For some time I have desired to pen a blog of my understanding of Divine Election, but I realize the philosophical and theological implications involved in such an endeavor stirs up a myriad of emotions in people who take opposing views. I realize I am diving into deep, deep waters of God’s eternal ocean, where all who undertake the task must eventually come up for air realizing the ocean is much deeper than one can fathom. One must confess the subject of divine election shines like an unreachable star among the majesty of God’s galaxy of unfathomable wisdom. In attempting to penetrate the boundaries of the truth contained with the inspired Word regarding such a subject one discovers that our finite minds can only go so far before we turn away, finding that we must bow in wonder before the Sovereign of the universe. Like a majestic snow-covered mountain soaring into the heavens, gaze as earthbound man may upon it his eyes can never capture the entire mountain’s glory. Divine Election leaves us in awe as we recognize we can only touch the hem of the garment of such a subject.
It is not my intention to be critical of or critique another’s view of Divine Election, but only articulate my perspective. The position I articulate usually results in Calvinists saying I am too weak on the sovereignty of God and results in Arminianists saying I am too weak on the free will of man. This I know, the Bible teaches both; therefore, I embrace both the total sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man for his free choices. While harmonizing God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill can leave us grasping for words of explanation that don’t yet exist, my perspective of Divine Election involves the interplay of both God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom to choose.
I contend that Divine Election must begin with Jesus Christ, who is the Electing God and the Elected Man. Christ is the Predestined One. Karl Barth has succinctly stated, “The Triune God eternally elects, or chooses, in divine freedom, to be for humanity the God of grace and love. Therefore, in Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, God is both the elector and the elected…It is the event which God willed from eternity” (Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 1959, 69).
Christ is the ground and starting point for God’s electing actions. The starting point in divine election is in a Person, in an Act, the Act of the Christ of the Cross. Divine Election is in Christ, and nothing is elected outside of or prior to Him. Outside of Christ there is no election of any individual. God justifies individuals on the grounds of the perfect life, perfect obedience, and perfect sacrifice on the cross of Jesus Christ, foreknown in eternity past. God elects on the grounds of the perfect, atoning work of Christ; it is election based on the Holy Father foreknowing the perfect life and finished work of Christ on the cross.
If the starting point of Divine Election begins with other than Christ then there is a tear in the seam of biblical revelation. Christ is the eternal thread woven into the fabric of divine revelation that binds ALL biblical truth tightly together. As the eternal “Word,” who was with God and was God in the beginning, as the divine Reason and Revelation, there cannot be a higher cause of election than Jesus Christ. If there is a prior cause for election other than Jesus Christ, it would result in one’s election being outside of Christ not in Christ. This is not possible as the Bible says in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Bible records in Colossians, “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: and He is before all things and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17).
Since Christ “is before all things,” this means that before a decree to elect, there was/is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, the Elect One. And it is “in Him” all things consist, not outside of Him or prior to Him. Nothing was prior to Christ; therefore, Christ being the Chosen One from the beginning means that before any decree of election there stands Jesus Christ towering over eternity, in which nothing or no one was planned or chosen before Him. Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah to come, “Behold my servant, whom I up hold, mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth. I have put my spirit upon him” (Is. 42:1). The disciples saw in Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the Elect One/Chosen One. Peter says of Jesus that He is the “chief corner stone, elect…” (I Peter 1:6). There is only one Elect Man and that Man is Jesus Christ.
Shifting the focus of Divine Election away from a decree to save only selected individuals to the exclusion of others, onto Jesus Christ being the Elect One/Chosen One, gives validity to the invitation, “Whosoever will may come.” Such an invitation is valid because the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is THE ELECT ONE (Isaiah 42:1; Luke 23:25; I Peter 2:4-6), the Predestined One (I Peter 1:19-20). Divine Sovereignty doesn’t eliminate human freedom to respond to God’s invitation, or else man would be nothing more than a pawn without a choice. Dale Moody has written, “Christ is the Predestined One in his death and resurrection. In his death Christ is both rejected and accepted by God. At the cross he stands as both a rejected sinner and the accepted Son of God. He was rejected because he bore our sins. He was accepted because he knew no sin of his own” (Moody, Word of Truth, 1981, 341). God in His sovereignty has taken the initiative in salvation, but man must respond to the call of conviction and respond in the affirmative in order to be saved.
The election of Christ as the Predestined One is initiated by God; therefore, to Him is due all glory and honor. Christ is the Captain of the elect. And a person whose faith is “in Him” is justified, apart from one’s works or merit, as the result of trusting the ELECT ONE, Jesus Christ. His atonement is sufficient to save all who put their trust in the Elect One, but is only actualized by those who believe. As Paul clearly declares, “The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:22). The Holy Father’s saving purpose is as wide as the world (John 3:16). In Christ we see the purpose and principle of election, the election of ONE for the salvation of those who see their need of a Savior and respond in faith.
Christ in His becoming a man didn’t take the nature of some men and not others, but he took upon Himself the nature that is common to all humanity. He came to earth in the “likeness of men and being found in fashion as a man” (Philippians 2:5-11). In Christ’s work on the cross all humanity was acting in Him. As all are guilty in Adam (Rom. 5:15), now in Christ man has had his legal standing before the Holy Father changed. We enter into what He has done for us by faith in His finished work. Paul proclaimed, “Be It known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him ALL that believe are justified from all things, which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).
What Christ presented to the Father for His complete satisfaction was perfect obedience on behalf of all humanity. It was not the perfect obedience of a select few but all humanity. He paid the debt of sin, not just for some, but all men. It was a universal holiness Christ lived and a universal paying of man’s debt. Christ presented to God, as man’s Representative, the Elect One, the obedience and holiness owed the Father from all men. When one thinks of what Christ did, he did for humanity as a whole (John 3:16). By being One with us, and the Elect Man, man has been provided a Savior. Christ in a universal holiness and a universal curse, provides a salvation that is offered to all, which our souls enter into by faith. Holiness alone could answer Holiness and only the Holy God can provide for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. The debt of sin must be paid and, again, our Holy God in Christ made payment for us. The answering to God in holiness is owed by all and the debt owed for not complying is owed by all. What love, for in Christ God met both demands on behalf of all.
P.T. Forsyth writes, “The need for satisfaction for God’s wounded holiness can only be met by a personal holiness upon the scale of the human race, upon the universal scale of the sinful race. Anything less would be insufficient. What Christ presented to God on the cross was therefore not the perfect obedience of a saintly unit of the race but a perfect universal obedience.” However, only those who respond in faith to the Elect One is the perfect work of Christ actualized in their life. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. Who gave himself a ransom for all” (I Tim 2:4-6). Of course, not all will be saved for not all will embrace the all-sufficient atoning work of Christ provided on behalf of humanity.
God in His sovereignty has determined the terms of salvation, and only when one responds with faith in the Elect One, Jesus Christ, will salvation be actualized in experience. Herschel Hobbs writes, “So God elected that all who are ‘in Christ’ will be saved. All outside of Christ will be lost. God in his sovereignty set the conditions. Man by his response [appropriates] the results” (Herschel Hobbs, The Axioms of Religion, 1978, 71-72). God’s ground of accepting us is anchored in the electing of Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf through the Incarnation, the cross and the empty tomb. Christ is the Elector and the Elected One, and by virtue of one’s faith in the Elect One, the Predestined One, they are by the awakening power of the Holy Spirit “baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free” (I Cor. 12:13).
It is realized Classical Calvinism will argue such a perspective of Divine Election as presented limits the sovereignty of God and exalts the free will of man. While harmonizing the two will always remain a mystery, God in His sovereignty in making allowance for the exercise of man’s choices does not weaken God’s sovereignty but in actuality demonstrates His sovereignty. One is truly sovereign who can in their sovereignty make allowances for the exercise of freedom of choice for the sole purpose of demonstrating His total sovereignty in guiding the universe to His own glorious end. God is sovereign in his plan of salvation and His guiding of history, but he does not deny the freedom of man to make his own decisions even to his own eternal destruction.
While it is understood the perspective on Divine Election as I have presented will find disagreement with those who embrace Classical Calvinism, we can agree to disagree. This one truth we can agree on, those who recognized their lostness, repent of their sins and embrace Christ as their Savior are counted among those who are called the elect.
4 thoughts on “DIVING INTO THE DEEP WATERS OF DIVINE ELECTION”
Very interesting. I like the idea of our election is through Jesus Christ. The strong message of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul was repentance. Repentance must precede the application of saving grace, for repentance is turning from “self” to Christ, thus requiring the will of each person. John 3:16 It May be compared to a ship traveling from New York to England. The beginning and destination is the sovereign will of God. Along the journey the captain may need to detour around other ships, ice bergs, or strong storms. The obstacles in the path is the free will of man. The destination is God’s sovereign will and the day to day journey in mans free will. When I get to heaven I want the Lord to explain it, but then it probably won’t matter. Blessings my friend.
Very true, when we get to heaven it probably won’t matter…we will just be eternally thankful we are there…there by the provision of Christ
Thank you for this insight into this thorny issue, Dr. Dan. God bless you, Sir.
A thorny issue indeed! Thanks for reading