[Note: I am attempting to keep these SBD installments under 2000 words each, but that is–of course–quite inadequate for the topics covered. Consequently, these contributions are more programmatic than they are explanatory or defenses of the positions stated. You may access the whole series at my Serial page.]
God elects us in Christ through faith and we know our election in Christ through faith.
As of Genesis 11 the human condition was filled with violence, power (Empire), and immorality. The seeming hopelessness of Genesis 11—though grace is present in scattering humanity rather than destroying it at the Tower of Babel—leaves us wondering whether humanity can ever escape the degenerative spiral of their own sinfulness.
But God’s intent is redemptive. The divine purpose in creation will not be frustrated. God pursues humanity in grace in order to dwell among a people who love and trust God. Grace initiates this pursuit, empowers faith and will complete the divine purpose. Before we called God answered (Isaiah 65:24). That is the doctrine of election.
The Call of Abraham
God called Abraham into a covenantal relationship. God blessed Abraham that all the nations might be blessed. Abraham did not initiate this relationship, but God chose Abraham as the means by which God would bless humanity. God decided to redeem humanity through the seed of Abraham.
There was nothing in Abraham that demanded that God choose him. God chooses whom God desires to accomplish the divine purpose. Divine election is by God’s own pleasure and will. God chooses whom God desires. No one makes a claim on God. “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35 quoting Job 41:11).
Abraham believed the promise of God (Genesis 15:6) and through faith received the promise (Galatians 3:6-9; Hebrews 11:8-19). God enacted the covenant of circumcision as the seal for Abraham’s faith guaranteeing the promise which he received through faith (Romans 4:9-12).
God kept his promise to Abraham when God chose Israel as a treasured possession. God redeemed them from Egyptian bondage. God did not love them because they were a numerous people, a great people or a righteous nation since they were few, stubborn and wicked. Rather, God chose them because God loved them (Deuteronomy 7:6-10; 9:4-6).
The covenant relationship, initiated by God’s love, is experienced in Israel through faith. The just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4). Branches are broken off Israel because of unbelief but others stand by faith (Romans 11:20). Israel will be saved by faith as they pursue righteousness by faith (Romans 9:30-32; 10:4, 10-12).
God has determined to choose the elect through faith and it is through faith that the chosen know their election. God may have mercy on whom God desires and God has decided to have mercy on humanity through faith.
Jesus, the Elect One
In fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, God has redeemed a people through Abraham’s seed. Jesus the Christ is the Elect One. The Father elects or chooses us in and through Christ. Consequently, Christ is the foundation of all election.
The doxology of Ephesians 1 teaches that the Father elects us in Christ through the power of the Spirit. The Father was moved by love (1:4), grace (1:6, 7), and God’s own good pleasure and will (1:5, 9). Divine action is highlighted: God blessed (1:3), chose (1:4, 11), predestined (1:5, 11), lavished grace (1:8), revealed (1:9), purposed (1:9), included (1:13) and marked (1:13) us. Divine purpose is stressed: to sanctify (1:4), to adopt (1:5), to redeem (1:7), to reorder (1:10), and to purpose toward the goal (1:11).
The Father’s movement, however, was Christocentric. The Father elects in and through Christ (1:3-5, 7, 9, 11-13) and toward the goal of reordering everything under the headship of Christ (1:10).
We are the object of this election. The Father elects those who are in Christ. Just as Christ is the first object of election, so those in Christ are the second object of election. We are elect through Christ’s own election and we are included when we hear and believe the gospel (1:13-14). The divinely appointed means of election is faith since by grace we are saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
God has determined to elect us in Christ Jesus and we know our election in Christ through faith.
Election: Arminianism vs. Calvinism?
Despite whatever differences exist between Arminianism and Calvinism—two historic ways of thinking about divine election (see the Serial Index for posts on these theological systems), they share some significant common ground on the doctrine of election.
Divine Initiative. Whatever the doctrine of election means, it at least insists that God took the initiative in the redemption. God made the first move. We love because God first loved. We believe because God first acted. This initiative involves not merely the first act (as if God acted first and then passively sits back to see how we respond) but that God continuously acts in unrelentingly pursuit of a people. God’s love pursues us, engages us and moves us. This excludes all boasting since election means that God has removed all grounds for human merit and has located the ground of salvation in his gracious and loving acts.
Christocentrism. Christ is the Elect One (Ephesians 1). Both Calvin and Arminius emphasized this point, and it has been powerfully renewed in the 20th century by Karl Barth. Election is Christocentric since Christ is God’s Elect One. We are elect because we are in Christ. Whatever else we may say about election, we should not lose sight of this foundational soteriological insight: God has chosen us in Christ because Christ has been chosen. We are only elect through Christ. His election is logically, ontologically and epistemologically prior to our own.
Economic Revelation. We only know that God has acted decisively in Jesus as the Elect One because God is revealed in history and God’s actions are interpreted in Scripture. We only know our election in Christ because God has revealed the Elect One (2 Timothy 1:8-11). Debates about the “secret” will of God are unprofitable exactly because that will is “secret.” We know our election through the revelation of God in Christ. God has revealed the divine election through Christ and we have no other access to it. Consequently, we ought to think about election within the salvation history (economy) of God’s story, that is, within the revealed history of God in Israel and Christ. Thinking about the election of God in terms of the “eternal” mind of God is speculative, but thinking about divine election in the light of Jesus Christ is rooted in God’s historical revelation. We perceive our own election only through the revelation of that election in Christ. When we step outside of or seek to go beyond this historic revelation, we enter worlds, which our minds have created rather than what God has revealed. Election and assurance are economically tied to Christ.
Means of Faith. Faith is the means of both justification and sanctification. When we make justification dependent upon sanctification, then we begin a never-ending journey since we will never be sure whether our sanctification is sufficient (in terms of its depth, amount, comprehensiveness and quality). When we sever the relationship between justification and sanctification, we become antinomian and discredit the role of sanctification as evidence of justification. The way to avoid legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other is to see faith as the principle that unites justification and sanctification. We are justified by faith and we are sanctified by faith. Faith is the means by which we are accounted righteous before God and faith is the means by which the Spirit transforms us. Faith is both the means of salvation and the means of assurance. We are elect, then, through faith in Christ. Faith functions as an instrument, not as a meritorious act. It is the means by which we come to know our own election.
Priority of God’s Act. God acted before we acted. Salvation, then, originates wholly out of grace and God’s movement toward us. The fundamental presupposition of election is God’s initiative. Confidence is rooted in this claim. It is not that we must win God’s favor or prove ourselves to him. Rather, God lovingly embraces us and seeks us. The picture of God is not the ogre or the tyrant, but the loving father.
Undeserved Salvation. Election emphasizes that nothing in us moved God to act for our sakes in Christ. Rather, God acted when we were unworthy. God loved us even when we were yet sinners. No human act merits or deserves God’s electing grace. Boasting is excluded on all counts. It was God who decided to save and not we who put God in our debt through our virtue or holiness.
Focus on Christology. Karl Barth is correct to focus the doctrine of election in Jesus Christ. He is the Elect One, and it is through him that we find hope and assurance. The doctrine of election, then, should not be about some eternal order of decrees or speculation concerning the hidden will of God. Rather it is the exposition of God’s choice of Jesus to save the world and God’s movement toward us in him. Election is a Christological teaching.
Election and Assurance. While some Augustinians (Calvinists) in the history of theology have focused the question in terms of “Am I elect?,” most have recognized that this is not the proper question. No one can see into the hidden will of God to discover in the abstract whether they are elect of not. Calvin believed that whoever tries this “Am I elect?” question “plunges headlong into an immense abyss, involves himself in numberless inextricable snares, and buries himself in the thickest darkness…Therefore, as we dread shipwreck, we must avoid this rock, which is fatal to everyone who strikes upon it” (Institutes 3.24.4). Assurance of election is rooted Christologically—I am elect when I trust in Christ as the Elect One. Election “from below” is mediated through faith in Christ. Here Augustinians and Arminians can agree. “If Pighius asks how I know I am elect, I answer that Christ is more than a thousand testimonies to me” (Institutes 3.24.4). It is only in Christ that we are elect and pleasing to God. He is the author of election and mediates election—the critical question is “do we trust Christ?” According to Calvin, Christ is the mirror of our election such that when we look in faith toward Jesus we see the reflection of our election in him.