Does God need you to choose yourself?

ic: Election from above (image credit Toy Story)

 

Continuing in our series on “Hey Protestant, what are you actually Protesting?” comparing and contesting Roman Catholic teaching on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) with that of the typical evangelical and Reformed theology, we arrive at the Doctrine of Election. In Reformed circles this is commonly referred to as the Doctrine of Unconditional Election. This is the U in TULIP that we detailed last week. (Read last week's article here)

Unconditional Election:

As a run of the mill evangelical you were probably told that God “looked down through time and saw that you would accept His offer of salvation.” And because of your positive response, God elected you. Your direct response to this offer is the reason you have been elected for salvation. This places man in control of salvation. Your choice, which God saw, is what saved you. It's what determined before you were born that you would, at the end of your days, arrive in heaven. So common is this understanding of election, that it is held by virtually all visible expressions of the Christian faith.

In the United States people are told from their very first days that they are free. They are the ones who determine what they will do and where they will go in life. In fact, you are only limited by your own action or inaction. Freedom and the power of your personal choices are at the heart of Americanism.

It’s no wonder then that the idea of God being dependent upon your choice to accept or reject the gospel, being The Who determines your eternal address, is so pervasive in the evangelical church. This belief even transcends the Protestant/Catholic divide. Roman Catholics also share this belief about election. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it like this: “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace…” Source

In the Roman system, God cannot save you without your input. This is simply how God set it up and He now requires your cooperation with His will to save you. Election is therefore a combined effort on your's and God's part. God would not have elected you had He not seen that you would have accepted His offer. Fundamentally then, election is based on you.

In direct contrast, the classical Reformed position simply stated is: God elected you without regard to any response or good works that He knew you would do in response to His command to you to repent. Simply stated: God chose you, and you did not influence His choice in anyway.

Where do we see the Reformed Doctrine of Election in scripture where God’s election is not based on man in any way?

God's motivation in election is:

  • His own good pleasure: Eph 1:5; 2Tim 1:9
  • The display of his glory: Isa 43:6-7; Rom 9:22-24; 1Cor 1:27-31; Eph 2:4-7; Pro 16:4
  • His special love: Deu 7:6-8; 2The 2:13
  • His foreknowledge: Rom 8:29; 1Pet 1:2
  • Which means his special love: Jer 1:5; Amos 3:2; Mat 7:22-23; 1Cor 8:3; 2Tim 2:19; 1Pet 1:20

God's motivation in election is not:

  • Any good [nobility, wisdom, power, choice, seeking] He foresees in anyone Deu 7:7; Rom 9:11-13; Rom 9:16; Rom 10:20; 1Cor 1:27-29; 1Cor 4:7; 2Tim 1:9 Source

In the final analysis, we see that the Roman Catholic Church has once again strayed from Scripture and holds to an understanding of election, that God Himself has not revealed. Rome teaches that God’s election is based upon man’s cooperation. This is in stark contrast with scripture where the infinite and ultimate Sovereign over all creation is not dependent upon man’s response to bring about His will to elect anyone to salvation.

Even the famous Catholic philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, in quoting Augustine, disagreed with the Church of Rome (and sided with who would later arise as the Reformers) wrote, "God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.'" (ST I:23:5, citing Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 26:2.)

If you find yourself holding to the same position of the Catholic Church, that God, looking down through time needed your cooperation before you could be saved, and yet call yourself a Protestant, I would ask… why?

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2 comments


  • Anduin Suchan

    Thank you for this blog! Perhaps you touch on it somewhere, but I find the important emphasis is on what practical implications does this doctrine have? I suppose the practical implications are great in every way. If you believe that you choose your own salvation, then you may have a false faith which is extremely dangerous. With millions of Christians potentially living a false faith, it is no wonder the world views the church with such derision. This doctrine also makes the faith real. If God chose me, I would know it. And that knowledge, knowing he was not obligated to choose me, will fill me with humility and a boldness at the same time. Living in a false faith of our own devise, we strive for everything. In fact, if we saved ourselves, then when we evangalize, then either we have to save people or convince them they need saving, which leaves only to bible thumping and feelings of utter failure. If it is God alone who saves, I am free to share the joy of my salvation without any need to show performance. Either God will do it or not. That I glorified him sets me right with him and is my joy. There are many practical implications. But I wonder what the implications are to the experience of salvation itself, and how we can change the narrative? For me, I said the sinner’s prayer many times, but I was already somehow aware that I couldn’t just make myself believe. But then, many years down the road, I just realized that I believed one day. I was quite perplexed until I discovered this doctrine, which helped me understand what had happened. But I think many people do think they make themselves believe. Many churches do the hand raising or alter call and say, “If you accept Jesus into your heart then you will be saved.” That is true in a sense, but more as a confirmation than as a cause. But people are so used to “choosing” Jesus or “allowing” Jesus, that I wonder if they can conceptualize salvation as a moment in time or an experience that happens to them if they aren’t the ones choosing it, if they can’t put their finger on an event that they controlled? I don’t know how to answer that in a way that allows me to meaningfully communicate to people how they should approach the sinner’s prayer or salvation in general in a different way.


  • harry

    Another interesting and insightful article. Indeed, it is on this point that an Elder at one of our previous churches called my wife a ‘heretic’. The “God looked down time to see who would accept His call” is, as you mentioned too commonly taught throughout Christendom.
    While the Elder didn’t educate her (us – I was ‘smart enough’ to keep my mouth shut ;) further, we did do further study, and are now convinced that we have no say what-so-ever in why God chose us.
    We are greatly humbled that He has seen fit to choose us – though (quite literally) God only knows why! There is nothing in us that makes us ‘special’ that He should choose us – except for His amazing grace, and to His Glory.
    Semper Reformanda
    .h


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