“Election and Predestination”: An Essay

As promised, here is the essay on predestination.  I wrote this not quite a year ago as my final paper for a Christian philosophy class (open choice for subject).  My views on this doctrine are constantly in flux, so this may or may not be reflective of my current opinion.  Regardless, the process of researching, writing, and revising this essay was quite enlightening for me–I’ve “always” been a Calvinist, but this process helped me understand whyBibliography attached here for the sake of space.  As usual, comments/criticism welcome, just keep in mind the rules of internet civility (whatever that is…).

Adam sinned.  Mankind fell from perfect union with God (Rom. 3:23).  To approach a holy God, sinful Man must be made righteous (Rom. 6:23).  Out of love, God provided His Son, Jesus Christ: through faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, Man can be made righteous before God (Acts 16:31a).  These certain men are elected and predestined by God to salvation.

Elect means “to choose” or “those who are chosen”.  Election is the act by which God chooses whom He will predestine to salvation (Piper, “God’s Invincible Purpose”).  It occurs because of God’s omniscience, omnipotence, sovereignty, and love.  Because He is omniscient, He knows “whatsoever may or can come to pass”–nothing surprises Him (“Westminster Confession” 3.7; Breshears).  God is also omnipotent and sovereign.   According to His decree–His eternal, all-encompassing plan–He has absolute authority to do as He pleases (Breshears).  He could save all people, or He could save no people (Steele and Thomas 30).  Instead, He specifically chooses to save some people, demonstrating His awesome might.  This pleases His good and perfect will, which He alone, by His omniscience, understands.  Lastly, God is unchanging.  God loves His Elect now.  Therefore, God has always and will always His Elect (Spurgeon, “Particular Election”).  It is because of this love that He chose to elect these people to salvation: since before time, He chose them to be His children.  This is why Jesus chose to die for them, even while they were still mired in sin (Rom. 5:8).  In the paramount display of a father’s true love, He sacrificed Himself for “the benefit of His children” (Breshears).

Conversely, Election does not occur because of anything we can do, be, or have (Piper, “The Pleasure”).  Jesus Himself said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).  God did not consider a man’s future deeds, religion, or faith when He chose His elect (“Canons of Dordt”).  It was not by omniscient “foresight” of faith that God chose His elect: Man’s faith itself is God’s gift—God obviously foreknew to whom He would give faith (Spurgeon, “Election”).  Thus, God’s giving of faith is the same as electing (Piper, “Those Whom”).  Faith does not lead to election.  In addition, God is timeless, and His omniscience is prescient: He does not experience “past” and “future” as we do.  From God’s infinitely higher perspective, outside the confines of time, the Past, the Present, and the Future meld into one.  Therefore, foreknowledge (“future knowledge”) is irrelevant: election, predestination, and the giving of grace happen simultaneously and at all times.  Thus, the sole cause of election is the “sovereign pleasure of [God’s] own will” (“Canons of Dordt”).

If election is the act of choosing, then predestination is the result of Election.  God predestined (“pre-purposed”) His Elect to salvation.  God predestined every person who has lived, is living, and will live, but He has chosen to elect only some.  All–and only–God’s Elect receive His Effectual (or Special) Calling: God invites and enables His elect to come to Him through Jesus (Larger Catechism 212-213).  Therefore, Special Calling is a sign of election.  Those who receive this Special Calling are predestined to salvation.

Logically, if some men are predestined to everlasting life, others are predestined to eternal damnation (“Westminster Confession” 3.3; Calvin 21.6).  This concept is known as double predestination. Theodore Beza describes the apparent inequity of this doctrine as a manifestation of God’s unique judgment based on His mysterious will (McGrath 451).  In ways often unknown to us, this separation of the non-Elect from the Elect fulfills God’s decree.  For example, God rejected Saul as king of Israel.  In His place, He instated David.  Saul had sinned, but inherently, both men were equally sinful: therefore, God’s judgment seems unfair and irrational.  However, David became the forefather of Jesus: the fulfillment of God’s divine plan.  In addition, God is under no obligation to save anybody: all Men deserve Hell, and God mercifully and graciously chooses to save whom He will.

If all men are predestined–some to life and some to death–then Freewill appears to be obsolete.  Like double predestination, the role of Freewill is a mysterious–and contested– subject.  In regards to our freedom to sin, Gerry Breshears explains that while God “commands righteousness and forbids sin,” He does not force us to obey His commands.  Even James Arminius, whose writings are traditionally attributed as the doctrinal foundation of number of denominations that oppose Calvinistic positions, agrees that “nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it” (251).  Since the fall, we have sinned constantly.  Sin has become an inherent part of our nature: we sin whether we desire to or not.  While sin does not fall outside of God’s plan, it is certainly excluded from His will.  Since God is omniscient, He understands our sinfulness in its entirety.  Thus, the fact that we are sinful has always been included in His divine plan.  God does not make us sin or want us to sin, but He knows that, inevitably, we will sin.  His plan, therefore, has a place for the sinful things we do: in His omnipotence, He can overturn evil and use it for His good purpose.  In regards to salvation, however, we are unable to be made like Christ without God’s intervention (“Westminster Confession” 9.3).  Yet, God does not force us to be made like Christ–a “consenting will” is necessary for this change to occur (Spurgeon, “Glorious Predestination”).  Spurgeon does not claim that we can do or offer anything except willingness to be sanctified (the post-salvific process of becoming holy and like Christ), nor does he say that our own will or willingness initiates the process of salvation.  God is still omnipotent: at any time, He could force us to do as He pleased, but He does not.  The all-powerful God desires that we desire Him.  This is, to an extent, paradoxical, but paradoxes are inherent to the relationship between a divine God and mortal Men–He has reasons and ways “known only to Himself” (Leith 124).

The doctrine of Predestination should not cause fear or despair.  Rather, it should bring hope.  Those who are Elect have surety of their salvation.  Those who seek God can be encouraged, for they have the opportunity to be saved (God could have damned all people, but He did not).  In addition, the fact that they are searching may be a sign of Calling, which is an indicator of Election.  Likewise, those who have know people who have not yet accepted Jesus should take hope that these people will receive God’s Calling.  More important, they should recognize that they themselves may be a part of God’s plan to call others to Himself.  The Elect have a duty to share the Gospel with all people: General Calling (Spurgeon, “Particular Election”).  Exposure to the Gospel leads, potentially, to Special Calling.  Although the actions of the Elect alone cannot bring salvation, God can use His elect to summon men to Him.

While we cannot comprehend all aspects of election and predestination, we can begin to understand God’s purpose.  Election serves to glorify God, humble Man, and honor Christ.  Firstly, God demonstrates His power by choosing the Elect based solely on His sovereign will.  Upon His word, the universe is created; upon His command, the eternal destiny of Man is decided.  We should stand humbled in face of God’s awesome power.  God reaches down to Earth to save His Elect, though they are utterly undeserving.  Aside from God’s intervention, we are without help and without hope.  It is because of His “mere love” that He chose to intervene (Larger Catechism 195).  This prospect ought to cause the “elimination of all human pride, all self-reliance, all boasting in man” (Piper, “The Pleasure”).  Finally, by humbling man, Christ is exalted: He is the “foundation of predestination” and the “cause of salvation” (Arminius 250).  For this, He is worthy of all praise.  In addition, the Elect are to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).  God was pleased by Jesus (Mat. 3:17); by imitating Him, the Elect please God.  In this, Christ is honored as our ultimate role model (Spurgeon, “Glorious Predestination”).

In practice, the Elect glorify God by their actions: they live a sanctified life.  Actions should be a result of Election; Election is never the result of actions.  Romans 8:29b states that Elect are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”  Therefore, the process of sanctification is evidence of Election (Piper, “Confirm Your Election”).  The Elect develop the Fruit of the Spirit; the Elect strive to be like Christ; the Elect are chosen by God to be unique within the world.  Man was created in the image of God: a God who embodies: love, joy, peace, holiness, purity.  God desires and wills these traits for His people.  But Man sinned, “defac[ing]” the image of God in him (Spurgeon, “Glorious Predestination”).  Jesus came to restore what was lost.  Thus, the Elect–the sanctified–must reflect God’s image.  All this serves the greatest purpose: the glory of God.  Everything Man does, he ought to do with reverence and praise for God’s wisdom, power, and, most important, grace.  John Piper wrote in his sermon, “God’s Invincible Purpose,” “The ultimate goal of God in election and predestination is that God might be praised for His glory.  And the highest point of that glory is grace.”

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