I am known as a Calvinist, and the church where I pastor is known as a Calvinist church. This phenomenon is interesting to me because I don’t use the term Calvinist in my preaching, and the church I pastor is Cedar Grove Baptist Church, not Cedar Grove Calvinist church. I think the reason folks want to hang the title Calvinist around our necks is that we speak of things like election and predestination.
We speak of election and predestination not because we are from the strange planet Calvin and, thus, somehow alien to real Christianity here on earth. No, we speak of election and predestination because these concepts are clearly taught in the Bible. I often hear people saying that they “don’t believe” in predestination. I encourage them not to say that; it only proves a level of ignorance regarding what the Bible teaches.
The Bible speaks of election and predestination. In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus teaches that at His return, He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Clearly, the language of the elect is used, and it is used in reference to a particular people and their salvation.
Other passages which speak of election include Mark 13:20, 27, which speak of Christ shortening the days of trial for the sake of His elect. In fact, Mark 13:20 clarifies what it means to be one of God’s elect; it means those whom He has chosen. In Romans 8:33, the elect are promised an unshakable security. If God holds no charge against the elect, then who is going to be able to condemn them? No one. Surely, many Christians cling to eternal security, but the Scriptures tie such security to God’s grace in election.
Many more passages in the New Testament speak of predestination. Acts 2:23 states that Christ was turned over for execution according to the predetermined plan of God. In 4:27-28, the text is even more plain in stating that everything Herod and Pilate (and the Jews and the Gentiles) did was according to the predestined purposes of God. It is worth noting that the statement on predestination in 4:28 is made during a prayer for confidence. The disciples were being threatened, and they needed to know that their trials were not outside of God’s control in order to speak boldly in the face of such threats.
Perhaps the best known verses related to predestination and election are found in Romans 8:28-30. These verses are known as the “Golden Chain” of salvation because they lay out the entire chain of events which lead ultimately to the believer’s glorification with Christ. First in the chain is foreknowledge, then predestination, then calling, then justification, then glorification. They all hang together as one chain forging together the links of salvation. The chain, of course, is anchored in Heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Beyond being the golden chain of salvation, this chain is also the chain of security for the believer, anchoring him to Jesus forever.
Two issues usually arise at this point in the discussion. First, there is the issue of foreknowledge. Once folks see the numerous texts related to election and predestination, they realize there must be some explanation for these texts. They may hope that an explanation will make the discomfort of predestination go away. So, for instance, when I was a Sunday School teacher teaching through Romans, I went to my pastor and asked about the predestination mentioned in Romans 8:30. His reply was that the term meant simply to say that God knows who will choose. I was placated, but not satisfied because the text clearly uses both terms: foreknowledge and predestination. It makes better sense to say (as Ephesians 1:4 does) that foreknowledge refers to the concept of God’s choice of individuals to predestination. In other words, God has the individual in His mind, then He predestines that individual to Christ.
The simplicity of this understanding of foreknowledge is made even more plain by the Apostle Paul later in the book of Romans. Romans 9:10-16 is clear that God’s choice of an individual comes without reference to any merit in the ones who are chosen. In this passage, there are 2 twins in Rebekah’s womb, Jacob and Esau. Verse 11 states that before either one had done anything good or bad, God made his choice of Jacob over Esau to receive the covenant blessing. And, to make perfectly clear what is intended, the text goes on to say that this dynamic was put in place “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.” In other words, election is a matter of God’s choice, not ours.
At the conclusion of the matter, Romans 9:16 summarizes, “So that it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” So clear is this message communicated that your response to it is anticipated by Paul. He replies, “You will to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (Rom 9:19). On the contrary, Paul says, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?”
The text is clear. It is our wounded pride that gets us so confused. We know all the good we have done. We know that we made a decision. We know that we made choices. We know how much better we have fared since deciding to follow Jesus. We know how poorly life has gone for our friends and family who have rejected Christ. And we are right about all of these things. However, God has not left us in a place of boasting—even in the least little bit—for any of these things. We were as dead spiritually as any sinner who ever lived. We must see that the only distinction between us and any other poor sinner is grace. God is the difference (See Ephesians 2:4-5).
Some will still insist on our merit—at least a little bit. They will insist that God chooses us because He knows that we will choose Him, thus negating the whole notion of God being free to exercise His will. Understanding foreknowledge as being related to our foreseen merit is an undermining of the gospel of grace. Ephesians 1:3 – 2:10 is written to make the point that God is the author of our salvation: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Don’t be afraid to admit that you do not in any way merit salvation. Admit it freely. You are not saved by any foreseen merit in you. You are saved by grace without any merit. You don’t deserve it. No one deserves it. It is given by God. That way, no Christian gets to boast that he made the right decision and chose the wise course. Any wise choices we made toward salvation are the outgrowth of God’s grace given to us.
Second, the assertion is often made that election is tied to nations, not individuals. While it is true that the Lord said to Rebekah that there were two nations in her womb (Genesis 25:23), it is emphatically not the case that his choosing Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with salvation or the covenant (as some scholars assert). The truth of the matter is that Esau was made into a nation, but he was not chosen for the covenant promises to Israel. In fact, he traded his birthright claim to the covenant and could not later find repentance for that sin. His heart was too sin-hardened (Hebrews 12:16-17). The writer of Hebrews views Esau—the individual person—as rejecting something of high value and failing to repent for it. Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews view Jacob and Esau as individuals, not nations. The election of one and not the other had clear implications for these individual men.
So, the biblical doctrine of election gets right at the heart of the gospel and speaks a message to us from Genesis through Revelation. God has people who will be saved. They will be saved through the preaching of the Word (as in Acts 13:48). Therefore, we are to preach the Word to all nations because Christ has purchased people from all nations with His blood. Their future is certain, as is ours, by the will of God.
I understand that such teaching may literally rock your world and shake your foundations. Please do not fear. When the world shakes—and even crumbles—it allows you to see the solid rock of Jesus on which you are actually standing. The more clearly you rest in Jesus Christ alone, the more unshakable you will become. I am convinced that God has revealed such glorious truths to us so that we can stand, unshakable and immovable, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Take your time to think through, pray through, and study through these things. If I can answer questions for you, I will. At least, I will try to answer them.
Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9).