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  • Writer's picturePastor MacLaren

Chosen for Eternity

I was challenged today by an Arminian to show that we are elected to everlasting life. It seems that his idea was that our election in Christ is not to salvation and eternal life, but to a vocation of suffering. He claimed that there was no text that says we are chosen for eternal life, and admittedly, those exact words in that particular order do not come up. But I was astounded that he would make such a claim, and I immediately pointed him to Ephesians 1 and Romans 8:28-30. Surely, I thought, you can't miss the implication that we are chosen in Christ for redemption, pardon, and glorification. Apparently I was wrong! He denied that these texts pointed to election for salvation (yes, hard to believe!!), and attached a variety of links to books and journal articles that made the case that "in Christ" is to be understood "corporately," not personally or individually, and therefore Ephesians 1 doesn't say that we as "individuals" are elect to eternal life. From Romans 8, he argued that God's predestination and calling was to suffering that is unique to some believers, not necessarily true of all believers. Our "justification" then becomes "vindication" before the world, not forensic justification whereby the believer is made right in God's sight. To top it off, he concluded with insulting me with the following statement: "by the way, I know you are not going to read these things that I posted because Calvinists do not usually read outside their own paradigm, however there are many others that are reading these posts that have not yet been drawn into the proselytizing darkness that is Calvinism. This is for them." Well, I know that not many are going to read my reply to him buried deep in the heart of a long conversation on Facebook, so I'll record my reply to him here. Perhaps it will be of some help to those who are persuaded by these kinds of arguments....

In response then to his belittling of Calvinists who don't "read outside their own paradigm," I replied, "Mr. McClure, that's a pretty arrogant thing to say, and it certainly doesn't commend your point of view. But I'm not surprised. When you recycle the old Arminianism that has been rejected and condemned by the Church throughout history, beginning with its roots in Pelagian and Semi-Pelagianism onwards, it's no great surprise that you are an arrogant man. Only an arrogant man would refuse to listen to the Council of Orange (529 AD), the Synod of Dordt, the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, the testimony of the churches that have held to these confessions (Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal, etc.), and the great theologians, pastors, and evangelists of the church, from Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, Matthew Henry, William Perkins, John Gill, Augustus Strong, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, Charles Hodge, B B Warfield, Herman Bavinck, Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, and many many others who confessed the doctrines of grace known popularly as Calvinism (but are simply the witness of the Scriptures).

Now, as a minister of the gospel, I've had to read "outside my paradigm" for years, facing the challenges of Romanism, Liberalism, Atheism and Arminianism. When I first began reading your comments about how a first century believer would have understood these texts and your discussion of paradigms, I thought I might be challenged here in my thinking by some of the post-modern interpretations of Scripture that are current among contemporary evangelicals. Post-modern interpretations emphasize narratives and reader-centric approaches that in the end dissolve the original meaning of the text into something that ultimately reflects the modern mood.

Alas, you posed no such challenge. I read the material you presented (shocker!!), and it is just the same old recycled Arminianism, dressed up to look new, but under the make-up, the wig, the mini-skirt and the tight girdle it’s the old hag of Arminianism that was rejected by sane theologians and believers for centuries. Sorry to see that you haven't caught on to that yet.

By the way, if you were the least familiar with the writings of Calvinists such as those listed above, you would know that they were not locked into some “gnostic” paradigm inherited from Augustine and unable to think outside that box. Their writings are in constant engagement with opposing points of view. Augustine’s City of God answered the charges of the pagans against Christianity. Calvin’s Institutes engaged the evils of Romanism, Socinianism and Anabaptism. J. Gresham Machen refuted modern liberalism. Dr. Cornelius Van Til attacked humanist presuppositions, and Dr. Peter Jones addresses the return of paganism in our contemporary culture. Calvinists constantly read outside their own writers and reason with them from the Scriptures, even as the Apostle Paul did with the Judaizers and pagans of his own day.

To answer the material you presented would take too much of my time and really isn’t suited to comments on Facebook. I’ll simply make a couple of observations that should suffice.

First, in the page taken from “Chosen to Serve…,” the author argues that election is corporate and positional, not individual and personal. Certainly, our election is in Christ. Christ is chosen for us, but we are elect in Christ. The two are inseparably together. To emphasize the corporate at the expense of the individual is to drain the corporate of all meaning. It is interesting that in the list of references to being “in Christ,” the author conveniently leaves out the first person plural: God “has blessed US in Christ,” v. 3; “he chose US in him…” vs. 4; “he predestined US for adoption…” v. 5; “In him WE have redemption…” v. 7, etc. Jesus is not an empty container waiting for believers to hop in when they feel good and ready to do so. We are elect in him, and that choice is a personal choice of individuals to be included in Christ. Apart from the individuals chosen, the corporate position is meaningless, empty.

Second, in the exposition of Romans 8, there is a lot to contend with and it would take too much time to go through it all. The interpretation here is to be challenged at every point. It misunderstands everything, but I think I can focus my challenge on two points.

First, it is exceedingly strange and even outrageous to make a division within the church between faithful believers and those who suffer for their faith. What Zane Hodges and the author do here is rupture the unity within the church, create a second-class Christian, strip the “faithful believer” of the assurance given in this text, and drain the assurance itself to something rather drab and meaningless by comparison for the “suffering Christian.” This division is quite frankly a disgrace and a disservice to the church. It seems to think that “faithful Christians” are not among those who suffer for their faith.

When Jesus opened his sermon on the mount with the great beatitudes, he did not distinguish faithful believers and those who suffer. They are one and the same. Those who are “poor in spirit,” who “mourn,” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” etc., are also those who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:3-12). Suffering comes in many different forms, including verbal abuse as well as physical abuse (“revile you,” “utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…”). All believers share in this suffering. It is included with our union with Christ. No one escapes it. Jesus said in John 17:14-16, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them” (the whole church, see v. 20-21) “because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” The church as a whole, not just a segmented part of the church, is hated by the world and therefore suffers. For confirmation of this, see John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Jesus does not distinguish faithful believers from suffering believers. All true believers suffer for their faith. The world hates them because the world hates Christ. The elect church and Christ are one.

Second, returning to the exposition of Romans 8, I’ll pass by the errors made in the interpretation of foreknowledge, predestination, and calling. Since your argument is that election is not to everlasting life, I’ll focus on the meaning of “justification.” The author’s argument is that calling is to vocation, to suffering, and not to salvation and everlasting life. To support that interpretation, it is necessary for the author to pull into the text the language used in 1 Timothy 3:16, which says of Christ that he was “vindicated by the Spirit.” For the sake of the argument, I’ll agree that the word in 1 Timothy is translated correctly as “vindicated.” I think it is more profound than that, but that’s a whole other argument. At the moment, I want to challenge the author’s use of this text to interpret the meaning of “justified” in Romans 8.

You clearly have a form of special pleading here, leaving the vast context of the book of Romans on the nature of justification to take this unusual use of “justified” from 1 Timothy 3. One of the rules of interpreting Scripture is that you use the plain passages of Scripture to interpret the difficult passages. Here, the author does the exact opposite. He draws a meaning from an unusual text to explain what is plain and apparent to all (at least, all those without an axe to grind). Paul throughout Romans has made very clear that by “justification” he means forensic justification, the declaration that sinners are declared righteous in view of their union with Christ, not vindication against the accusations of the world. This “justification” is the opposite of “condemnation,” where the judgment is that we are wicked and to be sentenced to hell. Romans 8 begins with the forensic in mind: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is nothing here about calling to a vocation, or calling to suffering for Christ, or vindication from charges made by the world. The condemnation is the sentence given by God for our breaking of his law, not the condemnation made by the world against the Christian. This is why he speaks of “the righteous requirement of the law …fulfilled in us,” (v. 4), rooted in the “sending of his own Son,” whereby “he condemned sin in the flesh.” The work of Christ frees us from condemnation, not our innocence before the charges of the wicked.

Further, the word “therefore” in 8:1 reminds us that he is drawing a conclusion from all that has gone before, including 3:24, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;” 4:2-3, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness;” and 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Clearly, Paul had forensic justification for the elect in mind in the context leading up to Romans 8:30, not vindication for a small set of suffering believers.

The immediately following context confirms a forensic view of “justification” here. The “golden chain” of foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification” are all evidence that “God is for us,” v. 31. In sum, “God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” This language is clearly in the realm of salvation and grace, atonement and justification, not vindication against charges made by the wicked. Any charges made by the wicked are answered, not by the believer’s innocent life and sufferings, but by the death of Jesus on their behalf (“Christ Jesus is the one who died…”), v. 34. The sufferings endured by the saints do not contribute to their “justification/vindication.” They become “more than conquerors through him who loved us,” v. 37. Their victory is not through their good works or sufferings, but the good works and suffering of Jesus Christ on their behalf. It is not our love for God that counts so much as the love of Christ for us.

Now, much more briefly, the inept exposition of Acts 13:48 (“as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”) is simply undone by the fact that Dr. Wilkin failed to appreciate the fact that in the Greek text, “were appointed to” is in the passive voice, not the middle voice. This simple observation destroys Dr. Wilkin’s argument that the text can be translated, “as many as inclined themselves toward everlasting life believed.” They had nothing to do with it. They were the passive recipients of God’s saving act on their behalf. The fact that the subject of “were appointed” is not specifically identified as “God” is no argument against it. God is not identified because it is understood. Only God can appoint someone to eternal life. It does not lie in the realm of human possibility. We are saved entirely by grace, not by our good works or our exercise of faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).

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