Copyright © Abel Ramirez. All rights reserved.
This subject is described in many ways. It is referred to as ‘the doctrine of election’ or ‘predestination.’ Some also refer to it as ‘selective salvation,’ ‘Calvinism,’ or ‘predetermined salvation.’ Regardless of how it is referred to, at the very heart of this subject is the question: Who can be saved?
The most basic definition for the ‘doctrine of election’ is the belief that God chooses whom He will save and allow into Heaven and whom He will not save and send to Hell. This decision is based solely on God’s own sovereign will and purpose and is not influenced by any other person or by anything anyone does. That is to say that this choice is made apart from any action or belief on the part of the sinner. In other words, man has absolutely no role in his own salvation. If God wants a person to be saved, He will ultimately, through His sovereign control over all circumstances and His ability to open the heart and mind of the sinner, compel a person to believe. These people are then referred to as ‘the elect.’ The bottom line of the ‘doctrine of election’ is that God picks and chooses who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell for reasons we do not know.
Before I go any further, let me just point out that there are many good, well educated, articulate, experienced, insightful, and faithful Christians on both sides of this issue and by no means do I believe that anyone’s stance on this subject affects or determines a person’s salvation in any way. I do believe, however, that there are some very big and undeniable problems with this particular teaching of the ‘doctrine of election.’
The heart of the issue ultimately comes down to one question: Does God give man the choice to either accept or reject salvation? Does God allow man the choice whether or not to believe? Let’s first take a look at what we actually mean by having a choice. For those who believe in the ‘doctrine of election,’ belief is not a choice. It is imposed on people, believers are compelled or forced to believe. This teaching is clearly false. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. Jesus didn’t say, ‘that whoever I compel to believe or whoever the Father compels to believe shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Obviously, believing in something of your own accord and being compelled or forced to believe are not the same thing! If they are, then we must rewrite the entire Bible itself to reflect this!
If God gives us only one option, then there is no choice. If God gives us no choice, then we are simply ‘action figures’ or ‘programmable robots’ for God and in reality we have no relationship with Him at all. This is not what the Bible teaches. It is not how the Bible describes our relationship with God. He is our Father. We are His children. “So then, he is the father of all who believe” Romans 4:11.
True love only exists when there is a choice not to love. For example, if we could choose anyone to be our spouse and we had the power to magically make that person love us unconditionally, would we believe that it was really love, knowing that the only reason this person showed any affection toward us is because they were being compelled to do so by our power? No, of course not. We are overjoyed when our spouse, who has the choice of anyone else, chooses us over everyone else. Was the father of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32, happy because he went and forced his son to return home? No, he rejoiced because his son returned by his own choice seeking his father’s love. If we don’t have the ability to reject God, then we don’t have the ability to express real love to Him by choosing Him. God does not compel us to love Him.
The same principle is true concerning belief. If man is compelled to believe, then he does not believe at all. He simply reacts in the only way possible because he has no other choice. Why would Jesus call us to repent and believe if it really isn’t up to us at all, and it’s simply a matter of God exercising His power by making us repent and believe? Jesus said, “Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15. Belief is our choice. Salvation is God’s gift and the result of His power. There is a difference between the process of salvation and the power of salvation. God does not compel us to believe.
All the power required for a sinner to become saved is from God. This is clearly illustrated for us in John 3 when Jesus explains to Nicodemus how a person can see the kingdom of God. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3. Jesus goes on to explain that the power to be born again is found in the work of the Holy Spirit. “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:5. The power of salvation comes from God.
Jesus then explains the sinner’s part in the process of salvation. How can I be born again? What can I do to have access to this saving power from God? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16, 18. These verses contain no hidden messages or deeply imbedded theological meanings that only the most highly educated Bible scholars can decipher. They are very simple. Anyone can understand them. Jesus makes it absolutely clear that we must believe in Him in order to receive eternal life. It is something we must do. It is not something that is done for us. It is our decision. It is our choice, plain and simple. Jesus said this is what separates those who are saved from those who are not saved.
Jesus was consistent in teaching that part of the process of salvation is the responsibility of the individual. Look at His response to the rich young man in the book of Mark. “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him, ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17. Now, if no part of this man’s salvation is up to him, as is taught by the ‘doctrine of election,’ Jesus’ answer to the young man’s question should simply be, “nothing.” He could further explain, ‘No part of your salvation is up to you. If God has chosen you for salvation, He will eventually make you believe.’ Did Jesus explain this critical doctrine to this man? No. Did He take this perfect opportunity to clearly define for all time that man plays no part in his own salvation because that would rob God of His sovereignty? No, because that is not how the process works!
We go on to read in the text how Jesus explained to the young man exactly what he, specifically, needed to do in order to ‘inherit eternal life.’ Basically, He asked the young man to give away what was most important to him, his possessions and riches, and make Jesus the most important thing in his life, his Lord and Savior. If he did that, Jesus said he could, “come, follow me.” Mark 10:21. This was the choice Jesus placed before the young man. Then we read, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ Mark 10:22-23.
We gather from this passage that, in the end, this man was not saved. This raises another very important point. If we hold to the ‘doctrine of election’ as it is taught, that God has already chosen who will be saved and who won’t be saved, then Jesus would have known that this man was not one of ‘the elect.’ At the very least, Jesus would have known what the man’s decision was going to be in the next few minutes. And again, He would have told him that there was nothing he could do because he wasn’t one of ‘the elect.’ In fact, since we know from the Scriptures that this man was not saved, for Jesus to even suggest that there was anything even remotely possible that this man could do to be saved when in reality, according to the ‘doctrine of election,’ this decision had already been made for him, would make Jesus a liar.
This admonition is consistent throughout the entire Bible. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" Acts 16:31. Choices were also put before the people of the Old Testament. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” Joshua 24:15. Why would Jesus and the Word of God tell us that believing in God is something we must decide to do when according to the ‘doctrine of election’ it’s something He makes us do? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again” 1 Peter 1:3. (NASB) This is one of the verses often used to support the belief that God compels people to believe. The word ‘caused’ in this verse does not mean ‘compelled us to believe’ it refers to the power of God which allows a sinner to be born again. This is another example of the difference between the power of salvation and the process of salvation. This verse, 1 Peter 1:3, is making reference to the power of salvation.
Another verse that is often used to support the teaching that God compels people to believe is Acts 13:48. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” In this verse the phrase, ‘all who were appointed’ clearly refers to eternal life, not belief. In other words, the verse doesn’t read, ‘all who were appointed to belief believed’ because God does not appoint us to belief or compel us to believe. He appoints us to eternal life based on who He already knows will believe. Now if we apply a little common sense it becomes clear.
God already knows everyone who will believe. He knew this even before creation began and He has already appointed or ‘elected’ all whom He knew would believe to eternal life. He is omniscient. “He counts the stars and calls them all by name, how great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!” Psalms 147:4-5. (NLT) “For I am God – I alone! I am God, and there is no one else like me. Only I can tell you what is going to happen even before it happens” Isaiah 46:9-10. (NLT) The Scriptures also teach us that we are not born saved. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalms 51:5. So for everyone who believes there is a day that they come to this belief, the day of salvation. “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2. No one is saved before that day of salvation but God has already appointed all of those He knows will be saved to eternal life. So Acts 13:48 is referring to the fact that God already knew who would believe and that He has already appointed them for eternal life and that the day of salvation had arrived for the Gentiles mentioned in this verse.
One of the tenets of the ‘doctrine of election’ is that we are compelled to believe because the Bible says that our faith comes from God. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8. This verse tells us that our faith is a gift given to us by God, and this is absolutely true! So the question now becomes: Are faith and belief the same thing? To find out the truth, let’s look at Romans 3:22, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. This verse is incredibly significant. One of the remarkable things this verse teaches us is what most people who adhere to ‘the doctrine of election’ fail to understand or even recognize. That is, faith and belief are two different things! In this verse, faith is clearly defined here as the vehicle through which righteousness is bestowed upon us, while belief is the condition which is needed to receive faith. Faith and belief are not the same thing. These verses teach us that faith is indeed a gift from God to those who choose to believe!
Another of the tenets of ‘the doctrine of election’ is ‘the total depravity of man.’ ‘The total depravity of man’ means that man is totally depraved because of his sinful nature, and that man’s free will is limited only to his choice of sin to commit. If this is true then certain questions must be answered. When did the total depravity of man begin? Was Adam created in total depravity or was man’s total depravity a result of Adam’s sin? If Adam was sinless before choosing to eat the fruit, how can a sinless being with no sinful nature, and being compelled by a sovereign God, sin? Obviously, before Adam sinned he wasn’t in a ‘totally depraved’ condition. That is not how he was created. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27. He was able to choose sin because God, in his sovereignty, made man in His own image which involved giving man the ability to choose.
Allowing mankind the ability to choose does not rob God of His Sovereignty because man’s choices are not unlimited and God controls all circumstances. We all have free will within the parameters set by God. God is omnipotent. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isaiah 46:9-10. “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth” Psalms 135:6. He created man with the ability to choose, and He is perfectly capable of incorporating all the possible choices of mankind into his sovereign will and purpose because, before the world was created, He already knew what all those choices were going to be. He is the One who makes ‘known the end from the beginning.’
How do we know Adam had the ability to choose? Well, the Bible says he did, and because we know that God is not a liar, and He is not a God of contradictions. In other words, He does not tell us what not to do and then turn right around and compel us to do the very thing He has forbidden us to do. Also, He does not tell us that we have a choice when in reality He compels us to act and in doing so removes any possibility of choice. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free (you have a choice) to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17. God did not forbid Adam to eat the fruit from the tree and then turn right around and compel him to do that very thing. Adam sinned because God in His sovereignty created man with free will. Adam could choose to obey God or disobey God. The choice was his. God did not compel him to do either because if He did, there would be no choice. God did not recreate man and remove his free will after his fall. “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:22.
“The doctrine of depravity was never intended to convey the meaning that man is as bad as he possibly can be and that every trace of moral rectitude has been lost in fallen man. ‘Total depravity’ is intended to indicate that the evil principle… has invaded each part of human nature, that there is no part of it which can now invariably perform righteous acts or invariably think righteous thoughts. In other words, man’s total depravity means that every area of his life is blighted – not that everything about him is totally bad. His depravity is also total in that apart from God’s grace he is forever lost.” Paul E. Little.
The ‘doctrine of election’ also teaches that mankind does not have the ability to choose salvation or righteousness. He has no ability or desire to choose Christ or God. Is this true? Absolutely. This is absolutely true for everyone before the process of salvation begins. Before salvation, all people are blinded to the message of the Gospel. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age (Who is the god of this age? Satan.) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. This teaching is reaffirmed in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14. “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
If all people are blinded to the Gospel, and living under a satanically imposed blindness, how then is it possible for anyone to understand the Gospel and be saved? Well, the answer lies in the fact that God gives us everything we need for salvation. He draws everyone to Himself. This is the beginning of the salvation process. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” John 6:44. God also removes this blindness from our hearts. “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Acts 16:14. Lydia was lost. She was just as spiritually blinded as anyone else, but the Lord opened her spiritual understanding. He opened her heart, but that in itself wasn’t enough. She had to ‘respond to Paul’s message.’ This is where the choice lies. At one time or another God draws everyone to Himself. He opens their eyes by removing the blindness from their hearts and allows them to make a choice.
Now this is where people who teach the ‘doctrine of election’ get it wrong. They will point to this passage and say, “well, God opened her heart and made her believe.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Opening someone’s heart and compelling someone to believe something are two totally different things. Compelling someone eliminates belief or even the need for belief altogether. The very nature of belief implies that there is a choice not to believe. It was still Lydia’s choice to “respond to Paul’s message.” This is also where we are as believers. There is nothing we can do to win a lost person until the Lord opens their heart and gives them the ability to understand and choose. That is why we need to be there with the truth of Scripture.
If we hold to the belief that God, for some unknown reason, chooses who goes to Heaven and who is eternally condemned, or that Jesus died only for ‘the elect’ and not for all of mankind, or that somehow God does not love all men but rather only ‘the elect,’ then we cannot read many of the verses in the Bible to a lost person without qualifying them. For example:
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone* to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. *everyone does not actually mean everyone or all mankind; it only refers to ‘the elect,’ which have already been chosen. God only wants certain people to come to repentance.
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men* to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself for all men*” 1 Timothy 2:3-6. *all men does not really mean all men everywhere, it only refers to ‘the elect’ that God has already chosen. God does not really want all men to be saved and Jesus didn’t really give Himself for all men. Sorry.
“For God so loved the world* that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. *the world doesn’t actually mean all people in the entire world. God only loves those ‘elect’ that He has already chosen. So this verse should actually read, “For God so loved the elect….”
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world*!” John 1:29. *the world only refers to the few ‘elect’ of the world. God only takes away their sin. Why? We have no idea!
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world*.” 1 John 2:2. *again, whole world doesn’t really mean the whole world but the whole world of ‘the elect,’ Jesus died only for the sins of ‘the elect.’ This verse should read, ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the elect, and not only for the sins of the elect but also for the sins of the elect.’ That makes sense doesn’t it?
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us* and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins*.” 1 John 4:7. *loved us, and for our sins are only meant to include ‘the elect’ and no one else.
“God is love*.” 1 John 4:16. *as unlikely as it sounds, God is love does not mean that God is love to everyone or that God really loves everyone. Even though God is actually love itself, He can be love to some people and then change who He is and not be love to other people.
Is this how God intended for His Word to be read? Can it not simply be opened, read, and understood? Do we have to examine every verse and qualify each of them with hidden meanings? Are people required to have ‘inside information’ on what the Bible really means? Should everyone be required to read the ‘fine print’ on what then becomes ‘Christianity’s dirty little secret’ in order to understand that in spite of everything they read in the Bible and what Christians for centuries have been saying and continue to say to this day, God, in fact, does not love everyone, God does not want everyone to go to Heaven, Jesus did not die for everyone, salvation is not open to everyone? Does this sound like the message we should be spreading? Well, according to the ‘doctrine of election,’ this is all true.