With this post (together with a subsequent one) I aim to finish responding to various objections to the Reformed teaching on unconditional election. I will begin my defense with a further response to the idea that unconditional election makes God's elective choices "arbitrary".
Additionally, I will defend the Reformed position by showing that the Arminian picture of election (which is its opposite on so many issues) is seriously flawed. Arminianism downplays the awful spiritual condition of man, turns election into a reward for foreseen faith and in the process reverses its order, making man the chooser of God (who in turn "elects" man). And since it makes the destiny of men turn upon their actions and not God's sovereign plans, the sovereignty of God must necessarily suffer in its scheme.
Does Unconditional Election make God "Arbitrary"?
I will begin my defense of unconditional election by responding to a few comments reader Daniel Jordan wrote in reference to the previous post. In a discussion which took place in the comments section of the post, one question being debated was whether Reformed unconditional election makes God's choices in election arbitrary. I argued no, saying that "there is a good reason for God's elective choices: His mercy, which He bestows as He pleases."
Daniel responded,"If you equate his mercy with his election in Romans (which you seem to do) then this is highly illogical. God's mercy in election can't be the reason for God's mercy in election."
I am not trying to explain the mercy of God, but pointing to the reason given by Scripture as to why God elects anyone: His mercy and compassion (Romans 9:15-16, Eph 2:4-7). Can the mercy/love of God for sinners truly be explained? We know that God has chosen to set His love upon His elect. But is His love for anyone based on their worthiness to be loved? Every well-taught believer knows that this is not the case. It is while we were still "sinners" and "enemies" of God that Jesus died for the "ungodly"(Romans 5:6-10). Yet the Arminian point of view (which you seem to champion) turns God's election, one which Scripture declares flows from His love and mercy and compassion, into an election conditioned upon His foreknowledge of who the "good guys" are-- the ones whom God foresees displaying their own faith. But of course such a basis for election makes God's mercy and grace unnecessary. If God chooses to set His love upon those who have shown their worthiness for election, due to their persevering faith, then grace is no longer grace! God's mercy and grace towards sinners is merciful and gracious precisely because the sinner has not done anything, nor can he do anything, to merit or earn them.
During this discussion I also asked Daniel, "Why then would you not accept that God's elective decisions, made according to His own counsel alone and in harmony with His own righteous character, will produce choices that are fair and just?"
He replied as follows:
"In fact I do accept this. Here you concede that God's decisions are CONDITIONED on the counsel of his purpose and His own righteous character.
Here is my logic:
1. God's elective decisions are made according to His purpose and His character in what will amount to the wisest stewardship of the universe.
2. Part of God's purposes are future.
3. God's character includes omniscience and justice.
4. Therefore, it is not an illogical stretch to imagine God taking his foreknowledge of the future into account when making elective decisions."
How can I "concede" a point that I have not argued against? I have emphasized the difference between the Reformed view that says God elects people based on His own purpose and according to the righteousness of His own character, vs. the Arminian view, which has God choosing people according to their righteous character (and we must remember that when people choose God by faith that this is an act of righteousness, since all are commanded to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ). The Arminian position makes the absurd claim that God is only fair (and not arbitrary) if He rewards with election those whom He foresees displaying such faith. This is what is being called "election". This is absurd for several reasons:
1. God doesn't foresee something that doesn't happen. The natural person does not hear the gospel and say "Yes, that makes sense. I will repent and believe it". Unless God has appointed or called people to eternal life, their natural reaction is to regard the gospel as folly, and to scorn, mock and reject the Christ (Acts 13:48, 1 Corinthians 1: 20-25, Luke 23:11,36, Matthew 27:29-31,41, Mark 10:34, Psalm 22:6-8, Isaiah 53:3, Matthew 21:42, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22,17:25). In addition, as I argued in my last post, the source of salvific faith is God (see Eph 2:8:10, Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 2:25, Acts 11:18, Phil 1:29, 1 Corinthians 1:30). Therefore God does not elect those who have somehow generated faith on their own but rather gives faith to those He has chosen.
2. Moreover, there is no real choice by God involved in this Arminian "election". Whereas Scripture clearly states that God chose some before the foundation of the world (emphasizing that no human efforts are therefore taken into account in the election choice- see Eph 1:4, 2 Tim 1:9, Romans 9:11, Gal 1:15, Eph 2:10, Titus 1:2) and also ordained that His chosen would be called, justified, and glorified (this means providing all the means by which this redemption is fulfilled- see Romans 8:28-30), the Arminian view wants election to mean that God chose only those He foresaw doing something (i.e., having faith and persevering in it). According to the Arminian view it is these "doers" that are chosen and not others. Thus the Arminian view makes God's choice secondary to, and predicated upon, that of the creature, so that the Sovereign of the universe is merely ratifying the choice that the creature makes (a choice made by a sinful creature, as yet unregenerated)! This system presents then, an election not by God but by men. For in effect, men choose themselves to be elect (I choose God by my own faith. He sees it. He therefore chooses me).
3. Either God is sovereign (not only foreseeing, but foreordaining all things) and His purposes will therefore be established, or else, we all must rest our fate upon our own faithfulness. The Arminian would have us believe that God has left the outworking of His marvelous plan of redemption, His intention to have a people for Himself, up to the fickleness of sinful human hearts, and that (for the reason of maintaining "fairness") He is not to interfere with the choice-making of His sinful creatures, but only woo them by "prevenient grace". By such a scheme the Arminian claims that God will indeed have a people, and that such elective choices are fair to all. But how can the Arminian make any such claim? If God does not sovereignly act so as to bring His plans and desires to fruition then no one will come to Him and He will not have a people (Romans 10:21, Romans 11:1-7). Does His Spirit minister grace equally to all, merely waiting and hoping that a few totally depraved sinners will somehow distinguish themselves by choosing Him by their own wills? Or does He not rather give new life to His elect who were dead in trespasses in sins, this new life bringing spiritual connection to God and changed desires to beings who were totally lost and without hope (John 15:4-5, Romans 4:17, 5:10, 17-18, 6:13, 22-23, Eph 2:5, 12, 4:24, Col 2:13)?
Moreover, the Arminian view cannot assure that even after regeneration anyone will persevere in their faith. So for this reason too, Arminians can really make no guarantee that God will have a people.
4.God's promises are not dependent on man's faithfulness to the covenant (for man has shown himself unfaithful again and again), but upon God's sure word and His faithfulness to fulfill the covenant that He established by His word.
..."if we are faithless, he remains faithful (1 Timothy 2:13)"
The Arminian scheme sacrifices the sure promise of God in Romans 8:28-30-- that His chosen ones will fulfill all the purposes He has for them-- on the altar of its carnal idea of fairness. At the same time, it accuses those who would argue that God has indeed sovereignly chosen particular individuals as recipients of grace as making God arbitrary. Give me this "arbitrary" sovereignty any day over a dethroned impotence! As sinful as my flesh remains, I am most comforted in knowing that my God is indeed powerful enough to finish the work He started in me (Romans 8:31-37, Jude 1:24, Phil 1:6). I don't want God to be fair (for by justice alone I am doomed). I want Him to be merciful (thank God He is- James 2:13, Romans 5:20, 11:32). The Arminian scheme of election is not only false to the biblical record, but impugns the might, sovereignty and faithfulness of God in His dealings with man.
God is not arbitrary for choosing to save some and not others, for since all have sinfully rebelled against Him, none are due His mercy. Yet because of His great mercy, He has indeed chosen to save people, not based on anything they have done, for then mercy would no longer be mercy.
There is nothing wrong with the logic you described, if in fact God had designed election to happen that way. However, since the Scriptures clearly say that God's elective choices are not conditioned upon anything His human creatures perform (see verses mentioned above), there is no reason to "imagine" or surmise by such logic that election is informed by foresight of conditions met.
Does Perfect Foreknowledge = Conditional Election?
Daniel wrote,"If you agree that God knows the end from the beginning, why can't we accept that this knowledge may play a role in his decisions? Though it is not explicitly stated here, twice foreknowledge is used as a rationale for election.
1 Peter 1:1-2 To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
Rom 8:28-29 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.
Yes I know, you think foreknowledge means 'people fore loved'. I can't help that. But even so, wouldn't 'People fore loved' include everything about them, including future faith or unbelief?"
The fact that God has perfect foreknowledge/omniscience, which includes complete knowledge of everything His creatures will do, in itself says nothing about whether or not His election of people is conditional or unconditional. If we did not have explicit statements to the contrary, one might reason that God could take such knowledge into consideration in election. However we know that His elective choices are not conditioned upon such knowledge because Scripture tells us they are not.
Problems with Arminian foreknowledge as grounds for a conditional election
Where does saving faith come from? What makes one to differ from another?
Let's say though for the sake of argument, that God does indeed use His foreknowledge of people's faith and their perseverance therein to decide whom to elect. This leaves unanswered a crucial question: what causes faith to arise in some but not others? The Arminian says all receive the same grace and have equal opportunity to respond to the gospel, but that God is not the ultimate cause of faith. The person who believes supplies his own faith, while another who receives equal grace refuses to believe. So what is the cause of faith? The Arminian is forced to admit that the difference lies within persons -- one makes themselves to differ by somehow believing and persevering in that belief.
Arminianism necessarily gives man the credit in part for his salvation
Some Arminians don't want to say this, however, perhaps sensing that such an admission seems to exalt the powers of man and give him reason to boast before God. So they claim that there is nothing really meritorious in this "yes" to God. But obviously there is, for in their system, God elects to salvation the one who says "yes", and rejects the one who says "no". There is no escaping that such a scheme rewards the one who has made a positive response and since the sinner is partly responsible, he or she must receive part of the credit. But contradicting this, the Word says, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7), and also "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. It also tells us that because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)", and also, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)".
If what the Arminian says is true, the one who is saved may truthfully say that he is in part responsible for his own salvation. By his choice to believe and his persistence in faith, he makes himself "worthy" of election. God foresaw this choice and faith and therefore elected him and made him born-again. But if the Scriptures we have quoted are true, they starkly contradict these Arminian conclusions. They remind us that we have nothing that we have not received and that any difference between us and others is due to God alone. Since it is because of Him (God) that we are in Christ, none but God is due the glory both for our faith and for our salvation.
Arminian foreknowledge defeated by logic and the truth of God's sovereignty over all
Additionally the idea of God using foreknowledge to choose the elect is refuted by logic and the scriptural truth that God is sovereign over all things. If God foresees what is going to happen, those events must be certain. Yet if God is not the ultimate cause behind such events, then who or what is fixing them so that they will definitely happen? Behind every event there is a chain of cause and effect. Does God foresee actions and events only, but not participate causally in the chain of events that would lead to someone choosing Him? Yet the picture of God's sovereignty presented in Scripture declares that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11)".
Here again the Arminian argues that the Spirit woos and by the Word convicts, but in the final analysis admits that in his system the person must believe on their own. This leads to the problems we have described: How does the unregenerate person make the most important, righteous choice he/she will ever make? And having made this choice, how can one avoid the taking credit for that which God alone is said to be responsible? If it really is my choice, I must share in the credit for my own salvation. After all others with the exact same opportunity and equal ability to choose rightly failed to do so, while I succeeded.
In any case, foreknowledge in the verses you quoted (Romans 8:28-29, 1 Peter 1:1-2) means those "whom God foreknew", not those whom God knew something about. Even if you don't think the verses can mean "fore-loved" (which I previously argued and you conceded is a legitimate interpretation, at least in the context of Romans 8) the verses are speaking of God's foreknowledge of people, not their actions.
As Sam Storms writes in his article Election Texts- Part III,
"God's foreknowledge is an active, creative work of divine love. It is not bare pre-vision which merely recognizes a difference between men who believe and men who do not believe. God's foreknowledge creates that difference! Or again, "speaking about God's foreknowledge may be a way of expressing his eternal commitment to individuals as part of his determination to bring them to faith and to all the glories and benefits of Christ's work" (Baugh, 196)".
Daniel presented the following illustration to show that "God has the right to show mercy and to set the conditions of that mercy." He also made the point that the ones who merely receive mercy would not then be in a position to boast about it.
Illustration: A king decides to show mercy on murderous insurrectionists on the condition that they appear before him to lay down their arms. Those that fulfill the conditions are shown mercy. Fulfilling the condition does not make it any less merciful. The king is not obligated to show mercy. He could by the law, hang them for treason, yet he shows mercy based on his conditions.
Daniel went on to explain that the insurrectionist in his illustration could not boast, for "the insurrectionist was sentenced to die, yet was shown mercy and was pardoned by the King, from the guillotine, on the condition of laying down arms. After receiving his pardon, would he go home bragging how smart he was, or how merciful the King had been when he didn't have to be. I think the latter."
Conditional mercy is an oxymoron
The king in your illustration has made it a condition of His mercy that the insurrectionists lay down their arms. Where is the implied condition in God’s declaration “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”? Isn't God's statement saying that it is God’s choice alone to whom He will show mercy? His mercy and grace through Christ not only forgives our sin but changes us into the people we ought to be. Your illustration fits somewhat with our situation in that, like the king in your story, God is not obligated to show mercy to man, who is a rebel against God by nature and through sin.
However your illustration falls short in describing our condition before God. For sin not only makes us guilty but also blinds us to our own guilt. The means by which we receive God’s mercy is faith in Jesus Christ, but the mercy of God extends to enabling man, who because of sinful blindness would otherwise reject this grace, to receive this faith and thus also the mercy offered in Christ.
The rebels in your illustration apparently lay down their arms voluntarily when they understand and accept the offer of mercy from the king. Yet your illustration does not show whether they are merely trying to save their own lives, or have really appreciated the gracious offer of the king and would from that point forward no longer be insurrectionists, but good citizens. Assuming it is the latter, the illustration still falls short because the Scriptures say that none will come to Christ unless God grants it, that repentance is a gift of God and the natural person regards the gospel as folly (John 6:44,63-65, 2Timothy 2:25, 1 Corinthians 1:18). It is not just a matter of being morally persuaded that the way of God is best. The Spirit must also do a supernatural work of conviction/regeneration in the soul, making the truth of the gospel intelligible. Only upon receiving this gift of faith and repentance do any become willing to "lay down their arms". Or to use another illustration, God mercifully grants life to the spiritual corpse that is the unregenerate person (pictured by the raising of Lazarus by Jesus in John 11).
In the next post I will return to Romans 9 and recapitulate my argument that it presents an unconditional election that is a crucial part of Paul's argument (that God's word to Israel has not failed).
I will also discuss the purpose of God in election, particularly the phrase "chosen in Him". Does being chosen "in Him" mean that only Jesus Christ is elect, and that those chosen in Him only partake of the benefits of being "in Him" by supplying their own faith? Or does it mean that the elect as a group cannot be thought of as separate from Christ, for He is the means by which all the purposes of God in election come to His chosen?
Finally, I would like to respond to a few other common objections: is the teaching of unconditional election a hindrance to evangelism? Does unconditional election negate the genuine or sincere offer of the gospel to all? Does unconditional election make God the "author of sin"?
For further study:
Sam Storms series on Divine Election
Ra McLaughlin Unconditional Election, part 1, part 2, part 3