God Decides 2008!- When Does Election Happen?

October 5, 2008

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” -Ephesians 1.3-6

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” -Romans 8.28-30

We concluded our last question with the following information in hand: first, that there is a group of people set apart by God who are known as the elect, and second, that all of those who are numbered among the elect are saved. Up to this point, our conclusions, though not accepted by all, is uncontroversial enough that people from all ranges of Arminianism to Calvinism can (basically) accept it. However, we now must ask the question which really leads to the division, that being the question of when does election occur in regards to salvation, specifically, is election based on salvation or is salvation based on election?

The first place I think we must look, this being a tried and true passage on election, is Romans 8.28-30. From this set of verses we can lay out the two opposing views, which we will then analyze in light of further Scriptural evidences. So, the passage again:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8.28-30)

The first view, which is known in Calvinist terminology as the Unconditional Election view, is that, when the text says, “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined . . . , [a]nd those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified,” then what it is saying is that God elected the person based on no merit of their own but simply his foreknowledge of who they are THEN called them THEN saved (justified) them.

The opposing view, call it Conditional Election, says that the foreknowledge with which God used to predestine the person was a foreknowledge that “looked down the barrel of time” and saw that that person would choose Jesus, and thus God saw that persons choice to believe THEN he elected them THEN he called them THEN he saved (justified) them.

As you can see, this is quite a quandary, and I want to take it slow in order to be fair to both sides. What I am going to argue is that the Conditional view of election creates a contradiction between Romans 8.28-30 and other Scriptures and thus is not an acceptable reading, and that with this freedom then we are opened up to a reading of Ephesians 1 which essentially seals the deal.

The first verse I would like to turn to in order to show a contradiction in the Conditional view of Romans 8.28-30 is 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.

This verse, which is shadowed again in verse 65 of the same chapter, here saying “unless it is granted him by the Father” in place of drawing, has a clear indication. Without pushing it too far (which I think we may do, but I do not feel necessary here) we may reach the conclusion that a persons coming to faith in Christ, whether by their own choosing or by God’s sovereign command, must be preceded by a drawing or a granting by the Father. This, most precisely, would be the “call” that is spoken of in verse 30 of Romans 8. However, this puts us in the position with the Conditional interpretation that God’s knowledge of a persons choice precedes their election which precedes their calling which precedes their ability to choose, which clearly is impossible. Thus, either John 6.44 is wrong, Romans 8.29-30 is wrong, or calling is not the Father “drawing” a person to him, none of which I believe are tenable, and thus this must be a contradiction.

Yet, let’s give the Conditional view another chance, thinking maybe we missed something. Alright, then let’s look at this passage in comparison with Romans 3.23-24, 27-28:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . . Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

This passage, just five chapters prior to the one in question, tells us that justification is by faith and grace, a combination we see presented in Ephesians 2.8 as well for our salvation. So, when viewing this in light of the mention of justification in verse 30 of chapter 8 the act of calling must then be the completion of faith, since it is faith which leads to justification, and lest one is to assume that calling is just a throw-away act, the presence of faith must not proceed calling. Then, by the Conditional interpretation, we have that God’s knowledge of a person placing faith in him precedes their election which precedes their calling which precedes their faith. But again, this hands us a contradiction, and therefore, I believe that we cannot accept the Conditional approach to foreknowledge and election as a plausible interpretation of Romans 8.28-30.

That said, we now want to see if their are any other passages which support the Unconditional interpretation of this text. The one I would turn to would, of course, be Ephesians 1.3-6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

This passage, in my opinion, stands above all as an announcement of how God’s election was established, saying that the elect were “chose[n] . . . before the foundation of the world” and that they were “predestined . . . for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” If the elect were to be chosen on the merits of their choosing God first, then it would not be God predestining anyone for adoption, but instead would be God simply acquiescing to the adoption that they chose. Yet, seen this way, it seems all too clear that the elect, the chosen ones set apart by God, all of whom receive salvation, were thus chosen before they were saved, and therefore, were chosen to salvation, which makes God all the more to be praised!