election is not only the heart of the system of Calvinism, but it is the
heart of the whole of salvation.
Election is a divine act of the sovereign will of an eternal, immutable,
omnipotent creator effectively determining the objects of His saving
operations. What we believe about
God’s sovereignty will effect our view of election, and ultimately how we view
It is important to grasp what the Bible states about this
The doctrine of election declares that God, before the
foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen
members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His un-deserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to
save. Steele and Thomas: The 5 Points
That eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign
good pleasure, and on account of no foreseen merit in them, chooses a certain
number of men to be the recipients of special grace and of eternal salvation. Louis
Berkhof: Systematic Theology.
These two definitions express the characteristics of election:
Election is the sovereign will of God.
Election is eternal, from eternity past, before the world
Election is specific to certain chosen individuals.
Election is unmerited by the recipients.
We can build upon these characteristics by examining the
biblical words surrounding election.
proorizo – “pro” –
before. “orizo” – to bound, to set a boundary. The English word, horizon
is taken from “orizo”. Proorizo has the idea of marking out a
boundary before hand. Our English
translation, predestination, is
similar in meaning. It means to set a destination before it is taken. In essence, mapping out a course before it
is walked. Proorizo is also
translated as “ordained” or “foreordained.”
eklektos – signifies a picking out, or choosing.
eklego – to
pick out, or selection.
The two words are simple in meaning. Elect and chosen have the idea of being
picked out, or selected from among a common group.
With these definitions in mind, we can examine some biblical
passages that contain these words and come to a fuller understanding of
n The Timing of Election:
When exactly did this election take place?
Ephesians 1:4; 2
Timothy 1:9; Revelation 13:8, 17:8
With each one of these passages, you will note the timing of
election -- before the world began, or before the foundation of the world. In eternity past, before God created, He had
marked out individuals to be saved.
n Who are the Elect?
There are some differing opinions as to who it is exactly
that God elected. Determining who the
elect are will effect how we understand the promise of salvation.
The controversy hinges upon Romans 9:6-13, and whether the salvation promised here relates to groups or individuals.
elects a corporate group:
When we come to Romans
9, what Paul addresses here is the election of Israel as God’s promised
people. It is a corporate election that
places a person into a position of privilege.
Thus, a person born a Jew is placed in a position of
receiving God’s blessings, of hearing the truth regarding faith and belief in
God, so as to act upon those truths and believe savingly upon God’s promises.
The proponents of this position then state that what Paul is
teaching in the passages of Romans 9-11
is that God has moved from Israel as the privileged people of God, to the
Church now being that people of God.
So, you have in God’s plan of election “the Church”. Becoming apart of that group depends upon
individuals believing the gospel and embracing Christ.
Arminians like this view because it helps to stay true to
their system of men making the choice of being saved or not. God elected a people, the church. Jesus died so as to provide membership to
the church. The key is to believe Jesus
and you are then declared a member.
elects individuals to be a part of a group:
When we look at the passages in Romans 9-11, it is true that Paul addresses God’s election of
groups, in this case, national groups, Israel over all the others. However, Paul is not addressing the election
of groups separate from the election of individuals.
- Groups are always composed of individuals.
- Paul addresses Jacob and Esau as individuals in vv. 10-11.
- Several of Paul’s key words on election here in chap. 9
are used else where in Romans, as well
as his other
epistles, to speak of a person’s salvation.
(“call” 9:11 w/ 8:28; “works” 9:11 w/
- The unity of Romans 9-11 indicates that we cannot
eliminate individual election, because in
believing in Jesus is an individual decision.
Elected individuals compose an elected group – The People of God. It is those people God has elected to salvation.
n The Condition of Election:
Using Romans as a starting point, what exactly is the
condition for election?
Does an individual have to merit election in some way?
Calvinism believes the Bible teaches an Unconditional Election.
conditional election is an election
that is conditioned on something in the person being elected. For instance, voters elect a politician to
an office. The voter’s choice is
conditioned upon something that the candidate is or has promised. In the case of Divine election, God would
then choose an individual to salvation on the basis of some quality inherent to
scriptures teach, however, that Divine election is unconditional. God never
bases His choice on what man thinks, says, does or is.
Roman 9:11-13: Jacob and Esau
Paul uses the story of Jacob and Esau as an illustration of
God’s sovereign choice in election.
God chooses to bless Jacob over Esau, even though Esau was
the eldest and the one who should legally receive the family birthright. Regardless of that, God elects Jacob.
Notice when God’s election of Jacob over Esau took place:
Before they were born. (9:11)
Before they could act morally. (9:11)
What does it mean, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated”?
This has always been a
perplexing statement. Why would a God
of love choose to hate someone? Is hate a characteristic of a moral God?
Some have understood that
what Paul means here is that God loved Esau less than Jacob. He blessed both
men, but Jacob was used in the furtherance of God’s ultimate plan.
I think it is better to
define hate by its opposite, love.
God loved Jacob in that He bestowed upon him the inheritance
given to Abraham. God’s hatred
of Esau, then, is His decision not to bestow this privilege upon Esau
and his descendents.
Love and hate are not
emotions God feels, but actions that He carries out.
Jacob’s election over Esau wasn’t due to anything in Jacob, but was based upon
God’s own good pleasure. God has mercy
and compassion on those whom he chooses to have mercy and compassion. (9:14-16)
With that in mind, it is better to think of unconditional election as sovereign election.
This is God’s grace. Biblical grace is the granting of undeserved or unmerited favor, and this
granting is out of God’s sovereign choice.
NOTE: It should be pointed out that election itself saves no one; what it does is to mark out certain individuals for salvation. It is Christ making atonement on the cross
that secures salvation for the elect. (That will be discussed under limited
Other passages that teach of God’s sovereign election:
Acts 13:48. Observe how
the text reads. The gentiles believed because
they were ordained to eternal life. Their ordaining by God occurred before belief.
Acts 13:48 is a significant passage, and historically it has
been tampered with by those of Arminian persuasions. For instance, the 16th century unitarian, Socinus,
translated the verse to read, “as many as believed were ordained to eternal
life,” so as to make personal belief the initiator of being ordained.
John 15:16; 2
Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 2:8,9
foreknowledge? Doesn’t God’s foreknowledge prove He choose based upon
In Romans 8:29
Paul discusses foreknowledge.
Classic Arminian commentators maintain that salvation is
dependent upon God’s foreknowledge. It
is believed that in eternity past, God saw who would come to Christ, and chose
them to salvation based upon their future decision for Christ.
what respect did God thus foreknow them? They were foreknown as sure to fulfill
the conditions of salvation, that is, faith. (Fredrick Godet, Romans, pg.
Is this what the Bible teaches regarding foreknowledge?
Foreknowledge – proginosko – “pro,” before; “ginosko,”
The idea of foreknowledge is that you know something
beforehand. The word is transliterated into English as prognosticate. The word is used through out the scripture
to speak of God’s divine omniscience.
With that definition, it seems that the Arminian position
would be correct, but we need to consider the following objections:
- The Arminian position would violate what we have just
learned regarding God’s election. God’s choosing is based upon God’s sovereign
good pleasure, not something in men. If
fore-knowledge was based upon a future decision God sees made by men, then
salvation would be man’s gift to God, not God’s gift to men.
- Romans 8:29 is about people, not the acting of people. The word is “whom,” not “what.” The verse says
nothing about God knowing something about what
some particular individuals would do. Rather, it speaks of God knowing the individuals themselves.
- The word is foreknow,
not foresaw. When the Bible speaks of God knowing
someone, the word has reference to love,
favor, or an intimate relationship.
It is an Hebrew idiom, taken from the OT and carried over into the NT.
Genesis 4:1 says, “Adam knew his wife Eve.” He was
acquainted with her intimately.
Psalm 1:6 states God knows the way of the righteous. He is intimately involved with
In Amos 3:2 God says to Israel, “You only have I known from all the families of the
earth.” God knew of all the other people on earth, but He had a special
relationship with Israel.
This is what we have in Romans 8:29. God was intimately
acquainted with the elect in eternity past.
A discussion of divine election cannot be complete with out
Reprobation is God’s sovereign, holy, wise, and mysterious decree
whereby, in electing some to eternal life, He passes others by, justly leaving
them to be condemned by their own sin.
This is a dreaded doctrine by both Arminians, as well as
those who would be Calvinistic.
The key to placing reprobation in its proper biblical
setting is to understand that if God chooses some to salvation, then by
implication, God will pass by others.
That is only logical.
The opposite of wet is dry, up implies down, and a front
implies a back.
The idea of choosing some logically implies some will be
left behind. Choosing 5 peaches out of a bucket of 20 means 15 were passed by.
Theologians speak of two parts to reprobation: preterition and condemnation.
Preterition: From the Latin – praeter [ by ] and ire [
to go ]. Together they mean to pass by.
Essentially, in decreeing that some should be elected and
saved, God chose to pass by others.
Those who are passed by are condemned for their sins.
should be pointed out that preterition is like election in that it too is unconditional. God’s passing by some was not conditioned upon their
unbelief. Just as God did not “foresee”
who would choose Christ, and thus elected them to salvation, He did not
“foresee” who would reject Christ, and thus pass by them.
however, is conditional. God’s condemns the sinner based upon his
Romans 9:17-23: The hardening of Pharaoh
In Romans 9 we have described for us the story of Pharaoh
and his hardened heart.
Harden comes from
the Greek word skleruno which
literally means, “to make hard or stiffen.”
Metaphorically, it means to render
stubborn, obstinate, or insensitive to spiritual things. Such is the case of Pharaoh, who stubbornly
refused to free Israel at Moses’s request.
Who does the hardening?
Notice who hardens Pharaoh’s heart, God (9:18). It is God who
has mercy upon whom He has mercy, and it is God who hardens whom He
hardens. God is the potter, and He can
choose to make a vessel of honor, a fancy soup dish; or God can make a vessel
of dishonor, an ash tray.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for the purpose of showing His
wrath and to make His power known.
What does it mean to harden?
No doctrine stimulates more negative reaction than the idea
that God hardens sinners. But, the Bible teaches this clearly. How are we to understand this
hardening? Is God intentionally causing
unbelief and rebellion in the heart of Pharaoh?
In order to save God’s reputation from being stained with
such an act, the opponents to reprobation state that it was Pharaoh who
hardened his heart first. They point to
Exodus 9:12, where the first reference to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart comes after Pharaoh hardening his own heart,
Does the scriptures yield the conclusion that God responded
First, the book of Exodus does not clearly indicate that God
hardened Pharaoh’s heart in response to his hardening. In fact, Exodus 4:21 records God telling
Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Furthermore, there are 5 more
references in the passive voice, (7:13,14,22; 8:11,15), indicating that it was
God who hardened his heart first.
Secondly, Paul is clear that it is God’s choice alone to
harden whom He wishes, and God is not constrained to make that decision based
upon a person’s actions.
Third, if God hardens in response to self-hardening, then this
action would be the response to the objection that God is unfair, (Romans
9:19). In other words, Paul could have
responded to the objector in his argument by stating, “God hardened Pharaoh’s
heart because he hardened his heart first.” However, Paul does not even give
that scenario as an answer.
The biblical evidence suggests that it is God who hardens,
but does that make God the one who causes disobedience and sin in a person?
We must remember that God’s hardening is with human beings,
as we have learned, who are in open rebellion against God. God’s hardening then, does not causes sinfulness, or spiritual
insensitivity in people; it maintains
people in the state of sin that already characterizes them.
The hardening properties are not in God, but in the sinner.
It is similar to clay hardening. The properties to harden clay are not found in the sun, or heat,
but in the clay itself.
n Objections to Unconditional Election:
unconditional election unfair?
This is the prime objection to unconditional election. Usually the objector states that such a view
of election makes God to be cruel, and a respecter of persons.
Furthermore, the objector asks, “what if someone wants in but
he or she is not elected?” The question is asked as if Calvinism teaches
that God prevents people from coming to Him who want to come to Him, but are
Let us examine the objector’s claims.
election is unfair and makes God cruel.
(1). To say election is unfair demonstrates how an
unbiblical view of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness has adversely effected
the thinking of Christians.
Christians have the wrong idea that a holy and just God is
obligated to offer salvation to sinful and rebellious men. It must be made clear that God does not owe
any man anything. If God were to be
fair, all men would be sent to hell, for all men deserve hell.
(2). Further more, salvation is God’s to offer. He can do what He wishes with His
salvation. He can withhold it from all,
or give it to all, or give it to some. It
is not man’s place to argue with what God should do with His salvation (Romans
A billionaire goes to
prison that holds 250 criminals. These
criminals have murdered, raped and done many acts of cruel wickedness; none of
them are the least bit repentant of their attitudes and actions. All 250 criminals are dying of a
disease. The billionaire selects 4 on
whom he bestows his favor. These four
criminals are cleaned up, medically treated, and are given their own rooms in
the billionaire’s mansion.
Is the billionaire unfair,
or cruel, because he only chooses 4 criminals out of that group of 250 on whom
to bestow his blessings? Of course
not! None of the criminals deserve any
favor from the billionaire. If a
billionaire can offer to show mercy on who he wishes, why can’t God? It is God’s salvation to offer, and men
cannot demand of God to extend His mercy to whom they think should receive
Calvinistic view of
election prevents people who want to come to salvation, but can’t because they
are not elected.
Those who oppose the Calvinistic view of election do so on
the grounds that it would teach that men, who sincerely desire salvation,
cannot receive salvation because they are not elect. In other words, a man may want to be saved, but he is turned away
because he is not on God’s “elect list.”
There are a couple of problems with this idea.
(1). First, it is assumed that there are men who sincerely
want salvation with out any intervention by God. As we have seen with total depravity, men do not desire to have
any thing to do with God. He wants to
run his own life. The notion that there
would be individuals who want to be saved, but are not on God’s “election list”
is pure, unbiblical fantasy.
(2). Secondly, this thinking separates man’s response to
salvation from the Holy Spirit’s divinely effective work in the heart of men.
No man is going to wake up one morning and think, “I believe I want to go to
heaven.” As we will see under
irresistible grace, any person who comes to Christ demonstrates that they are
elect, because God calls all His elect out of the world.
What about 2 Peter 3:9? Doesn’t God want “all” men to be saved?
Arminians often appeal to this passage in 2 Peter as a proof
text that proves God desires all men
on earth to be saved. Peter is stating,
says the Arminian, that God delays His judgment because He does not desire anyone to perish, but rather desires the
repentance and salvation of all people.
Thus, God wants every one to have the opportunity to hear the gospel and
decide for Christ.
On the surface, it does appear as though Peter is advocating
that God desires all men to be saved, but we need to do a study on the passage
to see if this idea plays out.
Second Peter is written primarily to give a defense against
the intrusion into the church by false teachers. The second chapter beings a description of their character. Peter points out what a false teacher is
marked by. Beginning in chapter three, Peter says he wants to, “stir up to
remembrance” (3:1), those things spoken by the prophets of old and by Christ
concerning what false teachers will say about Christ’s coming. These false teachers will say that God has forgotten about judgment, and Christ has
failed to return, (3:5). Peter then, is encouraging his readers by telling them
why God has delayed his coming.
It is important to note that 2 Peter, as with all epistles,
is written to the church, to the brethren.
This is significant, because 3:9
says that God is longsuffering to us-ward. Who is the us? It would be the church.
Peter’s words are written to encourage the Christians who
have been influenced to think Christ has forgotten his promise of returning.
Willing - What exactly does “willing” mean here?
Those on the Arminian side hold that willing makes reference
to God’s strong desire or wish. It is a desire or wish that may or may not
take place. Basically, it is understood
as God expressing what He wishes will happen, i.e., that all men repent.
translated from the Greek word, boulomai. Instead of having the thought of merely
expressing a wish or desire that may or may not come to pass, boulomai, means, “a deliberate design,
that which has purpose.”
Of all the uses of boulomai in the NT, the word in
its various contexts means “a desire that will be accomplished.”
Understood here in 2 Peter 3:9, God has purposed that none should perish, but all come to repentance.
All – Who are the
Those who are of the Arminian persuasion take all, when it is used in the Bible, to
mean “every person with out exception.”
However, upon examination of the scriptures, all rarely means “every person with out exception.” The context of
the passages where it is employed determines how the word is to be understood,
and more often, the context of specific passages limits all to mean “certain individuals of a group.” See for example, Mark 1:5; Acts 4:21;
Further, the indefinite pronoun tinas, translated any is
plural. What does that mean?
Though tinas is
rightly translated any, its specific
definition is properly understood as “some” or “certain ones”, or “certain
men.” If Peter had intended to include
as the all, “every single person with
out exception,” he would had been better to use a singular pronoun form which
would be translated “anyone.”
Proper interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9:
Is Peter advocating that God extends His judgment because He
strongly wishes every person on earth to have the opportunity to hear the
Gospel and decide for Christ?
God prolongs judgment because He has purposed that none of
His elect will perish, but they will come to repentance. God long suffers on account of our
salvation, (3:15); the salvation of his elect people. Thus, God withholds final, eschatological judgment in the return
of Christ, until all his people are brought to salvation.
Scriptural illustrations: 1 Peter 3:20; Matthew
1 Peter 3:20: God
prolonged judgment as Noah prepared the ark. Not for the sake of the world to
repent, but for Noah’s sake; so that he could prepare the ark.
The tares grow along side the wheat.
God with holds judgment for the wheat to grow, not on account of the