Who are God’s elect? Upon what basis does He choose them? What about those who are not among the elect? Is God’s election to the eternal exclusion of the rest? Isn’t God showing partiality when He chooses some while passing over others? While there are diverse answers to these questions, it is my conviction that the Scriptures offer us clear answers. In this blog we will be comparing some prevalent views with what the Scriptures themselves actually have to say concerning the election of God.
Who are the Chosen Ones?
Who are God’s elect? The Universal Inclusivists respond saying that everyone is included as God’s elect. However, while it is true that ultimately all will be saved and restored, this claim is logically and biblically fallacious. Even in our English language one cannot by definition choose all. Our words choose or elect are defined as “to pick out someone or something as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives, to single out.” In Greek the same idea is expressed with the word ἐκλεκτός (eklektos) and its cognates. It is composed of the preposition ek, “out of” and laleo, “to call or name.” Therefore, by definition, elect means, “to call or name an individual or subgroup out of a larger group.” It is closely related to the word εκκλησια (eklesia), which is commonly rendered “church,” but literally means, “the assembly of the Elect or called out ones.” It is an oxymoron to say that everyone is God’s elect.
Apart from the fact that the very definition of election rules out the possibility of it being all inclusive, throughout the Scriptures we see that the elect are a subgroup, called-out from the rest of humanity. Since the nations did not desire to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to their desires (Rom 1:18-28). Of all the nations He only chose the nation of Israel. Moses said to the children of Israel:
“The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.” (Deut 10:15; 7:6; Amos 3:2).
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)
So clearly, not everyone was God’s elect in the Old Testament. Moving forward into the New Testament we still see that the elect are a relatively small subgroup chosen by God from the world of humanity. Jesus said, “many are called, but few are chosen (eklektos)” (Matt 22:14). Jesus also makes it clear that the elect of this age are a subgroup when he says: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (eklektos)” (Matt 24:24). He said that times would become so severe that time will have to be cut short “for the elect’s sake” (Matt 24:22). Jesus definitely did not teach, as the Universal Inclusivists do, that everyone is elect!
Paul also spoke of the elect of Israel in the present age as being a relatively small group or remnant of National Israel when he said: “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom 11:5). Also, Peter said that we are to make our calling and election sure (2Peter 1:10). Obviously, Peter didn’t believe that everyone was automatically included among the elect. Later we will consider why few are chosen in this age, but clearly the claim made by Universal Inclusionists that all are chosen cannot be argued from Scripture, nor from reason.
Upon what Basis does God Choose His Elect?
So, what does God foresee in us that resulted in Him choosing us? If it wasn’t based upon anything He saw in us, wouldn’t His election of some individuals over others be considered partiality? Before seeing what the Scriptures have to say on this subject we need to consider some other erroneous beliefs concerning divine election.
Pelagian Conditional Election
Pelagians, as we have seen, do not accept that man is born in sin. They deny that we inherit Adam’s sinful nature and therefore believe that man has the potential to live without sin. From that belief they argue that God’s election of us was based upon our own good works which He foresaw we would do.
However, the Scriptures are very clear in establishing that man’s works are tainted by sinful flesh to such a degree that even our best independent righteous deeds are as filthy rags before God (Isa 64:6). Jesus reproved the rich young ruler for thinking he could be accepted by God based upon his own good works by saying, “No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Lu 18:19). Paul establishes that “There is none who does good, no, not one” and that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” (Rom 3:12,20). If that were not enough, Paul also clearly states that election is not based upon one’s own works:
“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim 1:9)
Here we can clearly see that election is not based upon our works but rather upon His own purpose and grace or unmerited favor. Paul also presents Jacob and Esau as an example to make his case that God’s election is not based upon our works:
“(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), 12 it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ 13 As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” (Rom 9:11-13)
Some Arminians would argue that, although God does not choose us based upon good works which we have done prior to being saved, He nevertheless chooses us based upon the good works which He foresaw one would perform subsequent to receiving Christ. However, Paul emphasizes that God’s election took place before birth in order to emphasize that works are not even a factor in God’s election of us – whether they be works prior to or subsequent to receiving Christ. The election of God is according to His own purpose and grace, and grace excludes works. Subsequent good works are God’s workmanship within us. They are an outworking of God’s transforming grace, and therefore have no merit of which we may boast:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10)
Therefore, we can see that God did not choose us based upon works of righteousness which we have done, as the Pelagians and even some of the more legalistic Arminians affirm. While it is true that good works will subsequently become evident in the lives of the elect as they are transformed into the image of Christ by grace, the election is by grace alone and not by works. God’s election is based upon grace, and divine grace and self-works are mutually exclusive:
“Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Rom 11:5-6)
Here we see Paul taking great pains to emphasize that election is by grace alone. He explains that if election is by grace, it cannot be by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace. Nevertheless, in spite of the many clear declarations of Scripture, our carnal minds often persist in the religious belief that acceptance before God is at least to some degree based upon partaking of the good branches of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We must be renewed in the spirit of our minds in order to fully comprehend that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy that He has saved us (Titus 3:5).
Arminian Conditional Election
While most Arminians, at least theoretically, deny that our works factor into our salvation, they nevertheless insist that God’s election of us is conditioned upon man’s independent, personal decision of faith. According to many Arminians, God foresaw that we would believe the gospel, and based upon that foreknowledge, He chose us unto salvation.
However, the fallen condition of man is such that he is dead, deaf and blind – unable to even see, much less believe the gospel apart from the new birth. If we have believed the gospel it is only because it was given unto us to believe (Phil 1:29). The fact that every admonition to believe the gospel unto salvation does not explicitly state that we cannot believe apart from the divine assistance does not invalidate the specific declarations of the Scriptures indicating that saving faith originates in God rather than us:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:44)
“But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.” (Jn 10:26-29)
“the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16:14)
“Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
These clear declarations of Scripture should be seen as implicit in every other passage where men are told to believe, without the need to see the truth that faith is a grace-gift repeated in every instance in which sinners are exhorted to believe. Those who are appointed to believe will be given faith to believe, while the rest remain incapable of perceiving and believing in a saving way until their appointed time comes.
Unmerited Election (Election according to Grace)
Based upon the overall testimony of the Scriptures concerning the total depravity of man, the Calvinists argue that God’s election must of necessity be unconditional. God’s election of us is declared in Scripture to be according to His purpose, according to His council and according to the good pleasure of His will:
“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, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will….11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Eph 1:4,5,11; cf. 2Tim 1:9; Rom 9:11).
The passages establishing man’s total depravity, taken together with the criteria for God’s election presented in these texts, could lead one to conclude that election is unconditional – that God’s choice is not based upon any human condition whatsoever. Many would say that the motive of God’s election is entirely within Himself and has nothing to do with the character of the ones chosen. Some see it as comparable to a child closing his eyes and saying: “eenie, meenie, miney, mo.”
However, everything the Father does is according to a specific, determined purpose and has a good and wise motive. Also, He is said to find pleasure in His choice of those whom He has elected, which implies something much more than a ho hum random selection. It is for this reason that I believe that a better term to describe God’s election is “unmerited election” or “election according to grace” rather than unconditional election.
The Basis of Unmerited Election
The question that presents itself is: If man is totally depraved, then upon what basis does He choose some over others? Also, we must ask how He can choose some over others without showing favoritism, since it is said of God that He does not show partiality. Amazingly, the basis of His election, at least for the majority, is clearly revealed to us through the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians, although most have altogether overlooked it. What is the Father’s stated criteria for election? Paul explains by saying:
“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.” (1Cor 1:26-29)
What is the basis of God’s election according to Paul? It is not on the basis of our foreseen decision of faith. It is not based upon works of righteousness which we have done or will eventually do. It is based, not upon human merit but the lack of merit – not upon our wisdom, strength or social status, but the lack thereof. He has chosen those who are nothing in their own eyes – the poor in spirit, in order to magnify His grace and mercy through them. We are chosen to be to the praise of the glory of His grace in the coming ages (Eph 1:6; 2:7,10). This can be seen throughout all of Scripture. He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Jesus said that His calling of individuals, which is integrally related to election, is based upon the need of the individual and not his merit:
“When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matt 9:12-13)
God’s love goes out to those in need, and it is His good pleasure to elect individuals according to their need. Although Esau and Jacob were formed together in the womb, Esau was the strongest and came out before his weaker brother, Jacob. Who did God choose? He chose the weaker - Jacob, over Esau, even though Esau was technically the firstborn. What was the basis of God’s choice? He chose the weak, even as Jesus and Paul declared. When the Lord chose a new king from the house of Jessie to rule over His people, which of Jessie’s eight sons did He choose? He chose the youngest and the weakest. David, God’s chosen, wasn’t even taken into account by his own father and brothers.
The same could be said of Joseph. He was the most despised among his brethren. Gideon was chosen, being, in his own estimation, the least in his family and his family the poorest in the region (Judges 6:15). And the list could go on. As Paul states, there are not many exceptions to this rule. God usually chooses the foolish, the weak, the despised and those who are as though they didn’t even exist in man’s eyes, in order that no flesh should glory in His presence.
Perhaps the unmerited election of God can be illustrated by comparing it to a restorer of classic automobiles. There is a great difference between a collector of classics and a restorer of classics. A collector is looking for an automobile in pristine condition. The restorer, on the other hand, chooses the old rusty, forgotten classic, hidden away in someone’s garage or old barn. The restorer’s glory and pleasure is in choosing something that is considered worthless and converting it into a beautiful work of art. The restored classic is of much greater value than it was when it originally came off the assembly line.
The elect of this age, however, are not the only ones God is ultimately going to restore. We are only the first to have believed (Eph 1:12). We are just the first-fruits of His new creation, chosen for the praise of the glory of His grace. The rest of the harvest follows us. We are the Church of the firstborn (Heb 12:23). “Firstborn” here is in plural form in the Greek, referring to us as the Church, and it is the word prototokos in Greek which, though most often used to refer to the first-born, can also mean the first in rank, first of a kind, first production, and therefore a mold for production, or a prototype.[i] Actually our word “prototype” was derived from prototokos. We are chosen, as the elect Church (eklektos eklesia) [ii] - to be the prototokos or prototypes of God’s new creation. We were not chosen to the exclusion of the rest, but for the full inclusion of the rest of the world in the coming ages. Jesus, in His intercessory prayer, prayed not only for the elect but for the rest of the world:
“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours…. 20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (Jn 17:9, 20-21)
Christ’s intercessory prayer, cited above, commences with Jesus first praying for the disciples in the upper room. Calvinists often cite the phrase, “I do not pray for the world,” to substantiate their doctrine of a limited atonement. However, if we follow Jesus’ prayer, He says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” This clearly refers to all in this age who will come to believe through the testimony of the twelve and make up the called-out elect – the Church of the firstborn ones.
However, His prayer does not end with them. He continues praying that they all might become one with the triune God and with each other to such a degree that it will ultimately result in the world (kosmos) believing through them. The elect of this age are chosen by grace to be the firstfruits of the new creation, which ultimately will include all:
“Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:18)
“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:11-12)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom 8:18-21)
All of creation is groaning and awaiting the time of the manifestation of the sons of God when all creation will be finally restored. Before the consummation of the ages, when God shall be all in all (1Cor 15:28; Rom 11:36), not only we who are the elect of this age, but all, will have been restored and made new:
“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’” (Rev 21:5) [iii]
“whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21)
Therefore, we can see that election is not unconditional, even though there is nothing in man to merit election. The gracious heart of God is drawn towards the weak, the poor in spirit and the despised of this world. Rather than God’s election being unconditional it is seen to be conditioned upon, or rather based upon, God’s heart-response to those most in need of His grace. It is unmerited election.
Election according to Foreknowledge
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom 8:29)
Another basis for election which is integrally related to election by grace, although it is greatly misunderstood by many, is God’s foreknowledge. Pelagians and Arminians see foreknowledge as nothing more than an intellectual foreknowing of future events. According to them, He either foresaw our good works or He foresaw our decision of faith and chose us based upon that knowledge. However, there are problems with this understanding.
In the first place, as we have already seen, man is totally depraved and therefore incapable of being saved by works or exercising saving faith apart from previous divine enablement. In the second place, it doesn’t say what He foreknew but whom He foreknew. There is a great difference between knowing what someone will do and knowing someone, even in our English language.
The Lord says of His elect people Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2). Also, Jesus will say to some, “I never knew you.” (Matt 7:23). Obviously, God, being omniscient, cognitively knows every detail about all who have ever lived or will live in the future. Jesus, in a cognitive sense, was said to have full knowledge of all men:
“But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (Jn 2:24)
Therefore, in what sense could it be said of God that He foreknew some, or that He does not know others? To the Hebrew mind, there is a certain knowing which expresses a particular love and intimacy. Knowing is commonly used in the Scriptures, from the very beginning, as referring to sexual intimacy, as we see the term used in reference to Mary:
“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’” (Luke 1:34)
Obviously, Mary was not referring to knowledge in the normal sense of the word, since she was acquainted with other men and was even engaged to Joseph at that time. She was clearly referring to sexual intimacy. In Matthew’s gospel we see that José was even married to María for a time before actually knowing her:
“Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.” (Matt 1:24,25)
In the same manner, we can see that God’s foreknowledge of His elect is a particular love and intimacy which is reserved for His elect bride whom He foreknew. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Rom 8:29)
Relationship of God’s Particular Love to Unmerited Election
It should be evident by now that God’s election according to grace and His election according to His foreknowledge are integrally related. God is love (agape). Love is not an attribute peripheral to His essential nature as some theologians say. God’s agape love is foreign to fallen human nature. Agape love gives rather than receives - it is unconditional rather than conditional. Man can only begin to love with agape love when God’s love has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit in the new creation. We love because He first loved us.
God, in contrast to fallen man, is agape love. Love is His essence and not simply a contiguous attribute. Everything that He does must be seen as a manifestation of His love towards a fallen world. Grace is a manifestation of other-centered, unconditional agape love. Although God loves all, due to the nature of His agape love, He is drawn like a magnet towards those most in need of His grace (favor which is not deserved). That is why He chooses the foolish, weak, despised and forgotten. His agape love is towards all, but just as antibodies are drawn to the aid of an open wound under attack by harmful bacteria, so His love, grace and mercy go out towards those most in need of them. He is the Savior of the whole world but chooses them in the order of their need. Those whom He has foreknown and therefore elected in this present age are those most in need – the foolish, weak, despised and overlooked.
It is not that God loves some in preference to others, but rather that His love goes out in response to felt need. The Father of the prodigal son also loved his elder son, but his love reached out in a special way to the one with a felt need. That is why the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before the Scribes and Pharisees who trusted in their own righteousness (Matt 21:31). God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1Peter 5:5).
“For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. ‘For I will not contend forever, neither will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made.” (Isaiah 57:15-16 NASB)
This passage not only dispels the unbiblical myth of God’s eternal wrath, it also reveals that He only displays His anger in love in order to bring down the lofty that He may be merciful to them afterwards. “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all… For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom 11:32,36 NIV).
Election without Partiality
We know that there is no partiality with God (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25). How then can this truth be reconciled with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election? It cannot. If all are in the same condition and God simply chooses a few to the exclusion of the rest, then that is showing partiality no matter how one may try to explain it.
The passage they use to justify their belief in God’s unconditional partiality toward some to the eternal exclusion of the majority is found in Romans nine: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” (Rom 9:15). They argue from this that, since all of us come from the same lump of equally unworthy and depraved humanity, God is justified in showing partiality, choosing some to eternal life and consigning the rest to the eternal destiny we all equally deserve, which, according to them, is eternal torment. However, this is a superficial interpretation which fails to take into account the overall context of the book of Romans – especially chapters nine through eleven.
The Temporal Nature of God’s Election in Romans 9 - 11
In the first place, we can see that the gracious election of some as opposed to others, being discussed in the context of Romans 9 through 11, does not result in the eternal exclusion of the non-elect, as traditionalists so often assume, but rather addresses the temporal setting aside of Israel in order to bring salvation to the Gentiles. In order to illustrate his point, he draws from God’s election of Jacob over Esau:
“(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), 12 it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ 13 As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” (Rom 9:11-16)
That God’s election of Jacob, instead of Esau, was not to the eternal exclusion of Esau, is evident. Although Esau despised his spiritual birthright, losing it to Jacob - the weaker of the two, Esau was nonetheless favored of God. Many have preached on eternal condemnation, using the warning in Hebrews where it says that Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears (Heb 12:17). However, if one reads the story in its context, it was the birthright, given to Jacob by his father Isaac that Esau was not able to recover, even though he sought after it with tears, not his eternal salvation (Gen 27:30-40). Nothing is said about his eternal destiny. In fact, Isaac blessed Esau even though he could not retract the birthright he had already given to Jacob (Heb 11:20).
We can see God’s favor being shown towards Esau even many years after his death. When it came time for the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites, to enter into the land of Canaan, God gave special instructions concerning their treatment of their brethren, the descendants of Esau:
“And the Lord spoke to me, saying: 3 ‘You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward. 4 And command the people, saying, ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. Therefore watch yourselves carefully. 5 Do not meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as one footstep, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.” (Deut 2:2-5)
If God’s hatred of Esau was absolute and eternal, why would He be warning the Israelites against mistreating Esau’s descendants? If Esau was in eternal torment, or if that were to be his ultimate destiny, why would God be concerned about his descendants, or about protecting the territories which He had given to him while still alive?
The hatred of God should not be understood in the absolute sense, which would be antonymous with love and sinful, but rather should be understood as subordinate love, just as Jesus refers to it (Luke 14:26; cf. Matt 10:37). It is not a hatred which excludes love but rather a love which appears to be hatred when held in comparison to an even greater love relationship. All other loving relationships should take a back seat to our love towards God. In much the same manner, God’s love for Esau took a back seat to His love for Jacob. For a more in-depth treatment of God’s “hatred” see my book “The Triumph of Mercy.” [iv]
The temporal nature of God’s election of some and the temporary setting aside of others in the outworking of His purposes for the ages can also be seen in His election of Israel in this present time. Although election is something settled in the heart of God from before the foundation of the world, the individual outworking of that election takes place in distinct points in history, and rather than eternally excluding most, it only speaks of the election of some at given points in time for the outworking of His purposes which eventually include the final salvation of all.
Paul, beginning in chapter nine of Romans, explains in response to the anticipated resistance from obstinately self-righteous Jews why God in the present age is not choosing many individuals from His elect nation, Israel. That this change in focus in God’s election to only a few among the Jews is temporary, becomes evident in chapter eleven where He says:
“Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Rom 11:5)
Here Paul, speaking of God’s predetermined election of Israelites at this present time, states that it only includes a small remnant of the people of Israel. He further states that this present election is according to His grace and foreknowledge, as has always been the case. This temporal sequence in God’s election of individuals is in harmony with what we saw concerning the sequential timing of the salvation of God’s elect Gentiles: “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48). Each individual has his own appointed time. When the time comes, the Lord opens one’s heart to receive and believe unto salvation.
However, as with the case of God’s election of Jacob over Esau, His “present time” election is not the end of the story for God’s elect nation, Israel. Following the logic of Paul from the beginning of Romans nine through to the close of eleven, we see that ultimately not only a remnant of Israel, but all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:26). And not only all Israel will be saved but all who have come out of God will ultimately be reconciled, returning to God. Notice how clearly Paul sets this forth in chapter eleven:
“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (Rom 11:11-12 NRSV)
Paul clearly states here that Israel’s setting aside is temporal and that they all will be ultimately restored. Paul here also makes reference to the ultimate salvation - not only of the elect Gentiles of this present age, but he also says that Israel’s full inclusion will subsequently result in much greater riches to the rest of the world of the Gentiles, far beyond what we are witnessing in this present age.
Paul reveals the mystery that God, in this present age, has temporarily set aside Israel and is calling unto himself a chosen people, primarily made up of Gentiles. However, after the full number of Gentiles are brought into the Church fold, all Israel will then be saved:
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 11:25-26)
Contrary to what many have said within the Church throughout the centuries, God has not rejected His elect nation of Israel. Paul makes this clear in verses 28 and 29 where he says: “Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
The final verses of Romans eleven reach a crescendo in which Paul is overwhelmed as he sums up God’s glorious plan for the ages:
“For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?’ 35 ‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’ 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:32-36)
Paul summarizes all he has presented from the beginning of the epistle of Romans by saying: “For God has committed all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.” The translators of the King James Version added the word “them” which is misleading. It is a deliberate interpretive insertion meant to give the impression that “all” here is only referring to Israel. However, it is best to take it as a summary of all which Paul has presented thus far. In the first three chapters, he establishes that all, both Jews and Gentiles, have sinned and are under disobedience (Rom 3:9,22-23). Then in Romans 5:12-21 Paul shows that all who are disobedient in Adam will be shown mercy, being justified in Christ, the Last Adam.
Paul then erupts in praise to God for His unsearchable wisdom, closing with the all-inclusive statement: For of (ek) Him and through (día) Him and to (eis) Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:33-36). All those who are of Him (ek), referring to origin, also exist through (día) Him, and will ultimately be restored or reconciled to (eis) Him, referring to the ultimate destiny of all. This verse summarizes what he also states in Colossians 1:16-20. All that was created by Him will ultimately be reconciled unto Him by the blood of His cross.
Election is by grace and according to God’s love or foreknowledge. It is according to His eternal purpose, that in the coming ages we may be to the praise of the glory of His grace when we are manifested to the rest of creation, in the times of the restoration of all. We are chosen for the benefit of the rest – not to the exclusion of the rest.
This article is an excerpt from my book, The Universal Solution.
[i] Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
[ii] Both “elect” (eklektos) and “church” (eklesia) are from the same Greek root word.
[iii] Our English word “things” does not have an equivalent in Greek. Neither does the neuter form in Greek always indicate objects as in English. When the translators insert “things” in contexts that are evidently referring primarily to persons and not inanimate objects I take the liberty to cross it out in order to keep the focus where it belongs.
[iv] See chapter 4 under the subtitle: “God’s Hatred.”