So far as I can tell – all things Calvinist have to go through election and to that end, I’m hoping to bring a little more clarity (at least to my mind) regarding my struggles with Calvinistic thought in general and unconditional election in particular. In comments to a previous post, my good friend and ardent Calvinist Mike generalized Calvinist thoughts in asking, “Why do some believe and others reject Jesus?” He then offered the following thoughts as a basis for argument:
- Nobody wants to receive Jesus’ offer. There’s a greater love where God not only offers the gift to everyone, he also removes the rebellious heart of some and replaces it with a heart that loves him above all things.
- The reason why believers love Jesus is only because God, through the Holy Spirit, has graciously given believers a heart that wants him. If this hadn’t happened, then no one would believe because no one would want Jesus.
- But why do some not believe? John 10:26 answers it explicitly. The reason some do not believe is “because they are not part of the flock” (unconditional election).
- John 3:16 means that God loves everyone in the world and that he wants everyone to be saved and offers salvation to everyone. Why doesn’t God save everyone? Because they don’t believe?
- Why do some believe while others don’t? The Calvinist thanks God for giving them the faith to believe, while the Arminian (logically) must give thanks to themself for believing.
- Who ultimately gets credit for my salvation? The Calvinist says that God offers the gift to everyone, but that he also does more and grants belief to some. The Arminian says that God offers the gift to everyone – and that’s it. Belief is up to us.
- If God really wants everyone to be saved, then why did he make salvation conditional? Why did God make belief a criteria? Why doesn’t John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone will have eternal life regardless of what they believe”? What’s the Arminian answer to this? If God wants everyone to be saved, then why doesn’t he just save everyone? Is it really because of free will? He would rather give us free will than save us from hell? To me, this seems to be at least as big of a problem for the Arminian as it is for the Calvinist.
With all due respect to my good friend, I’m sympathetic to the arguments that apart from free will there can be no love. Perhaps I’ll expound on that later. But for now I’d like to toss out my $0.02 worth regarding Jesus’ words in John 10:26-27 that we either [are] or [are not] his sheep. As I understand Calvinist thought, one doesn’t believe because he isn’t [Jesus’] sheep. However, what is fascinating to me about this passage in John is what follows – the unbelieving Jews (vs 24) wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy (vs 31, 33). Jesus continues to “engage” with the unbelieving Jews (vs 34-38) and at one point says to them (vs 38) that the unbelieving Jews should believe the miracles Jesus has previously done (and no doubt the unbelieving Jews had witnessed) so they could know that Jesus is the son of God. What immediately comes to mind is that Jesus continued to reach out to the unbelieving Jews. Did Jesus understand that the unbelieving Jew’s eternal destiny was forever sealed at that moment? Perhaps not. Again, as I’ve stated before, this would have been a great opportunity for Jesus to explain TULIP and show the dichotomy of an elect person versus one ready to heave a stone at Jesus. But Jesus didn’t do that.
Most who know me know that I’m not one to spend much time in the Old Testament. Still, the story of God testing Abraham (Gen 22) comes to mind. In vs 12, as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, an angel interferes and says to Abraham, “Now I know that that you fear God.” Apparently old Abe had listened to (what I presume to be) the Holy Spirit and was rewarded (vs 17-18). Is it any different in New Testament times? Did not the Holy Spirit move within people or otherwise prepare hearts? Looking back at John chapter 10, Jesus vacated the premises (vs 40). And notice what happens, many people said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about [Jesus] was true.” And many then believed (vs 42). I sense that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst people in essence preparing their hearts for the messiah. Those who accepted by faith were rewarded with eternal life. Those that rejected faith or would otherwise continue to live by the law were eternally lost. That some hearts were receptive to Christ and other not leads me to conclude that we do have free will.
In conclusion and so far as I can tell, Jesus isn’t implying in John 10:26-27 that God had already determined who would be his sheep. At least there’s no indicating that one’s eternal fate was sealed before any one had been born. As I read it, when Jesus spoke those words, there were some who already believed and some non-believers within his immediate vicinity.
Okay, how then would this thinking work for a particular verse that I struggle with regarding Calvinistic arguments? Acts 13:48 [And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.] The conclusion seems rather succinct – one’s eternal destiny is determined by God. For whatever reason, God chooses to save some and God allows others to perish. However, Paul and Barnabas had first approached the Jews. It was only after the Jews rejected faith did Paul et. al. reach out to the Gentiles. As Paul said (vs 47), “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Although I don’t see it written as such, I’m hard-pressed not to believe that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst those that Paul et. al. would preach to and [all who were going to believe] believed.
Perhaps my arguments are not as strong as I would like them to be. But frankly, and at least for now, I find it easier to accept that God does indeed allow us free will in choosing our eternal destiny.