Contemplating Calvinistic Election

I’ll nev­er be a Calvin­ist; I’ll say that up front because I find a lot of what Calvin­ism teach­es ridicu­lous. How­ev­er, when I used to say I believed in eter­nal secu­ri­ty, peo­ple would assume I was a Calvin­ist. I was­n’t. Now, I’m believ­ing more and more in election–that cer­tain peo­ple were cho­sen at birth to be those who one day enter into belief. This con­cept of elec­tion will prob­a­bly have me brand­ed a Calvin­ist even more. If you read this, I ask that you refrain from call­ing me by Calv­in’s name. I much pre­fer the sim­plic­i­ty and grace of being known as a “Chris­t­ian.” Thank you.

That dis­claimer out of the way, turn to Romans 9… 

All Scrip­ture quo­ta­tions will be from the New Amer­i­can Stan­dard Bible.

I have heard this pas­sage ref­er­enced many times, always from the per­spec­tive of those who deny elec­tion. The entire chap­ter is rel­e­gat­ed to the Jews, with­out any regard to what it actu­al­ly says. I read it dur­ing a break at work, and it has been heavy on my heart ever since. If Scrip­ture means what it says, then this sort of “Calvin­is­tic” elec­tion is undeniable.

The first sec­tion of Romans 9 def­i­nite­ly per­tains to the Jews, and I believe Paul is using it to set up the prece­dent that God elects. “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mer­cy on whom I have mer­cy, and I will have com­pas­sion on whom I have com­pas­sion” (v.15).

For this very rea­son, elec­tion “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mer­cy” (v.16). Pharao­h’s heart was hard­ened “to demon­strate My pow­er in [him], and that My name might be pro­claimed through­out the whole earth” (v.17).

“So then He has mer­cy on whom He desires, and He hard­ens whom He desires” (v.18). God hard­ens the hearts of cer­tain men against truth. What­ev­er the rea­son is in each cir­cum­stance, we can only assume it is relat­ed to the exam­ple of Pharaoh, that it is to increase of God’s glory.

Nat­u­ral­ly, the reac­tion to this is, how can God hold me respon­si­ble for unbe­lief if it is He who hard­ened me in the first place? We may say, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (v.19).

The response giv­en is terse: “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing mold­ed will not say to the mold­er, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (v.20).

“What shall we say then? There is no injus­tice with God, is there? May it nev­er be!” (v.14).

This elec­tion, this choice of God’s for whether He will have mer­cy on a per­son or not, does not occur dur­ing their life times. It occurs when they are formed. “Or does not the pot­ter have a right over the clay, to make form the same lump one ves­sel for hon­or­able use, and anoth­er for com­mon use?” (v.21). We are the ves­sels of clay. Gen­e­sis declares we are formed from the clay of this earth. We are of the “same lump,” all of us of the same make­up. But some are cho­sen for hon­or­able use and some for common.

“What if God, although will­ing to demon­strate His wrath and to make His pow­er known, endured with much patience ves­sels of wrath pre­pared for destruc­tion? And He did so in order that He might make known the rich­es of His glo­ry upon ves­sels of mer­cy, which he pre­pared before­hand for glo­ry…” (vv.22,23).

Some of us are pre­pared for destruc­tion. God puts up with those patient­ly so that His glo­ry will be mag­ni­fied in those pre­pared for it. Remem­ber the afore­men­tioned Pharaoh? God raised him up, placed him in that posi­tion, and hard­ened his heart so that He would be glo­ri­fied through the Israelites.

The chap­ter, how­ev­er, has switched focus from the Jews to the Chris­t­ian. This is where “Calvin­is­tic” elec­tion is “signed, stamped, and deliv­ered” to the church for us to believe. We have seen that God pre­pares some ves­sels for destruc­tion (yet patient­ly endures them) while oth­ers are pre­pared for His glo­ry. The pas­sage con­tin­ues, “even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”

There it is. Those of us who are saved have been called by God indi­vid­u­al­ly, from the Jews and from the Gen­tiles, “just as it is writ­ten, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hat­ed’ ” (v.13).

But do I then believe that there is no hope for those pre­pared for destruc­tion? No. I’m not pre­pared to dip my cup that deeply in Calv­in’s doc­tri­nal teach­ings. I believe the Bible when it says that “Who­ev­er will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). How then shall they call upon the Lord if they were pre­pared for destruc­tion? The pas­sage con­tin­ues and says that, “faith comes from hear­ing, and hear­ing comes by the word of Christ” (v.17). God patient­ly endures those pre­pared for destruc­tion so that those who embrace their call­ing and elec­tion in the Lord will go forth and preach the word of God, for “How then shall they call uopn Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear with­out a preach­er?” (v.14).

I believe the Bible teach­es both elec­tion and free will. I do not believe that just because man has a hard time har­mo­niz­ing them that they there­fore are irrec­on­cil­able and must be cho­sen between. Just because there are no fault­less expla­na­tions of a 3‑in‑1 and 1‑in‑3 trini­tar­i­an con­cept of God does­n’t mean it is any less true; so it is with elec­tion and free will.

If any­thing, we ought to be encour­aged by this. God chose us! And He asks us to preach the gospel to oth­ers! As non-Calvin­ists often say, it is those who are in Christ who are the elect because He is God’s Elect. Very true! Some of us are elect by birth, but praise God there are no dif­fer­ences in Christ. Once we’re in Him, it does­n’t real­ly mat­ter whether we were pre­pared for destruc­tion or for glo­ry, for in Him we are being con­formed to the image of the Son! That is what it boils down to, ulti­mate­ly, and it is a glo­ri­ous future lit­er­al­ly open to “who­ev­er will.”

Here is Romans 9:20–24 as ren­dered in The Mes­sage paraphrase:

Who in the world do you think you are to sec­ond-guess God? Do you for one moment sup­pose any of us knows enough to call God into ques­tion? Clay does­n’t talk back to the fin­gers that mold it, say­ing, “Why did you shape me like this?” Isn’t it obvi­ous that a pot­ter has a per­fecdt right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for hold­ing flow­ers and anoth­er into a pot for cook­ing beans? If God needs one style of pot­tery espe­cial­ly designed to show his angry dis­plea­sure and anoth­er style care­ful­ly craft­ed to show his glo­ri­ous good­ness, isn’t that all right? Either or both hap­pens to Jews, but it also hap­pens to the oth­er people.

That last sen­tence could have prob­a­bly been word­ed much bet­ter, but “Wow!” to the rest of it. Very well said, in my opinion.

5 thoughts on “Contemplating Calvinistic Election”

  1. Ben: I spent prob­a­bly a li’l over an hour talk­ing with my friends Shawn McGrath and Glen Har­nish last night in an MSN chat about Calvin­ism, or at least the elec­tion aspect of it. We prob­a­bly raised more ques­tions than we will ever answer, and we’re real­iz­ing this is a deep­er sub­ject than antic­i­pat­ed. Now we’re won­der­ing how Calvin was ever able to come to any kind of defin­i­tive con­clu­sions regard­ing it in just one life­time. :P

  2. Fun­da­men­tal­ly I agree with you. I think bib­li­cal­ly you’ve come to the cor­rect con­clu­sion, that God choos­es us.

  3. Makes a lot of sense to me, Ben.

    Here’s how Shawn described it to me: Did Lazarus have any choice when the Lord called him up out of that grave? He was dead, and by a choice not of his own, he was made alive again.

    So we are before we are saved, dead in our tres­pass­es. Can the dead rise of their own accord, or is it the Spir­it which quickens?

  4. Oh yeah, I mean, there’s a TON of infor­ma­tion and it would be arro­gant of me to say I’ve got it all fig­ured out. But one of the vers­es that always comes back to me when I deal with this issue is Romans 3:11–12 which says,

    there is no one who understands,
    no one who seeks God.
    12All have turned away,
    they have togeth­er become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

    It seems to me that the con­clu­sion is inescapable, if no one seeks after God, then God must be the one doing the ini­tial seek­ing. I may be wrong; espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the fact that I only quot­ed one verse out of hun­dreds which deal with this issue. But that’s the way I read it.

  5. Please for­give me if I mess up on any pro­to­cols that I am unfa­mil­iar with. This is my first time enter­ing a ‘blog’(?) if that is what this is called.

    My com­ment has to do with Ricks com­ment “I believe the Bible when it says that “Who­ev­er will call upon the name of the Lord will be savedâ€? (Romans 10:13).â€?

    I first want to say, ‘So do Iâ€?. But I must clar­i­fy that the word ‘who­ev­er’ or ‘whoso­ev­er’ in our KJV, comes from a com­bi­na­tion of two Greek words, which if trans­lat­ed lit­er­al­ly would be simply…the all.

    ‘Who­ev­er’ does NOT imply ‘abil­i­ty’ but sim­ply a promise that ‘the all’ who believe will be saved.

    To say that ‘who­ev­er’ implies abil­i­ty would direct­ly con­tra­dict John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father draw him:…â€? which, as you are prob­a­bly aware, if it were a more lit­er­al trans­la­tion would say, “No man is able to come…â€?. This verse, spo­ken by Jesus Him­self, clear­ly teach­es the total deprav­i­ty, or total inabil­i­ty, of man. (Does this make Jesus a “calvin­istâ€?? Prob­a­bly not. But it does make Calvin look quite bib­li­cal in his posi­tion on Total Depravity.)

    Some would reply, “God would not hold man respon­si­ble for some­thing that man is unable to accom­plishâ€?. My response to such peo­ple would be, “Did God not hold Israel account­able for their inabil­i­ty to keep the Law of Moses? A sys­tem of Law which God gave for the sole pur­pose of prov­ing to mankind that we mere humans are unable to keep the Law per­fect­ly because of our sinfulnessâ€?.

    Thank­ful­ly, God is not lim­it­ed as we are. He, by his quick­en­ing pow­er, is able to save unto the uttermost!

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Rick Beckman