Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Unconditional Condition

The Doctrine of Unconditional Election is as thus:

“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. God could have chosen to save all men (for He had the power and authority to do so) or He could have chosen to save none (for He was under no obligation to show mercy to any)—but He did neither. Instead, He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus, election was not determined by, or conditioned upon, anything that men would do, but resulted entirely from God’s self-determined purpose. THOSE WHO WERE NOT CHOSEN FOR SALVATION WERE PASSED BY AND LEFT TO THEIR OWN EVIL DEVICES AND CHOICES. It is not within the creature’s jurisdiction to call into question the justice of the Creator for not choosing anyone for salvation. It is enough to know that the Judge of the earth has done right”(Steele, Thomas, & S. Lance Quinn, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented.” Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004, pages 27-28).

According to David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, God chooses some for salvation—because He wants to. There is nothing that the chosen “do” in order to get selected. They are just chosen by God’s arbitrary choice. The Lord picked certain people just like a random ticket drawing—“you, not you, you, not you, not you,” etc.
And then, Steele, Thomas, and Quinn provide biblical proof of unconditional election. In their section where they state that God did not choose based on foreseen faith, they offer two verses of note:

“1 Thessalonians 1:4-5—‘For we know, brothers loved by God, that HE HAS CHOSEN YOU, BECAUSE OUR GOSPEL CAME TO YOU not only in word, but also in POWER and IN THE HOLY SPIRIT and WITH FULL CONVICTION.’
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14—‘God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, THROUGH SANCTIFICATION by the Spirit and BELIEF IN THE TRUTH. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’” (page 34).
Take a look at the first verse quoted above. “For we know, brothers loved by God, that HE HAS CHOSEN YOU.”

First off, let me say that yes, this verse discusses the concept of election. I will not disagree with that; however, the issue is WHAT kind of election, not the idea of election itself. Paul writes here that they KNOW that the believers at Thessalonica are chosen by God—because they have evidence of their election. In other words, their election has been manifested, made known, in the earthly realm. What kind of evidence was witnessed? “Because our Gospel came to you not only in WORD, but also in POWER and in the HOLY SPIRIT and with FULL CONVICTION.” Not only was the Word preached, but the power to preach the Word came; as a result of the preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit BROUGHT FULL CONVICTION to those who listened to the Word being preached.

What does it mean to convict? Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary gives us the

transitive verb 1 : to find or prove to be guilty 2 : to convince of error or sinfulness intransitive verb : to find a defendant guilty.

When a person is convicted of sin, they are certainly shown to be guilty of sin. But the definition I like most is #2: “to convince of error or sinfulness.” What does it mean to “convince” someone? Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary supplies the following definitions:

1obsolete a: to overcome by argument b: OVERPOWER, OVERCOME2obsolete : DEMONSTRATE, PROVE3: to bring (as by argument) to belief, consent, or a course of action : PERSUADE

Look at the third definition of “convince”: “to bring (as by argument) to belief, consent, or a course of action.” Basically, it means to get someone to do something, to help them understanding that your view or belief makes sense. But the one word that adequately defines “convince” is “persuade.” And what does it mean to “persuade” someone? It means to appeal to their intellect, to reason with someone.

I looked up “reason” as a verb in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary and saw the following definitions:

1 a obsolete : to take part in conversation, discussion, or argument b : to talk with another so as to influence actions or opinions
2 : to use the faculty of reason so as to arrive at conclusions.
Definition #2 says it best—“To use the FACULTY OF REASON so as to arrive at conclusions.” This is why man has been given an intellect—so he can use his mental intelligence to come to well-thought-out decisions. This explains the Lord’s words to His people in Isaiah 1:

18 "Come, let us discuss this," (AJ)
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow; (AK)
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land. (AL)
20 But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword." (AM)
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The word for “let us discuss this” in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) is “dielegxthomen,” which comes from the word “elegxo,” meaning “to bring to light, expose, convince, reprove, rebuke, punish.” So, when the Spirit convicts the Thessalonians through preaching, He exposed their sin and their guiltiness, as well as “brought to light” the truth of the Gospel and their need for a Savior. But He did this not by FORCING them to come to Christ—but through the use of their reason, their intellect, their minds. And the Spirit did this why? because it is by the mind that mankind is able to process, understand, and communicate with others.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 that the sign of the Thessalonians’ election was that the Word came, as well as power to preach, which was brought by the Spirit, who convicted the Thessalonians of sin and their need for Christ.

Look at the next passage reference, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14—

“God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God chose (elected) the Thessalonians. But we are not only told of their election, but also the NATURE of the election—“through sanctification by the Spirit and BELIEF IN THE TRUTH.” So, the election then, is not based on God’s arbitrary pick of certain persons, but instead foreseen faith.

And these two passages show us that there is a condition to election—namely, FAITH. As a result, election CANNOT be UNCONDITIONAL. When these two thoughts are combined, one cannot have an UNCONDITIONAL CONDITION. You cannot have God picking people on the basis of His choice and those same persons choosing whether or not to believe in Him at the same time. According to Calvinists, faith is a work—so, if God selects you, then faith isn’t involved at all.

In all honesty, Calvinists have spent far too much time imposing their views on the Biblical text itself. If faith is required to receive salvation, and (in their view) faith is a work, then I think we need to look beyond unconditional election to find what the Biblical nature of election really is.

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