There is so much more that could be said regarding the nature of mankind’s total depravity, or what we’ve more accurately termed total inability, than what I’ve managed to write in the last few posts. As a reiteration, man’s total inability does not mean that he lacks free will, as is so often the pejorative argument. It simply means that because of his fallen nature, corruption, and slavery to sin that his natural desires would never motivate him to make a choice of following the God of all the universe in humble submission. Indeed, he cannot. If you’re unfamiliar with this, below are several links to posts I’ve written recently that help summarize this important concept of man’s sinfulness:
- The Total Inability of Man
- An Objection to Total Inability – Matthew 11:28-30
- An Objection to Total Inability – Deuteronomy 30:19
- An Objection to Total Inability – Joshua 24:15
- Summarizing Total Inability
That being said, our discussion here now progresses to the second major point of Calvinism. In order for this to even begin to penetrate our hearts and minds, we must first understand the Sovereignty of the Holy God, which you can read about (here: God’s Sovereignty) and the aforementioned inability of man. These two points combine to ask and answer the question, “Who then can be saved?”
To see the doctrine of election summarized alongside it’s Arminian opposition, recall the table below:
|THE “FIVE POINTS” OF
|THE “FIVE POINTS” OF
God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
I’ve highlighted several of the more noteworthy parts of each position. As previously mentioned, the foundation for Calvinistic doctrine of election is based upon the sovereignty of God and subsequently the inability of man. The majority of those within the Arminian camp would agree that God is sovereign and would likewise agree that man cannot save himself, however when the discussion turns to the meaning of the Bible’s use of election, or other similar terms such as chosen, predestined, foreknowledge, and before the foundation of the world, it seems both of those previous pillars are forgotten. Look again at the Arminian doctrine of conditional election set forth above and note how it is dependent upon man’s choice of God. However, if we are to properly understand the effects of the fall on man, their enslavement to sin, and their total inability as expounded in the posts listed above, then how can we arrive at a position that supports man’s free (libertarian) choice of God?
Instead of the inconsistency in forgetting the pillars of sovereignty and inability, if we more consistently built upon them, we would in turn look toward the doctrine of election to answer our question of how it is that man can be saved. This isn’t a highbrow, top cookie shelf doctrinal position for only theologians to discuss. Instead, this is a pervasive doctrine that is unfolded on the pages of God’s holy, inerrant Scripture from both the Old to the New Testament and its purpose is for the glory of God and that His saints might understand that salvation is all a work of grace and take comfort and assurance in that.
Likewise, it should give comfort to the unbeliever who thinks that he or she is too far gone, too sinful for God to save; as though His arm were shortened by man’s sin. Instead, because salvation is entirely a work of God from beginning to end, even the chief of sinners may find grace in their time of need and then glory in the provision of a holy, merciful God.
God’s sovereign choice in Scripture may be seen in several different ways:
First, and I should point out that all thoughts of election should proceed from this example, God has elected Christ as His “Chosen One”. This might sound a little odd at first, but it is precisely what the Scriptures say, i.e. Luke 9:35. Christ is God’s chosen or Anointed One through Whom the plan of redemption is accomplished. This election of Christ is fundamental towards understanding how believers are in union with Christ. A point which we will hopefully take up in another post.
Secondly, we see God’s election of particular angels. “ I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” 1 Timothy 5:21 This becomes most evident in the Garden as Satan, the fallen, rebellious angel seeks to undo the creative work of God. This would mean that Satan and His rebellious angelic beings were not part of God’s electing purposes and it was therefore in accordance with His predetermined plan that they should be cast into the lake of fire at the final judgment.
Next we see a distinction in the Garden between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent as a consequence of the curses levied after the fall (Genesis 3:15). This theme of opposition between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is one that Scripture builds upon throughout its pages. We won’t examine this in detail at this point, though we need to bear in mind that from the very genesis of Scripture, election was at the forefront of God’s redemptive plan. (for more on this, Jim Hamilton has written an excellent essay, though technical, which you can read here: Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman)
Fourth, and perhaps most obvious and less controversial, is the choice of Israel as a nation seen in Deuteronomy 7:6-8
“6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Clearly God chose Israel from among the nations. Through His call to Abraham He created for Himself a people that would be His own possession. He did not choose the Midianites, nor the Amorites, nor the Edomites, nor Egyptians, but the Israelites out of His sovereign free will.
It is important to make a distinction here that although God chose Israel corporately from among the other nations we have no indication that this was election unto salvation, i.e. that every member of that chosen nation was saved. In fact, all evidence points to the contrary. The important thing to note here is the why. In other words, why did God choose them and not another nation. This is important because God’s principle of election here is operating under the same principle as His election unto salvation that develops more fully in the New Testament, namely that God has chosen a people out of His sovereign choice.
Taking this a step further, as A.W. Pink helpfully points out, God has exerted His divine election within this corporate body of national Israel specifically, “an election within an election; or, in other words, God had a special people of His own from among the nation itself.” We see this explicitly stated in Romans 9:4-8
“4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
And Romans 11:1-5
“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”
These passages provide a helpful affirmation that God’s divine choice of national Israel was not unto salvation, but that within this corporate body were a remnant whom God had chosen by grace. This is election unto salvation.
Which leads us to our final point, and the point at which objectors to divine election begin to squirm uneasily, namely God’s divine election of people unto salvation. This can be observed in the following verses:
- Matt. 22:14
- Matt. 24:31
- Mark 13:20
- Luke 18:7
- John 1:12-13
- John 6
- John 10
- John 13:18
- John 15:16
- Acts 13:48
- Romans 8:28-30
- Romans 8:33
- Romans 9:11-13
- Romans 9:15-16
- Romans 10:20
- Romans 11:2
- Romans 11:5-7
- 1 Cor. 1:27-29
- Ephesians 1:4-5,11
- 1 Thes. 1:4
- 2 Thes. 2:13
- 2 Timothy 1:9
- 2 Timothy 2:10
- Titus 1:1
- 1 Peter 1:2
- Revelation 13:8
- Revelation 17:8
This list does not include the equally numerous passages that allude to God’s sovereign choice in election. Election does not fully answer the “How” but it does answer the “Who” in the question we’ve been asking, “Who then can be saved. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26) Though we may rest assured that only God knows whom He has chosen and we should therefore preach the Gospel indiscriminately to all. As Charles Spurgeon has written,
“Our Savior has bid us preach the Gospel to every creature. He has not said, “Preach it only to the elect.” And though that might seem to be the most logical thing for us to do, yet, since He has not been pleased to stamp the elect on their foreheads, or to put any distinctive mark upon them, it would be an impossible task for us to perform! Therefore when we preach the Gospel to every creature, the Gospel makes its own division and Christ’s sheep hear His voice and follow Him. It is unnecessary to stop the ears of other sheep, or to try to prevent your voice from travelling where other sheep are found—only the true sheep of Christ will recognize His voice in the Gospel message, or be obedient to it. Therefore, let not your zeal be repressed by any doctrinal views, however sound, for, depend upon it, sound Doctrine is never inconsistent with obedience to the command to preach the Gospel to every creature. Sound precept and sound Doctrine must agree!”
Unconditional election is the outworking of God’s predetermined plan of redemption. In other words, those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the earth will indeed come to salvation by grace through faith and repentance. None will be lost; none will be forgotten. God is the Seeker of His lost sheep and He will save every sheep for whom He searches.
In the next few posts, I’ll hopefully be able to write more about this in a clear, succinct way and address common misconceptions and objections.
 Curtis C. Thomas and David N. Steele, The Five Points of Calvinism (1974: P&R: Philadelphia, Pa.), 16-17.