Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Predestination and election: did Christ die only for the elect?

QUESTION:

I am not a Calvinist but are they not right in claiming that if the Elect are predestined to be saved, then everyone who is not in the Elect was predestined from the beginning of time to be predestined to damnation, and Christ did not die for them, or for all, but only for the Elect?

David from England


ANSWER:

David:

As usual, you ask very deep theological questions. You may become a theologian someday. Your question has several parts to it; consequently, I will take them up one by one the best I can.

1. Before talking about predestination and election, it is vital to step back and take a look at our predicament as a human race. It serves us as a background to make more sense out of the Calvinist view of predestination and election.

I like to write positive things about our life on earth, and what the human race is like. We do many good things: build hospitals, start schools, produce great ethics, provide humanitarian efforts to some of the world’s needy places. People have a good side to them. Actually, people are not perfect, but are a mixture of good and bad.

When we came into the world, we were very good, according to God, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But, then a very bad thing happened. Adam and Even sinned, which corrupted and poisoned their nature. They passed their sin nature on down to all generations, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

We have a sin infection that polluted our very being – all of us. It broke our relationship with God, and placed us in the position to be His enemies (Romans 5:10).

Now let me give this illustration. Sometimes people get an incurable disease such as AID, or cancer. They don’t want it to be true, but protest as much as they can, the disease will not go away. It is what it is. Then they die. Things are the way they are.

Such is the case of humanity. None of us deserve heaven; all of us deserve eternal damnation. Our condition is what it is. Any amount of protestation we express, it will not change things. It is what it is. It is against this backdrop that we approach the doctrine of election and predestination.

Election must be seen against the enormity, wickedness and heinous nature of man’s sin against a pure, holy, righteous God. Paul clearly lays out our predicament in Romans chapters 1-3). We may be good in our own eyes, but the fact is we are guilty sinners. We may like our own standards, but God measures us against His standards.

Predestination and election is always explained against the backdrop or our sinfulness (Cf. Matt 11:20-24; 25:41, 46; John 6:35-37, 41, 44; 10:20.

Consider these words from the Bible, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned side, together they have become useless, there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:11-12).

Again, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14).

Try this one, “For the wrath of God is reveled from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

Jesus said this, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).

It is wrong to view the human race as multitudes of poor but good and helpless creatures who all are clamoring desperately on the gates of heaven, but God, who is mean, refuses to let those throngs of earnest people into heaven.

The truth of the matter, the human race hates Jesus Christ, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Christians, though the most in number, are the most maligned and persecuted peoples on earth – well, maybe the Jews beat us in the area of being hated. But the God of the Bible is their God.

2. The terrible and horrendous sin of humanity reveals that God (in His perfect Divine Justice) does not owe humanity anything. If God did not save one individual, He would still be just and fair. However, to be a just God, He must exact the penalty of sin committed by us sinners.

 

3. The salvation of any individual is a result, then, of God’s elective, or saving, grace. This grace is not partiality shown to some, while others are selected out and deliberately placed in hell. All humanity, because of their personal choice, are quickly and deliberately marching toward hell. God passively passes over the multitudes in the giving of salvation. He chooses to select some, and lets the rest travel on to their chosen destination. Calvinists call this process, “preterition.”

To illustrate, I use my own father. Try as I may, for years I tried to convince him to receive Christ. He adamantly refused, though he clearly knew of the consequences.  I remember clearly him telling me that he did not want to go to heaven, but would rather go to hell where is friends were.

4. I think at this point it is time to give a Calvinist definition of election. This is representative, “Election is that sovereign, eternal and causative act of God whereby, according to the good pleasure of His will and without any foreseen merit in them, He has chosen a certain number of individuals out of mankind, to be the receivers of His effectual grace and eternal salvation in Christ with all of its attendant blessings.”

5. Some Scripture used to support the Calvinist view are as follows. Luke states, “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48; cf. Eph 1:4, 5; John 15:16; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 1:2). Jesus said, “to all whom thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life” (John 17:2; cf. 17:2-9).

6. According to the Calvinists, election is eternal (Romans 8:29,30); unchangeable (Romans 8:29; 11:29; 2 Timothy 2:19); unconditional (Romans 9:11Acts 13:48; 2 Timothy 1:9); and irresistible (Philippians 2:13).

7. The objections to the Calvinist view are normally three. First, the oppositions says Election is unfair, unjust and partial. In answer, Calvinists would say salvation is an issue of grace, not justice or fairness. Partiality can be charged only if the sinner has a just claim against God – which no human has. God would be just if He let all humanity go to their chosen condemnation. But by grace, God chose to save some.

To illustrate, say I was walking down the street and came across a group of panhandlers. They were all begging for money. I don’t own them anything. They have no claim to money I might have in my pocket. However, if I decided to give ten dollars to one person because I felt compassion in my heart – what is that to the rest of the panhandlers? I have no obligation to any of them. It is my right to give or not to give, and to give to whomever I want.

A second objection is that missionary and evangelistic work is hindered. The Calvinist would retort that this should be the greatest motive because God guarantees results (Acts 18:10). The means of evangelism as well as the end results are determined by God (Ephesians 1:11). We are still under the Divine command to go preach the gospel, and the results are God’s responsibility (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:10; Exodus 2:7).

A third common objection to the Calvinist position is that it makes Christians proud. The comeback is that only those who profess Christ and take a legalistic attitude will be proud. The Christian could never be proud because he knows that his salvation is all of God’s special grace (1 Corinthians 15:10; Matthew 3:8,9). Actually, pride is more likely the result of those who are proud of their works and holiness which they think keep them saved.

8. The last question is the extent of Christ’s atonement. The question is, did Christ die for all people, or just the elect?  The terms theologians use to debate this issue is this, “Is the Atonement limited (only to the elect), or unlimited (universal to all).

I will try to keep my answer short, as I could go on for pages detailing these arguments. The short answer, and key distinction (from a Calvinist view) is between the value of the Atonement and the design of the Atonement.

The death of Christ has infinite value. It rendered the necessary satisfaction to God that could have saved all people. Its design, however, is that the Atonement of Christ is effective, and applied only to the effect. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone.

To illustrate, it is like a very wealthy and generous billionaire deciding he wants everyone to be a millionaire. Consequently, he deposits enough billions of dollars in the bank so that everyone can be a millionaire. The only requirement is that individuals must go to the bank and draw out their million dollars. There is enough money for everyone.

However, for whatever reason, many people don’t believe the story, and don’t go to the bank to take out their share of the money. Those people remain poor. However, others believe the offer, and go to the bank and take out their money. They become rich.

So, even though there was enough money for all, it is only good for those who believed the billionaire and drew out their money. This latter group is the elect, the former group are the unelect.

Finally, if we say that Christ’s Atonement was unlimited, that He died for all, then all would be saved. That doctrine is universalism. We know from Scripture that all are not saved.

David, I hope these pages will help you as you progress onward in your education. You are very bright. Keep up your studies.

All the best; and God bless.

Dr. Newman


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