A discussion developed on the comments on "Setting Aside" this week about the doctrine of election. I'd like to make some comments that apply to that thread, but I think they'll fit better in this format than on a comment thread.
I listened to a message on "Divine Sovereign Individual Election", and I'm going to steal the phrase. Let's quote the first sentence: "Scripture teaches divine sovereign individual election." It has taken me many years to accept, but I am convinced it's true. Let me give you the short summary of what changed my mind:
A few years ago I was sitting in a Bible Reading discussing Romans 9. It was a terribly uncomfortable meeting, because I was trying my best to ignore the central thrust of the passage: God sovereignly chooses. That was the beginning of a long road for me: I realized what I wanted it to say wasn't at all what it actually said.
Another step came when I was listening to a message where the author quoted Matthew 11:21–26. The speaker wasn't talking about election at all, but I suddenly realized the implication of vv. 21 and 23 – God knew exactly what it would take to make Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon repent, and He chose not to do it. There are some other stunning implications of this passage, but that was what I noticed at the time.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is the story of everyone who perishes. If we believe God is omnipotent, then we have to conclude that God could save everyone, but chooses not to. That's not to say I came to believe in the doctrine of Reprobation, but I reluctantly concluded that God frequently chooses not to save.
The final step came when I was listening to a message by William McCrae on "Scripture's Greatest Theodicy" on Romans 9:1–13. I was driving to work when I got to the 30 minute mark and he quoted Donald Grey Barnhouse as saying, "Nothing provokes the flesh like the doctrine of election." In a rare moment of honesty, I asked whether my problems with Romans 9 were not really that I didn't understand what it was saying. Perhaps I understood perfectly what it was saying and just didn't want to believe it.
So let's consider what Scripture says. "Calvinism" is no better than "Arminianism" in the sense that they're both "-isms". The challenge isn't to choose the right "-ism", but to hear what Scripture actually says.
The most succinct statement is probably Romans 8:29–30. What do these verses say?
- whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son (v. 29)
- whom he has predestinated, these also he has called (v. 30)
- whom he has called, these also he has justified (v. 30)
- whom he has justified, these also he has glorified (v. 30)
whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son. We notice first that the end result isn't salvation per se, but conformity to Christ. Justification is a necessary step in the process, but it's not the end goal. The end goal is to make us like Christ. And that rests on predestination, on God sovereignly choosing to make it so.
There are many who teach predestination rests on God's knowing who would eventually believe – God looked to see who would choose Him, and chose them first. I believed that for many years, but it doesn't really stand up to the test of Scripture. First, we notice the verse says whom He foreknew, not what He foreknew. The idea here isn't that God foreknew something about us, but that He foreknew us personally.
Scripture uses the word "know" to indicate relationship in both the Old and New Testaments. This is how we understand Matthew 7:23 ("I never knew you"), Galatians 4:9 ("but now, knowing God, but rather being known by God"), Amos 3:2 ("You only have I known of all the families of the earth"), and Hosea 13:4–5 ("I knew thee in the wilderness"). We don't think Amos 3:2 indicates God was ignorant of the nations around Israel, or that the Lord Jesus will claim to be ignorant of the workers of iniquity in Matthew 7:23. We don't think God became aware of the Galatians when they believed. We understand God's knowing to indicate relationship.
whom he has predestinated, these also he has called. This is ties in closely with the next statement: we certainly see a "general call" in Scripture, but this is talking about something different. This is the call to the predestinated.
whom he has called, these also he has justified. The people God called are exactly the same people He justified. They are equivalent sets. There is not one person He called but didn't justify, there is not on person He justified and didn't call.
whom he has justified, these also he has glorified. This obviously hasn't actually happened yet (Romans 8:23). It will, though, and Scripture states it in the past tense because it's that certain.
Why do people who sincerely love God and respect His word not believe in election? It's a reasonable question; it might not have a clear answer.
One reason is that we just don't want to accept it. I once heard someone say this in message on the dangers of "Calvinism":
I'm going to have to change my whole preaching style if I accept Calvinism, and I don't want to do that. Now maybe I'm wrong but I don't want to do that...This isn't the language of someone bowing to Scripture. I've met this preacher, there's no question in my mind that he loves God. But at least in this one area, he's dead wrong. He's wrong even if his statements on "Calvinism" are correct, because he's openly admitted it all comes from his own self will, his own unwillingness to change.
I've talked about this before ("Why hast Thou made me thus?"), Romans 9:19–20 deals with the objection of a man who sees election as unjust, and it condemns the objector on the ground that we have no right to judge God.
And this takes us back to "Setting Aside". We don't want to admit that God has tried Adam's race and found it wanting. If we accept what Scripture says about election, we've taken a huge step towards the acknowledgment that there's nothing in me for God. That's something the flesh will never admit.