Friday, December 7, 2007

Who Actually Chose?

I was reading in my bible recently (that's not me in the photo) when I came across Mark chapter 13. This is the chapter in Mark's account of the gospel that is very similar to Matthew chapter 24. It is often referred to as the "Olivet Discourse," where Jesus tells his disciples about the end of the age.

I came to the following paragraph, verses 14-23 of Mark 13. Jesus is speaking:

"But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. 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. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand."

As I was reading, I was not looking for anything in particular. However, I could not ignore Jesus' statement, "But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days."

What does this mean? It means that God has shortened the length of the tribulation for the sake of the elect, presumably so that they would not all be killed off. Who are the elect? They are followers of Jesus Christ.

I want to address one other question that the above statement brings up. The question is: What does "whom he chose" mean? Ever since the Reformation, there have been two primary answers to this question. It is, quite frankly, a simple issue. One answer says that God chose who the elect will be based up His sovereign will. A second answer says that God looked into the future, saw who would choose (elect) Him, and then he chose them.

The first answer indicates that God is free to choose whomever He wills. The second answer says that man is free to choose God if he wills. One of these options could be correct, but they cannot both be correct.

Now, when we try to interpret scripture, we must attempt to get at what the original author meant. We must avoid bringing presuppositions to the biblical text.

So, what does "whom he chose" mean? One basic principle of interpretation is that the reader should assume that the writer literally meant what he wrote unless there is a good reason to not do so. If the reader does not do this, then almost any interpretation is up for grabs. If that is the case, then we literally might as well throw out the bible and just make up our own belief system (something far too many churches are doing these days.)

A literal reading of "whom he chose" must mean that God chose the elect. The statement is clear and straightforward. This is not the writer's primary emphasis in this paragraph; he is discussing the future terrible time of tribulation. However, Mark still takes the time to point out that God chose the elect.

Let's also look at what Mark does not say. He doesn't say anything about God looking into the future to see what the elect will do. He doesn't write anything about the free will of man, or about anything man will believe or do. What is implied is that God is free to choose the elect.

Another rule when interpreting scripture is that all scripture agrees. This means that other passages must agree with this one. The passage that immediately comes to mind is Ephesians 1:3-6. In that passage, Paul writes "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world." As with the Mark 13 passage, Paul writes simply that God chose "us." This is referring to Christians, or the elect.

Like Mark, Paul in no way even implies that God looked into the future to see who would choose Him. It is simply not there. In fact, I have never been shown one place in scripture that says that God's choice of the elect is based on any future actions of man. I'm still waiting.

Based upon the writings of Mark and Paul (not to mention others), I conclude based upon a fair and straightforward reading of the bible, that God chose the elect with no strings attached. God did this "before the foundation of the world" out of his sovereign good pleasure.

This is no way negates the need for a person to repent and trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in order to be saved. This in no way negates the need for missions work all around the globe.

I do not claim to fully understand the will of God. Nor do I have any idea how God determined who the elect would be. However, I do trust God to do what is right because He is perfectly good, pure, and righteous.

8 comments:

Aussie John said...

What joy was brought to my soul, when, a lifetime ago, my eyes were opened to these wonderful truths.

To see them repeated from a much younger brother is such a delight.

Thanks Eric. Lord's blessing.

Eric said...

John,

Until about four years ago, I held to the typical Southern Baptist position that man has free will prior to salvation, but that he is preserved by God after salvation.

At that time, a friend of mine from seminary challenged me on this. I went through a few uncomfortable months as I realized that I was incorrect.

After I accepted the fact that God is sovereign, the entire bible began to make much more sense to me. God's sovereignty is everywhere throughout the scriptures. How wonderful that is!

I am always a bit hesitant to write about these things because so many people see them as being "anti-missionary" or "hyper-Calvinistic." I wish more evangelicals around the world would see that God's sovereignty and missions go hand-in-hand, not against each other.

Thanks for your comment,

Eric

Liz said...

I just want to quickly comment that the doctrine of election is my favorite. It's something you have to accept on faith. I see it all over in scripture, even in places that I wasn't looking for it. I've been memorizing Romans 8, which says "the carnal mind is enmity against God because it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." We were enemies of God and would've never chosen Him, unless He had chosen us first.

Eric said...

Liz,

Thanks a lot for your comment. You are right on target when you say that we never would have chosen Him, unless He had chosen us first.

Some people see the doctrine of election as being arrogant, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. None of us could be good enough to choose Him. He, purely out of His grace, chose us first.

Eric

Brian said...

Good post Eric - I am not a calvinist per se but I do agree God is sovereign.

How do you tie this in with God's foreknowledge as in, "those whom he foreknew, he predestined"? Is it just another way of describing election?

Eric said...

Brian,

Thanks again for commenting.

I am no expert, but I'll give you my understanding of what Paul is getting at when he wrote that in Romans 8.

Foreknowledge is different from predestination; otherwise Paul would not have taken the time to use two different Greek words. I believe that foreknowledge refers to God's knowing beforehand who He would select for election. God knew who He would choose. This was based upon nothing other than His sovereign, free choice (Paul addresses this in Romans 9).

Predestination refers to God's actual choice of some to salvation. I believe this to be very similar to the act of electing.

These are both part of the order of salvation that Paul describes in Romans 8:29-30. God foreknew, then predestined, then called, then justified, then glorified.

Eric

Canuck23 said...

Eric,

Interestingly enough, I too have thought a lot about this lately and had several discussions about it.

I think the confusion comes around God being able to choose us before the foundations of the earth... that this must mean he didn't choose all. There are many references to the fact, including John 3:16, that He wants none to be lost, but all saved.

I think it is possible for God to choose all since he did make us in His image (so that we can have a spiritual / intellectual relationship with Him and even desire it) but that all will not choose Him (free choice). Obviously He knows the heart (since he says even nature itself declares Him and can lead a person to salvation) and He can also harden the heart (Pharoah - maybe because He knew that Pharoah would never choose Him). We also know that none can come to Him but those he "prompts" - I think we can be prompted by nature, a Christian neighbor, a missionary, etc. - God does use us and allow us to change the outcome, even though He is sovereign (dangerous to think we do not make a difference, since it would nullify the whole call to missions - yes, He can do it by himself but I am not convinced He will - He thinks beyond us, but nonetheless, like us since we are made in His image). The rationalization of this though is whether everyone gets the opportunity to see the rainbow or some may have become callous to the hand of God and no longer recognize it.

All mankind was predestined for Heaven (i.e. created for it) since Hell was created for Satan and the fallen angels. Just because I am predestined to follow my father's footsteps as a farmer, does not mean that I will choose to do so... Over simplified??? Until we can see clearly, maybe we will never be sure.

Great discussion... A question I have recently wrestled with is the commonly preached theme that God only sends good things - we recently had a tremendous storm with a lot of damage, some loss of life, etc. Did God, who is sovereign, send the storm? A pastor locally claimed that "Don't think that God send this storm - He would never do that!" yet I think God continually sends storms to bring us closer to Him or even to destroy evil... comments?

Eric said...

Dear Canuck23,

Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your thoughts on this matter, and I’ll try to address them all. Are you writing from Canada?

I will say again that a straightforward reading of Eph. 1:3-5 indicates that God chose. Not only did God choose, but He chose “us.” Paul is writing to the Roman church, so the “us” refers to Christians, not to all people.

I have seen nowhere in the bible that says that God chose everyone to be saved, and then that the people who choose God are actually saved. Could you provide scriptural support for that?

As for John 3:16, it gives a wonderful promise (that all who believe will receive eternal life). However, it does not say that God wants everyone to be saved. Many people read this into John 3:16, but it simply isn’t there.

On that topic, I Tim 2:4 says that God “desires all people to be saved.” This tells us of His desire, but not of His will. As for II Peter 3:9, we are told, “God is not willing that any should perish.” In this verse, Peter is talking about the elect, not everyone. Nowhere in the bible are we told that it is God’s will that everyone be saved and go to heaven.

There are three other statements you make that I would ask you to provide scriptural support for (if you don’t mind). They are the following:

“I think it is possible for God to choose all since he did make us in His image (so that we can have a spiritual / intellectual relationship with Him and even desire it) but that all will not choose Him (free choice).”

“We also know that none can come to Him but those he ‘prompts’.” I’m focusing specifically on the word “prompt” here.

“All mankind was predestined for Heaven.”

I have to believe that if God chooses all people for heaven, then all will be saved. That is the same as Universalism. Therefore, when we are told that “God chose us in Him,” it must mean that God chose some based on His own sovereign free will. He is not constrained by our free will, because we don’t have it.

I do believe, however, that all people have the responsibility to repent and believe. Also, we as His followers have been ordered to preach the gospel to all creation. The preached word is how God has chosen to bring His elect to salvation. This is the reason for missions.

You asked an interesting question at the end of your response. The crux of it was, “A question I have recently wrestled with is the commonly preached theme that God only sends good things - we recently had a tremendous storm with a lot of damage, some loss of life, etc. Did God, who is sovereign, send the storm?” I would say that, yes, God did send the storm. I believe He is sovereign over all things, including difficulties and great traumas in life. He is able to do this without being responsible for or the author of sin.

For example, in Genesis 50, Joseph was talking with his brothers about their selling of him into slavery. Joseph says in Genesis 50:20, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” So Joseph realizes that even though his brothers meant for evil to occur (and it did), God meant for something good to come out of it. Notice that Joseph doesn’t anywhere indicate that God “allowed” it to happen or simply used the circumstances for good. God meant it to happen.

Another example is that of Job. In Job 1, after the death of his children and livestock, Job says, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In Job 2, after his health has been destroyed, Job says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” These are two very strong statements from Job about God causing his problems.

In light of the testimony of Joseph and Job (two men who God considered to be righteous), I believe that God brings both good and evil upon us. Why does He do this? It seems to be that God’s motivation is to bring about a greater good. This good would be the magnification of His glory. We may not always see this clearly or understand it, but I believe it to be true.

Thanks again. Please write back to tell me what you think.

Eric