God’s Will In Salvation
In our first unit of study, we examined the foundational elements of salvation and what God requires of us. We observed that the salvation experience is like a chain reaction that is set in motion as a person repents, believes, and is converted. Now we consider God’s will in salvation and His provision of spiritual life, a new standing, and a new position for each one who responds to the gospel.
As we examine the will of God in salvation, we will realize anew that His eternal counsel and purpose in predestinating us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son is past finding out. To the honest, searching heart there will always be an element of wonder as he attempts to adjust God’s sovereign will and purpose with mankind’s free will. God’s will is revealed in His great love for us, as well as in the rich mercy He displayed toward us by making us alive with Christ—even when we were dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Grace is God’s being for us when we were against Him. In pure grace He chose to create us with a capability of rejecting the love He extended to us. Then He revealed unfathomable grace when He gave for us, a rebellious race, His only Son. How could Christ come to identify himself with guilty sinners, assume the responsibility for their sins, and give himself on the cross as the ransom for their deliverance? The answer is that God so loved the world! Incomprehensible? Yes. And as we approach this lesson, we can do no better than worship where we cannot understand this infinite love, mercy, and grace.
- Views of Election
- Election in the Bible
When you finish this lesson you should be able to:
- Explain the significance of election in the work of Salvation.
- Summarize the biblical evidence concerning who is elected, in whom they are elected, and what they are elected to.
- Appreciate the fact that understanding the principles of election and foreordination gives people assurance of salvation as they abide in Christ.
Objective 1. Recognize the definition of election as it is presented in Ephesians 1:3-14.
One of the major sections in this lesson concerns election. The other section treats the related teaching on foreordination. Taken together these two words tell us much about the purpose or will of God for the lives of men and women.
Clearly, anything that reaches into the past very far has a certain air of mystery about it. This is especially true when the subject deals with decisions of God in eternity. But, as we shall see, the subject of God’s will for people who respond to Him is not surrounded by mystery. Rather, it speaks to us of comfort, security, fellowship, and eternal inheritance. As we consider the actions of our Heavenly Father described by the words election and foreordination, we will see the gracious provision He has made for those who accept His offer of salvation.
Meaning of Election
Election is an act of God whereby He chooses for salvation all those whom He knew in advance would accept Christ and continue in their faith in Him.
In this general definition we see God’s gracious provision: offering salvation to all people in Christ Jesus. Observe that there is also a conditional part for people: accepting salvation and maintaining it by faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, in eternity past God chose (elected) to save people. Because they were not worthy of His grace, He chose them in the merits (or worthiness) of another, Jesus Christ. He chose them to be holy and without blame, to receive adoption as His children, to be to the praise of His glory, and to receive an eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:3-14). You will recall from Lesson 1 that God has made provision for the salvation of all people. Our focus now, however, is on the benefits of this provision for people who accept His gracious offer.
Biblical Examples of Election
Objective 2. Distinguish between scriptural and nonscriptural teachings on election.
To understand the meaning of election more fully, we will consider Hebrew and Greek words for it as used in the Bible. We will also consider Old and New Testament examples of election that will illustrate the idea.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word bahar is used most often. It means “to choose” or “to select.” It occurs 164 times, and in over 100 of these examples it is God who elects. These examples are essential, therefore, in demonstrating the activity of God in election.
In the above question we see divine choices which concern chosen individuals, chosen objects, and a chosen place. The word bahar most frequently refers to God’s choice of Israel as His people. No essential quality in Israel can explain why she was chosen to be God’s special people over other peoples (Deuteronomy 7:7). Israel’s insignificance did, however, give opportunity for the demonstration first of God’s grace, then of His power so that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16). Of Israel’s election we read simply: “I have chosen you and have not rejected you” (Isaiah 41:9).
The election of Israel to be the people of God was a high and holy privilege. But this choice placed great responsibility on the people chosen. As a result, they were punished more severely than were the neighboring nations for willful pride or failure to obey the laws of God.
Jeremiah 7:9-10 implies that the people believed strongly that their election was so secure that it relieved them of any responsibilities. But as we shall see, this was never God’s intention for Israel. For along with the privilege there was the responsibility of responding to God’s love in faith and obedience. And while Israel as a nation was elected, individuals were accountable for their own response to God’s revealed will.
Ezekiel learned that while God chose the nation of Israel, persons were individually responsible for living in obedience to God’s laws (Ezekiel 18:4). Failure to live up to God’s requirements could only lead to death (Ezekiel 18:13).
These Scriptures about Israel’s election teach us about the will and working of our gracious and holy Heavenly Father. They also reveal His holy character and His views toward sin. And they, as well as Romans 11:17-23, warn us so that we will not, like Israel, be cut off (separated) from God.
In the New Testament the Greek words for election occur about 50 times. These words are:
- Eklegomai—“to choose”
- Ekloge—“the act of choosing or choice”
- Eklektos—“the chosen or selected one”
About half of these words teach us about the exercise of God’s will in election. The principle of free choice is especially dominant. In the New Testament the verb form (called middle voice) indicates the direct personal interest of the one who does the choosing—in this case, God himself. In election God never predetermines the future of individuals, nor is election to be separated from the responsible decision of a person.
VIEWS OF ELECTION
Objective 3. Discriminate between statements consistent with two different views of election.
Some people see election a bit differently from what we believe is consistent with the total teaching of Scripture. They feel that God willed in eternity what the destiny of each individual would be. They believe that God determined that some should be saved and receive eternal life and some should be eternally lost. According to them, Christ died only for the elect. We might call this view the Deterministic View.
According to the ones who hold this view, salvation is entirely of God; a person has absolutely nothing to do with it. If he or she repents, believes, and comes to Christ, it is because God’s Spirit has drawn that person. This is true, they say, because people are so corrupt and their will is so enslaved by sin that apart from God’s help they cannot repent, believe, and choose rightly. Let us consider briefly some of the major characteristics of this view.
From this view comes the doctrine or teaching of eternal security, the belief that once one is in grace, he or she is always in grace—once saved always saved. For if God has determined in eternity that one should be saved, and that person can first be saved and then kept only by God’s grace, which is irresistible, then he or she will never be lost.
Free Will View
In contrast to the Deterministic View, there is another view of election held by many Christians. This is our view, which recognizes our responsibility in salvation, and may be called the Free Will View. We believe the Bible teaches that it is God’s will for all people to be saved. This is based upon the evidence that Christ died for all people (1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:14), and offers His grace to everyone. While we agree that salvation is the work of God, totally free and independent of good works or merit (worthiness), yet people must meet certain conditions. The responsibility we have in election, having confident trust in what Christ offers, secures God’s provision of salvation. This agrees with the statements of Jesus (John 3:15- 18), namely, that whoever believes may have eternal life. Faith, that is, the act of believing in Christ as a condition for salvation, is not an act of merit; it is simply accepting the condition laid down by the Lord. We can either accept God’s grace or reject it. The power of choice remains with us.
Since salvation is based upon our response to the offer God makes, we must by an act of our own free will determine whether we will accept or reject His offer.
The Free Will View of election is that God elects “whosoever will” to be saved. The many Christians around the world who hold this view believe that the offer of salvation is broad enough to include everyone who wants to be saved. We believe that God, because of His knowledge, foresaw all those individuals who would accept the gospel and maintain their salvation. These He predestined (chose beforehand in eternity) to eternal life. The Free Will position is that God foreknew the eternal destiny of these people but did not determine it.
In summary, we hold the Free Will View as being the more biblical of the two. In the study of the doctrine of salvation, we believe that it is closer to the overall teaching of the Scriptures than the Deterministic View. We are influenced by the fact that election never appears in Scripture as a violation of human will. And never in the Bible is mankind treated as unaccountable. Accountability can only exist where there is free choice.
ELECTION IN THE BIBLE
Objective 4. Identify on the basis of scripture five aspects of election.
Sometimes we are inclined to turn to one or two “proof” sources to back our ideas or prejudices about a given subject. However, if we are to be fair in our efforts to understand a subject, we must gather all the available evidence, evaluate all related facts, and only then come to a conclusion. For example, one might conclude that on the basis of John 14:13,14 we might receive anything we asked for in Christ’s name. However, as we consider the case more fully, we see that behind this same promise in John 15:16 there are the conditions of John 15:1-15. The additional light from this second source is significant in giving us the biblical basis for our understanding of the nature of effective prayer. With these facts in mind, let us consider further evidence in the Bible that deals with election.
In the foregoing Scripture references, we saw God’s sovereignty as He elected Israel. We also noticed that along with the privilege of being chosen, Israel received some very solemn responsibilities: to be obedient, live uprightly, and respond to God’s grace in loving worship and praise. The punishment for disobedience was destruction (see Deuteronomy 7:10-11). Enjoyment of the provisions of election depended upon an obedient response from each individual (Deuteronomy 7:12-26; also chapter 8).
We should note well that while holiness is not the basis of our election, it is the goal. Paul says that God “saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy” (Titus 3:5). When we are talking about the election of God’s people, the emphasis is not so much election to salvation as election to holiness.
Meaning of Foreordination
Objective 5. Identify statements that correctly define foreordination as it relates to the will and purpose of God in election.
We come now to the second important word in our study of God’s purpose for the salvation of people: foreordination. The words foreordination and predestination mean the same thing. In the King James Version of the Bible, the words predestinate or predestinated are used only four times: see Romans 8:29, 30 and Ephesians 1:5, 11. The American Standard Version translates all four of these foreordained. The Today’s English Version uses words that indicate “what God decided beforehand”; that is, in eternity. We use foreordination because some people think predestination refers to a kind of arbitrary, deterministic activity of God. Such a view or mind setmindset encourages fatalism.
In Christianity we do not have a fatalistic view of God’s election. We believe that God is sovereign, but we also believe that He has created people who can resist His will. The Bible demonstrates that people can resist the callings of the Holy Spirit to salvation—and be finally lost (Proverbs 29:1; Hebrews 3:7-19). It also indicates that whoever will may respond to God’s offer and be saved (Revelation 22:17; John 3:36).
Foreordination comes from the Greek proorizo, which means “to decide upon beforehand.” As applied to salvation this means that in election God has purposed to save those who accept His Son and the offer of salvation, and in foreordination He has determined to carry out this purpose. Thus, by foreordination we mean that God carries out His purpose to save those who accept this salvation. In other words, He has already made provision for all those He knew would accept Him.
Basis for Foreordination
Objective 6. Select a statement giving the basis upon which God foreordains.
Our goal in this lesson is to see the teaching concerning election and foreordination in the balanced way in which Scripture presents it. We shall see that the biblical view of election is balanced and harmonizes with the teachings of Scripture concerning the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of mankind.
The simple meaning of the word foreknow is “to know beforehand.” In Romans 8: 28-30, Paul clearly shows that the divine order is foreknowledge, then foreordination (predestination). And Peter states that foreknowledge determines election (1 Peter 1:2). Thus God foreknows, then He elects, and finally He carries out His purpose (foreordination).
The question then arises: What did God know beforehand about those mentioned in Romans 8:29? This passage gives no indication in this passage. However, in view of the total teaching of Scripture concerning humanity’s real participation in salvation (through our faith), we take foreknow to mean God’s foreknowledge of our faith. Thus, God foreordains “whosoever will” to be saved. This plan is broad enough to include everybody who wants to be saved. This truth has been explained by the following illustration: Outside the door of salvation one reads the words, “Whosoever will may come”; however, when one enters the door and is saved, he or she reads the words, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God.”
Because of His foreknowledge, God knew in advance who would respond to His offer of salvation and continue to serve Christ. He foreordained them to an eternal inheritance. He foreknew their choice and eternal destiny, but He did not decide for them.
Foreordination in the Bible
Objective 7. On the basis of scriptural evidence, identify that which is foreordained and that which is not.
In the New Testament the word translated to foreordain or predestinate is used six times. In each instance it means “to determine” or “to decide beforehand.” In the following verses let us consider what or whom God has foreordained. As we do, we will see more clearly the truth of foreordination.
Consider the above verses again and observe what is not foreordained. The details of our lives are not fixed.
God’s redemptive purpose in us as individuals is foreordained. And the basic purpose of foreordination is that we who accept God’s salvation should have a living, holy relationship with Him as His children, being conformed to the image of Christ.
In the plan of salvation you will observe that God and mankind are closely associated. God extends grace, but the individual believes. God ordained that His people should do good works. People believe and their faith results in good works. Good works do not save them, but good works are the evidence of their living relationship with Christ. God ordains good works, but people perform them. In the working out of salvation in our lives, God allows us to work with Him. His part is so great: He foreknew, He elected, He foreordained, He called, He glorified, He sanctifies, and so much more. Nevertheless, He permits us to work with Him.
To summarize our discussion of election and foreordination, let us remember the advice of Paul to the Ephesians:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).