Who are the Elect of God?
by Thomas H. Walker
Calvinism versus Arminianism
This chapter discusses one of the most potentially divisive doctrinal debates in the history of the church—the Doctrine of Election. Before my discussion begins, I believe it is noteworthy to present an issue regarding the two authors at center stage of this debate, John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. The issue at hand revolves around the question: “how can two devoted men who prayed to the same God, who were saved by the same Savior, and who were instructed by the same Holy Spirit, postulate and propagate two dogmas that are based upon different interpretations of the Scripture?” I believe that the answer to this question is as important as finding out which theologian is correct. However, I digress back to the subject of this chapter. It is my guess, that after using some building blocks from each builder, the answer to “Who is right?” will be found dead center between the two extremes. The following briefly explains both Calvin’s and Arminius’ positions on the Doctrine of Election:
Arminianism – emphasizes conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge, man’s free will through prevenient grace to cooperate with God in salvation, Christ’s universal atonement, resistible grace, and salvation that can potentially be lost. Election is based on God’s foreknowledge of those who would believe in him through faith. In other words, God elected those who would choose him of their own free will. Conditional election is based on man’s response.
Calvinism – God’s sovereignty is unconditional, unlimited, and absolute. All things are predetermined by the good pleasure of God’s will. God foreknew because of His own planning. Before the foundation of the world, God unconditionally chose some to be saved. Election has nothing to do with man’s future response. Those followers of Calvinism and Arminianism can provide a myriad of Biblical support for their beliefs, evidenced by the volumes of reading material (academic and non-academic) available. I believe that a mountain of scholarly data does not fundamentally bring greater credibility to an argument, but can bring unnecessary noise and clutter that creates confusion by burying the debate and debaters in details.
It is impossible, in one chapter, to respond to all the questions posed by both sides in the argument. However, I am optimistic that what is presented will help lay more of a solid and true foundation. This is what is missing in this debate; when the foundation is not plumb, neither is all that is built upon it.
I believe that we have just scratched the surface with our present understanding of God’s Word. We will never stop learning, and there are more revelations God wants to reveal to His children. God reveals a measure of truth to a person who then places it upon the foundation laid by others: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (1 Corinthians 3:10). Like building blocks, truth builds upon truth, and if a block of truth does not fit, just as with a building, it becomes unsound.
Two points need emphasizing in 1 Corinthians 3:10: first, there is never one builder used, as many are needed to build upon the foundation; second is a warning to all builders to “take care”. Other meanings for “take care” include: to pay attention, look out, heed, make sure, make certain, watch out, think twice, be cautious, etc. As for the debate between Calvin and Arminius, division has ensued because these two men of God are viewed as theologians and not builders. I will attempt to explain this further in my discussion.
A very important foundational building block, theologically speaking, that has been forgotten, ignored, or replaced in Christendom is that God has not given up on the Nation of Israel. It is imperative that every student of the Bible, whether a scholar or layperson, recognizes God’s relationship with the only two groups of people on earth – Jews and Gentiles – for it is fundamental for learning and for coming to a full age of understanding. Even though both groups will be participants in the Kingdom of God, the roles for each are vastly different.
There is a vast amount of evidence in Scripture supporting God’s special relationship with Israel, however, to keep this discussion short and to the point, I will begin with just a few verses. Israel is, and will always be, betrothed to Jehovah: “And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in mercies” (Hosea 2:19). In Leviticus we read, “But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples ” (Leviticus 20:24 [ESV]). In the 26th verse we further learn, “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:26 [NLT]).
The Hebrew word kherem (specially set apart) designates that something or someone is deemed holy to God. In the beginning, God chose Israel to be His chosen people forever. God chose no other nation on earth to partake in this special relationship. If you are a gentile, as I am, don’t feel unwanted. God has turned His attention to the gentile nations due to His chosen’s disobedience. God is offering, what was exclusively for His chosen, salvation to the world: “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scripture tells us, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’ Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on Him. For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:10-13 [NLT]).
Another version of the Bible translates “Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect” this way: “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12 [KJV]). A passage in Galatians says it this way: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 [KJV]) Many people have misconstrued the meaning behind these verses as purporting that Israel’s distinction as being “specially set apart” has ended and now the church has taken their place – this is wrong. What the verses are saying is that being made right with God is by one way only, and it applies to all people with no distinction.
Many Calvinists and Arminians I have spoken with believe in Replacement Theology. The Replacement Theology building block does not fit with the other building blocks laid by other master builders in the Bible. This dogma teaches that the Christian Church has replaced Israel, so exclusively that the Church now holds the promises and prominent position once held by God’s chosen people.
What does the Bible say about Israel of the past, present, and future?
In the Book of Romans, Chapters 1 – 8, the apostle Paul taught the Gentiles about the new way to become right with God and the significance of Jesus’ death. Paul preached that forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to everyone, but by faith and not by works. By the time Paul arrived in Rome to preach, most of the believers were Gentiles, for the Jewish people had rejected the message of Jesus as Messiah.
In Chapter 9, Paul’s love for his Jewish brethren overwhelmed his emotions, causing him to digress for a moment from his message about Jesus: “I say the truth in Christ; I lie, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever” (Romans 9:1-5). We learn from these verses of Israel’s unique and highly favored standing with God.
Paul, knowing that God blinded His people due to their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, experienced a deep sorrow for his people. In addition, what made things worse for Paul was recognizing how close salvation was for his people if they would only believe. Paul’s intense desire for Israel was evident: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1).
Salvation has come to the Gentiles because Israel stumbled. Even though Israel was down, Israel was not out: “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (Romans 11:11). Paul understood the pride of the flesh, so he warned the Gentiles about becoming arrogant toward their new standing with God: “Be not proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note, then, the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you” (Romans 11:20-22). If you believe that God has broken off all the original branches (Jews) and replaced them with the wild branches (Gentiles), you are guilty of what Paul warned us about: pride. If you believe Jehovah God has divorced Himself from the Jewish race, replacing them with gentiles, it would be for your admonition and instruction to memorize the following passage: “I say then, hath God cast away His people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away His people which he foreknew” (Romans 11:1-2).
For further proof that the Replacement Theology is a fallacy, let us visit the future when eternity begins: an angel called to John, who was exiled to the island of Patmos, to come up and see the things that were yet to come. “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10-14).
By this token, how could anyone believe that God has given up on Israel when the Pearly Gates are named after each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve foundation stones for the wall will bear the names of each of the twelve apostles?
There are two major undertakings occurring today. First, starting on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and continuing through to today, God has, and continues to preserve a remnant from among His blinded chosen: “Even so, then, at this present time, also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And, if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise, grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according to the text as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber; eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear) unto this day” (Romans 11:4-8). Think about the consequences to a people (Israel) whose eyes were blinded from the truth about Jesus for over two thousand years. Without God’s grace preserving a seed – “except the Lord of Sabbath had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah” (Romans 9:29) – Israel’s blindness would have caused a similar fate to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
To preserve a remnant for the preaching of the Gospel to the Nation of Israel during the 70th week of Daniel, God will pour out onto 144,000 Jewish virgins His grace. “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. And, I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Revelation 7:3-4). Jesus further corroborated this end of days event when He explained the following to His disciples: “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days” (Mark 13:19-20).
Only God can remove the veil from those He blinded. And it will take His grace to undo the curse our Lord imposed upon Israel. Who are the elect? “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes” (Romans 11:26-28).
Secondly, the Heavenly Father is selecting a bride for His Son from among the body of Gentile believers during this two-thousand-year church age. The King’s bride will sit on Jesus’ left hand which is why He told the two disciples, “but to sit on my right hand, and on my left hand, is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared of my Father” (Matthew 20:23). Who sits on Jesus’ right hand? No one can be sure, but maybe it will be the twelve apostles: “when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:27-28). A King always hand-picks those who will be a part of his royal court.
The reason there is a church age is that God has temporarily turned from His chosen people to offer the Gentile Nations what He had intended to give exclusively to the Jewish People – forgiveness of sins and salvation. God has thrown the doors wide open, inviting all who will accept His Son as their Lord and Savior to come to the wedding feast. Jesus described this event in the following parable: “Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, see, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find’” (Matthew 22:4-9).
Followers on both sides of the debate agree that God has blinded His Jewish people from the truth about Jesus, “that blindness in part is what happened to Israel” (Romans 11:25). And for a while longer – “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – God is offering salvation to a “. . . people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God” (Romans 9:25-26).
Romans 9:13 has added much fuel to the debate on exclusivity: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”; perhaps we could stop looking at it in the same way and take a different approach. It seems rather harsh, nevertheless, that Jesus insinuated the same about Gentiles in the following verses:
“Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
“He [Jesus] answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Jesus referred to Gentiles as “dogs”: “And Jesus said unto her, let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). However, because Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, “all [Jews and Gentiles] who believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). After his vision with the unclean foods, Peter declared, “Ye yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation; and yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Let us change direction by focusing our attention on the following statement made by Jesus to His disciples: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16). Calvinists take it at face value, believing that Jesus was telling all believers that they do not choose Him, but that only God can make the choice as to who will receive Him as Savior. On the other hand, those in the Arminian camp say that Jesus is God and therefore has foreknowledge of those who will choose Him. In reality, Jesus was speaking only to His apostles. If you recall, Jesus went out among the people and selected twelve individuals to follow Him, “and as Jesus passed by from thence, he saw a man, called Matthew, sitting at the place of toll: and he saith unto him, follow me. And he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). Jesus did not ask Matthew if he wanted to follow Him, nor did Jesus ask the other disciples if they wanted to follow Him. These men did not choose Jesus, but Jesus chose them; apparently, with no resistance. Is this Irresistible Grace or foreknowledge?
Jehovah chose the race of people called the Jews, yet nowhere in the Bible does it say that they chose God. In the Book of Luke, we read how Joseph’s family lineage traces back to the first Adam, electing the Jewish race as the direct descendants of Adam. Here is a building block from a past master builder: “For God knew His people [Israel] in advance, and He chose them [the Jews] to become like His Son, so that His [Jewish] Son would be the firstborn among many [Jewish] brothers and sisters. And, having chosen them, He called them to come to Him. And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself” (Romans 8:29, 30).
Here is another way to look at the statement “you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”: the apostle Paul asserts that Israel does not understand the way God chooses His children, and that they even refuse to receive God’s way for salvation: “For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their way of getting right with God by trying to obey the law” (Romans 10:3). It is important to remember that for centuries, the Nation of Israel had as their mission statement, the following: “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:25).
It is time to place upon the foundation the following overlooked building block. Is it possible that when God talks about choosing a people, God’s selection process is not an indiscriminant act based on an unknown criterion, but a new way to make a sinner right with God – His promise to all who trust in His Son? Let me take the liberty to paraphrase Romans 10:3: “You have not chosen the way to make yourself right before God, but I have chosen the way that makes you right before God.”
Defining “What are works?” has also caused confusion during Biblical times as well as our modern times of Christendom. Many Orthodox Jews today will not turn a light switch on or off during the Sabbath for that is considered “works.” Those Jewish people are extreme legalists working hard to obtain righteousness. In the meantime, many modern-day Christians have become extremely legalistic about not working. Some Christians (Calvinists) claim that making a decision to accept Jesus is “works.”
Eternal life is a gift or a prize from God that we accept “on behalf” of Jesus, the winner. We did not do anything to deserve it. You have seen people on TV accepting awards on behalf of the winner who was not present. The person that reaches out and receives the award or prize did not do any work. Salvation is the same. Reaching forth with a hand of faith to receive the prize of eternal life is not works; Jesus did all the work earlier, so that we can receive the gift of eternal life.
Calvinists have condensed their beliefs down to five points represented by the acronym T.U.L.I.P., which I will address in these final pages:
Total Depravity – Sin has corrupted all parts of man: will, heart, emotions, mind, and body. Man does not seek God, nor can he ever choose what is right.
Unconditional Election – God chooses the elect according to His merciful will. God does not look into the future to see who will choose Him.
Limited Atonement – Jesus died only for the elect. Although Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not for all.
Irresistible Grace – When God calls His elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the Gospel message or the external call. The internal call is by the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of God’s elect and they cannot resist His call.
Perseverance of the Saints – Salvation cannot be lost, because the Father has elected.
Total Depravity – Yes, humanity is sinful and there is no one righteous. However, if Calvinism is correct in that no person can be broken enough to seek God, then the stories of Israel’s backsliding and later return back to the Lord does not fit. God blessed His elect, Israel, and when they on many occasions fell away, He broke the will of these stiff-necked people with tribulation to bring them back to Him: “But from thence ye shall seek Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt find him, when thou searchest after him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, in the latter days thou shalt return to Jehovah thy God, and hearken unto His voice: for Jehovah thy God is a merciful God; he will not fail thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31). Calvinists say that only God using Irresistible Grace can bring people to Him, because humanity’s will is continually evil. God gave free will to His angelic beings before the foundations of the world were laid. Lucifer, as well as one third of his angels, chose not to carry out the will of God. However, two thirds of the angelic host chose to remain with God.
Unconditional Election – Calvinists are correct in that God foreknew and predestined a very special people He called His elect. In addition, these people did not choose God, nor did they have a choice. Nowhere in the Bible does the Jewish race ever make a decision to become the children of God. All the other nations on earth God hated. Jesus came to the house of Israel and not to the Gentiles. Calvinists are correct up to a point with regard to unconditional election, but it applies only to the Nation of Israel. Salvation was for the Jews and for no other people. Yes, Calvinism is correct in that Jesus came to die for the elect of God; however, these elect are called the Children of Israel. Nevertheless, God is offering salvation to everyone (Gentile Nations) during the times of the Gentiles; also, God is selecting a Bride for His Son from the body of believers called the Church. In the meantime, God’s elect (Israel) are blinded due to their disobedience, “but by their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy” (Romans 11:11). The original guest list for the wedding feast included God’s elect, and it was by invitation only. However, the wedding invitation is open to everyone except to His elect. Israel may have lost the invitation to the wedding, but God has not stopped loving His people.
Limited Atonement – The apostle Paul builds upon the foundation with this statement, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). My question is, if the first Adam’s actions were powerful enough to cause ALL to be condemned, then why wouldn’t the last Adam’s actions be equally powerful to redeem ALL that were lost? Calvinists believe that Jesus’ death was powerful enough to save the world, but God has elected only a few, and His selection criterion is unknown. The closer you get to the heavenly Father, the more uncharacteristic of our Father this conclusion becomes. This building block does not match; push and shove all you want, but it will never fit.
If the people of Israel had received Jesus as Lord and Savior, what then? Jesus was still destined to die, because a sacrifice was required to pay the penalty for sin. Jesus came to earth for His people: “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Yes, Jesus came to die for the elect only, but due to Israel’s disobedience, God is now giving away what was intended for Israel to those who will appreciate it.
Parents can relate to this action by God. As a parent, perhaps you may have made sacrifices for an ungrateful child, or you may have given a costly gift to someone that showed no appreciation. A normal reaction in these situations would be to stop helping and to give the gift to one who was appreciative. It is easy to understand God’s actions when you keep in mind that God is a Father. The heavenly Father said in His Word, that to provoke His people to jealousy, He would turn to a people that were not His people. Can you relate to His feelings of anger, disappointment, and rejection?
Irresistible Grace – Grace is undeserved merit. Humanity likes to dissect everything, taking their research to the molecular level. The writers of the Bible did not categorize grace into several different types. Our modern Bible scholars propagated the dogma that there are several types of graces. From all their hard work in developing sophisticated study methodologies, systematic historical and textual analysis, and topping it all off with a large quantity of human intellect, they have managed to replace the Word of God with mountains of scholarly data. Over time, improvements and advancements are normal; however, over the past two thousand years, humanity’s scholarship of God’s Word leaves the church splintered into over twenty thousand different denominations – theologian versus builder.
Like the Pharisees, scribes, and priests who replaced God’s Word with manmade laws and traditions, the modern church scholars have also replaced God’s Word with private interpretations that cause discord and division.
Perseverance of the Saints – Generally speaking, Calvinism teaches eternal security and Arminianism teaches conditional eternal security. However, there appears to be a change of heart among some in the Arminian camp to believing in eternal security. I believe that we are secure in Christ and that God’s love is unconditional. The following passage is at the heart of the controversy: “For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6). I believe these verses are not talking about a backslidden Christian who is caught up in the world. There are consequences to backsliding, but it is not the loss of one’s salvation. Hebrews 6:4-6 refers to the following situation:
“Bart Ehrman received his B.A. at Wheaton College in 1978, and later attended Princeton Theological Seminary where he received an M.Div. (1981) and a Ph.D. (1985). Having studied under Bruce Metzger, Ehrman also specializes in the area of New Testament textual criticism. Although Ehrman had a strong background in Evangelical Christianity, having attended both Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, his personal beliefs have shifted over time. Ehrman now considers himself an agnostic” (www.theopedia.com). This is how (I believe) you lose your salvation. So who is right, Calvin or Arminius?
Independently, their conclusions are disjointed. Because we are discussing the teachings of two devoted men of God, we can be certain that God has given Godly wisdom to both of them. With this in mind, each camp of thought will have a measure of truth. God can use another builder to retrieve these building blocks of truth from each camp. The builder must take care so that the block of truth fits on the foundation with ease. A block of truth answers all questions and it fits without resistance among the already-laid blocks. Instead of focusing on who is right or wrong, regard each man as if they were a builder, building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. To understand the manmade dogma – Doctrine of Election – you need to lay a foundation using this building block: “For thou art a holy people [set apart] unto Jehovah your God: Jehovah your God hath chosen you to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. Jehovah did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all peoples: but because Jehovah loves you” Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (ASV).