believed, but it would allow for others to hear later and be saved. Only the Calvinist position has such major flaws.
Revelation 17:14 does not say:
- How these people were called and chosen, or
- When these people were chosen, or
- If it was conditional or unconditional.
This is assumed by the Calvinist to be in an arbitrary "pre-design" method of God before and without the freedom of human choice in the matter.
Revelation 13:8 does not say that God wrote all names in the book of Life "from before the foundation of the world." Again, this is assumed by the Calvinist. The Calvinist cannot envision God writing names in His book on an on-going basis from the foundation of the world. Neither can he envision God blotting names out of the book of Life. But, God does (Revelation 22:18,19; 3:5), and therefore, names pre-fixed and permanently and unchangeably fixed is not Bible doctrine.
Matthew 22:14 does not favor the Calvinist viewpoint. It declares that God sends His call out to "many". It is foolish to call people you have already planned and programmed to reject. The chosen are chosen because they responded to the call of the gospel by faith (Mark 16:15,16).
John 6:65 does not help the Calvinist doctrine. No one denies that only God can grant us a way to come to Him. We could never devise our own way back to the Father. We could not devise a method for getting back in fellowship with the Father. However, God's plan involves a selection process that is not arbitrarily arranged ahead of time. He planned to give the message that can open "access into this grace" (Romans 5:1). God grants only certain ones to come to Jesus. Who are they? They are the seekers, the penitent, the hungry, the child-like in faith. They can come to Jesus if they are looking for what He offers spiritually. The ones that "walked with Him no more" were the ones who were there for the loaves and fishes, not for the needs of their souls. They were not there with Christ in heart, and they left when His words challenged them on a deeper, spiritual level. Only those who are inclined to eternal life are granted to come to Jesus.
So, once again, there is no passage that speaks of unconditional election or supports the idea that we have all been unchangeably designed. God is not arbitrary. God is just. His temporal purposes moved Him to elect certain individuals to certain roles for certain purposes, but it was not to design them for hell and design others personally to heaven. There is real choice given to man to choose. He may harden his heart and become a vessel for wrath, or he may soften his heart toward God and be made a vessel of honor. God is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9) but that all should come to repentance. Which way have you inclined your heart? If you judge yourself unworthy of eternal life, then the choice was yours to make, and if you are disposed and determined to have eternal life, then the opportunity is yours to take advantage of. Do not "neglect so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:1-4). Do not let someone tell you that you have to wait to see what you have been designed to do. Do not let someone put the blame on God if you are not saved because He was arbitrary and just did not design you for salvation. This is too important. Please consider that you do have a choice. God has set before us life and death. Therefore, choose life. Choose today.