One of the greatest area of debates centers on a couple of obscure passages about election and predestination. Some of concluded that Paul believed that God created some people for salvation and others for damnation. This is normally referred to as “double predestination.” Others believe that Paul taught that God elects some to salvation and leaves the rest in a state of fallenness and they will never respond positively to the gospel.
I want to proceed in two ways. First I want to examine some passages that have often been misunderstood and have led many peolple to believe that Paul beilved that God predestined some individuals to salvation and others to damnation. Then I will turn to one passage that makes clear what Paul believed!
The first of these passages occurs in Romans 8 when Paul says,
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
The argument says that God first predestines us and then he calls us before we are justified. It is said that Paul believed individuals were called and elected to salvation before they experience salvation. In response to this I would say three things.
Golden Chain of Calvinism: Foreknowledge- Predestined- Called- Justified- Glorified. However, Calvinists believe that God predestines not according to his foreknowledge, but rater he foreknows because he has predestined.
If God knows our future actions, then what the text could be saying is that those whom God knows will respond in a positive way, he will make sure that they are conformed to the likeness of Christ. After all, this is the goal of being a Christian.
It makes since then to say that those who are going on to be Christ-like would be call, justified, and then glorified.
The next passage also occurs in Romans. This time we find it in chapter 9. The passages in question can be summarized to say,
God commanded that Esau serve Jacob before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad-in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls…. It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy… Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden… Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
The context of chapter nine is located with a smaller segment of chapters 9-11 and within the broader context of 1-11. Chapters 1-3 make the argument that all people have sinned, Gentiles and Jews alike. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Chapters 4-5 make the argument that even though the law showed us our sin, Abraham before the law was righteous before God because he believed in the promise. Paul says that Jesus is the promise and through one man, sin entered the world, through one man we can be righteous. Chapters 6-7 make the case that even though we cannot live by the law without sinning, we do not have an excuse for doing it now that we have Christ. In Chapter 8, Paul tells us to live by the Spirit, who will guide us. Chapters 9-11 are about what role Israel has in all of this. Romans 11:32 nicely sums up the first part of the book by saying, “For God has shut up all disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. The bondage of sin spreads to all, but thankfully, the offer of mercy is given to all.
The question being raised in Romans 9 is, “Has the word of God given to Israel failed?” This is a valid point, since Paul has argued that Jews and Greeks are both sinners and that salvation comes in Jesus, not in the Jewish law. Paul’s answer is as follows:
- Just because they are a descendant of Abraham, they are not children of the promise of Abraham. Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau, who were both descendants of Abraham.
- Then Paul says God is totally just in bringing salvation to the Gentiles as well as the Jews because God has the right to act this way. Paul uses Pharaoh and the example of the potter and the clay to illustrate this.
- At the end of chapter nine, Paul says that the reason why Israel did not arrive at the salvation through the law was because they did not pursue it by faith and it was a stumbling block to them.
I conclude that God does show mercy on those whom he wills and Paul is using this to justify God’s choosing to show mercy to the Gentiles as well as the Jews through Jesus Christ. God is not withholding salvation to certain people, but including all people in the plan of salvation.
The final text in question is Ephesians 1.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is a gift from God.
The first point worth noting is that the passage is more about what happens in Christ than about predestination.
1. every spiritual blessing in Christ
2. chosen in Christ
3. predestined us as adopted sons in Christ
4. Redemption in Christ
5. All things are summed up in Christ
6. Obtained an inheritance in Christ
7. Sealed in him.
8. Listened to the message of truth in Christ
Larger context: Paul is writing to gentiles who have now heard the gospel message. 2:11-15 tells that the gentiles were formally cut off from the commonwealth of Israel, but through Christ, the two have now become one. In 3:6, he says that the Gentiles are now fellow heirs of Christ and partakers of the promise. Paul uses this unity then in chapter four to encourage unity in the church.
Verse 1:13 makes it clear that In Christ the message was preached, but in order to be sealed with the Holy Spirit, it requires belief. 2:8 and 3:17 also suggest belief is the work of faith.
I want to look next at a passage that seems to say what Paul believed about election and predestination. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul urges Timothy to be in prayer for everyone.. WHY! Paul says,
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants ALL people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for ALL people.
I added the all caps to ALL. This seems to say a great deal. Paul believed that God's offer of salavtion was both inclusive and exclusive. It was inclusive in that Paul believed that God desires the salvation of everyone, thus ruling out the view that says God elects some to salavation and others he leaves for damnation. Paul says that salvation is exclusive in that it comes soley through Jesus Christ, meaning that pluralism is not true. Not all paths are equal paths to God. Jesus is the way of salvation.
To summarize Paul’s view of election, I would say the following: (1) Israel was God’s elect nation, but they failed to be the light of the world that God wanted. (2) God chose to bring salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. (3) God chose to bring salvation to the Gentiles as well. (4) When anyone accepts Jesus by faith, they become one of the elect. (5) God’s predestination and election are not exclusive in that they are given to a select few, rather it is inclusive in that it involved God’s predetermined plan to bring salvation to the world through Jesus.