A Study on Election and Predestination.
Matthew 24 v 24
“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”
In the above verse, Jesus refers to a certain group of people with the designated term ‘the elect’. Many have taken this term and have tried to argue that Christians are individually elected and predestined to salvation. Thus it is also reasoned that though the devil may try to deceive and mislead the elect, it is impossible for him to take them away from God, and salvation, because God has already determined that these people shall be saved. Any influence that man can have on his salvation is therefore completely rejected from this system of theology, as it is considered an attack against God’s sovereignty.
The logical extension of this particular doctrine is that if God chooses some people to salvation, then He must also have chosen not to save others, since in God’s sovereignty man cannot make the choice. When accused that this doctrine shows God to be unloving and that it makes one set of people more superior to the damned set of people (demonstrating favouritism on the part of God), proponents of this doctrine have stated that it doesn’t make God unloving at all. The whole of mankind has sinned and all deserve hell. God has full rights to send everybody to hell but the point that God has chosen to save a few reveals that He is a God of love. In advocating this view, it is also claimed that there is no superiority of persons because God doesn’t elect individuals on account of their own righteousness but out of His unbiased will. It has also been said that it just pleases God to save some and not others. In this extreme view of election there is an immediate danger of falling into fatalism.
Fatalism means that a person has no say in where his life goes; a person is just a puppet in the hands of God; there is no point in evangelism as God has chosen who He wants to save anyway. In defence of this view of election against the consequences of believing in fatalism, it is asserted that the Gospel must be preached because God has ordained the preaching of the Gospel to be the means through which the elect receive their destined salvation. But is this teaching really scriptural? Actually, election and predestination are scriptural; they are both words used in connection with Israel and the saints of Jesus Christ. So does this mean that the proponents of the above view of election are right?
I myself was once influenced by this view and it was an easy trap to fall into when faced with the argument formulated from scriptures such as John 6 v 44 & 65, Romans 9 v 11 – 18 and many others. On the basis of these scriptures it was argued that God chooses whom He will be merciful to. So does this mean that man has no say in the matter of his own salvation; that man has no free will to choose to receive salvation? For the reasons that will be discussed in this study I believe that these proponents are wrong.
1 Timothy 2 v 4 says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. Even if God were to choose some to come to salvation without reference to individual choice, He couldn’t then choose some to hell because that would go against His own nature. Therefore, it is quite illogical that God fixes anyone to salvation, regardless of personal choice, if He doesn’t do so with those going to hell.
In 1 Timothy 6 v 12 Paul exhorts Timothy to take hold of the eternal life to which he had been called. Such an action, ‘to take hold of’, necessitates a positive act of the will. This shows that man has a responsibility to accept and possess the eternal life offered to him.
In John 12 v 32, Jesus claims that through His crucifixion (being lifted up) He would draw all man to Himself. The aforementioned view of salvation would only imply that some are drawn to salvation, even though the call to salvation goes to all. If Jesus draws all men to Himself then it can only be concluded that not all who are drawn accept salvation but must resist this drawing to Christ.
There are numerous scriptures references that teach that salvation is offered to all, that Jesus died for all, that salvation is for the whosoever shall believe and that it is possible to fall away from God and forfeit the promise of His rest. These references include; John 3 v 16, John 4 v 14, John 6 v 39 & 40, Luke 14 v 16 – 24, Romans 10 v 9 & 10, Romans 10 v 13, 1 John 2 v 2, Hebrews 3 v 12 & 13, Hebrews 4 v 1 and Hebrews 4 v 11. So are free will and the discussed view of election both right? I used to hold to the tension of both. However I held more of an emphasis on God’s choice of individuals because I didn’t want to blaspheme against God’s sovereignty.
In this short piece of work, it is hoped that with God’s help, it will be biblically proved as to why this view of election and predestination are wrong and how the more accurate view of election may apply to the Christian walk. In order to understand election, Paul’s letter to the Romans will be treated, as this is the very heart of where this view is derived from. It is also to be made clear that this paper does not in any way suggest that believers who hold this view are not saved. Whitfield was classed as a Calvinist on his knees but an Arminianist from the pulpit. However it is strongly asserted that any proposed extreme of this belief would have to require the one who adamantly holds it to be true to examine what his salvation is built on? Is it based on a doctrine of being personally chosen by God or is it based on acceptance and repentance due to the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus and the hope of eternal life confirmed by His resurrection?
So what is ‘election’?
Calvinism, which is systematised into 5 points, sees ‘election’ as being of individuals by God to salvation. I do not claim to have concise, or extensive knowledge of Calvin or of Calvinism and this piece of work is not an attempt to debunk all that Calvinism has to say. Therefore throughout the study it is to be remembered that I am dealing with main precepts of Calvinism that I have personally been taught and to strive toward a biblical view of election and predestination. It is also to be stated, “there are a number of presentations of the five points of Calvinism”.1 The 5 points of Calvinism are defined, defended and documented in “The Five Points of Calvinism” by David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas.
The Five Points of Calvinism are:
1, TOTAL DEPRAVITY. This doctrine states that all of mankind is born enslaved to sin. The word ‘total’ refers to the whole of man’s nature being corrupted rather then being as corrupt as can be.
2, UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. This doctrine asserts that God has chosen individuals to salvation, even before that person was born. The Christian does not have a say in this matter and God only gives faith and repentance to those whom He selects without reference to anything the individual may do or choose.
3, LIMITED ATONEMENT. The work that Christ did on the cross was only meant to save the elect. In making this claim though, Calvinists do believe that “if God had so willed, the satisfaction rendered by Christ would have saved every member of the human race.”1
4, IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. A general call to salvation is given to all men, in the gospel, but only the elect are given an inward call by the Holy Spirit, which brings them to salvation. This call cannot be rejected; it makes the elect sinner come freely and willingly to Christ. This grace does not need man’s cooperation, as it never fails to save those who receive this call.
5, PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS. All the elect are eternally secure in such a way that they can never forfeit their salvation. This means that the elect saint is not any danger of forfeiting their salvation whatsoever and so are preserved to the end.
The word ‘election’ in its various forms relates to calling, choosing, selecting, favouritism, and appointing (as well as a few other phrases). So election is a choice. In the Old Testament choices were made by God of certain people for different purposes and for different reasons. Abel’s sacrifice was chosen and Cain’s offering was rejected (Gen 4 v 4 & 5), Noah and his family were chosen for salvation from the flood (Gen 6 v 13 – 18), Abraham was chosen to father many nations (Gen 12 v 1 – 3), Isaac was chosen as heir of the promise given to Abraham (Gen 21 v 12), David was chosen as king over Saul (1 Sam 16 v 1 – 13), and Mary was chosen to be mother of Jesus (Luke 1 v 26 – 31). However, these elections are mostly unconnected to personal salvation, apart from Noah and he was elected because he was blameless and walked with God. The election in this case was not unconditional, as Noah had to build an ark for himself, his family and for the beasts of the earth. If there were no ark there wouldn’t have been any salvation. Of course it could be argued that the building of the ark for Noah’s salvation is a type of the works of the old covenant; but the Calvinistic view of election cannot be backed up from this example. Most examples of election in the Old Testament are not to do with personal salvation but rather God choosing people to be vessels through which the Messiah would come. There are other examples of election such as; God chose to make Nebuchadnezzar and other kings mighty and establish them but this does not relate to personal salvation and so cannot be used as examples or references to support Calvinism either.
So what part of scripture can be used to discuss the subject of election to salvation? On my A level course, the Calvinism we were subjected to study was based on Romans chapter nine with reference to various verses in chapter eight. Therefore it would be best to look at chapter nine of Romans in reference to election and then to discuss predestination. In order to discuss Romans chapter nine accurately it is important to look at the context of the whole letter by doing an outline of the first eight chapters.
Paul was writing to the Church at Rome, which he hadn’t founded or even visited (1 v 15). In this letter Paul systematises his theology of salvation. In chapter 1 Paul greets the Roman believers writes of his desire to see them and to share the gospel with them. He writes about the Gentile rebellion against the knowledge of God through unrighteousness and because of this God gave them over to their lusts and a debased mind. This resulted in homosexuality, as well as other unrighteous practices, and characteristics.
Chapter 2 speaks of judgment for those who judge these people and yet practise the same things. It also speaks of judgment of all those who do evil, whether it is rebellion of Law. In the case of those who do not have the Law they are judged because of rebellion against their own conscience. Paul also deals with the judgment of the Jew and through their failure to keep it; they turn their circumcision into uncircumcision. This brings a conclusion that keeping the letter of the Law doesn’t make a person righteous but it must be an inward circumcision of the heart by the Spirit that makes one a true Jew, even if he is a gentile. By this conclusion Paul places the covenant under Christ in superiority to the old covenant, which is useless in respect to being a means of salvation. So is there any point in being Jewish at all?
This is what Paul answers in Chapter 3, where he demonstrates that the Jews have a special relationship with God because God gave them ‘His oracles’. Even though Israel was unfaithful, God remains faithful. Their unfaithfulness highlights God’s goodness and righteousness. But if the effect of Israel’s unrighteousness brought glory to God, then surely it must be unjust to punish them as sinners?! But the fact is that both Jews and Gentiles are all sinners. Because of this factor, any works of the Law that the Jews practice cannot be used a means of justification. God must offer a means of justification without reference to works of the Law and this provision was made by Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross. And so Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith (which is the Christian doctrine) is arrived at.
Now Paul has hit at a controversial point. Does this conclusion mean that the old covenant is a waste and that, by faith, Believers nullify the Law? Paul emphatically states the opposite. Rather they establish it! How can this be? Because faith is placed in Christ, who perfectly kept the Law, Christ can then justify the believer.
So in chapter 4 Paul offers the example of Abraham being justified by his faith, not by his works and justified even before he was circumcised to show that righteousness is not obtained by the Law. This argument delivered by the hand of Paul would serve to put a stop to the Judaizers’ doctrine and intention of circumcising the Gentiles according to the Law of Moses in order to obtain salvation. In fact the Law brings the opposite of justification, which is condemnation because everybody has violated the Law. Faith is the only way of obtaining righteousness and this is demonstrative of God’s grace.
Chapter 5 reveals that justification by faith brings peace with God through Jesus Christ. By extension of this factor, the Christian therefore has hope and this hope will keep the Believer through hard times because the Holy Spirit has ministered the Love of God to his heart. This love of God was demonstrated in the fact that Christ died for the Christian while he was still in rebellion to God and thus Jesus brought reconciliation for the Believer. So the wrong Adam did by bringing sin into the world, and also the consequence of death spreading to all men because all sinned, was put right by Jesus. The whole reason that the Law was established was not to make men righteous but to increase man’s awareness and knowledge of sin. But the greater the amount of sin, which man acknowledges when confronted with the Law, the greater the amount of grace is needed to cover sin.
Therefore in chapter 6 the question is asked whether it is all right to sin more so that a man may receive more grace. Paul utterly refutes this suggestion by stating that the whole purpose of grace was to save man from sin, not to allow him to become enslaved to sin again. A Christian Believer has died to the life of sin and because he is under grace, not the Law, he then has freedom from the dictates of sin. But since this freedom is given through grace, shall a believer exercise this freedom in choosing to sin? Paul gives an emotionally negative reaction to such a thought. A person can either be a slave of sin, or a slave of obedience. He cannot be a slave of both. If a person is a slave of sin, the result is death. But if the person is a slave of obedience, the result is righteousness.
In chapter 7 Paul uses the illustration of marriage as an example. A person can only be free from Law when he dies to the Law. Just as a married woman is only free from the law of her husband when her husband dies. The Law doesn’t make a man righteous because the knowledge of sin, that the Law provides, only sparks off man’s corrupt imaginations to arouse sinful passions. Does this make the Law the same as sin? Paul denounces this idea in arguing that the Law was not established to provoke sin but rather to show up sin for what it is. But sin, being sin, uses the Law’s knowledge of sin to tempt a person in every type of sin that the Law condemns. The Law is good but the problem is that man is bad and because man has violated the Law, man is condemned. So is the Law the cause of man’s death? Paul again makes another denunciation by stating that it is the sin that brings condemnation. The Law was established in order to heighten the seriousness of sin.
Against this Law, man is helpless because he cannot overcome the power of sin in the flesh. Man’s will is powerless to overcome sin and to do good. There is a battle between good and evil inside of man where man can’t stop doing evil though he may side with the good. In light of this, is there any hope? Yes in Jesus there is hope; and so now, man’s soul can serve and be in submission to God even though his flesh is still enslaved to sin.
Against this Law, man is helpless because he cannot overcome the power of sin in the flesh. Man’s will is powerless to overcome sin and to do good. There is a battle between good and evil inside of man where man can’t stop doing evil though he may side with the good. In light of this, is there any hope? Yes in Jesus there is hope; and so now, man’s soul can serve and be in submission to God even though his flesh is still enslaved to sin.
Chapter 8 then makes a conclusion that there is then no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What the Law couldn’t do in its weakness, God has done through Jesus’ perfect, sinless sacrifice. The only answer to overcoming sin is, therefore, to walk according to the Spirit, not by earning it through working in the flesh. So Paul exhorts the Roman Believers to live, not according to the flesh, but to the Spirit who brings man into relationship with God as sons through His ‘spirit of adoption’. The Holy Spirit witnesses this to the Believer until the day when it is completely realised through the receiving of the new resurrection bodies. The Spirit not only testifies concerning the Believer’s future hope but He also intercedes for the Believer because the Believer still lives with a sinful flesh nature. Yet God works all things in life to be to the benefit of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose. This is the predestination: that the believer would become like Jesus and be made into His brother.
With God on the Believer’s side, the enemy cannot pull him away from God and cannot accuse the Believer because Christ has paid for his sin. Nothing that is created in heaven, or earth or under the earth can separate him from God’s love and so at last chapter 9 is reached.
This brief summary of the first eight chapters contains the context for the ninth chapter. The whole letter is a debate about salvation and, more precisely, the means of obtaining a righteous standing before God. Paul clearly argues that righteousness cannot be obtained by works of the Law but only through faith placed in Jesus Christ for His death and Resurrection. And hence salvation is given as an act of grace by God, which cannot by earned by man’s doing. This has very serious implications. This means that the Jews hoping for salvation by keeping the old covenant are damned.
In the first verses 1 – 8 of chapter nine, Paul shows that his heart bleeds for the salvation of his own people. This is not a failure on part of the word of God, because the true descendants of Abraham are not the physical descendants. God only regarded sons of Isaac as descendants and not the sons of Keturah, neither the sons of Ishmael. So Isaac, being the son of promise, then only allows children of promise to be classed as Abraham’s descendants. Now does this mean that, as Isaac was individually elected as the child of promise, it is those who have been individually elected to salvation who are the children of promise?
In order to answer this question another question has to be answered, which is ‘what is this promise?’ The bible alludes, in passages like Genesis 3 v 15, 12 v 3, 18 v 18, 49 v 10, Numbers 24 v 17, Deuteronomy 18 v 15, Psalm 2 v 7, 110 v 4 and Isaiah 52 v 13 – 15, 53 v 1 – 12, to Jesus as being the promised Messiah. If Jesus is the promise that verse 8 refers to, this would mean that those who are the children of Jesus Christ are regarded as the descendants of Abraham. However the role of Jesus as the Believer’s father doesn’t fit scripture, which describes Jesus as the Lord (John 13 v 13) and the brother of every Believer (Romans 8 v 29). Also, introducing Jesus as the promise into the letter at this point and in this manner does not befit the context well. The dominant theme in this letter has been of comparing the two covenants with reference to how one can obtain righteousness. The old – Mosaic Law is useless in bringing anyone to salvation because of the violation of the Law by the individual’s sin. But the new covenant, centred on the perfect sacrifice and resurrection of the promised Messiah brings salvation to Believers by grace and through faith. This new covenant is the promise that is referred to as shall be discussed more as this piece of work shall move on. Hebrews 10 v 16 & 17 quotes the promise of the new covenant from the book of Joel and verse 23 of the same chapter confirms that the new covenant is biblically regarded as a promise.
Does this mean that those under the Christian covenant are individually elected to salvation though? It would seem to go against the whole frame of this epistle if one were to claim that Believers are. The tension brought about in verse eight of Romans 9 is the obtaining of righteousness between two covenants. The old is rejected and the new is accepted. Does this mean that God changed His mind about the old and suddenly decided to start anew with another plan of salvation? This question will be answered as this discussion develops.
Verse 10 – 15. Calvinists have and do use this section to claim that God does choose some individuals to salvation and reject others before anyone has done anything good or bad. It is also claimed that God chooses to hate some but love others, and the decision is even made before any were born. According to this view, works do not come into question but rather God chooses to have mercy on whomever He desires. It could be argued that this section is dealing with two peoples, the Jews and the Gentiles, in order to refute this Calvinistic viewpoint. The Jews were hardened to make room for the Gentiles but God will bring the Jews back again when the time of the Gentiles is at an end.
This view could well be backed up by verses 30 – 32 of this chapter and by chapter 11 v 1 – 5. However in light of the argument presented in the epistle so far, it would seem that even this interpretation does not fit. Remembering that the context of the epistle thus far has been the superiority of the new covenant over the old regarding the obtaining of salvation, it must be concluded that the above interpretation is wrong. The Mosaic Law was not able to grant salvation because of sin and the fact that 100% obedience to the Law was needed in order for one to be considered righteous under the Law (James 2 v 10). No man, save Jesus, has been able to achieve this, since man is enslaved to sin. Hence God chose to establish the new covenant. God has not changed His mind regarding the old covenant but, indeed, this is what God had planned all along. Thus Esau is representative of the Mosaic Law and Jacob is representative of the Law of Christ.
A person has a choice to make. “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24 v 15). A man may choose to serve under the Mosaic Law, striving to attain to some form of self-righteousness, or he can choose to serve under the new covenant and be justified through faith by grace, walking by the Holy Spirit’s power. But it must be made known that God chose that it would be those under the new covenant and not the old that shall be saved. God has elected those who have accepted, do accept and will accept His gospel. As Ephesians 1 v 4 says, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Emphasis added). It is the ones who are in Christ that God has chosen, not the Jews who keep themselves under the old covenant and reject Jesus as Messiah. However, it must be made clear that this argument isn’t condemning those who were under the Law before Christ came, and who never heard about Christ. Indeed the most vital element of being under the new covenant is that a believer is justified by grace through faith, and the quality of faith in God and His promises is demonstrated in the lives of men and women from the Old Testament in Hebrews 11.
It is also vital to recognise that the older brother does not refer to the Jews and the younger to the Gentiles. This would intrinsically deny God’s desire to save Jews, to whom the gospel was preached first. But if Esau represents the Mosaic covenant, which is for Jews, and Jacob represents the new covenant there is then provision for both Jew and Gentile to be included in this election. In verse 12 Paul quotes Genesis 25 v 23 stating that, “The older will serve the younger.” This is exactly what the old covenant was all about. The old covenant was established to be a schoolmaster to lead to Christ as a shadow of all that Christ was and still is to do in establishing the plan of salvation in the form of the new covenant.
Verse 16 is also used as another proof that God elects individuals because salvation does not depend on man but on God. It is not dependant on the man that wills to come to salvation, or runs but on God who chooses to have mercy on some. In the bounds of this argument it has also been claimed that salvation does not even require man to will or to run but God has chosen some for salvation and this is due to His ‘irresistible grace’. However, a look at the parable of the talents, as recorded in Matthew 25 v 14 – 30, will show that the slave who didn’t run or will with his one talent was thrown out into hell.
The thief on the cross, entered into full salvation without works and yet as James says in 2 v 17 of his epistle, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” How are these two seemingly contradicting parts of scripture reconciled? How can it be maintained that salvation is not dependant on the effort of the Believer but also claim that without the Believer’s application his salvation is then nullified?
Hebrews chapter 11 presents a list of the heroes of faith and yet what can be found? What are found in this chapter are people who willed and ran. “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions… And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised…” (v 33 & 39 – emphasis added). Abraham received his promised son and yet in verse 13 it states “All these died in faith without receiving the promises” and in verse 17 states, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son” (emphasis added). So concerning one verse, Abraham hadn’t received the promises and according to the second verse, Abraham did receive the promises. The answer must lie in the fact that even though Abraham had been given a son and was brought to the land of promise, Canaan, he saw that the land of Canaan was only a shadow of the real land of promise. Because of this conviction Abraham lived in Canaan as an alien because “he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Verse 10). According to Hebrews chapter 10 verses 15 – 18 and verse 23 the promise that was made to Israel was the new covenant brought about by the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ and ministered by the Holy Spirit.
The heroes of faith all ran toward, all willed and sought after their promises but did not receive them because they were all really alluding to the ultimate promise, salvation through the death and resurrection of the Messiah. How much better is this promise rather than the promises of having sons, daughters, and obtaining lands? Now why do those under the new covenant receive something better, than those people before the new covenant? What is the difference between those under the old and those under the new? Believers run and will and actually receive salvation. Is the difference anything to do with the Believer? No, salvation rests on God’s grace in ministering the new covenant to every Believer’s heart by His Holy Spirit. As CS Lewis wrote, “Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else.”1
The difference between Christian Believers and the heroes of faith is not faith because both groups demonstrate faith. Neither is it works because both groups demonstrate works. But the difference lies in God’s grace that effects the new covenant into the Believer’s heart and mind, even though he does not deserve it due to his sin.
Verse 17 uses the example of Pharaoh in its exposition of election. Yet again this is another verse that is used by Calvinists. This verse has been interpreted to say that God had raised Pharaoh up to destroy him. According to this view as God chose Pharaoh to be a vessel of wrath so God chooses whom He will save and those whom He will send to eternal hell. As verse eighteen states, God chooses to have mercy on some and to harden others. This is not due to anything that the person does or chooses but solely rests on God’s pleasure and sovereignty.
However, anyone contemplating such a view must not forget the very first chapter of Romans. Verse 24 of that first chapter reveals that those who persist to rebel against the truth and knowledge of God, God will then give over to their lusts. 2 Thessalonians 2 v 10 – 12 shows that to those who do not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved, God will send a deluding influence to believe what is false so that they may be judged. God’s hardening in these cases is related to man’s hardening of himself. Man may harden himself against the truth and against God’s voice so much that God then hardens that man’s heart for him. Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the case of Pharaoh in Exodus 7 v 8 – chapter 11 v 10. For the first five plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart but for the last five plagues God hardened his heart. This scripture that Paul quotes in Romans 9 v 17 was taken from Exodus 9 v 16 while God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart in the sixth plague. It was as if Pharaoh had hardened himself so much, willingly and stubbornly choosing to endure God’s wrath to such an extent that God decided to use him to demonstrate His power in the most terrible fashion.
But because of God’s eternal nature it must also be pointed out that God had already had this planned out. In light of this it could be concluded that there is a relationship between an individual and election, which is not unconditional. 1 Peter 2 v 8 seems to point to this election, which is not an election that negates free will but is in relation to a person’s freewill choice of accepting or rejecting the gospel. As Psalm 18 v 26 says, “With the pure You show Yourself pure, And with the crooked You show Yourself astute.” This election is one where God determines the result of ones belief or unbelief. It is not however electing a person to belief or unbelief.
Verse 18. Does not this verse prove that God chooses to harden some and save others due to His desire? If this is what the verse is saying then how can the doctrine of ‘irresistible grace’ be argued against? In the first place the verse must be looked at in the context of the letter. What has the election referred to previously? It has already been stated that the elect are those under the new covenant. These are the ones who are recipients of God’s mercy. God will harden those who harden themselves against God’s voice. The real question to be asked is not who are the elect but that of ‘what is the nature and desire of God as revealed in scripture’? Does God desire to send any to the lake of fire? 2 Peter 3 v 9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance” God desires all men to be saved. This must be a proof that God’s grace is offered to all and is resistible. So who are those who God desires to harden then? “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4 v 6 & 1 Peter 5 v 5). Those who resist God, God will resist. God desires to give grace and mercy to people when they come humbly in faith, accepting who He is and what He has done through His Son but not while they resist in prideful arrogance. The ‘God’ of Calvinism, who only desires to save some, is different to the God of the bible who desires to save all.
Verses 19 & 20. In the midst of this argument Paul has been formulating, Paul imagines an opposing argument made using the statement that God hardens those He desires. The opposing argument seeks, using Paul’s reasoning, to place blame on God for his own resisting God. In reality the opposing argument is saying, “I am not guilty for resisting God because I did not choose to be hardened. God hardened me and I can not resist His will.” This is fatalism, which is claiming that man has no choice in life. Everything is limited to the bounds of fate and has already been destined.
Paul doesn’t reply in saying that this opposing argument is wrong, ‘God’s grace is resistible and it is the individual that rebels’. It seems from first glance that Paul doesn’t see anything wrong in the proposed truth of the argument. So does this imply that Paul actually agrees with the statement, that man cannot resist God’s choice of damning some men to eternal hell? Is Paul agreeing with this fatalistic philosophy? “The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?” is taken from Isaiah 45 v 9 of which the first line states, “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker”. Paul is not agreeing or disagreeing with the truth or error of the previous comment but he is attacking the arrogant questioning and opposing of God’s decisions and actions, which in fact is the questioning of God’s justice. Man is not God, man is man, and God is God. Who is man that he should demand anything of God? God made man; He is the judge and not man. How dare man cast a moral judgment on God and decide that God is either right or wrong!
The objection that Paul has imagined is not a proposed intellectual difficulty but only another excuse and attempt at justifying man’s sin. This attempt at justification protests against receiving punishment for rebelling against God since it argues that God willed them to rebel. They had no choice, as it was God’s election. It is worth noting that this is just one of the objections that Paul imagines being raised against his exposition of ‘justification by grace through faith’. (For example; 3 v 3, 3 v 5, 3 v 7, 3 v 8, 6 v 1, 6 v 15, 7 v 7, 7 v 13). In other words Paul doesn’t even care to take this argument seriously because, far from being an intellectual problem, this is a moral problem of blatant rebellion against obeying God and becoming godly.
Verse 21. Again, this is another verse that is used to justify the Calvinistic position. God takes the same lump of clay and makes one vessel for honourable use and one for dishonourable use. This verse has been used to claim that it is God’s right and privilege to make a man into whatever He wishes. If He desires to save a man, that is His choice and if He doesn’t desire to save a man, that is also His choice. Man is only a lump of clay in the potter’s hand and he has nothing to do with the choosing of his salvation. According to this view, God’s grace is irresistible and His election is unconditional. But is this what the verse is actually saying though?
Verse 21 has been taken from Jeremiah 18 v 1 – 10, where a picture, distinct from the Calvinistic picture is portrayed. In Jeremiah God states that when the clay is spoiled, God would choose to make Israel into a vessel of wrath, but if Israel repented of its evil God would relent. God promised to make Israel into a nation for uprooting if they continued to rebel and do evil. Israel had a choice. They could either conform to God’s ways in obedience to Him or they could rebel against God and disobey Him. Israel had this choice but they couldn’t choose the consequences of their own decisions and actions. As David “Packie” Hamilton says, “We all have freedom to make choices but it’s not in our power to decree either that these things will satisfy our longing or that they will go unpunished.”1
God decides what He will make a man into but He does so on the basis of the man accepting or rebelling against Him. This factor finds its outworking in the gospel message. One may either believe the gospel and obey, or rebel against the truth presented. Yet it is God who sanctifies a person or hardens him so that he might ‘believe the lie’. It is God who judges and determines the outcome of one’s decisions.
However, looking back to Paul’s statement in verse 21, it is important to observe that Paul’s phraseology is different to the phraseology used in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah God determines to make one lump of clay into either a vessel of wrath or a vessel of honour. Yet in Romans, Paul says that God has the right to make one lump of clay into both a vessel of honour and a vessel of dishonour. What is Paul speaking about? Paul is speaking regarding the two covenants again. The vessel for ‘honourable use’ is speaking of those under the new covenant, and the vessel for ‘common use’ is speaking of those under the old covenant. After defining what the two vessels represent it must then be asked, what does the lump of clay represent? As Adam was made from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2 v 7), so clay represents humanity, (Genesis 3 v 19). Yet for one to assert that the lump of clay represents all of humanity presents us with a great dilemma; namely not all of humanity was under the first covenant but only the physical descendants of Israel.
Therefore it must be concluded that Paul is using this parable to contrast the Jews under the old covenant to the Jews under the new covenant. Hence, even though the elect may be defined as those under the new covenant, in actuality it specifically means Israel under the new covenant as opposed to Israel under the old covenant. In other words, it must now be concluded that God had all along chosen to save Israel under the new covenant and not Israel under the old.
Verse 22. Paul is basically saying that God is willing to reveal His wrath and make His power known, as He did with those at the flood and with Sodom and Gomorrah (etc). But instead of doing so, God patiently endures these vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Notice that Paul calls them ‘vessels prepared for destruction’. He does not say that destruction is prepared for them. God never made the lake of fire for any human being. The eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25 v 41). So why does God patiently put up with those who would continually rebel against Him? Why doesn’t God pour His wrath on them as He did with Pharaoh?
2 Peter 3 v 9 shows that the Lord is not slow about returning to the earth but is patient because He desires that no man should perish but that all should repent and be saved. Romans 2 v 4 & 5 shows that God’s patience has a two-fold result: to those who are willing, it leads them to repentance but to those who are stubborn and unrepentant it only serves to store up wrath “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God”. This is because sin, although detestable to God already, becomes most heinous when committed against such continuous patience and mercy demonstrated by God to the sinner. As God says to Israel in Romans 10 v 21, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
Verse 23. Paul also shows that the point of God’s patience towards the vessels of wrath was to make known the riches of His glory to the vessels of mercy. And doesn’t this make much sense? Indeed, for if God shows such patience to vessels of wrath, how much more will He show an infinite abundance of patience, mercy and love to those who submit unto Him in the obedience of faith. But doesn’t the fact that they were prepared beforehand for glory prove that God had chosen them individually to salvation? Again the context stated oft times before must be remembered. God had prepared those of Israel that are in the new covenant beforehand for glory. What does this mean?
This verse must link with chapter 8 verse 29, which says that those whom God foreknew (due to His eternal nature) have been predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. This is the glory that they were prepared for. Is this predestination the same as election? Not quite, as the election concerns obtaining right standing before God so as not to be condemned. Predestination is linked to being made like Jesus, as his brethren, and sharing His son ship (not His deity) and to share in His inheritance as children of God (Ephesians 1 v 4 & 5, Ephesians 1 v 11). In Ephesians 1 v 4 & 5 demonstrates that God has chosen those in Christ to be holy and blameless before Him. In other words God had chosen that those in Christ Jesus would have right standing before God. And not only did God choose to make those who are in Christ righteous but He also predestined them to be adopted as sons. It is only when one recognises that God could have saved man to serve Him as a slave, does one recognise the abundance of this predestination.
If one were to be saved from sin and hell but only to be a servant, one would still be saved. Nowhere is this more exquisitively demonstrated than in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15 v 11 – 32). In verse 19 the son recognises that he is not worthy of being a son and decides to ask his father to be allowed to be his servant. A servant of the Father is a better, richer life than being away from the Father. But God has foreordained that those in Christ should be made sons and co-heirs with Christ. How incredible that God would have so high an estate reserved for those to whom the position of servitude would be more than generous!
Verses 24 – 26. And so Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, not wanting only to look at the election as referring to the Jews states that the Gentiles are also included in the election. The Gentiles, according to Paul in chapter 11 verses 18 – 20, have been grafted into the olive tree (Israel). This view of election finds support from 9 v 6, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel”. The real Israel consists not only of Jews but also of Gentiles too. Those who were formerly excluded from being in covenant relationship with God are now included in the new covenant. Has God changed His mind regarding the acceptance of Gentiles and thus proved not to be immutable? Not in the slightest! This is what God had chosen before the foundations of the earth. The covenant delivered through Moses was never intended to bring about salvation as it was only for the Jews and also was powerless to save anyone. But God desired salvation to come through the new covenant to save men from all nations.
Verses 27 – 29. Continuing from the theme from verse 6, it is to be recognised that the true Israel are those under the promised new covenant. Thus, sadly, only a remnant of the sons of Israel will be saved.2 Paul’s heart bleeds for the salvation of his people. But could it be argued that Paul bleeds any more for the Jews than God’s heart does? Is God trivial about the destruction of Israel because of His election? Of course not! God, who desires all men to be saved, does not just elect people to eternal hell, simply because He desires to. So why is there only going to be a remnant of Israel that will be saved?
Verse 30 – 33. These verses show that the difference between those in the new covenant to those in the old is that the Gentiles in the new, even though not initially seeking righteousness, obtained righteousness through faith. The Jews in the old didn’t obtain righteousness because they were trying to earn it. Does this mean that Paul has done away with Israel in this statement? Not at all, but as chapter 11 verse 1 demonstrates; Paul himself was Jewish, of the tribe of Benjamin. What Paul is doing is contrasting the Gentiles in the new covenant to the Jews in the old in order to convince his readers that subjecting oneself to obtaining salvation through works of the Law will not lead to righteous standing before God. This is simply because God never ordained salvation to be attained in that way, but had chosen that salvation would be attained by faith, as a free gift, which is the heart of the new covenant.
The Calvinistic view of God is one that recognises that He is sovereign and eternal, but because it does not recognise man’s free choice of accepting the gospel, it turns God into a being of determinism and produces a worldview of fatalism. In this closed view of God, God ceases to be the God who is near in a moment-by-moment, existential communion with man, reacting with man and this view alienates Him to another realm of reality. A relationship necessitates interaction between two parties, but because the Calvinistic view of God does not allow for God to make judgments based on man’s decisions, then there is only left a one sided relationship, which is no relationship at all.
The logical extension of this is that man is a machine programmed by God and does not have any worth. However, the bible portrays man as created in the image of God. Although fallen and sinful, man still retains worth. Not because man is good or deserves it but simply because God made him and Jesus died for Him. Man must actively come to God willingly and accept His offer of salvation in the gospel. This entails submission from man’s side and continuous obedience should be the desire of a Believer.
However, God is sovereign and He has only given us two options: To accept and follow or to reject and disobey. Man cannot earn his own salvation, but he can receive it as a gift. Because God is sovereign, He decides what He will make us into and because He foreknew all Believers in His eternal nature He has predestined them to be elevated to the position of son ship and to be partakers of His glory. How comforting to know that God has all His children in the palm of His hand and yet the beauty of relationship is exhibited in God’s desire that man should willingly come to Him and serve Him because God first loved him.
By James Arminius