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Unconditional Election & Predestination vs. Free Moral Agency

Election, Predestination and Foreordination:
Conditional or Unconditional

Does the Bible teach Calvinism and unconditional predestination, foreordination, and election? Or are we free moral agents with free will able to choose to meet conditions of salvation?

Calvinism teaches that each individual was unconditionally predestined or foreordained by God's sovereign decree before the world began. This predestination or foreordination is unconditional, having nothing to do with the will, choice, obedience, or character of the individual. Those who are saved and destined to eternal life are said to be "elect." The alternative to Calvin's view of unconditional election would be free will or free moral agency - the doctrine that salvation is conditional and each individual has a choice whether or not to meet the conditions of forgiveness. Which view does the Bible teach?

This material is also available for sale as part of our professionally printed book entitled Grace, Faith, and Obedience. For more information go to www.lighttomypath.net/sales.

Introduction:

One of the fundamental doctrines of Calvinism is "unconditional election," also known as predestination or foreordination.

Consider these quotes from the Westminster Confession:

"God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: … By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed: and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto … The rest of mankind God was pleased … to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin …" - Chap. III, p 1-7.

"All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ … This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein … Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, … yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved …" - Chap. X, p. 1-4.

Hence, God unalterably decreed certain individuals to go to heaven and others to go to hell, without in any way considering the character, conduct, obedience, choice, attitudes, or desires of the individual. This denies that man has free will or free moral agency.

The purpose of this study is to examine the Bible teaching about election, predestination, and foreordination to see whether they are conditional or unconditional.

The Bible definitely teaches that the elect have been predestined by God to eternal life (Ephesians 1:3-14). [Cf. Rom. 8:28-33; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9; 2 Thess. 2:13.]

The question is: How is it determined whether or not any specific individual is among the elect? Is this determined by an unconditional, unchangeable decree of God? Or does God offer salvation to all men, and then give each individual the power to choose for himself whether to accept or reject that offer?


Part 1: Evidence that Salvation of Individuals Is Conditional



I. Salvation Is Offered by God to All Men.


Calvinism says that the decision whether or not a particular individual will be saved is entirely up to God, and man cannot influence that decision. If we can prove that God offers salvation to all men, then it must follow from Calvinism that all people will be saved! But that conclusion is clearly false. Hence, the Calvinistic concept of unconditional election must be false.

A. God Desires All Men to Be Saved.

1 Timothy 2:4 - God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [Note: This is the same "all men" for whom we should pray - v1.]

2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

If God sincerely wants all people to be saved and wants none to perish, and if the decision is entirely up to Him (man has no choice), then all people will be saved and none will be lost! The logical conclusion of unconditional election must be universalism!

Yet we know only a few will be saved and most lost (Matt. 7:13,14) [22:14]. Hence, either God does not sincerely want everyone saved, or else man does have a choice!

B. God's Grace Is Extended to All Men.

Because God wants all to be saved, He has shown all men mercy and favor by offering them salvation.

Titus 2:11 - For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Note that what God's grace brings to all is "salvation."

C. Jesus Died to Offer Salvation to All Men.

1 Timothy 2:6 - Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all (the same "all" that God wants to be saved - v4).

Hebrews 2:9 - By the grace of God Jesus tasted death for everyone. This "everyone" refers to those who are subject to the fear of death (v15), which is every human.

John 3:16 - God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Note that the ones Jesus died to save are all those in the world whom God loves. Yet He loves even His enemies (Matt. 5:43-38).

Romans 5:18,19 - Justification came unto "all men" by Jesus' righteous act (His death). This was the same "all men" on whom condemnation came as a result of Adam's sin. So, however many people are condemned by sin, that is how many can receive the benefit of Jesus' death.

The intent of Jesus' death was to offer salvation to all men. If these passages are true, then either all men will be saved (which cannot be), or else there is something each man must do to determine whether or not he will receive the benefit of Jesus' death.

D. God's Offer of Salvation Is Preached in the Gospel to All Men.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 - Men are called to glory by the gospel. To whom is this call extended?

Mark 16:15,16 - The gospel should be preached to every creature in the whole world. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. [Matt. 28:19]

Acts 2:38,39 - The promise of remission and the gift of the Holy Spirit is for ALL, as many as God calls. But the call is sent to everyone in the world!

Calvinists respond to these points by saying that the gospel should be preached to all, however no one can respond to that call unless the Holy Spirit unconditionally works directly on their heart to empower them to respond. But this makes the preaching of the gospel simply a pretense. If the Holy Spirit makes the choice unconditionally, why not doesn't the Spirit just lead the person to salvation and forget the preaching?

Acts 2:39 says the promise of the Spirit is to all that are called, and we have shown that all humans should be called by the gospel, Jesus died for all, etc.


II. God Has Decreed Conditions of Salvation
which All Men Can Meet.


Calvinism says there is nothing in man that acts as a condition that moves God to choose any certain man to save him. Man is "altogether passive." However, notice the following conditions that the Bible lists as necessary for salvation, and note further that the Bible says everyone can meet these conditions.

A. Men Must Believe in Christ.

Mark 16:15,16 - The gospel is for the whole world. Those who believe and are baptized shall be saved.

John 3:14-16 - Jesus died for the whole world, and whosoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life.

The Scriptures clearly teach that faith is a condition to salvation, and anyone in the world may meet that condition.

B. Men Must Repent of Sin.

Acts 17:30,31 - God commands all men everywhere to repent. This refers to all the people who will be judged by Jesus, which means everyone in the whole world.

2 Peter 3:9 - God does not want any to perish but all to repent.

Note that all who will be judged must repent (Acts 17:30,31). But those who need to repent are the ones God does not want to see perish. Hence, God does not want anyone in the world to perish. He wants them all to repent.

The Scriptures clearly teach that repentance is a condition of salvation, and everyone on earth must meet that condition.

C. Men Must Confess Christ and Be Baptized.

Matthew 10:32 - Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.

Mark 16:16 - The message preached to everyone in the world is that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Acts 2:38,39 - The message to all, whoever God calls by the gospel,. is that everyone must repent and be baptized for remission of sins.

Summary

Romans 10:13,14,17 - Whoever calls on the Lord will be saved, but to call one must believe, and to believe one must hear the gospel. The gospel is to be preached to all, and of those who hear it, whoever calls on the Lord will be saved.

The Scriptures clearly teach that salvation is conditional, and that every person is able to meet those conditions.

Calvinists respond to these points by saying that the only people who can truly meet these conditions are the people whom the Holy Spirit unconditionally chose and empowered to do so. But again, this turns the preaching of these conditions to all people a farce. If salvation is not conditional, why did God state conditions? If not everyone can meet the conditions, why did God insist that they be preached to everyone?

The above passages clearly teach that everyone can obey the conditions, but Calvinism flatly contradicts this and denies that everyone can obey.


III. God Grants to Each Person the Power to Accept or Reject Salvation.


If as Calvinism teaches, no conditions man can meet will affect whether or not God saves him, then man has absolutely no choice regarding his salvation. If God chooses the man, he will be saved regardless of the mans' choice. If God does not choose the man, he will be lost regardless of his choice. Hence, man's choice is irrelevant to his salvation.

However, the Bible teaches man does have a choice in whether or not He will please God and be saved.

A. Each Person Is Able to Choose Whether or not He Will Meet the Conditions of Salvation.

Consider the following passages. Why would God say these things if people have no power to choose whether or not to meet the conditions necessary to be pleasing to Him?

Deuteronomy 30:15-19 - God promised blessings to Israel if they would obey Him (28:1-14) and curses if they would disobey Him (28:15-68) [cf. chap. 29,30]. Then He urged them to choose life.

Joshua 24:15 - Likewise, Joshua exhorted Israel to choose what god they would serve. [Cf. Exodus 32:26; 1 Kings 18:21]

Hebrews 11:24,25 - Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, but chose to share ill treatment with God's people, rather than to enjoy sin. [Luke 10:42]

Isaiah 1:18-20 - God reasons with man, He does not compel them against their will. If men were willing to be obedient, God would bless them. If they refused and rebelled, He would punish them.

Matthew 23:37 - Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem under His wings, but they were not willing! Note: Jesus preferred one choice, but the people rejected it because it was not according to their choice.

Clearly God does not choose men unconditionally and then compel men to accept His choice. He wants them all saved and invites them to accept His will, but He allows them to choose how they will respond to His invitation.

Matthew 13:14,15 - Certain people would not turn ("be converted" - KJV) and be (spiritually) healed by Jesus, because they closed their eyes and did not accept His teachings. Clearly Jesus was willing to heal these people if they were converted, but they resisted His teaching by their own choice.

Revelation 22:17 - Whosoever will(KJV) may freely take of the water of life. It is a matter of man's will, and each person may determine his own will.

B. Each Person Has a Role in Determining His Own Destiny.

According to Calvinism, there is nothing in man's conduct or choice that influences one way or another whether or not God will save that person. Hence, nothing a man does will in any way affect his salvation. Yet note these passages that show that what man does definitely will affect His eternal destiny.

1 Peter 1:22 - You have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth.

Romans 6:13,16-18 - Present yourself to God and your members as instruments of righteousness. To whom you present yourself as a servant to obey, that is your master - either sin or obedience. They were freed from sin because they became obedient to the teaching delivered to them.

2 Corinthians 8:5 - The Macedonians gave their own selves to the Lord.

Philippians 2:12 - Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

1 Timothy 4:16 - Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine … for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Acts 2:40 - Be saved (save yourselves - KJV) from this perverse generation.

2 Corinthians 5:20 - God was pleading with men, through His ambassadors, to BE reconciled to God. Clearly God wants men to come to Him. But He does not compel, He pleads. Men must then take the step that determines the final outcome.

Based on these Scriptures, how can it be concluded that man is "totally passive" in salvation? How can it be that taught that nothing in man is a condition that influences whether or not God chooses to save him?

Clearly all these passages show that man does have the power to choose and that what we do will determine whether or not God chooses to give us eternal life.

C. God Is No Respecter of Persons.

Romans 2:6-11 - If God chooses to save some but not others, either the choice must be based on the conduct of the people (hence, conditional) or else God is a respecter of persons. [Cf. Acts 10:34,35]

Calvinists respond that this simply means God will save people of all nations. But that is not all the passage says. It says He is not a respecter of persons because His choice of who to save or condemn is based on man's conduct! He gives eternal life to those who continue doing good, and gives tribulation to those who are disobedient.

For God to grant eternal life to those who do not choose to meet the conditions, or for Him to punish those who do meet the conditions, would constitute respect of persons. Calvinism is a system inherently based on partiality, favoritism, and injustice! Worse yet, it makes God guilty of all of these!


IV. One Who Is Chosen May Later Become Lost.


If salvation is unconditional and nothing one does will affect his salvation, then a person decreed to be among the elect would be saved no matter how he later acted. He could not possibly so act as to be lost because the choice was unconditional.

So, if we can show that people, once saved, later so acted as to be lost, then we have proved salvation must be conditional, and Calvinism is wrong.

An example - 2 Peter 2:1

Men who have been bought by Jesus can yet deny Him and be destroyed. Clearly the choice of man's destiny is not unconditional. It does depend on man's conduct.

The solution - 2 Peter 1:10

To "make our calling and election sure" we must add the listed qualities to our faith. Then we will not stumble but will enter the eternal kingdom. It is conditional!

There are numerous other passages showing a child of God can so sin as to be lost. That is another whole subject. But every such passage proves that salvation is conditional and disproves Calvinistic election.

[For further information, see our article on "Once Saved, Always Saved"]

Conclusion to Part I

Calvinism compared to a king

Calvinism's doctrine of election pictures God like a king who has thousands of people imprisoned in his dungeon (for another man's crime - the sin of Adam). He declares to them:

1) I want all of you to be set free.

2) I have genuine mercy and love for all of you, so I extend my pardon to all of you.

3) So much do I love you that my son has paid the penalty so everyone of you can go free.

4) Therefore, whichever ones of you choose to do so may leave your cells and go free!

5) However, your cells are still locked and I am the only one who has the key.

6) So regardless of what you say, do, or want, I will unconditionally open a few doors and let some of you go. The rest of you, regardless of what you say, do, or want, I will unconditionally leave your cells locked, and you will stay imprisoned forever!

Did the king really want all the prisoners set free? Did he really have love and mercy for all, extend pardon to all, and have his son pay the penalty for all? If so, and if freedom was unconditional, why were not all prisoners set free?

Did the prisoners really have a choice about whether or not to be set free? If they did, why did the king free only certain ones regardless of their choice? If they had no choice, why did the king say they did have a choice?

Calvinism makes God unloving, unjust, untruthful, insincere, and a respecter or persons. If Calvinism is true, we may as well throw our Bibles away, because they surely do not mean what they say!

The proper conduct of such a king.

How would a king act if he really believed what this king said? First, he would not have imprisoned anyone except for their own crimes.

Then he might pardon all the prisoners, but that would treat the truly penitent the same as the hardened criminal.

He could be true to his will by offering conditions of pardon to all the prisoners (such as they must confess their crime, ask for pardon, and pledge loyalty to the king and do works of service for him, etc.). Then each prisoner would have the right to choose whether or not to meet the conditions. He would free those who would meet them, but not the rest.

This would act in harmony with the king's wish that everyone be free (because he really hopes everyone will meet the conditions). Pardon would still be an act of mercy. But the king is still just if he keeps in prison those who refuse to meet the conditions.

This is exactly the course God has chosen.


Part 2: Answers to Defenses of Unconditional Election



I. Bible References to Election and Predestination


The New Testament unquestionably refers to "election" and "predestination."

Calvinists often quote these passages as though the mere mention of the words proves their brand of predestination.

But we all agree that God has "chosen" (elected) certain people, and that the elect have been foreordained to eternal life. The question is: How is it determined whether or not any particular individual is or is not among the elect, and is that determined unconditionally or conditionally.

The Bible doctrine of predestination is that God chose a body or group of people to be saved, but each individual has the power to choose whether or not to be in that body.

To illustrate, consider a country with voluntary military service. The president chooses the Marines for a mission. The General calls the Marines an "elect" body because the President chose them (rather than the Navy, Army, etc.). But the President did not choose each individual. He chose the body, but each individual decides whether or not to be in that body.

Another illustration: An elite company chooses to place its product for sale in a certain store. The store owner then refers to his employees as an elect or chosen group of people. But they were chosen as a group, not individually. Each individual employee enters that company only by meeting certain conditions.

God's "elect" is just another name for the faithful members of the church. God predestined the faithful to be saved, but each individual decides whether or not he will be among the faithful. Hence, the saved are the elect, but this is conditional (not unconditional) and they do have a choice. Consider the evidence:

A. People Are "Elect" According to the Will of God.

Ephesians 1:5,11 - We are predestined according to His will, according to His purpose. [Rom. 8:28; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Cor. 2:7]

Calvinists assume God wills to choose each individual unconditionally. But where do these passages say this?

The will of God regarding man's salvation is revealed in the Scriptures. We have already proved by Scripture that it is God's will to offer salvation to ALL, then to let each individual CHOOSE whether or not he will respond.

B. People Are Elect "in Christ."

Ephesians 1:4 - God chose us "in Him" (Christ). [Cf. v6 - in the beloved; v7 - in whom; v10,11 - in Him; V3,10,13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:10]

Note other passages about those in Christ.

Consider their circumstances in Christ:

* Made nigh unto God (Eph. 2:12-17)

* New creatures (born again) (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:3,4)

* No condemnation (Rom. 8:1)

* Grace (2 Tim. 2:1)

* Salvation (2 Tim. 2:10)

* Eternal life (1 John 5:11,12)

* All spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3)

Clearly those "in Christ" are the elect, destined to salvation.

But how does an individual come into Christ?

Galatians 3:26,27; Romans 6:3,4 - We are baptized into Christ, after hearing, believing, etc. This makes us members of God's family the church, saved from our sins.

Again, salvation is conditional. It is offered to all, but each individual has the power to choose whether or not to meet the conditions. This does not contradict the Bible doctrine of predestination but is part of it.

C. People Are Elect in Christ's Spiritual Body, the Church.

Passages

Ephesians 1:3-14 - Paul is addressing the elect in Christ. But the rest of the book refers to them as the church, the body of Christ - this is the theme of the book.

1:22,23 - Jesus is head of the church, His body.

2:13,16 - To be reconciled "in Christ" is to be reconciled in His body or household (v19), the temple of the Lord (v21,22).

3:10,11 - We are predestined according to God's purpose (1:11), but His eternal purpose is revealed in the church.

5:22-33 - Jesus is Head and Savior of the body, having loved it and gave Himself to sanctify and cleanse it. Note that it is a body or group that is destined to be saved. [Cf. 3:21; 4:4,16

1 Peter 2:9,10 - The ones "chosen" or elected are a race, a nation, a priesthood, a people. We are chosen as a body, a group, the church.

Note the circumstances of those in the church.

Acts 20:28 - Jesus purchased the church with His blood.

Acts 2:47 - All the saved are added to the body (church) by the Lord.

Clearly the church is the elect, those destined to be saved. [Matt. 16:18]

But how does one enter the church?

1 Peter 1:22,23 - The elect (1:1,2; 2:9) are those who "purified your souls" in obedience to the truth and so were born again - born into God's family, the church (1 Tim. 3:15)

1 Corinthians 12:13 - We are baptized into the one body.

Acts 2:38,41,47 - When we repent and are baptized, we receive remission and are added by the Lord to the church.

So, from eternity, God knew there would be people willing to obey Him. He purposed to establish the church (Eph. 3:10,11) as the body that would contain all saved people (5:23,25). These would be His special people, the elect (1:3-14). This body He decreed to be destined for eternal glory (1:3-14).

However, each individual has been given by God the power to choose to meet the conditions to enter that body or not enter. Once in the body, each has the power to continue faithful and receive the reward or to fall away and be lost (these will be removed from the body before it enters glory - Matt. 13:41-43; Rev. 17:14; 2 Peter 1:10).


II. The Sovereignty of God


Since God is the absolute, all-powerful ruler of the Universe, it is argued that He must absolutely govern everything that happens on earth (see quotes from Westminster Confession). This means He must personally choose whether or not each individual will be saved. The decision must be completely His, and no one else can determine the outcome. To say that man has a choice is to deny the absolute sovereignty of God. [Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28; 11:36; 1 Chron. 29:11; 1 Tim. 6:15; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10]

Response: There is no doubt that God has the sovereign right to do whatever He wills to do. The question is: What is it that God has willed to do? Has God chosen to unconditionally determine the eternal destiny of each individual, or has He chosen to offer salvation to all men and give each man the choice whether or not to accept based on conditions? If God is truly sovereign, then if He wishes, He has the right to give man the power to choose!

A. Has God Ever Granted Anyone the Right to Choose Anything?

If God has ever granted anyone the right to choose anything, then it would not violate His sovereignty to give man the right to choose salvation.

Calvinists admit that Adam had the right to choose whether or not to obey God. If so, then God's sovereignty is not violated simply because He gives man the power to choose. Why then would it violate His sovereignty to give us also the right to choose?

If man never has the right to choose about anything, then God must have decided to make man (and Satan) sinners!

If God's sovereignty means He has decreed everything about men, and we have no choice about anything, then He must have decreed that Adam and all men must commit sin. This means God is responsible for the fact men commit sin and suffer the consequences. Man had no choice. We are all sinners because God chose for us all to become sinners.

Yet God hates sin and commands men not to sin (Prov. 15:9; 6:16,17; etc.). So the consequence of Calvinism is that God decreed that man must do the very thing God hates and commands men not to do. God is therefore divided against Himself (Matt. 12:25; 1 Cor. 1:13; 14:33). How can they avoid the charge that their view makes God hypocritical?

Illustration: Calvinism makes God like a father who commands his son not to go in the street, and if he goes, the father will spank him. Then the father carries the son into the street and spanks him for going there!

B. There Is a Difference Between What God Unconditionally Decrees and What He Chooses to Permit.

God is the absolute ruler of the Universe. But this does not deny His right to give men the power to choose.

God unconditionally decrees that some things must come to pass.

In this case, His decree must come to pass, and no one can change it. [1 Chron. 29:11; 1 Tim. 6:15; Psa 115:3; 33:11; Job 23:13; Isaiah 14:27; 46:9,10; Prov. 21:30]

Yet the Scriptures teach that God has decreed to allow men (and Satan) to have the power to choose and make some decisions.

Consider some examples:

* God does not tempt man to sin (James 1:13). Yet man faces temptation. Why? Because God permits Satan (within limits) to tempt man (Job 1). [Note 2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31]

* God hates sin and commands men not to practice it (see above). Yet sin exists. God is not the source of it, else He is not righteous but contradicts Himself and forces men to do what He Himself hates!

The truth is that God gave man the power to choose to obey or disobey, having warned them of the consequences. Having decreed that man has the power to choose, God respects His own decree and permits His creatures to choose, even when those choices displease God.

* In the same way, God has decreed (as shown in the Scriptures already studied) that man has the power to choose whether or not to obey His conditions of forgiveness and thereby become one of His elect.

No, man is not free to do absolutely anything we want (can we destroy God?). God has placed limits on us, but one thing He has granted us is the power to obey Him or not. This is not a violation of God's sovereignty, nor is it weakness on His part, for He is the one who decreed that man has this power!

Do you deny that a sovereign God could give man the power to choose?

If God is truly sovereign, then He can decree whatever He chooses. If so, then He can decree that man has the power to choose! If you deny this, then it is you, not us, who deny the sovereignty of God!

The question is not whether or not God is sovereign. The question is: What did the sovereign God decide to do? The Bible says God decreed to give man the power to choose whether or not to obey. This is what it means for "all things" to work according to His purpose.

C. God's Sovereign Government Is Controlled by His Will and Character.

God must act in harmony with His own will.

Man can never limit God, but God can and often does limit what He does according to His will. He may choose not to exercise certain powers He possesses in order to accomplish some higher purpose.

The consequence of Calvinism is that God acts in ways that are contrary to His own revealed will. He says that man can choose whether to obey or disobey Him and that salvation is for all and that there are conditions everyone can meet to be saved (as shown in preceding Scriptures). However, Calvinism says none of this is true, we have no choice, etc.

God must act according to His character

There are some things God cannot do because they would violate His character.

* God cannot lie - Titus 1:2

* God cannot sin (He is always righteous) - 2 Chron. 19:7

* God cannot deny Himself - 2 Tim. 2:13

* God cannot change - Hebrews 13:8

The consequence of Calvinism is that God continually acts contrary to His character. He hates evil, yet He decrees that men practice evil. He cannot lie, yet He says things in the Bible that are not true, etc.


III. Romans 9:6-24


Several statements in this passage "sound like" Calvinistic predestination:

V11-13 - God chose Jacob even before he and Esau were born or had done anything good or bad. He hated Esau and loved Jacob.

V15-18 - God has mercy on whom He wills and hardens whom He wills. This is determined by God, not by the person who "wills" to receive His mercy.

V19-24 - God forms men for destruction or glory like a potter with clay.

This is the main proof text on which Calvinistic predestination rests. They argue that this means God chooses to eternally save or condemn men unconditionally, entirely according to God's whim.

A. Such a View of Romans 9 Contradicts Other Scriptures.

This view contradicts all the other passages showing God wants all to be saved, gives them the power to choose, etc.

See previous material. The Bible does not contradict itself. Yet this view would surely make the Bible self-contradictory. We must search for a view which harmonizes with all the Scriptures.

This view contradicts the overall teaching of the book of Romans.

1:16 - The gospel is God's power to save everyone who believes (it is conditional, and everyone can meet the conditions).

2:6-11 - God is no respecter of persons. For each individual, eternal life or condemnation is determined by what he does, good or bad.

5:18,19 - Justification by Jesus' death comes to all men - the same all men who receive condemnation as a result of Adam's sin.

6:13,16-18 - Man must yield his own members to God to be made free from sin.

This view contradicts the immediate context of Romans 9-11.

All three of these chapters discuss God's dealing with the nation of Israel.

9:1-3; 10:1 - Paul hopes and prays for the salvation of Israel. Why so if he believed that some would be damned by God's unchangeable decree?

10:13 - Whosoever calls on the Lord will be saved.

10:21 - God spread His hands to Israel (inviting them), but they refused.

11:7-14 - "The rest" of Israel were not elect, but were hardened. Nevertheless, Paul was trying "by any means" to save some of them! Why so? Calvinism says if they were non-elect and were hardened, they cannot be saved.

11:19-24 - Non-elect Israelites were "cut off" because of unbelief, and Gentiles were grafted in. But those Israelites could be grafted in again and Gentiles could be cut off again, depended on their belief or unbelief. Salvation is conditional; non-elect people can change and be accepted.

11:32 - God offers mercy to all. This must include the non-elect Israelites being discussed. And since God is no respecter of persons, it much also include all Gentiles.

Romans 9, the main Calvinist proof text, creates insurmountable difficulties and contradictions, if it is explained as Calvinists do.

B. What Does Romans 9:6-24 Mean?

The context: the theme of Romans 9-11 is the condition of Israel as a nation.

9:4,5 - Paul discussed the exalted position (blessings and privileges) God formerly gave the nation of Israel under the Old Testament. They received these simply because they were members of the nation, but this did not prove they would or would not be saved eternally.

9:6-23 - Paul defended God's sovereign right to use the nation of Israel as He chose. In particular, God was not obligated, as some seemed to think, to give an exalted position to every person who physically descended from Abraham.

9:24-11:32 - Paul discussed the blessings available to Israel under the gospel and how they could receive those blessings.

9:6-13 - God's promise to Abraham did not require Him to give an exalted position to every physical descendant of Abraham.

The Old Testament itself shows that God chose the descendants of Isaac (not of Ishmael) and then chose those of Jacob (not of Esau).

The context discusses a promise about Abraham's seed or children (v7,8).

This was not a promise to save any of them eternally. It was a promise to make them a great nation, give them Canaan, and make them the ancestors of the Messiah. (See Gen. 12:1-3; 22:16-18; Deut. 4:37,38; 9:4f; Gal. 3:16.)

Hence, the "election" or choice (v11) does not refer to the election to eternal life, but to the ones through whom these promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. This is the election that was made before Jacob or Esau were born or had done anything good or bad. It was an election in which "the elder would serve the younger" (v12), not an election to eternal life! (God often spoke of Israel as His elect or chosen nation, but that had to do with this promise to Abraham, not eternal life.)

The statement "the elder will serve the younger" refers to two nations - the nations that would descend from Jacob and Esau - not to the two men themselves!

Genesis 25:22,23 - The original passage quoted in Romans 9:12 expressly says that the statement refers to two nations. If this meant all Israelites would go to heaven and all Edomites be doomed, that would indeed be respect of persons.

"Loving Jacob and hating Esau" likewise has no reference to eternal destinies.

This statement was made long after both men had died, not before their birth - Malachi 1:2,3. The only one of the statements made before their birth was "the elder will serve the younger."

This statement also refers to the nations that would descend from the men, not to the men themselves (see the context of Mal. 1).

"Hate" means a lesser love, like Christians must hate their families and their own lives (Luke 14:26). It has no reference whatever to salvation! (Must we wish our families to be eternally damned?)

These statements merely prove that the promise of God to Abraham did not obligate him to give an exalted position to every physical descendant of Abraham. Old Testament history shows, in fulfilling this promise, God repeatedly made choices between individuals regarding whose descendants He would use in fulfilling the promise.

No application whatever is made here to eternal destinies. Later, however, Paul did discuss salvation, and there he showed that God is not obligated to save all Israelites but only a "remnant" (11:1-5).

9:14-18 - God shows mercy according to His own will.

The decision as to who will receive mercy is a decision made by the one who shows the mercy, not by the one who receives it (v15,16,18).

Mercy is a favor shown to one who does not deserve it. It follows that the one who wants mercy (the one who "wills" or "runs" - Israel) cannot set the conditions under which it will be given. This is determined by the one who extends the mercy.

The application to Israel is that they could not insist (as they apparently thought they could do) that God must continue to give them a favorable position, just because He once did so. They had received a favorable position by God's mercy, but He could withdraw it anytime He so chose.

The key word here is the word "will."

God gives mercy to whom He "will." Calvinists assume (without proof) this means that God wills to unconditionally send some folks to heaven and others to hell. Now God can do whatever He wills to do; but does the context here say that is what He wills to do? If so, where? This passage is not talking about eternal destinies.

Now salvation is a matter of mercy, so God can show mercy on whom He wills - men cannot dictate the terms of salvation. But God's will regarding salvation is revealed in the Bible, and on that subject we have seen that His will is to offer salvation to all conditionally and let men choose whether or not to comply. That will is stated later and elsewhere. But it is not even under discussion here.

This passage is describing the hardening of Pharaoh's heart (v17).

Whereas God used Israel in a favorable way in fulfilling His promise to Abraham, He also used Pharaoh in an unfavorable way. Pharaoh was the ruler of Egypt when Israel became a great nation and when they left to go to the promised Canaan.

The Old Testament account shows that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, but only after Pharaoh had already several times hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15,32; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; Cf. Psalm 95:8; Heb. 3:8)

God used Pharaoh, but for what purpose? V17 - He used him that God might show His power and that His name might be declared to the whole earth (by the plagues and crossing the Red Sea). This is not talking about anyone's eternal salvation but about an act by which God brought honor to Himself.

Nothing here says God unconditionally caused anyone to do evil or to be lost without choice. Pharaoh was already (by his own choice) a wicked man, so God used him to accomplish His purpose and bring glory to Himself.

In fulfilling His promise to Abraham, God showed mercy to Israel and hardened their enemy, Pharaoh. He used men and nations to accomplish His purpose. But this is not talking about their salvation. He never violated any man's right to choose to obey Him or disobey Him.

God gave Israel an exalted status as a nation to use them for His purposes in fulfilling the promise to Abraham. Having done this, He had the right to withdraw that exalted status, for it never did have anything to do with what they deserved. And above all, nothing here says anything about how God decides whom He will or will not save eternally.

9:19-24 - The potter and the clay

God here affirms His right to deal with men however He pleases. Man has no right to object.

The application in context is to the nation of Israel.

In particular, God can make of the same lump (Israel) vessels to honor and vessels to dishonor. God had exalted Israel in the past to accomplish His will in fulfilling the promise to Abraham. That promise had been completely fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross. If God then chose to withdraw Israel's "most-favored-nation" status, they had no right to object (as some apparently were doing).

To affirm a person has power to do whatever He chooses, does not of itself tell you what He has chosen!

1 Corinthians 9:1-18 - Paul argued that preachers have the right to marry or to be supported financially. In fact, however, he refused to exercise neither of those rights.

Matthew 26:39,53,54 - God had the sovereign power to save Jesus from death, but it was not His will to save Him.

You may affirm that you have the power to slug me with your fist, but you have not chosen to do so (not yet).

So God here affirms His right to make choices however He pleases, but that does not of itself tell us what His choice will be. It surely does not tell us how He decides who will be saved, since that is not even being discussed here.

This passage does not apply to man's eternal destinies but to God's right to withdraw Israel's privileged status as a nation.

God's choice here pertained to how He used the nation of Israel in fulfilling the promise to Abraham. He used them for many years in a way that exalted Him. When the promises had been fulfilled (because Jesus died), there was no longer any reason to continue their exalted status. So God withdrew it. That was His right, just like a potter could make whatever He chose from a lump of clay.

Nevertheless, regarding salvation God does have the right to do whatever He chooses (consistent with His character). But nothing here says anything about what He has chosen or how He will determine who will be saved or lost.

Later, in 9:24-11:32, Paul does discuss God's choice regarding who will or will not be saved. There he shows that God offers mercy to all (11:32). Those who believe and obey will be saved (10:13-17). This is exactly what we learned to be true in multitudes of other passages.

God has the right to do whatever He wills with man. He used Israel for His purpose, then ceased to use them. He is not here discussing salvation, yet God can save us or not save us according to any standard that He chooses. The standard that He chose was to offer salvation to all on the basis of conditions and let each man decide whether or not to meet the conditions.


IV. People Whom God Foreknew


Before they did good or evil, God foreknew that certain people would be sinners, prophets, etc. Examples:

Judas - John 13:21-26; 6:70f; Matthew 26:20-25,50; Acts 1:16-20,25

Pharaoh - Exodus 4:21; 14:17,18

Prophets - Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15

Calvinists argue that, since God knows everything, He must know all about a person's life, even before he is born. Once God knows a thing, then it is decreed and cannot be avoided. Therefore, one's eternal destiny is decreed before his is born. He has no choice.

A. God Does Not Force People against Their Will to Be Good or Bad, but He Can Foreknow What Choices They Will Make.

Judas was already evil before He betrayed Jesus - John 12:6. This evil was nowhere predicted.

Pharaoh was also evil before God hardened his heart - Exodus 8:15,32; 9:12.

God did not make these men evil. He simply foreknew what choice they would make, then He used them accordingly. If foreknowing and prophesying a thing means that God decreed it, so men have no choice, then since the men sinned, it must be that God decreed them to commit sin! This violates His righteous character, as already discussed.

Jesus' death was also foreknown and prophesied - Isaiah 53; John 3:14; 12:27; Matthew 16:21. Nevertheless, Matt. 26:53 shows that Jesus had the power to stop it. He had a choice despite the fact the matter had been prophesied.

God foreordained that Jesus would die (1 Peter 1:20; Acts 2;23; 4:28; Luke 22:22). This involved a sin committed by those who killed Him. If this means it was decreed, so men had no choice, then again God decreed that men must commit sin!

B. Though God Foreknew What Some Men Did, That Does Not Prove He Foreknows All the Acts of All Men.

God is both all-powerful and all-knowing. His power to know is just a part of His overall power. He has the power to do anything He chooses to do. But does He do everything He has the power to do? Obviously, there are many things God could do that he chooses not to do. To claim that God is all-powerful is not to say that he will actually do everything He has the power to do.

Since His power to know is part of His overall power, does it not follow that, just as He may choose not to exercise His power to do some things, so He may not exercise His power not to know some things about the future? As with all His other powers, can He not choose to know only those things that suit His purposes? If we really believe that God is all-powerful, then wouldn’t that include the power to choose not to know some things about the future, if He wills to not know them?

Consider some examples that appear to indicate that God did not know certain things before they happened. But then He deliberately chose to exercise His power to know them.

Genesis 11:5 — At the tower of Babel, God "came down to see" what the people were doing.

Genesis 18:20,21 — God went to see what Sodom and Gomorrah were doing.

Genesis 22:12 — After Abraham had proved he was willing to offer Isaac, God said, "Now I know that you fear God ..." Did He not know beforehand?

I know that God chooses to know everything that has happened in the past, because the Bible says so. He will bring every work into judgment with every hidden thing -- Ecc. 12:14; etc.

God can do whatever He chooses to do. But we only know what He chooses to do by what He says in the Bible. I know He chooses to know everything in the past because the Bible says so. I also know that He has the powerto know anything in the future that He chooses to know, and I know that He has exercised His power to know some in the future, because the Bible says so. The question is: Where does the Bible say that God has chosen to know everything will happen in the future in the life of every ndividual? The passages above appear to me to indicate that God chose not to know certain things before happened.

In any case, by whatever means one explains it, it cannot be denied that God’s power to foreknow the actions of people does not invalidate man’s power to choose. The Bible clearly says that God allows men to choose to do good or evil

Conclusion

Calvinist arguments must fail because they make God a violator of His own will and of His own righteous character.

Salvation is offered to all men, so any one can receive it. But each individual must choose for himself whether or not to respond, and each one is capable of so choosing.

Does this mean that salvation is by the power of men, not of God's power? Not at all.

Illustration: Suppose a man is drowning, but a sailor throws him a life preserver attached to a rope. The drowning man by himself was powerless to be saved. The sailor was his savior. But the man still had to choose to take hold and continuing holding on until he was in the boat.

So God is the source and provider of salvation. Salvation is by God's grace. But He has decreed that each individual must choose for Himself whether or not to accept the salvation offered.

Note: After studying this article, you may wish to read other related topics. See the links below for articles about the eternal security of the believer (once saved, always saved), original sin (inherited depravity), or salvation by faith only.

(C) Copyright 1998, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Topics for further Bible study

Calvinism and the Gospel
Once Saved, Always Saved (Eternal Security)
Original Sin and Inherited Depravity
Imputation of Jesus' Sinless Life
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
God's grace and mercy (law & works)
Importance of Repentance
The Importance of Obedience
Salvation by "Faith Only" vs. Obedient Faith
Should Babies Be Baptized?

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