The Election of the Saints – What is it and When is it?
By Pastor Tony Butler
Fountain of Grace Alliance Church
There is no argument about whether or not the bible teaches “election”. It is a biblical term that needs to be known and understood. The real issue concerning election among Christians has more to do about the means and the time of the believer’s election.
Believers of the reformed/Calvinistic persuasion teach that the believer’s election took place before the foundation of the world by the divine decree of God. Those that adhere to such a view believe God sovereignly and arbitrarily chose to save a minority to be with Him in glory and to condemn the majority in the lake of fire. Calvinists believe that the ones God chose to be saved will bring God glory because of sovereign grace His grace He bestowed to them.
Admittedly, not all Calvinists believe God has equally damned the majority to be lost in the same way he chose the minority to be saved. However, it is true that Calvin taught double predestination. He made it clear that pastors in his day who taught anything different was childish because they felt they needed to make God look better to people and not seem so cruel. Instinctively, double predestination does make God appear to be unjust, brutal, and cruel to most people when they learn what double predestination is. To understand Calvin’s view read the following:
"Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, whereby He had determined with Himself what He willed to become of every man. For all men are not created to like estate; but to some eternal life and to some eternal damnation is fore-appointed. (Institutes of Religion, Book3, chapter 21, section 5)
"Many indeed, as though they would drive away the malice from God, do so grant election that they deny that any man is reprobated; but this they do too ignorantly and childishly for, as much as election itself could not stand unless it were set contrary to reprobation; therefore, whom God passeth over He rejecteth; and for no other cause, but for that He will exclude them from the inheritance which He doth predestinate to be His children." Chapter 23 section -1 )
In this paper I will attempt to give an alternative biblical view other than Calvinistic teaching that the elect are decreed to be saved. I am one that sees election coming through the foreknowledge of God by virtue of His inhabiting eternity rather than through a sovereign decree of God. I believe the bible teaches that one becomes the elect of God only after one believes and trusts in Christ. I will try to explain my view in an understandable way. I do not believe what I am writing in any way diminishes God’s sovereignty, rather it upholds the truth of biblical election. May God give the readers understanding as they study the scripture as approved workers rightly dividing the truth. Peace
I. Election, What is it?
The term election in the English bible comes from the Greek word ekloge/εκλογη. It basically has to do with the act of selection or choosing. In the context of this paper election has to do with God selecting/choosing people to be His children.
Rom 9:11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
Rom_11:5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
1Th_1:4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.
2Pe_1:10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;
Col_3:12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
II. When were people elected by God to become His children?
The bible clearly speaks of election and people being the elect of God. However, there is scripture that tells us the time of our election.
Eph 1:4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
As one who tries to be a good bible student, I do my best to stay in the context of scripture and employ good interpretation skills. One of those skills is to read the scripture in light of its historical setting and try to understand how the original readers would have understood the message of the bible book/letter. The ancient recipients of the biblical epistles would not think in terms of denominational movements, theological systematic philosophies such as Calvinism, Arminianism or Molinism.
The key to understanding scripture isn’t by reading into scripture theological presuppositions but rather by digging out what the scripture actually says and means in context. Paul urged the Corinthians not to go beyond what is written and follow men (I Cor. 4:6). To do so creates teachings that are entrenched with philosophical presupposition, and it creates movements that are man led.
In this paper I am purposely trying to keep theological terms at a bare minimum for easier understanding. I am going to do my best to speak to what the scripture actually says.
Ephesians 1:4 doesn’t say we are “chosen before the foundation of the world”; but it does say we are chosen “In Him” before the foundation of the world”. There is a world of difference between those two statements. One is biblical and the other isn’t.
One of the most important phrases found in sacred scripture is the phrase “In Christ” or “In Him”. The key to understanding the time of our election is to understand the use of “in Christ” or “In Him” by Paul in Ephesians and his other epistles. In just the first chapter of Ephesians Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” ten times. Both terms “in Christ and “in Him” are synonymous and used over 120x in Paul’s writings.
The very first time Paul uses the phrase “In Christ” in Ephesians is found in verse three which says,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”
In Ephesians 1-3 Paul is writing to Ephesian believers to tell them where their spiritual blessings come from and then begins to enumerate them to the Ephesian believers in chapters one through three. The blessings are from heaven and they are all “in Christ”. It is very IMPORTANT to understand “In Christ” is the qualifying phrase and the condition of being chosen before the foundation of the world. One simply can’t be chosen if he isn’t “in Christ”.
The very first spiritual blessing Paul mentions to the Ephesians is being chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world. This is the result of their believing in Christ and being placed “in Christ”. Before they believed they were not Chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world.
If God decreed some people to be saved before the foundation of the world (Calvinism) and they were chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world, one has to wonder how Paul speaks of others being “In Christ” before he was “In Christ”
Rom 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
The biblical text makes it clear that the blessing of being chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world was a spiritual blessing from the heavenlies; the realm of God. From God’s eternal reality the moment we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we are placed “in Christ”. Jesus Christ is an eternal being (Jn.1:1) We become united with His eternal dimension in which He exists the moment we believe. “In Christ” we enter into His past, His present, and into His future. This is why in Eph. 2:6 we are told we are already raised and seated with Christ in the heavenlies. It is a present spiritual reality and blessing that comes from heavenlies by virtue of being “In Christ”. It has already taken place, it is our present reality and it will be our future experience.
Because God inhabits eternity as the Alpha and Omega we also inhabit eternity “in Christ”. His past is our past, His present is our present, and His future is our future. That is why we are seen as chosen before the foundation of the world but only under the condition of being “in Christ”. The moment a person truly believes He is given a new life II Cor.5:17). We receive the benefits of Christ’s past, His present and His future because spiritually we are “in Him” (Eph.1:3).
Rom 6:8-11 But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him…(11) Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.
All that He is we are “In Him”. All that He has we have because we are “in Him”.
Rom 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: (17) and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.
Many speak of our new future with Christ but few speak of our new past as a result of being “in Christ”. The biblical reality is that Jesus is eternal God (Jn.1:1). When we are placed/emmersed “in Him” we are placed into His eternal being. His past, present, and future becomes ours. We are not God, but only believers “in God” abiding in His past, present, and future and partakers of His divine nature (II Pet. 1:4).
The believer is elected by God the moment He believes and is “placed in Christ". He becomes one with the Alpha and Omega; the eternal God Who inhabits all of eternity past, present and future. This is how God foreknows all things in the human sense of understanding what the future will bring. The past, present, and future is a single continuum in which God exists simultaneously.
Isa 57:15 For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity,…
The believer is chosen before the foundation of the world only because he has been placed “in Christ” Who eternally existed before creation. God isn’t limited to time; He exists outside of time because He is eternal. Once you are “in Him” and He is in you; you inhabit eternity “in Christ”. Eternal life isn’t about longevity; eternal life is Jesus Himself in us and us “In Him”.
Col 3:3-4 For you died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (4) When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall you also with him be manifested in glory.
Believers “in Christ” are given a new life, a new hope, a new location, a new past, a new present, a new position, a new identity, a new righteousness, and a new future. We are now a part of Christ’s past as much as we are a part of His future.
IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND -There isn’t a single thing above that can be said about a person “outside of Christ”. Calvinism/Reform theology has God electing/choosing a small minority of people to be saved by divine decree before they believe. There is no way the Ephesians would have understood this from the context of the letter. Election by decree made before the foundation of the world isn’t being taught in Ephesians 1:4 but election by virtue of being “in Christ” is.
Ask most any believer when they became a new creation “in Christ” and they will say, “When I believed in Jesus”. That would be a correct answer. The same is true concerning the time of a believer’s election. People are elected/chosen the same time they become new creatures “in Christ”. The moment they believe.
2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Will the Calvinist say believers were new creatures “in Christ” before the foundation of the world? The bible makes it clear when we were placed into the body of Christ in I Cor. 12:13 which states,
“1Co 12:13 For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
The body we were baptized into by the Spirit was the body of Christ. Believers are placed into that body by the Holy Spirit. To be in the body of Christ is to be “In Christ”. In Eph. 1:13 we are told we were sealed with the Holy Spirit when we trusted in Christ. No Christian has ever been baptized into the body of Christ nor sealed by the Spirit until he/she believed in Jesus.
“Eph 1:13 in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,--in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”
We were not chosen before the foundation of the world until we were first “in Christ” by the baptism of the Spirit after placing our faith in Christ. By virtue of being “in Christ” believers are identified with the eternal person of the Lord Jesus Christ Who declares in Rev 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty."
When seen in context, the bible clearly states when our election took place; only after we are placed “in Christ”. We couldn’t possibly be elected before we were in Christ. Paul states in Eph. 2 that before we were “in Christ” we were the children of wrath. In John 3:18 Jesus said we were condemned already because we did not believe.
Eph 2:1-3 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, (2) in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
Paul explains to the Ephesians that there was a time they were outside of Christ and were without hope or God. It was only by being “in Christ” that they were brought near to God and “in Christ”.
Eph 2:11-13 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
God has provided the means for the believer’s election according to His eternal purpose. The sacrifice of Christ’s substitutionary death was accomplished; the Holy Spirit was sent to convict people of their sin; and the gospel was preached calling men to repentance and faith. Everything that was needed for the unbeliever’s election to take place was ready if he/she would respond to the truth of God’s Word under the conviction of the Spirit (Jn. 16:8). This is man’s part in salvation; to believe the testimony of Christ.
2Th 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,
The sinner cannot be elected if he refuses the conditional means to be elected, "belief of the truth." The sinner is condemned by God because he is “outside of Christ” because of unbelief (Jn 3:18; 16: 8-9). When Paul speaks of being "chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world," he is referring to the election within God’s purpose. God's purpose to elect from all eternity is an eternal plan. This purpose to elect was based on the infallible foreknowledge of God as to how man should choose. In 1st Pet. 1:1,2 it says we are, "elect according to the foreknowledge of God,". Foreknowledge does not decree anything; it is merely the already knowing because God inhabits eternity. This idea of election is biblical and consistent in the New Testament. Salvation is available for every man but his election is dependent upon his acceptance of the gospel in faith. God places the blame on man's impenitence and unbelief where it belongs.
Calvinism/reform theology is in serious error in my opinion when they say we are chosen before the foundation of the world by divine decree rather than by the qualifying condition of being “in Christ” upon believing.
Think about it. At any point before a person believes in Jesus they are outside of Christ. If we weren’t placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit until we believed how could we be “in Christ” before the foundation of the world? How can we be chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world and be lost and dead in sins so that that Jesus had to come to seek and save us.
In Rom. 8:1, the bible says, “there is no condemnation to those “in Christ Jesus”. How did we go from being without condemnation before the foundation of the world by being “in Christ” to being condemned for not believing until we believed? How do people move from being “in Christ” before the foundation of the world to being a child of wrath “outside of Christ” prior to his believing?
In my opinion the biblical view of election taking place the moment one believes elevates God’s sovereignty in a superior way than that of many Calvinists that teach we are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world solely by sovereign decree. According to many Calvinists we are “in Him” before the foundation of the world before we believe.
If we are “in Christ” by decree before the foundation of the world then all spiritual blessings are ours “in Christ” before the foundation of the world. However, the Calvinist sovereign God loses us, condemns us, unseats us from the heavenlies, declares us dead in sin and sends Jesus to find us so the Holy Spirit can regenerate us so we can believe and be saved so God regather us to our rightful place “in Christ”. It makes God look irresponsible to lose such a precious commodity in the first place. The whole idea is silly in my opinion.
Eph 2:5-6 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
Luk 19:10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Though I understand Calvinism well, I still see it as a an incorrect teaching. Calvinism sure isn’t what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1-3. If we were “in Christ” before the foundation of the world how did we fall to sin? If we were elect “in Christ” before the foundation of the world by heavenly blessing, why were we condemned only to be saved and put back “in Christ” after we believed? Is Jesus inept that He had us in heavenly places and He lost us to the point we became His enemies? If we were “In Christ” before the foundation of the world why was He looking for us?
To counter what I am saying some Calvinists teach that believers weren’t “in Christ” “actually” before the foundation of the world, but would be put “in Christ” when they believed. However when I read Ephesians 1:3-4, I don’t see anything like that in the text. Is that what the Ephesian readers of the epistle would have understood or surmised?
Calvinism appears to teach an elect person is as safe and secure “outside” of Christ as he/she is “in Christ”. To the Calvinist, a person (even if he/she has no inclination toward believing in Him) is safe by sovereign decree because there is zero possibility of damnation. Is this Paul’s message to the Ephesians chapter two? This isn’t the message of grace and the gospel in my opinion. Ultimately in light of the big picture, Calvinism teaches it is the sovereign decree of God that determines our salvation, not faith in Jesus. Jesus and our faith in Him is merely a means to fulfill the decree of God which is sure. According to most Calvinists, even faith is the gift of God which he decrees to give to his elect after He regenerates them/gives them new birth).
If God in eternity decrees a person to be saved; when are they really saved? For instance, If I know that there are people on an island needing rescue and I know they will only be rescued because I decreed it, when were they saved. When I gave the decree, or when they got in the ship. Unless the order was given there would be no rescue.
In Calvinism, no matter what Jesus did on the cross, our faith in Him or anything else is the determining factor of our salvation; only the decree of God secures our salvation. Everything else is merely secondary means. To a Calvinist, the elect were the elect before the foundation of the world by decree; there was never a time they were not the elect. Therefore there was never a time they weren’t saved in the eternal mind of God because they were chosen before the foundation of the world. Time, space history means nothing when an eternal sovereign decree of salvation is set in eternal stone. How could a God who decreed and chose us “in Christ” before the foundation of the world ever see us as lost and condemned? We are safe because we were eternally “in Christ” before we were born if we are one of God’s elect. There is no getting around this if you adhere to Calvinism.
To the consistent Calvinist, salvation is merely a person coming to the actualization of what has been decreed by God. People only believe because they were decreed to believe and be saved regardless of the means it took to bring it to actualization in time, space history. To the Calvinist, the preaching of the gospel is nothing more than a command and means to bring the elect into the enlightenment of what they always were; the elect.
Such a concept isn’t directly taught in scripture but is based more on presupposition and philosophy that builds a theological straw man by means of systematizing scripture out of context. It is full of presumption and error in my opinion.
The bible teaches we are chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world and not by an arbitrary decree of God. We are placed “in Christ” and become new creatures “in Christ” the moment we believe in Jesus. We were in a condition of sin, hopelessness, and condemnation prior to believing.
Eph 2:11-12 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— (12) that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Eph 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ we are placed “in Christ” by the Spirit and made near to God. This is very Christ and bible centered. Calvinists call people that don’t agree with them man centered synergists, but in reality Calvinists follow the teachings of men like Augustine and Calvin. Calvinists claim scriptural authority alone but in reality sleep in theological bed of Calvin. Such teaching on salvation and sovereignty didn’t exist prior to the fourth century. I have seen vain attempts of Calvinist teachers to find early church fathers to agree with them but to no avail. All the quotations of the early church fathers used by Calvinists (that I have seen) to support their erroneous view are taken out of context and are vague. There is no clear teaching of any of the early church writers that God decreed people to be saved and lost. [I must say in all honesty, I care little what the early church fathers say anyway because it is what the grandfathers (the writers of scripture) said that really matters] However, it the Calvinists view of sovereignty and salvation was so clear in scripture you would think the early fathers would have at least spoken to it as a major doctrine.
The biblical view that we are “chosen before the foundation of the world “in Christ” is Christ centered. Man putting his faith “in Christ” for salvation isn’t being man centered. When a drowning man is pulled into a boat, he doesn’t thank his own hand for grabbing the hand of the one that pulled him out.
I have listened to a multitude of Calvinistic debates and have read a lot of material written by Calvinists. Just as Peter’s Galilean accent betrayed him, the verbiage of most Calvinists betrays themselves as well. All too often the leaders of modern Calvinism are like hot air balloonists that rise up high into the philosophical atmosphere and egotistically look down at those that disagree with them. Those that disagree with them are seen by some as man centered synergistic superficials, less intellectually honest, and assaulters of sovereign grace. Perhaps unintentionally, Calvinists often make believers feel they have defiled the gospel of grace. Non-Calvinists aren’t innocent either concerning some of their vitriol against Calvinists. I have seen both sides damn each other to hell as heretics. Sad ☹
I love my Calvinist brothers. I am not writing this paper to demean any Calvinist as a person but only to speak the truth as I understand it concerning the biblical time of our election. I am sure that any Calvinist that reads this will tend to be offended and try to spin everything I said. That has been going on since the reformation. I recognize that if God can speak through a donkey He can speak through anyone. Because God is a God of grace, He has blessed and used Calvinists and non-Calvinists to win multitudes of souls to Christ. I appreciate solid evangelistic believers that witness to the lost whether Calvinists or not. Unfortunately most Calvinists and non-Calvinists do not regardless of their position of election. May God have mercy on us all for refusing to share the greatest news in the world which is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.
I hope this paper has helped someone a bit as I have tried to speak to the timing of our election in Eph. 1:4. Think about the questions I raised. A bit of advice, I encourage people not to argue Calvinism, Arminianism or any other ism but rather interpret the bible in context with good interpretive principles and study to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Always go for context over controversy lest you go mad and be filled with demonic doubt.
Pastor Tony Butler