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Sovereign Grace/Divine Election?

The following is a letter I wrote to a friend who recently lent me a CJ Mahaney DVD on sovereign grace:

I’ve listened to the CJ Mahaney you gave me re sovereign grace. I looked on CJM’s web site, www.sovereigngraceministries.org, but was not able to find this particular DVD on the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In any event, CJM makes a compelling case for believing in divine election. However, if anything, I am more convinced in the error of Calvinism in general and divine election in particular because:

  1. CJM ascribes a meaning to Eph 1:4 that I don’t think the author intended.
  2. CJM appears loose with his definitions of words.
  3. CJM’s use of emotion and personal experiences related to his conversion (at age five) are not a strong enough argument for divine election in light of the totality of scripture regarding salvation.

According to CJM, Eph 1:4 says that Christians were chosen personally and specifically by God to be saved because we were chosen:

  • In Christ
  • Before the foundation of the world
  • To be holy and blameless

Without the prepositions, Eph 1:4 in the NIV version I have says; He chose us to be blameless. From my Webster’s dictionary, the word chose (choose) has different meanings including “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”. As such, rewording the verse slightly – God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before creating the world. In short, God created us without sin.

My simplistic understanding goes like this: God wanted fellowship with earthly creatures that were without sin. God created Adam and Eve – perfect, holy, and blameless and they enjoyed fellowship with God. God also gave A&E a free will and it wasn’t long before A&E sinned. God therefore booted A&E out of the Garden of Eden. Amazingly, God still desired A&E’s fellowship as well as the fellowship of everyone that would come from A&E. We go through the entire OT with all of its rules and regulations but God still couldn’t enjoy fellowship with us because we failed to uphold and obey His law. Amazingly again, God still desired our fellowship and set up a process whereby His own death would serve as a substitute punishment for our sin. To that end, I do not see that Eph 1:4 has anything to do with divine selection.

CJM’s perspective on how God enacts divine election was interesting – wherein God reaches out and stops some, but not all, of those who’re running straight to Hell. I thought about your example of choosing to pay off one brother’s mortgage but not the other. However, I’m not aware of scripture that paints the picture of God applying randomness or otherwise arbitrarily saving some but not others. As you know, I don’t accept your examples in Romans 9 because I believe the last couple of verses explain that chapter to be about those who have faith being saved i.e. the Gentiles against those who tried to keep the law and rejected faith i.e. the Israelites. As I understand it, Christ died once for all and every requirement for our salvation has been satisfied. All that God requires is for us to believe – which is something we must choose to do. I don’t see how God needed to do anything more i.e. choose some (the elect) and not others (the “deselect”).

CJM makes it sound as though the human condition is not able to seek out truth, justice, or righteousness. The Bible is clear – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. However, if we are created in His image, then doesn’t it make sense that we have been given the ability to know and understand right from wrong, good from evil – at least to varying degrees. Clearly, there are various levels of evilness throughout humanity. Any rational person would categorically state that Adolph Hitler was “more evil” than Mother Theresa. If we are able to make that distinction, then isn’t it possible that we can also see and indeed desire the holiness of God. We may not understand the ramifications or the costs of that holiness and our sin nature will forever prevent us from being truly holy. But that’s why Christ came. We are holy and blameless, in Christ, because of the free gift that we have chosen to accept.

CJM laid out the fruit of election as being:

  • Humility before God
  • Assurance from God
  • Gratefulness to God

Fine and well – but show me the scriptural references. Is there such a thing as “the fruit of election”? On the other hand, is this something made up to sound spiritual and to help argue the merits of divine election? Without scriptural references, I can only surmise that “fruit of election” is a made-up concept. In contrast, I can point you to Gal 5:22 regarding the fruit of the Spirit.

Regarding word definitions, CJM stated, “Repentance is a way of admitting that we can not save ourselves.” My Topical NIV states that repentance involves a conscious sorrow for one’s past way of life – a heartfelt “I’m sorry” expressed to God – turning away from an old way of living. Of course, I don’t believe that I can save myself. Most Christians, at least within the evangelical circle I run in, understand that it was our accepting the free gift of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins that has saved us. To be honest, I’m not even sure that one has to “feel” sorrow or remorse to become a Christian. I don’t know of any reference for that. On the contrary, we repent because we understand that we have fallen short of the holiness that God desires in all of His children.

Well, this is probably a good place to stop. Take care and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Bob

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  1. Colleen
    June 30, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Bob,

    I take issue with so many things in this “musing” that I hardly know where to begin. I will start softly by pulling out my Greek lexicon to point out your error in the Ephesians 1:4 definition of “chosen”. It is never a smart idea to throw around Webster dictionary definitions when dealing with a language other than English.

    The word used by Paul in Ephesians 1:4 is eklego from ek (meaning “out”) and lego (meaning “to select, choose. This word in the Greek means to choose, select, choose for oneself, not necessarily implying the rejection of what is not chosen, but giving favor to the chosen subject, keeping in view a relationship to be established between the one choosing and the object chosen. By implication, it means to choose out, with the accessory idea of kindness, favor, and love. The antonym of this word would be apoballo, which means to throw off, cast away, reject or despise.

    Please don’t try to rewrite Scripture using an English dictionary and removing prepositions. The verse reads, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”

    The term “without blame” in the Greek is “amomos,” a technical term used in classical Greek to designate the absence of something amiss in a sacrifice or something which would render it unworthy to be offered. Paul is speaking of the ones that God had chosen before the foundation of the world to be without blemish (deserved or undeserved).

    My shoulder hurts already, but this is just the start of what I hope can be a fruitful dialogue. God does not need our fellowship any more than He needs help creating a duck-billed platypus. It is grace, my friend. All grace.

    Colleen

  2. Bob
    July 1, 2008 at 6:44 am

    Dear Colleen,

    The preface of the NIV Bible I use (copyright 1989) states, “The New International Version is a completely new translation of the Holy Bible made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts.” Perhaps I’m being naïve and foolish, but I’m trusting that the hundred-plus scholars who put the NIV translation together did so with a keen awareness regarding the nuance of language and an emphasis to make the translation of the original text into English as accurate as possible.

    That said, working with janitors to PhDs at the day job, having been married for nearly thirty years, and having raised three teenagers, I know that English words can and do have different meanings for different people. Ultimately, you and I will eventually bump up against the same problem – English word definitions. Do the authors of your lexicon have the same English word definitions as you do? Does that mean that you’re both right? Is one of you right and one of you wrong? How would you know? Could you both be wrong in the selection and/or understanding of a given English word?

    To that end, I have always thought it perfectly acceptable to use a standard English reference i.e. a Webster’s dictionary to ensure commonality of English word definitions. I’m not trying to rewrite Scripture using an English dictionary. Rather, I’m trying to gain insight and understanding from the perspective of the NIV authors. They chose the word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English for a reason. I readily accept that “chose” is the best translatable English word. I’m simply trying to ensure my understanding of the word “chose”.

    As to removing prepositions – I think that is also a perfectly acceptable thing to do. If my college English teachers and a reference book I use for technical writing related to my job are correct, I should only lose details if prepositional phrases are removed. The intent of a sentence should remain intact. That said – I’ll grant you that if details are sometimes removed, then perhaps the meaning and intent of a sentence may not be accurately conveyed. Regarding Eph 1:4, however, I think the intent of the verse remains the same with the prepositions removed: (For) He chose us (in Him) (before the creation) (of the world) to be holy and blameless (in His sight).

    Just curious, but what translation are you using? Below is a comparison from your version and what the NIV that I use says:

    Eph 1:4 from your version of the Bible: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.

    Eph 1:4 from the NIV: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

    Are there some slight variances in the translations and are those variances significant? Maybe. I understand Eph 1:4 referring to God choosing in Christ (in this case, the Ephesians) whom He destined to be holy and blameless in His sight. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself regarding a Calvinist/Arminian discussion we may have, but I don’t understand Paul to be talking about individuals here. Rather, salvation in Christ is offered collectively to everyone and only those who repent of their sin and accept God’s gift of salvation will receive it. Once we receive God’s free gift of salvation, we do indeed become amomos in His sight.

    Well, I hope that your shoulder gets to feeling better. I’d welcome the chance to banter more thoughts and ideas back and forth. Until then, thanks for reading my posts and for your comments.

    Best Regards,

    Bob

  3. Bob
    July 27, 2008 at 10:44 am

    I’ll file this under the heading of information I would like to have had a month ago.

    I happened to be looking through The Purpose Driven Life and thought this was interesting. I’m putting it on the blog – well after the fact, of course, but I think it helps to underscore my reasoning for using the Webster’s dictionary as I do and to a lesser degree removing prepositions. Rick Warren states in Appendix 3:

    “This book contains nearly a thousand quotations from Scripture. I have intentionally varied the Bible translations used for two important reasons. first, no matter how wonderful a translation is, it has limitations. The Bible was originally written using 11,280 Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words, but the typical English translation uses only around 6,000 words. Obviously, nuances and shades of meaning can be missed, so it is always helpful to compare translations.”

    If nothing else, I can certainly see the benefit of using a lexicon. As I’ve stated before, I don’t have one and perhaps I should change that. To that end, not knowing anything about lexicons, I’d welcome any thoughts as to specific lexicons that you find beneficial.

    Sincerely,

    Bob

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