In Calvinistic theology, God’s omnipotence is called “sovereignty,” which is defined as God foreordaining all things. According to Calvinism, God has eternally decreed everything that will happen, including man’s fall and who will be saved and who will not be saved. According to this doctrine, if man has a choice in these matters, God is not “sovereign.” Consider some statements on this from the writings of prominent Calvinists:
“The Sovereignty of God over all, and his independency, clearly shew, that whatever is done in time is according to his decrees in eternity” (John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, p. 173).
“God predestinated all things whatsoever, both animate and inanimate. His decree includes all angels, both good and evil” (David West, The Baptist Examiner, Mar. 18, 1989).’
“Even the fall of Adam, and through him the fall of the race, was not by chance or accident, but was so ordained in the secret counsels of God” (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 234).
“Foreknowledge of future events then is founded upon God’s decrees, hence if God foreknows everything that is to be, it is because He has determined in Himself from all eternity everything which will be. ... Plainly it was God’s will that sin should enter this world, otherwise it would not have entered, for nothing happens save as God has eternally decreed. Moreover, there was more than a bare permission, for God only permits that which He has purposed” (Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty of God, pp. 110, 147).
“The fall of Adam was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (John Gill, A Body of Divinity, p. 319).
“It is even Biblical to say that God has foreordained sin. If sin was outside the plan of God, then not a single important affair of life would be ruled by God” (Edwin Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 82).
“Nothing comes to pass contrary to his decree. Nothing happens by chance. Even moral evil, which he abhors and forbids, occurs ‘by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’” (William Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, p. 37).
“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His own glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III:3).
“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race ... a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ” (The Canons of Dort).
“Predestination we call the decree of God, by which He has determined in himself, what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death. … we assert that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chap. 21).
The word “sovereignty” does not appear in Scripture. Therefore, if we use it to describe God, we must define it according to the exact words of Scripture. And when we consider the Bible itself, it is clear that God does not foreordain everything that happens and that His foreknowledge is not the same as predestination
Following are some lessons on God’s sovereignty as defined by Scripture:
1. God is the Creator and owner and ruler over all.
God is the great King. He is the source of all power and authority. He is in ultimate control of all things great and small. He is in control of the nations and of human history. He has a plan for the ages that He is working out by His own will and power and nothing can stop it.
“The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them” (1 Sa. 2:6-8).
“Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all” (1 Ch. 29:11-12).
“And said, O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” (2 Ch. 20:6).
“Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou?” (Job 9:12).
“The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King forever’ (Ps. 29:10).
“For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:9-11).
“God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Ps. 62:11).
“Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Ps. 75:5-7).
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Ps. 76:10).
“The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19).
“But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3).
“Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Ps. 135:6).
“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Pr. 16:4).
“The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD” (Pr. 16:33).
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Pr. 21:1).
“For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isa. 14:27).
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:9-10).
“For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (Isa. 47:2).
“Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?” (La. 3:37).
“And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings...” (Da. 2:21).
“I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Da. 4:34-35).
“... he is Lord of heaven and earth, ... And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Ac. 17:24, 26).
“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Ro. 11:36).
“For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Ro. 13:1).
“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:9-11).
“Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Ti. 6:15).
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Re. 1:11).
2. The Bible teaches that God is not the author of sin.
God knew that devils and men would sin and God incorporated sin into His eternal plan, but He is not the author of sin in any sense. God did not will sin; man willed sin. God knew that man would sin, but God did not want man to sin. The devil is the author of sin among angels, and Adam and Eve are the authors of sin among men. God’s foreknowledge is not the same as His foreordination. Nowhere does Scripture say that God decreed man’s fall or that He decreed sin in any sense. God hates sin; He would not decree that which He hates!
“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (De. 32:4).
“Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?” (Job. 8:3).
“Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity” (Job 34:10).
“Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?” (Job 36:23).
“For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee” (Ps. 5:4).
“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13).
“God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged” (Ro. 3:4).
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Ro. 9:14).
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Co. 10:13).
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (Jas. 1:13-15).
3. God knows everything that will happen and God is in ultimate control of all things, but He has given man a will that can be exercised even against God within certain parameters of God’s design.
“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Ge. 6:5-6).
“Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands” (Ne. 9:30)
“Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh ... Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Pr. 1:23-26, 28-29).
“And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?” (Isa. 7:13).
“But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them” (Isa. 63:10).
“Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the LORD, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith the LORD” (Jer. 29:16).
‘But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Lu. 7:30).
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Joh. 1:11).
“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Joh. 12:48).
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Ac. 7:51).
“But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Ro. 10:21).
In Paul’s sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17, we see that God has given man a will by which to seek God within the boundaries of God’s choosing.
“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. ... And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Ac. 17:24-27, 30-31).
We see that God is Lord of all and gives to all life, and breath, and all things. He is the great Creator and King over all.
God has created man to dwell on earth, and it is God’s will that men seek God. That is man’s divinely given will.
Man’s times and boundaries are under God’s absolute control. God has a sovereign will, not man. Man’s will is limited by the boundaries of God’s choosing.
God commands all men to repent, not just some elect group.
All men will give account of themselves to God for the exercise of their wills.
By His infinite foreknowledge, God has incorporated man’s choices into His eternal plans. For the almighty God to give man a will that can be exercised contrary to God’s will and for which man will answer to God in no way makes God less sovereign.
4. According to Scripture, God’s “sovereign will” is for all men to be saved, and any man can be saved.
The Bible teaches that God wants all men to be saved, that He sent His Son to be the potential Saviour of all men, that Christ died for all men, that the gospel is to be preached to all men, and God has ordained that those who believe in Christ will be saved and those who do not believe will perish. The gospel is for every man, and every man can be saved.
This is the clear, unmistakable teaching of Scripture. It is not taught in one or two or a few or even 100 texts. It is the tenor of the entire Scripture. Any definition of God’s sovereignty that contradicts this plain teaching of Scripture is false theology.
God is most definitely “sovereign,” but He is sovereign as the Scripture defines it and not as Augustine or Calvin define it. Nowhere does Scripture say that God pre-determined who will be saved without any reference to their faith in Christ. Rather, it clearly says that God wants all men to be saved, that Christ died for all men to make this possible, and that whosoever believes the gospel is saved.
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22).
“ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us ALL” (Isa. 53:6).
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1).
“For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Eze. 18:32).
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mr. 16:15-16).
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Joh. 1:12-13).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Joh. 3:16-18).
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (Joh. 3:36).
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (Joh. 5:24).
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Joh. 6:40).
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Joh. 7:37-38).
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (Joh. 11:26).
“And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Joh. 12:47-48).
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Joh. 20:30-31).
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Ac. 10:43).
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Ac. 17:30-31).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Ro. 1:16).
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:22-23).
“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Ro. 9:33).
“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Ro. 10:11-13).
“For God hath concluded them ALL in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon ALL” (Ro. 11:32).
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Co. 1:21).
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Co. 5:14).
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Ti. 2:3-6).
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9).
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded” (1 Pe. 2:6).
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pe. 3:9).
“And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 Jo. 4:14).
“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jo. 2:2).
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Re. 22:17).
This is a very large body of Scripture (which is by no means exhaustive), and it teaches that it is God’s will that all men be saved (1 Ti. 2:3-4), that none perish, and that all repent (2 Pe. 3:9). Christ gave himself a ransom for all (1 Ti. 2:5-6). He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 Jo. 2:2). The iniquity of all was laid upon Him (Isa. 53:6). God loves the world and sent Christ to be the Saviour of the world (Joh. 3:16-17; 1 Jo. 4:14), and the term “world” never refers to the elect. The gospel is to be offered to all sinners (Mr. 16:15). It is God’s will that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life (Joh. 6:40). It is God’s will that all who hear the gospel and believe have eternal life (Joh. 6:40). It is God’s will that all who receive Christ by believing on His name become the sons of God (Joh. 1:12-13). The Gospel of John was written “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Joh. 20:31). The gospel of Christ is for “whosoever believeth” (Joh. 3:15, 16; 4:14; 11:26; 12:46; Ac. 10:43; Ro. 9:33; 10:11) “whosoever shall call (Ro. 10:13) and “whosoever will” (Re. 22:17). The gospel is “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Ro. 3:22). “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Co. 1:21).
This is God’s good pleasure and sovereign will in regard to salvation and election. This is taught in simple words by a large body of Scripture and cannot be overthrown by any isolated Scripture.
5. God’s election is according to His foreknowledge.
God’s election is made plain in the following fundamental passage on the subject.
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe. 1:2).
The basis of election is God’s “foreknowledge” (“elect according to the foreknowledge of God”). We see the same basis of election in Romans 8:29-30, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate...” The words “foreknowledge” and “foreknow” are the Greek prognosis and proginosko, which are a compound of pro (before) gnosis (know). In the medical field, a prognosis requires knowledge of how a disease progresses and what the patient will likely experience. To foreknow something is not the same as to foreordain it.
In Acts 2:23, foreknowledge is clearly distinguished from God’s “determinate counsel.” “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” In the case of Christ’s crucifixion, the event was both foreknown and foreordained by God.
That God knows all things and works all things together within His eternal plans is not the same as God determining all things. Yet Calvinism confuses these things and defines foreknowledge as foreordination.
John Calvin commented on 1 Peter 1:2 as follows, “God knew before the world was created whom he had elected for salvation. ... Hence, when Peter calls them elect according to the precognition of God, he intimates that the cause of it depends on nothing else but on God alone, for he of his own free will has chosen us.” When Calvin says election depends on nothing but God alone, he is saying that election has nothing to do with man’s faith in the gospel. He is saying that a sinner believes because of election and that he is not elect because he believes. But such a thing is in no wise “intimated” in 1 Peter 1:2.
Calvin comments on Romans 8:29 as follows, “It hence follows, that this knowledge is connected with God’s good pleasure; for he foreknew nothing out of himself, in adopting those whom he was pleased to adopt; but only marked out those whom he had purposed to elect.” Again, Calvin defines foreknowledge as foreordination, but there is zero authority for Calvin’s definition in the text.
Neither Paul nor Peter say that God’s foreknowledge depends on nothing but Himself. Neither of them redefine foreknowledge as foreordination. Neither of them define election as “sovereign.” To the contrary, in both of these major Bible passages on election we are taught that election begins with God’s foreknowledge, not with His foreordination, with knowledge rather than a decree.
Calvin would have Paul saying, “For whom he did sovereignly predestinate, he also did predestinate,” and Peter saying, “Elect according to the sovereign election of God...” Calvin read Augustinian theology into Scripture. Calvin plainly testified that his doctrine of election was from Augustine.
Calvinism adds such terms as “sovereign” and “determinate will” to God’s election, but this is based on human philosophy rather than the clear teaching of Scripture. Consider this comment by Thomas Constable: “Election originates in the eternal will and purpose of God the Father. ... God’s foreknowledge has an element of determinism in it because whatever really happens that God knows beforehand exists or takes place because of His sovereign will. Therefore when Peter wrote that God chose according to His foreknowledge he did not mean that God chose the elect because He knew beforehand they would believe the gospel (the Arminian position). God chose them because He determined beforehand that they would believe the gospel (the Calvinist position).”
Note the human reasoning here: “because whatever really happens that God knows beforehand exists or takes place because of His sovereign will.” Where is the biblical authority for that? There is none. Everything that happens is not God’s sovereign will. Sin and rebellion are not God’s sovereign will; they are the acts of creatures who have been given a choice and will answer to God for that choice. It is God’s express will that all men be saved (1 Ti. 2:4), but all men are not saved, and it is God’s express will that none perish and that all repent (2 Pe. 3:9), but many do perish and all do not repent. This is because God has given men a choice in the matter. This does not lessen God’s sovereignty one iota, because this is God’s sovereign will!
Peter simply says that election is “according to the foreknowledge of God,” and he doesn’t define foreknowledge as God’s sovereign choice. Constable cites Ro. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:3-6; 1 Th. 1:4; 1 Pe. 5:13, but none of those passages tell us that God’s foreknowledge is God’s “sovereign choice” or that God’s election has nothing to do with man’s faith. All of this is read into the Scripture from human theology.
The Bible student is not required to make a choice between Arminianism and Calvinism. The sound Bible student is a Biblicist. He is only required to believe God’s Word. Every Calvinist is convinced that he has the right to reject or modify some parts of, or conclusions of, Calvin. I agree with that 100%, and I say, further, that I also have the right to reject the entire Calvinist system of theology if I am convinced that it is not supported by Scripture!
When we let the Bible speak for itself on this subject, the confusion disappears, because the confusion is caused by a theological system that adds to the Scripture. If election is based on God’s foreknowledge, which it plainly and emphatically is, then there is no contradiction between God’s election and man’s choice as described in the “whosoever” passages (e.g., Mt. 11:28; Mr. 16:15-16; Joh. 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:40; 7:37-38; 11:26; 12:46; 20:30-31; Ac. 10:43; 16:31; Ro. 1:16; 3:22-26; 9:33; 10:10-13, 32; 1 Pe. 2:6; 1 Jo. 4:14; Re. 22:17). In these passages we find the answer to the question, “What does God foreknow?” The answer is that He foreknows who will believe the gospel. We see this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. God’s choosing is through belief of the gospel. He chooses those who believe the gospel through the sanctifying ministry of the Spirit (enlightening, convicting, drawing). We see this in Titus 1:1. God’s elect are those who have faith and acknowledge the truth of the gospel. Calvinism says the elect will believe; the Bible says those who believe are elect. If there is more to God’s election than this, and there certainly might be, the Bible does not reveal it, so it is not our concern. One preacher described salvation as a door, and on the outside are the words “whosoever believeth in him shall not perish,” and on the inside are the words “chosen before the foundation of the world.”
The method or means of election is “through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe. 1:2)
The means of election is “through sanctification of the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who brings the sinner into the practical reality of election. The Spirit sanctifies the sinner, which means He sets the sinner apart for God. This is further stated in 1 Pe. 1:22, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit...” See also 2 Th. 2:13 and 1 Co. 6:11. The sinner comes to salvation by the Spirit. He does not come to God on his own. The Spirit of God reproves the sinner of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Joh. 16:7-11), draws him (Joh. 12:32), enlightens him (Joh. 1:9), and calls him to repentance and faith (Ac. 11:18; 20:21; 2 Pe. 3:9). All of this is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel. Where there is no proclamation of the gospel, there is no calling. “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 2:14). It is by the preaching of the gospel by the believers that the Spirit witnesses of Christ (Ac. 1:8). It was by the preaching of the gospel on the day of Pentecost that the hearers were pricked in their hearts and repented and believed (Ac. 2:37-41). It was by the preaching of the gospel that the Spirit of God opened Lydia’s heart (Ac. 16:13-15). Salvation is always the product of the sanctification of the Spirit. Men preach the gospel, but men cannot do the work of salvation in sinner’s hearts. Sinners cannot enlighten themselves, open their own hearts, convict themselves, or regenerate themselves. All of this is the work of the Spirit.
Consider the following explanation by J. Frank Norris: “Every time you go into a home, every time you talk to a man on the street car, or in the shops, or factories, you have the absolute assurance that there is another One also witnessing. And that is God Himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit! ... Everywhere Barnabas and Saul went the Holy Spirit was there waiting for them. ... The same Divine Spirit that called and separated Barnabas and Saul was by the river and opened the heart of Lydia while Paul witnessed to her--‘whose heart the Lord opened ... that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul’ (Acts 16:14). There you have the whole thing in a nutshell. God’s side of the witnessing and man’s side. Therefore, every time you go forth on your personal visitation for Jesus Christ, to tell of His salvation, you have the absolute assurance that the Holy Spirit precedes you, goes with you, talks with you, walks with you, and [seeks to open] the hearts of all you talk to. ... This was the greatest truth that ever came into my life next to my salvation. Do you want a holy boldness in your testimony? then go forth and testify of Christ. Suppose you don’t feel like it. Go anyway. The Word does not say that God gives the Holy Spirit to them that feel like it. But He gives the Holy Spirit to them that ‘obey Him’ (Acts 5:32)” (The Inside Story of First Baptist Church).
The means of election is “unto obedience.” This is not obedience in Christian living; it is obedience in believing the gospel. It is not the obedience of works; it is the obedience of faith. “... my gospel ... made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Ro. 16:25-26). Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh. 6:29). Compare Ro. 3:24-25; 4:2-8; Eph. 2:8-10. Years earlier, Peter had come to understand that salvation is by faith, both for Jews and Gentiles, as he said in the Jerusalem Council, “God ... put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Ac. 15:9). In the second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul said the same thing. “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Th. 2:13). The “truth” here is the gospel of Christ, which “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Ro. 1:16). The method of election, then, is the Spirit’s work in the sinner’s heart and soul and conscience to bring him to faith in the gospel. This work of God’s love and grace by His Spirit is bestowed upon all who hear the gospel, for the gospel is to be preached to all (Mr. 16:15). All men are enlightened (Joh. 1:9); all are drawn (Joh. 12:32). But this work of the Spirit is not “irresistible.” We see it resisted throughout the books of Acts and the entire church age. “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Ac. 7:51).
The means of election is the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe. 1:2). The sprinkling of the blood refers to the application of the blood of the Levitical sacrifices to Israel under the Old Covenant. The sprinkling of the blood is mentioned 26 times in Leviticus. The blood was sprinkled on the altar (Le. 1:5), before the veil (Le. 4:6), on Aaron and his sons at their anointing (Le. 8:30), on the leper when he is healed (Le. 14:7), on the leper house (Le. 14:51), and on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat (Le. 16:14). Christ is the fulfillment of these sacrifices, and His blood is “sprinkled” in the sense of being put to the account of believing sinners. So in 1 Peter 1:2, we see that the Spirit of God brings the sinner to repentance and faith which results in the application of the blood of Christ. The blood is the price of redemption. Christ gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Ti. 2:6 Jo. 2:2), but the ransom is applied only to those who believe. The application of the blood is to have one’s name written in the Lamb’s book of life (Php. 4:3). This is portrayed in the Passover. The Lamb’s blood was shed for all, but it had to be individually applied (Ex. 12:6-7, 13). The angel of judgment only passed over those houses upon which the blood was applied.
6. That man can resist God’s will is taught throughout the Bible.
It is obvious that God made man to have a will that can be exercised against God and that man is accountable to God for the exercise of his will.
We have already given many examples of man resisting God. See Ge. 6:5-6; Ne. 9:30; Pr. 1:23-26, 28-29; Isa. 7:13; 63:10; Jer. 29:16; Lu. 7:30; Joh. 1:11; 12:48; Ac. 7:51; Ro. 10:21.
Adam disobeyed God’s will (Ge. 3). Cain disobeyed God’s will (Ge. 4). The generation of Noah disobeyed God’s will (Ge. 6). The generation of Babel disobeyed God’s will (Ge. 11). Israel disobeyed God’s will in the wilderness, during the time of the judges, during most of the period of the kings and in the time of the first coming of Christ. God knew all of these things beforehand and He worked all of these things into His eternal plans, but it was never His will for man to disobey Him.
This is not contrary to God’s omnipotence and kingship (or “sovereignty”) because it is God’s express and “sovereign” will that man have such a choice.
In the following simple, poignant statement, Christ refuted the Augustinian or Calvinistic concept of God’s sovereignty.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mt. 23:37).
The Son of God would have saved them, but they would not. God would, man wouldn’t. God gave man this terrible choice in His “sovereign will” and He is not any less “sovereign” for it.
7. Though God knows the end from the beginning, there is a sense in which God is in the present and reacts to man’s deeds in the present.
The Philadelphia Confession of 1742 said, “God’s knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.”
This is Calvinistic theology, but it is not true. God’s knowledge and decisions are not entirely independent of man but are contingent upon man’s actions in some ways.
We see this in God’s repentance (Ge. 6:5-6). In His eternal omniscience, God knew that man would come to the place of complete apostasy in Noah’s day, and God had determined to send the Flood as part of His eternal plan. Yet when man did sin, God reacted to this sin and repented that He had made man.
We see this in God’s warnings to and reaction to men throughout Scripture. Consider God’s dealings with Cain. God knew that Cain would reject the gospel of grace and kill his brother for envy, but God reasoned with Cain and graciously called him to obedience (Ge. 4:4-7). The idea that God decreed that Cain would do this evil thing is both ridiculous and wicked. Consider God’s dealings with Solomon. God knew what Solomon would say when asked what he wanted from God, yet the Bible says, “And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing” (1 Ki. 3:10). God knew that Solomon would apostatize, but He exhorted him to remain faithful (1 Ki. 3:14). God even warned him a second time (1 Ki. 9:1-9). And the Lord was angry when Solomon turned aside (1 Ki. 11:9-13). It was not God’s will for Solomon to sin; it was not done by any foreordination or decree of God.
We see this in the earthly life of the Son of God. He “knew all men” (Joh. 2:24), yet He was amazed at men (Mt. 8:10) and disappointed with men (Mt. 8:26). In His eternal perspective, the Son of God knew that Israel would apostatize and reject Him and He planned to use this to create the Church, but the Son of God wept over Israel’s rejection (Lu. 19:41-42) and said that their will had resisted His will (Mt. 23:37).
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