Error and Consequence

The Sub-Doctrines of Election and Predestination

May, 2015
This lesson explains some of the results in teaching caused by a faulty understanding of two sub-doctrines (election and predestination) that explain the major doctrine of Reconciliation, and provides a more Biblically accurate view of these important teachings.
35 min

Let us quickly review what we have done so far. The last three major doctrines that we have examined, which are a set, are:

  1. Original Goodness: Man is created good and he is responsible and able to remain as such (he has the ability to choose).
  2. The Fall Through Sin: Man becomes subject to suffering, death and condemnation because of disobedience, but retains the ability to choose right from wrong and the ability to respond to God.
  3. Reconciliation to God Through Jesus Christ: God works throughout history to save man. This process of reconciliation is explained in ten sub-doctrines which are the subject of our continuing study.

In this chapter we will discuss the first two sub-doctrines, Election and Predestination.

Election

The word election simply means, "to choose" (like in politics). Biblical election in the process of reconciliation refers to the choice that God made from the beginning in connection with the reconciliation of man to Himself. Election is about God's choice, not ours.

The choice (or election) that God made is based on His character and will. His character is dominated by love (I John 4:7-8). The love in His character requires that His creation be reconciled to Him.

4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
- I Timothy 2:4-5

God's election/choice, motivated by His love, is that all men be saved and thus reconciled into a relationship with Him.

In order to fulfill His will, God made a choice, not that some would be saved and some lost. He chose or elected Jesus Christ to be the One through whom everyone could be saved.

The doctrine of election centers on Christ, not on us. Jesus is the only "elected" one. The doctrine of election does not explain how God saves us, just who He chose to accomplish this task.

4And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For this is contained in Scripture:
"Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed."
- I Peter 2:4-6

The Greek word "elektos" means selected, elected or chosen. Some translations have this word translated into English as "precious," but this does not convey its meaning. In context it means that something was previously selected, not simply valuable.

God chose/elected/selected Jesus as the instrument through whom His creation would be saved. Every other choice made by God (i.e. Noah, Abraham, prophets, servants like Samson, etc.) was made in order to serve His purpose of bringing Jesus Christ, His chosen/elected one, to earth in order to reconcile mankind to Himself.

The Jewish nation was a stage upon which God would put His Chosen One in order to accomplish this task. These people were not selected to be saved or lost. They were called to serve God's purpose and had the ability to respond or reject God's offer to participate in the plan to bring God's Son to earth. For example, Saul, Israel's first king, was chosen by God to serve in this capacity but disobeyed God and was ultimately replaced by David, another chosen servant who did obey. One other example of this process was Judas, the Apostle and traitor, who did not believe and rejected his opportunity to serve God in proclaiming Christ.

For centuries much of Protestant and subsequent Evangelical doctrine has had at its base the concept that "election" meant that God arbitrarily chose some for salvation and others for damnation; and once the choice was made no one or no thing could undo that choice.

John Calvin, an early Protestant leader and writer, wrote in his Institutes of Christian Religion III.21, "...it is now sufficiently plain that God, by His secret counsel, chose whom He will save while He rejects others."

The Savoy Declaration of 1658, III.3 of the English Catechism puts forth the same idea, "...by the decree of God for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined to everlasting life, and others preordained to everlasting death."

One reason for these conclusions concerning election was that this idea was interpreted in light of Augustine's teaching concerning original sin (all men are born guilty of sin and without the ability to choose right or obey the gospel, so God is required to choose/elect those who will be saved and those who will be lost).

Now that we understand some of the mistakes made in interpreting biblical election, let us look at what the Bible says about this idea.

God has chosen Christ through whom He desires to save all men

4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
- I Timothy 2:4-5
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
- I Peter 2:4

When God chooses or elects, He chooses or elects Christ to come and save mankind. Christ is the only choice that God makes.

5Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
"Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me;
6In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.
7"Then I said, 'Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.'"
- Hebrews 10:5-7

God offers all men the opportunity to be saved through Jesus Christ

18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
- Matthew 28:18-19
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16

God wants all to be saved, and He offers everyone this opportunity. Every person who is of the age of reason and of a right mind has the ability to respond. The gospel is not beyond our understanding or ability to obey. We are asked to give an ascent of our own will in believing, and we can do this.

Those who are united to Christ by faith share in His election

26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
- Galatians 3:26-27

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
- Ephesians 1:3-4

I am back to my example about politics. We choose one candidate to run for office. Those who vote for him share in his victory if he/she wins. God chose Christ. He wins the victory over sin and death, and we share in His victory, not because God chose us, we share in victory because we chose Christ through faith expressed in our obedience to the gospel. We become the elect, the chosen ones because of our union with Christ, the only chosen one of God. This union or association with Christ is accomplished through faith in Him as the Son of God. This faith is expressed when we confess our faith in Jesus, repent of our sins, and are baptized in His name (Acts 2:38).

This elect status we receive by virtue of our union with the elected One is not something God does arbitrarily. We become the elect/the chosen ones because we choose to respond to the gospel, which results in our unity with the elected One.

The Restoration Movement (digression)

This teaching about the freedom to choose, the ability to respond to the gospel, and the potential of salvation for all men is what fired up the early Restoration Movement in the 18thand 19thcenturies, and from which our present fellowship of the Churches of Christ comes.

Alexander and Thomas Campbell, Barton W. Stone along with John Smith were preachers and Presbyterian ministers in Europe and in early America. Their study of the Scriptures moved them away from the Calvinistic point of view and led them to preach that God loved all men and wanted all to be saved. They taught that through simple faith and obedience to the gospel (which was possible for everyone) any person could be saved.

If you read their histories, you will find that they were censured and put out of their Presbyterian churches. Because of this they left their roots and began forming their own congregations calling themselves Christians and began to do away with other religious traditions that had no basis in the Bible.

By the middle of the 20thcentury the Churches of Christ that grew out of this Restoration Movement were the fastest growing religious group in America within what was referred to as Christianity. The reasons for its success was the belief that God wanted all men saved, the belief that all had the ability to respond to the gospel, and the effort by the church to share the gospel with all.

In recent years, the church has slowed its growth because it has moved away from this principle. When we begin to doubt the universality of sin and the need for all to be saved, we lose our edge for evangelism and church growth is impeded.

Predestination

Closely linked to the doctrine of election is that of predestination. Again, before I explain the biblical concept of predestination I need to review with you what was understood as predestination as it was erroneously taught in connection with the doctrine of "Original Sin."

Calvinists taught that predestination meant that God knew, in advance, who He would choose for salvation and who He would choose for damnation. In order to get a clearer picture, let us first look more carefully at the meaning of the word itself. Predestination is the foreknowledge of a final result. For example, I exercise foreknowledge in the fact that if I put my hand in the fire, it will burn. I know this result before the event.

Predestination as a doctrine in the process of reconciliation refers to God's knowledge of the final result or the end of a matter. More specifically, it means that He knows the final result that His choice will produce.

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;
- Romans 8:29
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
- Ephesians 1:5

God knew that His choice of Christ as the One to accomplish salvation would result in the salvation of all those united to Him. He foreknew that sin would lead to death. He predestined that all who believed in Christ would be saved.

In still other words, predestination expresses the idea that God knew from the very beginning that His choice of Jesus would have the result of reconciling mankind to Himself.

A practical example of predestination at work:

  1. I want to satisfy my desire for ice cream. (My will expresses itself.)
  2. I choose a Dairy Queen banana split to be the way my will is to be satisfied. I choose a way to satisfy my will. (I elect/choose.)
  3. I predestine/foreknow that the result of my choice will satisfy my will. (I will enjoy the Dairy Queen, it will satisfy my desire.)

This is how God's election and predestination work; His will is satisfied by His choice. It works perfectly for Him because He is perfect. It does not always work this way for us for many reasons. For example, human will is not always reliable: we do not know what we want, or if what we want is good for us (for example, ice cream is too fattening, there may be no bananas that day or the Dairy Queen is closed for repairs). I have no way of knowing these things so my foreknowledge is limited.

God, however, has exercised His will in perfect accord with His justice and mercy. What He wants for us is perfect, loving and gracious. God's choice/election is also perfect. He chooses Christ who cannot fail in accomplishing God's will and fulfilling His foreknowledge.

Our faith is based on the sureness of God's election and predestination. If He chooses Christ to save us, Christ will succeed in that task. If His knowledge says that all who are united to Christ by faith expressed in repentance and baptism will be saved, then those who believe in Jesus and are baptized will be saved.

God knows for sure that His plan to reconcile us through Christ will work. He does not force us to choose, He does not make the choice for us. We do the choosing to believe and obey, or not. Our spiritual destiny is in our own hands. God merely knows the results because He is eternal and guarantees us eternal life with Him if we choose Christ, the one He has chosen and guaranteed to save us.

Summary

Election - This is a Christ centered doctrine, not man centered. God chooses Christ, not men. The only people He chooses are chosen to serve His plan, not chosen for salvation. Some chose to serve, others refused, but the choice to serve was theirs.

Predestination - This refers to a divine characteristic of God wherein He knows in advance the end result of choices He has made, as well as the choices we have made. He knows the results, but he does not force us to choose.

These are comforting teachings because they assure us that the choices God calls on us to make are based on His limitless and loving foreknowledge.