Do you understand completely the doctrine of election? If you do, don’t even try to explain it to the rest of us for we would never comprehend your explanation anyway. Only our infinite God fully grasps fully this doctrine.
Yet, the fact that believers are chosen by God before the foundation of the earth can not be denied.
Not only is this doctrine difficult to understand, but for some, it is a bitter pill to swallow. Here is how Charles Spurgeon began a Sunday morning sermon at New Park Street Chapel on September 2, 1855 entitled Election.
Now, I trust this morning some of you who are startled at the very sound of this word, Election, will say, ‘I will give it a fair hearing; I will lay aside my prejudices; I will just hear what this man has to say.’ Do not shut your ears and say at once, ‘It is high doctrine.’ Who has authorized you to call it high or low? Why should you oppose yourself to God’s doctrine? Remember what became of the children who found fault with God’s prophet, and exclaimed, ‘Go up, thou bald-head; go up, thou bald-head.’ Say nothing against God’s doctrines, lest haply some evil beast should come out of the forest and devour you also. There are other woes beside the open judgment of heaven—take heed that these fall not on your head. Lay aside our prejudices: listen calmly, listen dispassionately: hear what Scripture says; and when you receive the truth, if God should be pleased; to reveal and manifest it to your souls, do not be ashamed to confess it (Charles Spurgeon, Election, Pensacola: Chapel Library, n.d. p. 2).
Sounds like Spurgeon was anticipating some resistance to his sermon, doesn’t it. Erwin Lutzer also prefaces his discussion on election with a similar admonition:
Already I can hear a chorus of objections to the idea that God actually selected certain people to belong to Him and therefore by-passed others. “That isn’t fair. We’re just robots and this leads to fatalism.” But keep reading. We can’t ignore the doctrine of election because it is puzzling or even because we might object to its implications (Erwin Lutzer, You’re Richer Than You Think: Wheaton: Victor Books: 1981, p.14).
I want to now examine both the Scriptures that teach election and the objections rasied concerning this docrtine.
1. Who chose? God chose us before we chose him.
“God’s election was before the foundation of the world. He did not choose us only after we chose Him (Eph. 1:4)” (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 1997, p.314).
2. Whom did He chose? Two views.
Corporate Election. Did God only choose a group? This is the view of Dan Esterline, as quoted by Ryrie, “What did God choose before the foundation of the world? The church. Not individuals, but the body of Christ” (p.311). Individuals are not elected until they are believers in Christ, says this view.
Another representative of the corporate view is Clark Pinnock. “Christ is the chosen One in and through whom in corporate solidarity with Him the church is selected to be God’s own. Not one is ever chosen on his own, that is, outside of Christ, or apart from incorporation into the church” (Clark Pinnock, gen. ed., The Grace of God, the Will of Man, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing company, 1989, p. 228).
Individual, Pretemporal Election. This is the preferable view. Ryrie believes that “election emphasizes God’s free choice of individuals to salvation. When Paul uses the verb he uses it in the middle voice, indicating that God’s choice was made freely and for His own purposes (Eph. 1:4). Election is unconditional and individual” (p. 312).
3. When did he choose us?
Not at Salvation. Pretemporal, that is, “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13).
4. Why did he choose?
To produce holy living, “That we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
Objection to Election: “It tends to immorality, by representing men’s salvation as independent of their own obedience.”
After Strong raises this common objection, he answers it.
“Salvation is not independent of our obedience” (A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology). 1 Peter 1:2 says that obedience is necessary for salvation. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” We obey what Scriptures tells us do in order to be saved: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior (Acts 16:31).
Moreover, election will make us holy. Nothing under the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit can make a Christian more holy than the thought that he is chosen. “Shall I sin,” he says, “after God hath chosen me? Shall I transgress after such love? Shall I go astray after so much lovingkindness and tender mercy? Nay, my God; since thou hast chosen me, I will love thee, I will live to thee” (Spurgeon, p. 29, 30).
2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14
As you are turning to 2 Thessalonians stop at 1 Thessalonians 1:4, where Paul first mentions, in writing, election to the Thessalonians. Remember from Acts 17, that the Thessalonians were new converts and yet, Paul is not hesitant to discuss the doctrine of election with them. Now let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14:
- Who chose us? “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (v. 13).
- When did God chose us? Not at salvation, but from eternity past.
- Whom did God chose? Not just Jews, but Gentiles at Thessalonica.
- How was God’s choice applied? There are three means that God uses.
1. Believers must witness (v. 14)
Objection to Election: “Election discourages believers from witnessing.”
It did not discourage the apostle Paul. The Lord used this doctrine to encourage Paul to witness when Paul was at Corinth as recorded in Acts 18:9-11. Read Romans 10:14, 15, where Paul stresses the necessity of believers witnessing.
2. In addition to believers witnessing, the Holy Spirit must convict.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul mentions not only God the Father choosing, but the Spirit sanctifying or setting us apart for salvation. Peter mentions all three Persons in 1 Peter 1:2 and their involvement in our salvation and mentions the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as does Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:13. We call this setting apart by the Holy Spirit before salvation the conviction of the Holy Spirit as predicted by Christ in John 16:8-11.
The Holy Spirit must convict and draw because sinners are unable to come to Christ unaided (1 Corinthians 2:14).
3. Not only must believers witness the gospel, and the Holy Spirit convict sinners of rejecting Christ, but sinners must believe. . .“and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
Objection to Election: “This truth robs the sinner of his responsibility to believe.”
Not with Paul. Paul told the Philippian jailor that he must “Believe on the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31). God’s choice is of grace not of our works. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:5, 6). Faith is not a work of man according to Romans 4:5.
Objection to Election: “The decree of election means a decree of reprobation.”
Strict Calvinism does teach reprobation or double predestination, though most strict Calvinist do not use the term “double predestination.” A. A. Hodge links reprobation with limited atonement.
“It is purely unthinkable that the same mind that sovereignly predestinated the elect to salvation and the rest of mankind to the punishment of their sins should, (this sounds like double predestination to me) at the same time, make a great sacrifice for the sake of removing legal obstacles out of the way of those from whose paths is decreed other obstacles shall not be removed” (Archibald Alexander Hodge, The Atonement, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953, p. 414).
Robert Lightner rebuts this kind of logic with the truth of preterition.
The Bible nowhere teaches the predestination of the lost to Hell. That is a human deduction, quite common among strict Calvinist, from the fact that God has predestinated some to salvation. God does not take the responsibility for men going to Hell. He did not predetermine that they should go there; He merely passed by them and left them in their lost estate for which they are responsible (Robert Lightner, The Death Christ Died, Des Plaines: Regular Baptist Press, 1967, p. 99). Dr. Bowman disagrees with Lightner on preterition.
Concerning preterition, Dr. Bowman states: This is not a Biblical word. It is a theological word which would indicate that the nonelect are simply passed by. This is a theological surmise based on the reasoning that since the elect will be saved then the nonelect obviously must be passed over. The reasoning and the position is correct but the Bible does not state that the nonelect are passed by. Rather, to the contrary, the Scriptures indiscriminatingly and distributively invite all men to heed the gospel, though all do not have the same of equal chance to hear it. The Bible is clear as to why men are passed by (Dr. Hoyle Bowman, A Case for Unlimited Atonement, Winston/Salem: Piedmont Baptist College, n.d. p. 9).
Sinners go to Hell because they chose to do so by rejecting the gospel. “He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
“He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).
Sinners condemn themselves to Hell. “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Read also Ezekiel 33:11. The Bible does not teach reprobation but retribution for rejection of Christ as Savior.
The Bible truth of election is always balanced with human responsibility.
1. We should pray that God would raise up laborers (Mt. 9:36-38). We can become the answer to our prayer and witness to the people for whom we are praying.2. We should pray for the salvation of the lost (Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1). One way to pray for the lost is to pray for an opportunity to witness (Col 4:3) and then boldnes to witness when God opens the door (Eph 6:19).
3. We should witness to the lost (Acts 1:8). The sovereignty of God never cancels out the human responsibility of the believer to pray, go, and witness to the unsaved nor the sinner to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to use our witness and convict the sinner of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).