I’ve always found it fascinating to be using the same words, sharing common thoughts and themes, say, with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses only to realize, for instance, who they believe Jesus to be is radically different from who I believe Jesus to be. It often comes down to word definitions. This got me to thinking – there certainly are significant theological differences between Calvinists and Arminians. However, could a part of that division come down to word definitions? In this case, what does the term “elect” mean” and who constitutes the “elect”?
The issue of “definitional differences” (that sure sounds philosophical!) occurred to me when I was looking up verses with which to flog Colleen in a previous post. I stumbled across the topic of “Nations” in my NIV Topical Bible. It states:
- After the flood, humanity divided into various nations; God is King over all of them. He picked out one of them, the descendants of Abraham, as his chosen nation. The inhabitants of this nation became known as Israelites and later as Jews. God commanded them to remain separate from other nations, especially by avoiding mixed marriages. From the perspective of the Bible, humanity came to be divided between the Jew and the Gentile or between Jew and Greek.
- God’s intention was never to reserve his promised blessing only for one nation but to make it available for all nations. Already to Abraham he promised that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The prophets looked ahead to a time in which all nations would hear and respond to the salvation of God. This was fulfilled when the gospel was preached to Jew and Gentile alike and the church was formed as the worldwide body of Jesus Christ.
So, the thought process of my feeble little mind goes like this:
- In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve. Were they the first people to be considered “the elect”?
- After the flood, those on the arc dispersed and various nations were formed. God chose the descendants of Abraham (the Israelites) to be “the elect”.
- Through Israel (God’s elect), all nations would eventually hear and respond to the salvation of God and thereby become “the elect”.
- Prophesy was fulfilled when Jesus came and preached to the Jews (the “old” elect) and the Gentiles (the “new” elect) alike.
So, what does this mean or prove? In and of itself, I suppose, nothing. Calvinists claim that one not yet saved can be an elected person – it’s just that God hasn’t yet brought that person to a point of salvation. However, as I re-read verses Calvinists often quote to prove the concept of election, what I’m beginning to see is that it is the believers – those who have, by faith, trusted Christ for their salvation that are the elect. Well, duh! I can see my Calvinist friends thinking, “Well, what did you expect? Who did you think the elect were – non-believers?” THAT’S JUST IT! THE ELECT ARE THE BELIEVERS.
Therefore, a person doesn’t become “elect” until he is a believer. As such, being elect is not future oriented wherein a person will believe because God has elected him. Rather, becoming elect occurs the moment a person believes. Put another way, an elect person is a Christian.
As I read, for instance, Matt 24 where Jesus is talking about His second coming, it seems apparent that when Jesus uses the word ‘elect’ (verses 22, 24, 31) he is speaking about those who are already believers.
In conclusion, because God doesn’t want anyone to perish (1 Pet 3:9), everyone is called. But clearly, not everyone responds. And because everyone is called, everyone has the capacity to become “elect”. But no one is “elected” until they believe. So, who are the elect, anyway? The elect are those who already believe.
Well then – let’s put this definition to the test. I maintain that if some theory is true, it works in all situations i.e. if A=B and B=C, then A=C. So, does this new definition (of who are the elect) work on a couple of verses I find troublesome? For instance:
- Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
- 2 Thess 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying word of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
Hmmm. Perhaps it’s back to the drawing board. I don’t quite understand it, but I sense that I’m onto something when it comes to the definition of “the elect”. To that end, any thoughts or comments from readers would be appreciated.