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. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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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