Sunday, August 22, 2010

Confirmation of the Doctrine of Election from Scripture

In the previous chapter, Calvin really tries to make it clear that there is a difference between foreknowledge and predestination. But since this is often where semi-Pelagians and Arminians get confused, he spends more time educating his readers. These opponents to the doctrine of election consider "that God distinguishes among men according as he foresees what the merits of each will be." It is mostly just one meritorious act that they are considering which is whether or not they choose Christ. In this system of belief, God's grace and glory takes a backseat to the works done by the believer. The origin of salvation comes from within rather than from God. These same people think that the doctrine of election makes God bad because He chooses some for election and some for damnation and it is not up to the individual but God. This is the truth: "God has always been free to bestow his grace on whom he wills." Why do people attempt to take this right away from God? If God were to leave it up to us to choose Christ, none of us would be saved. Paul makes this clear to the church in Rome:

As it is written:
      “ There is none righteous, no, not one;
       There is none who understands;
      There is none who seeks after God.
       They have all turned aside;
      They have together become unprofitable;
      There is none who does good, no, not one.”
       “ Their throat is an open tomb;
       With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

      “ The poison of asps is under their lips”;
       “ Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
       “ Their feet are swift to shed blood;
       Destruction and misery are in their ways;
       And the way of peace they have not known.”
       “ There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18, New King James Version)
Calvin paraphrases Augustine by writing, "we have in the very Head of the church the clearest mirror of free election that we who are among the members may not be troubled about it; and that he was not made Son of God by righteous living but was freely given such honor so that he might afterward share his gifts with others."  He later responds to this by writing, "But if they willfully strive to strip God of his free power to choose or reject, let them at the same time also take away what has been given to Christ."

Turning back to Scripture, Calvin looks hard at Ephesians 1:4, "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love..."  Paul teaches that there was nothing we could have possibly done at this point, but God still chose us.  It does not say that God looked down the corridors of time and saw what we would choose, but that He already chose us before we could possible choose Him.  Going on to verse 5, Paul continues, "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will..."  It is according to the good pleasure of God's will that we were chosen.  This is very straightforward.  God chose us before we could choose Him and He did it according to what He wanted.

Something else that Calvin points out in this pair of verses is the second half of verse 4 says "that we should be holy and without blame..."  This goes against the idea of predestination being the same thing as foreknowledge.  If it were simply foreknowledge, we would already be holy and without blame because that is how God would accept us.  But God chose us to become holy.  "Paul declares all virtue appearing in man is the result of election."

Calvin looks at 2 Timothy for his next proof.  "...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began," (2 Timothy 1:9, New King James Version). Calvin again states that of we claim "since he foresaw that we would be holy, he chose us" we are inverting what Scripture states. We can safely understand by these passages in Ephesians and 2 Timothy, "if he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so."

The next few sections concentrate on Romans 9-11. He begins by looking at chapter 9 verse 6, "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For the are not all Israel who are of Israel," (Romans 9:6, New King James Version). Just because someone is a descendant of Israel, it does not mean that he is necessarily an Israelite. Many ancient Jews claimed that the church was theirs and they were the ones who decided who was in and who was out. Calvin places this same problem on the Catholic church. "Today, in like manner, the papists with this false pretext would substitute themselves for God." It is God's role to decide who is among the elect, not the people of a church. Calvin examines the statements about Jacob and Esau in Romans 9. It clearly states that it was nothing either had yet done which caused God to love one and hate the other, but only by God's good pleasure did He choose Jacob. Calvin notes, "If foreknowledge had any bearing upon this distinction between the brothers, the mention of time would surely have been inopportune." He continues to discuss the fact that neither did works deserving of God's grace, but God bestowed His grace on Jacob anyway. In like manner, we do nothing to earn God's grace. Other Scriptural illustrations of this are the story of Ishmael and Isaac as well as Ephraim and Manasseh.

Calvin refutes the idea that Jacob just received earthly blessings from God. Instead, God bestowed earthly blessings upon Jacob as a sign of His love and eternal adoption. Jacob received mercy where Esau did not, "while not differing in merits." The reason is written in Romans 9:15, "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.'" Predestination is an active act by God for His people. He is not passively watching, waiting, hoping someone will choose Him. Based on Acts 2:23, Calvin says that God "is not a watcher but the Author of salvation." The Acts passage was not the only time where Peter spoke of God's active purpose. I Peter 1:2 reads, "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." This is once again God being active in our salvation, not waiting on us to earn His grace.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.22.7-3.22.11


  1. Wow, you're going to have fun with these sections!

    My own experience (aren't we're cautioned not to put too much stock in experience?) proves to me that it was He who called me. One moment I was oblivious to the real world of God, Christ, and His church, the next moment my mind and heart was illuminated with the immense reality that all the things from Scripture were true. This certainly was not something I could ever have come up with!

    I'm glad I wasn't born in the 15th or 16th century, not having the benefit of all the proceeding discussions to clarify nuances to such weighty issues like predestination, the Trinity, etc., eh?!

  2. I am enjoying reading these teachings from Calvin. He has given me more confidence in knowing that God's election of His people is the only loving way for us to understand predestination. If He gave us a choice, none of us would choose Him on our own due to our sinfulness. God pardons His own people.


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