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Election and the Gospel

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

"When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region."

-- Acts 13:48-49 --


I'm not a believer in developing doctrine from the Book of Acts, but if there is any scripture that ties the doctrine of election to the gospel of Christ, this is it. The citizens of Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14) heard the word of God (the gospel of Christ) being boldly preached by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:44-47). Those Gentiles who "had been appointed to eternal life believed" the gospel that was preached and were saved (1st Corinthians 15:1-2)!


Unfortunately, many sneer at the word 'election' believing it is strictly a Calvinist doctrine which somehow violates man's free will. The doctrine of election was taught in the scriptures long before there was a John Calvin. Jacobus Arminius, an early 17th century theologian, rejected the Calvinist "theology that it is God who unconditionally elects some for salvation. Instead Arminius proposed that the election of God was of believers, thereby making it conditional on faith."[1]


In other words, God's election of sinners is conditionally based on whether or not they come to faith in Christ. Given the following passages, can unbelievers come to faith in Christ without God sovereignly electing them to salvation?

  • Their hearts are full of evil, deceitful, and desperately sick (Ecclesiastes 9:3; Jeremiah 17:9).

  • Their hearts produce evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness (Mark 7:21-22).

  • They are unrighteous (Romans 3:10).

  • They do not seek for God (Romans 3:11).

  • They don't do good (Romans 3:12).

  • Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness (Romans 3:14).

  • Their feet are swift to shed blood (Romans 3:15).

  • There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:17).

  • Their minds are hostile to God and are unable to be subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7).

  • They cannot please God (Romans 8:8).

  • The word of the cross (the gospel of Christ) is foolishness to them (Romans 1:18).

  • They do not accept nor can they understand the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to them (1st Corinthians 2:14).

  • The god of this world (Satan) has blinded their minds to veil (conceal, hide) the gospel from them so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2nd Corinthians 4:3-4).

  • They are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

  • They walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2).

  • They live in the lusts of their flesh by indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3).

  • They are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).

  • Their minds and consciences are defiled (Titus 1:15).


If you are honest, you would look at this list - a very small portion of what the scriptures teach about our sin nature and standing before God - and conclude that it is impossible for unbelievers to come to faith in Christ without God first choosing them. This is a difficult thing to understand in our finite, sinful minds.

  • Isaiah 55:8-9 - "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts."


The apostle Paul proclaimed in Romans 5:12, "just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned." The sin nature not only impacts every aspect of our very being, it affects everyone - the elect and the non-elect - because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). No one is exempt from the "wages of sin" and its consequences - death (Romans 6:23). John Calvin rightly called this doctrine, which existed in the scriptures long before he was born, Total Depravity. I cannot think of a better label for this doctrine than this. If God chose us "before the foundation of the world " (Ephesians 1:4) based on our merit, then no one would be saved! Conditional election is a "doctrine of demons" (1st Timothy 4:1) that must be rejected because it presents a false gospel based on works (Romans 3:20, 27-28; Galatians 1:6-9), not on God's grace (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8).


We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

Jesus told His followers (everyone who believes in Him), "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you" (John 15:16). Paul wrote, "He (God the Father) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him" (Ephesians 1:4).


Election and Predestination

The word choose is the Greek verb eklegomai. In Mark 13:20, Jesus identifies the elect (eklektos) as those "whom He chose." This word is also used in 1st Corinthians 1:27 - "but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong."


The word election is the Greek adjective eklogē which is defined as a choice or selection, or that which is chosen. This adjective is related to the verb eklegomai. Thus, the elect are those whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world - before the world was created. He chose us in Christ so that we would be holy and blameless before Him.


In Acts 13:48 (mentioned at the top of this blog), those who "had been appointed to eternal life believed." The word predestined in the Greek is proorizō which is also translated as foreordain, appoint. The prefix 'pro' means before, prior to. Those who believed were appointed to eternal life before the world was created. God did not appoint them to eternal life because He knew they would believe. Jesus said in John 15:16, "I chose you, and appointed you." Paul announced in Romans 8:29,"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren."


Foreknowledge

What do you do with the word foreknew? Doesn't this imply that God knew someone would believe in Him then elect this person based on his faith? Afterall, God is omniscient. He possesses perfect and unlimited knowledge. This is attested to in 1st John 3:20 - "for God is greater than our heart and knows all things." Of course God knew this person would come to faith in Him. But this is not what foreknowledge means.


The word foreknew in the Greek is proginōskō which means to know (ginōskō) before or prior to (pro). This word is used in Romans 11:2 - "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew," and in 1st Peter 1:20 - "For He (Christ, 1st Peter 1:19) was foreknown before the foundation of the world..." This word also means to have knowledge of someone or something from the past. This is seen in Acts 26:4-5 - "So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time..."


The word ginōskō (to know) is used in 1st Corinthians 8:3 - "but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him." It is also used in 2nd Timothy 2:19 - "the Lord knows those who are His." Jesus declared the following:

  • John 10:14-15 - "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father."

  • John 10:27 - "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."


This word is also used in Matthew 7:22-23 - "Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’"


Romans 8:29 does not mean God predestined sinners to be conformed to the image of His Son because He knew they would believe. The object of this foreknowledge is people. God knew the prophet Jeremiah before he was born - "Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). The Lord said to Moses, "for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name" (Genesis 33:17).


Regeneration

Romans 8:30 states "and these whom He predestined, He also called." If God did not choose us based on our future merits, then why did He predestine us to be conformed to the image of His Son? Paul gives us the answer to this question - God "has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2nd Timothy 1:9). He did not call us based on our works. He called us according to His own purpose and grace. Paul wrote in Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." He also declared, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Ephesians 2:4-5).


The word regeneration in the Greek is palingenesia. It refers to a renewed birth. It means to be "born again" (John 3:3-7). God, "according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead"... we have been "born again through the living and enduring word of God" (1st Peter 1:3, 23).


The Effectual and General Calls of God

What has been discussed up to this point is the effectual call of God. This call "is a direct operation or work of the Holy Spirit that brings the elect sinner to faith and repentance, from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty, from sin into fellowship with Jesus Christ."[2] This is different than the general call of God "in which He urgently invites all who hear the Gospel to come and be saved. Elect and non-elect are invited indiscriminately to come to Christ and salvation."[3]


In the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), there were those who were invited but "they were unwilling to come" (v. 3). Jesus ended this parable by saying, "For many are called (klētos), but few are chosen (eklektos)" (v. 14). In other words, many are invited to come to Christ and be saved, but only those who are chosen (elected) will be brought to faith and repentance by the Holy Spirit. It is our responsibility to "preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15), but we are powerless to do the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing someone to faith in Christ.


Everyone who hears the gospel is accountable for responding to it. They will resist and reject the gospel because of their sin nature. If someone is one of God's elect, this person will eventually respond in faith to the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit will operate in such a way to overcome any resistance to the gospel without violating someone's will. "God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom form a profound mystery, yet both do operate compatibly, and both must be affirmed if one wants to be Scriptural (cf. Prov 21:1 and John 6:45 with 2 Pet 1:10; see both emphases together in Acts 16:14). God has ways of working with the human volitional apparatus so that it freely and voluntarily chooses to come to Christ for salvation, even while He instigates and controls the entire matter."[4]


Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out... This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day" (John 6:37, 39). Everyone who was chosen by the Father before the world was created has been given to the Son. They will come to the Son because they are drawn to Him by the Father (John 6:44). Everyone who "beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life" and will be raised up "on the last day" (John 6:40). Those who do not obey the gospel call of Christ remain under His wrath - “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).


Without Excuse!

Jesus said, “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:21-22). Paul stated, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20).


God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), revealed Himself to us through His creation (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20), and spoken to us through His prophets and in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). We have "the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts" (2nd Peter 1:19). The non-elect will have no excuse for their sins when they stand before God at the "great white throne" judgment where they will be "thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:11-15), and the elect will be held accountable for their deeds - "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2nd Corinthians 5:10).


Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

How many times have I heard someone say something like this: if the elect are going to be saved, then why bother sharing the gospel with them. If Ephesians 2:8 stated "For by grace we have been saved; and not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God," then there probably would be no need to share the gospel. However, this verse says, "For by grace we have been saved through faith."


After reciting Joel 2:32 - "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 10:13), Paul asked several questions in Romans 10:14-15.

  • "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?"

  • "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?"

  • "And how will they hear without a preacher?"

  • "How will they preach unless they are sent?"


He then cites Isaiah 52:7 - Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:15). This good news is the gospel, the "word of faith" that Paul preached (Romans 10:8).

  • "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).


No one can be saved outside of hearing (through reading, preaching, etc.) the word of God! It is only the word of God that can pierce through the spiritual blindness caused by Satan, "god of this world" (2nd Corinthians 4:3-4), and penetrate the darkened hearts and depraved minds of those who are spiritually dead in their sins (Jeremiah 17:9-10; Hebrews 4:12).


"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."

-- 1st Corinthians 15:1-4 --

References

[1] Arminianism, (Wikipedia, 29 May 2023), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism

[2] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Salvation, the Church, and Last Things, vol. 3 (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010), 43.

[3] Ibid, 38.

[4] Ibid, 46.


Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.

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