Election (Calvinism & Arminianism)

Well, at least this episode isn't a controversial one...

So in light of that, let's be reminded that the doctrine of election should not be one that causes division within the Church. Easier said than done, right? But seriously. ..

Faithful Christians can--and have--disagreed on this doctrine for centuries. It's a subject very much worth discussing and having convictions on, but not worth dividing the body of Christ over.

So with those disclaimers, let's look at this doctrine.

The Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms defines "Election" like this:

In terms of the doctrine of salvation, God's purpose regarding the redemption of people.

According to
Reformed [Calvinist] theology, election is the sovereign, eternal purpose of God to save certain people through his gracious work in Christ. Election is unconditional: it is not based on foreknowledge of people's faith and good works; rather, it is grounded in God's good pleasure. 

According to
Arminian theology, election is God's purpose to save people who, through prevenient grace, repent and believe in Christ and continue in salvation. Election is conditional: it is based on foreknowledge of people's faith and perseverance throughout their life.

Based off what we've seen in Scripture, we would agree with the Reformed understanding of election.

However, this wasn't easy for us to embrace. In fact, each of us recall wrestling with the doctrine for lengthy periods of time before warmly embracing it.

Where do we find this in Scripture?

You can find references (explicit and implicit) all over Scripture. However, we've provided a few of the explicit references below:

Ephesians 1:4-6
For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.

Ephesians 2:8-10
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

John 6:37
Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out.

John 6:44
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Romans 8:29
For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 9:15-16
For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy.

You can certainly find more passages related to this doctrine, but for sake of space we'll stop here.

Now, hold on just a minute...

Those who disagree with the Reformed understanding of the doctrine of election tend to point to two verses. So let's take a peek at them.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.

1 Timothy 2:4
[God] wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The argument tends to go something like, "If God really wants all to come to repentance and everyone to be saved then why does he only elect some?"

Great questions. Let's take a closer look at these verses.

2 Peter 3:9

All Scripture must be read in context, especially passages that are found to be controversial. Second Peter 3:9 is no exception. 

What we see when we look closer is that this is Peter's second letter to the same group of people (hence the title "2 Peter"). So to read this in it's proper context, we must first see who he wrote his first letter (1 Peter) to.

What we find in 1 Peter 1:1 is that Peter was writing to the elect/chosen exiles.

In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter was telling this group of people that there are more elect/chosen out there, and that God is unwilling to come back until they too come to repentance. He was asking the elect to be patient as God was (and still is) working to bring the remaining elect to repentance as well.

1 Timothy 2:4

The key to understanding this verse is a right understanding of God's will of decree and his will of desire.

In his review of Kevin DeYoung's book Just Do Something, Tim Challies explains that "God’s will of decree is his secret will, ordained from all of time–a will that is going to come to pass and that no man can thwart." While "God’s will of desire is his will as revealed in Scripture–a will we sometimes obey and at other times disobey."

To put it simply, God's decrees will come to pass. God's desires--although true of him--may not all come to pass because some desires are greater than others.

For instance, although I desire to eat candy bars everyday, I have a greater desire to be healthy. Therefore, I only eat candy bars occasionally. 

Although God desires for all to come to repentance, he has a greater desire to make his glory known, and that is expressed most clearly in displaying his immeasurable grace and his perfect justice. 

How should this affect us?

God's sovereignty over salvation should fuel everything we do.

It should lead to greater boldness in evangelism. Afterall, God's elect are out there waiting to hear the gospel (Romans 10:14-15)!

It should lead to greater confidence and peace during trials, because we know that God is sovereignly working all things for the good of his people (Romans 8:28).

It should lead to greater thankfulness for the saving grace extended to us,  because we know that there is nothing we could do, have done, or will do to deserve such grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And it should lead to greater love for our Savior, because even knowing our sins and failures ahead of time, he chose to save us out of his own good pleasure before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5).


Recommended Resource(s):

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer
The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
Chosen by God by R. C. Sproul
Five Points by John Piper
"Calvinism" on www.DesiringGod.org
TULIP and Reformed Theology: An Introduction on www.ligonier.org

Robert Kane