Archive for the ‘Q&A – Doctrine of Election’ Category

Today we take on the third question and response on Rev. John Samson’s take on the top 10 questions regarding the doctrine of Divine Election. In this section is one of the most commonly debated detail in the issue of foreknowledge.  On the Reformed camp, the belief of God’s foreknowledge depends only on His own choice and purpose, while on the other side of the theological divide, the arminian believes that God’s foreknowledge is based on the believer’s choice that He saw in the corridors of space-time continuum. Some have swept this debate under the rag saying that we can never know until we get to heaven, but the Scriptures have definite answers on which to base a solid foundation on foreknowledge. 

I realize that there are other written articles on the doctrine of divine election that are extensive but I have chosen to publish Rev. Samson’s article because it is in a format that is what we commonly label as ‘user friendly’ – it reflects the kind of questions along with the response formulated in a language that lay people will be able to comprehend easily without going through the various theological intricasies and terminologies. Therefore, let’s continue to to grow in our understanding of this blessed biblical doctrine.

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Question # 3:  Isn’t predestination based simply on God foreknowing those who will believe?

In Romans 8:29, the text reads “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” Does this not therefore suggest that because foreknowledge comes before predestination in the text, then predestination is simply based on God’s foreknowledge: because God foreknows or sees in advance (with full and complete knowledge) what a person will do, and who it is that will respond in faith to the Gospel, He simply predestinates those whom He knows will believe?

Thanks for your question. Certainly this is how I understood this passage for many years and it is the way that many deal with the issue of predestination in our day. Previously, I also pointed to 1 Peter 1:1-2  which talks of those who are “chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” and assumed that this verse would add weight to my argument that election and predestination is based on God knowing ahead of time what we will do.

At first glance, it certainly seems to be a legitimate interpretation, because as you pointed out, the word foreknew comes before predestination in the text of Romans 8:29. However, the fact that foreknowledge comes before predestination should in no way surprise us. That’s because God would need to foreknow a person He is going to predestinate to something. God does not predestinate unknown persons, but specific individuals whom He knows. So this not really an argument for either side in this debate. In both systems, foreknowing would need to come before predestination.

The real question then is “what exactly does it mean for God to foreknow somebody?”

Actually there are a number of problems with the interpretation you outline in your question, not the least of which is that scripture reveals very clearly, that left to himself, man will always choose against Christ, because of his hostile disposition to God. Man is dead spiritually, and needs his heart of stone to be removed and a heart of flesh put in before he has any interest in seeking the God of the Bible (Rom. 3:11; Rom. 8:7, 8; 1 Cor. 2:14). Outside of Christ, man is the enemy of God.

The interpretation also falls down because the word “foreknew” does not merely mean to know future actions beforehand. It has a much more precise meaning. The word “foreknew” (Greek: proginosko) in Romans 8:29 is a verb rather than a noun. It is an action word, and as the text informs us, it is something done by God.

What exactly does God do then? The text says that “those whom God foreknew…”

To gain a correct biblical definition of this word foreknew, rather than assume its meaning, (which is what many do) we need to do some homework and study. In this case it means we need to go to passages of scripture that have God as the subject of the verbal form (as here in this passage). This is because passages that have humans as the subject would differ substantially in their meaning from the ones where God is the subject, because, I am sure we will all agree, we as creatures “know” things on a very different basis to the way God does.

When we do this we find the verb proginosko is used three times in the New Testament with God as the subject – here in Romans 8:29, then also in Romans 11:2, and lastly in 1 Peter 1:20. This proves to be significant when we ask the question “what, or who is foreknown by God?”

In Romans 8:29, the direct object of the verb is a pronoun that refers back to the called of the previous verse (v. 28). In Romans 11:2 the object the verb is refering to is “His people,” and in 1 Peter 1:20, the object is Jesus Christ Himself.

Each reference then portrays God as foreknowing persons rather than actions. 1 Peter 1:20  says, “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” When God foreknew Christ, did that mean that God simply knew that Jesus would make correct decisions or have faith in His Father? Hardly! It speaks of the Father’s personal intimacy and affection for His beloved Son.

To quote Dr. James White in this regard, “to say that God foreknows acts, faith, behavior, choices, etc, is to assume something about the term that is not witnessed in the biblical text. God foreknows persons not things.”

How does this relate to what we find in the Old Testament? Well there, we have a similar meaning to the word meaning of “forknew” in the New Testament. This is the Hebrew word “yada.” It refers in a number of instances to God’s “knowing” of individuals. For instance in Jeremiah 1:5, God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Dr. White comments, “Here God’s knowledge of Jeremiah is clearly personal. It is paralleled with the term “consecrated” and “appointed,” pointing us toward the element of “choice.” This knowledge of Jeremiah is not limited to time. In some manner, God “knew” Jeremiah before Jeremiah came into existence.”

We see this same concept in God’s “knowing” of Moses. Exodus 33:17 – “The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Again we see the personal nature of God’s knowing of an individual. This refers to a personal intimacy and affection God had for Moses in that he had found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God had chosen Moses to be a recipient of His tender mercy.

I’ll quote just one more passage where we see this word yada used to refer to God possessing a personal intimacy and affection. Amos 3:2 in speaking of Israel says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

The NASB actually translates yada as “chosen,” here, and there is a very strong basis by way of context for this word to be translated in this way. Literally it says, “You (speaking of Israel) only have I known…” It should be obvious to us that God didn’t merely know about Israel, and possessed no such knowledge of other nations, nor that merely God knew the future actions of Israel, and didn’t know the future actions of the other nations. This “knowing” of Israel is deeply personal and intimate and speaks of God’s grace in choosing them to be His people for His Sovereign purposes alone. The word yada is used also in Genesis 4:1 when it says that Adam “knew” his wife Eve. The result of this “knowing” was a child, lets remember – revealing a deep personal relationship.

All this is important because it presents a consistent pattern: understanding how the verb is used in the New Testament, along with these insights from the Old, provides a very strong basis for understanding what foreknew actually means.

Dr. White states, “When Paul says, “those whom He foreknew”  Paul is speaking about an action on God’s part that is just as solitary, just as God-centered, and just as personal as every other action in the string: God foreknows (chooses to enter into relationship with); God predestines; God calls; God justifies; God glorifies. From first to last it is God who is active, God who accomplishes all these things.”

Foreknew therefore does not merely suggest “a passive gathering of infallible knowledge of the future actions of free creatures” but rather reveals that from start to finish, salvation is a Divine accomplishment, for it is God and God alone who saves, to the praise of His glory alone.

To quote Dr. James Montgomery Boice in his comments on Romans 8:29, “those whom God foreknew…”, “the verse does not say that God foreknew what certain of his creatures would do. It is not talking about human actions at all. On the contrary, it is speaking entirely of God and of what God does. Each of these five terms is like that: God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, God glorified. Besides, the object of the divine foreknowledge is not the actions of certain people but the people themselves. In this sense it can only mean that God has fixed a special attention upon them or loved them savingly.”

I believe this then is the scriptural answer to your question, but before we move on, lets also look at this from a logical perspective. Many believe in foreknowledge as you described in your question, but this position does not answer the challenge of what God knew from eternity.

What do I mean? Well, as John Hendryx has stated, “if God knew someone would choose hell even before He created them, then this was a fixed certainty (even before their creation), so why did God go ahead and create them?  It was obviously, in their view, still within His Providence that these people be lost… or if God already foreknew who would be saved then how can they continue to argue that He is trying to save every man?  Certainly God already knows who the persons will be, so why should He send the Holy Spirit to those He knows will reject him.”  Ultimately, when this view is subjected to scrutiny, it logically undermines the very position it is seeking to assert.


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In today’s post, we link again to Rev. John Samson’s Q&A on Election and herebelow is the second question and the response:


Question # 2: Isn’t the idea of election just another word for fatalism?

Thank you for your question. First of all, you are not in any way the first person to wrestle with the weighty issues of Sovereign election over against free will. Many have walked this road before you. In fact, I too have not always believed what I now believe. You can be sure that much mental and emotional wrestling took place as I was in the process of learning what I believe to be the Biblical doctrine in this area. We all have traditions, and as a friend of mine, Dr. James White says so well, “the people most enslaved by their traditions are those who don’t believe they have any.”

When I first heard the message of Sovereign Grace and election taught, I have to admit that I resisted it. Though the teaching I heard was backed up with Scripture, I thought I had other Scriptures that would negate the ones I heard. Then I went to a question and answer session on the subject (the first of many, I might add). This proved to be invaluable for me, because many of the questions I had were raised, and, I had to admit, were answered from Scripture, in their proper Biblical context.

I was immediately alarmed by this, as I came to understand that this whole issue required a lot more research than I had previously thought. Knowing that I needed to believe what Scripture taught on the subject, I ordered much material, and began my research. It is never pleasant to examine firmly held traditions, and I felt that this was especially so in my position, when I had taught other things at various times in my ministry. No one wants to admit the possibility that they may in fact have been wrong.

What I was considering was not some new “way out” doctrine… in fact, it was what I had been believing up until then that was the novel idea as far as Church history is concerned. No, I was looking into the historic orthodox Christian position, held by such men as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and the Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century, as well as perhaps the most gifted theologian of all time, Jonathan Edwards, along with men like George Whitefield and C. H. Spurgeon – in other words, some of the most outstanding men in Christian history. In more recent times men such as B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, James P. Boyce, Arthur W. Pink, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones and Dr. James Montgomery Boice could be added to the list. In our own day we could mention Dr. J. I. Packer, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. James White, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Mark Dever, Dr. Robert L. Reymond, Dr. John Frame, Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. R. C. Sproul and Dr. John Piper. Of course, many other names could be listed here.

Well it took more than a year of researching the issue in depth, before I realized that there was a consistent and clear Biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I also came to see that in order for me to believe what the Bible taught in this area, I had to dispense with my traditional understanding.

Although now embracing the doctrine, I continued on with my study, and yet waited another year before preaching on the subject at the Church. There’s no doubt this issue is controversial. I think many pastors and teachers who believe it, do not preach about it for this very reason. The question then becomes, who are we trying to please – God or men?

Jesus preached it and watched many in the crowd walk away when He pressed the claims of Divine Sovereignty in election. In John 6:65, 66 we read, “And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”

It is extremely humbling to think that God alone gets the credit for our salvation. This doctrine destroys all human pride once and for all, and elevates the graciousness of God in saving a people for Himself, for His own glory alone. Not everyone wants to hear this. Yet I am convinced, as C. H. Spurgeon said, “Christ’s sheep will not be offended by Christ’s voice.”

Of course, this subject is not all that I teach, but in that it is something spoken about regularly in Scripture, if I am a Bible teacher, I have to teach something about the subject. I have no right to cut it out of the Bible or out of my teaching, if, as a pastor, I am called to teach the contents of the Bible, which of course, I am.

All Christian denominations have some doctrine about predestination and election. “Predestination” and “election” are biblical words. Therefore the question is not whether we should or should not have a doctrine of election; the question is, “are we embracing the biblical doctrine?”

As I say, what I was considering was in no way a new doctrine, but one held for centuries by orthodox Christians. Here are a couple of quotes from some of the historic creeds of mainline Churches. Firstly, from the 16th Century, the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England (also known as the Anglican or Episcopal Church):

 Article 17 – Of Predestination and Election

Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God’s mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.”

Here’s a quote from the London Baptist Confession of 1689:

 Chapter 10: Of Effectual Calling

1. Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, He is pleased in His appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

 2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature, being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit; he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, and that by no less power than that which raised up Christ from the dead.”

I have a strong and deep desire to be biblical in what I believe and teach. That means that I must continually hold up my traditions to the light of Scripture to see if they are in agreement. So, I would encourage you to keep wresting with these lofty concepts. It is well worth the effort.

Some people just say that the Church has been divided over these issues for centuries now, and I’ve actually heard more than one person say that they believe both in Sovereign Election and free will, saying, “The Bible teaches both Sovereign Election and free will, and its a mystery that will be explained to us in heaven.”

The reason I don’t believe that is because the two sides teach opposite and contradictory things. One says that God is the cause of our “choice” to receive Christ, and the other side says that in the final analysis, we are. It has to be pointed out that both sides can’t be right. One is wrong and the other is right. I am convinced that God breathed Scripture, having its origin in God Himself, is therefore always consistent. It does not teach two opposite and contradictory things on any subject.

Certainly, there are mysteries. For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery that our finite minds cannot fully grasp. Yet there is no contradiction in saying that there is one God – one in essence and three in personality, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Contradiction is not the hallmark of truth, but of untruth, and there are no contradictions in sacred Scripture. Some say there are, of course, but I am convinced that solid research shows that apparent contradictions are just that – they seem to be contradictions until examined closely.

Now, immediately someone will say that they are right in the middle on the issue… that there’s a “happy medium” between the two extremes. I used to believe that myself. However, my research has shown me that every attempt I’ve ever heard to explain an in-between position was simply a presentation for the free will side. The bottom line is that either, to quote Jonah 2:9, “Salvation is of the Lord,” period!!, or else it is offered by the Lord, but whether or not it takes place is up to us: we are the deciding factor.

Your question assumes that Sovereign election implies fatalism. I would strongly disagree with that assumption. Here’s what I mean. To suggest that everything that happens in life is in some sense planned by God, immediately makes some feel that we’re talking about fatalism. But fatalism is cruel and impersonal. God is certainly not either of those things. But the opposite side to this would say that nothing is planned by God… I don’t know of a more unbiblical statement than that one. To say that all the evil things that take place on this planet happen without any purpose to them at all… is that a better position than saying that they happen for a purpose – that God will work out His purposes in spite of the evil taking place? I don’t think so. God is personal and His plans are personal.

Without doubt, the most evil action of sinners in recorded history was the crucifixion of the Son of God. There is no doubt this was unspeakably evil. But we have the record of the Early Church praying, in Acts 4:27-28, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. “

The actions of men were evil, and they are entirely responsible for their actions. But God intended this, and planned this, for the unspeakably good purpose of bringing about His entire plan of salvation. This is what theologians call, the biblical doctrine of compatibilism.

In a similar way, Joseph’s story in the Old Testament shows that although what the brothers did to Joseph was evil, God planned the events to bring about His good purposes. Joseph, later said to his brothers, in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

The third chapter of the historic Westminster Confession of Faith opens with these words: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (adding the qualification that God is not the author of sin and that people aren’t puppets). This statement was based on Eph. 1:11, “having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

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Rev. John Samson, is an ordained minister and the founding president of The Reformation Study Center. He also serves as pastor of King’s Church in Phoenix, Arizona and one of the contributors to Reformation Theology site. A series of 10 questions and the corresponding reponses concerning the doctrine on Divine Election is posted on their website.  The content of this post is equivalent to approximately 30+ letter-size Word pages. I have appended hereunder the 10 questions to provide you a brief overview of the issues discussed in his article:

  1. What is meant by “Divine Election?”
  2. Isn’t the idea of election just another word for fatalism?
  3. Isn’t predestination based simply on God foreknowing those who will believe?
  4. What would be the point of evangelism if some people are “elect” and some are not and don’t have the free will to choose Christ?  Doesn’t this make evangelism a farce?
  5. Can you explain John 3:16? Doesn’t this imply no election, but rather free choice?
  6. We are all conscious of having our own free wills. How are we to understand the human will?
  7. Doesn’t John 12:32 teach that Christ is drawing everyone to Himself?
  8. How can I know if I am one of the elect?
  9. When all is said and done, isn’t Divine election unfair?
  10. If Election is true, can you explain 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance?

As mentioned earlier, due to the length of the article, I recommend linking to their site. I will upload Rev. Samson’s answers to each question in consecutive posts under this category: Doctrine of Election.  As the Scripture says, we have one teacher, the Holy Spirit and through this series, may He enrich, build and strengthen us concerning this biblical doctrine. The answer to the first question is available below:

Question # 1:  What is meant by “Divine Election?”

Let me start by saying that although much misunderstanding and controversy surrounds this subject, the doctrine of election should not be something that divides us as Christians. To walk this out practically requires a great deal of maturity, because emotions can often be ignited when this issue is discussed. This though should be our starting point as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Here’s a quote from the Prince of Preachers, C. H. Spurgeon. “We give our hand to every man that loves the Lord Jesus Christ, be he what he may or who he may. The doctrine of election, like the great act of election itself, is intended to divide, not between Israel and Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians, not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of the world. A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus.” 

So if the doctrine is controversial, why even discuss it? Well first of all, if you think about it, most of the doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith are controversial. Not everyone who names the name of Christ embraces the Trinity, the full Deity and humanity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, or justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone – but these truths need to be heralded because although they are controversial to some, and not everyone likes to hear these things, we’re convinced they are the clear doctrines of the Bible.

Obviously words like “election,” “predestination,” and phrases such as “God’s chosen people,” are found throughout the Bible. God wants us to know His truth and has revealed these things to us for a purpose. Everyone who believes the Bible to be God’s Word has to deal with these terms. We cannot simply ignore them. Instead, we need to make sure we have a biblical understanding of what these terms mean.  Therefore, your question is a very important one.

Dr. J. I. Packer gives what I believe to be a biblical definition of Divine election when he writes: “The verb “elect” means to select, or choose out. The biblical doctrine of election is that before the Creation, God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify and glorify in and through Jesus Christ. This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects. God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter of endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us; and doubly so, when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to suffer as sin-bearer for the elect.”        

The word “election” therefore means to choose or to select, and conveys the idea that those of us who are believers are so, not by accident, but because God chose us. When we speak of Divine election we are saying, quite simply, that God chose a certain group and called them out from the world to be His own special people.

In the Old Testament, His chosen people were Israel (although there were some isolated Gentiles who were chosen to be included in redemption). God said to Israel, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut. 7:7, 8).

In a similar way, Deuteronomy 10: 14, 15 says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. “Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.”

God’s love was directed toward Israel in a way in which it was not directed toward the other nations. When Israel is contrasted with the other nations around them, there is no mention whatsoever of a distinguishing feature within Israel. In other words, there was absolutely nothing in the way of personal or national merit within Israel that caused God to be more inclined to set His love and favor upon them rather than the other nations. The only distinguishing feature mentioned in this passage and in all of scripture, is the electing love of God. He chose to set His love on them.

Obviously, not everyone in the world were a part of Israel and therefore not everyone was chosen. When He Sovereignly chose Israel to be His covenant people, He was choosing not to deal with the Hittites or the Amalekites in the exact same way. This immediately raises all kinds of questions, which in fact, we will find that the Bible answers. Yet I believe that this concept needs to be the foundation for anyone seeking to understand this doctrine; namely, that God has chosen a people for Himself, on whom He has set His redemptive love and favor.


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