Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – When and why did God choose us? Are some not chosen?
This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.
Synopsis of Chapter
In this chapter on Election and Reprobation, Wayne Grudem tackles a more controversial subject in evangelicalism: election. Before tackling it he reviews the order of salvation, and places election first in the order. He then goes on to explain how and why election is taught in Scripture. Grudem later corrects some misunderstandings about election and addresses common objections to election. Finally, he covers probably the more challenging aspect of the doctrine, that of reprobation.
Grudem articulates and defends the traditional Reformed perspective on election found in Calvinism. Calvinism takes its name from John Calvin (1509-1564), the French theologian who articulated the position during the Reformation. He argues against the alternative perspective against Calvinism known as Arminianism. Arminianism takes its name from the Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius (1560-1609).
The Order of Salvation or Ordo Salutis
The “Order of Salvation” is that logical order of events that happen in the lives of individuals in salvation. Also called the ‘ordo salutis’ (in Latin), this order of the events in salvation begin with election and ultimately end with glorification of the saint in the hereafter. Here’s the order…
- Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)
- The Gospel Call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)
- Regeneration (being born again)
- Conversion (faith and repentance)
- Justification (right legal standing)
- Adoption (membership in God’s family)
- Sanctification (right conduct of life)
- Perseverance (remaining a Christian)
- Death (going to be with the Lord)
- Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)
Election in Scripture
Election is “an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” Election is also called “predestination” in Scripture. There are many passages in Scripture that support election and here are a few selected passages with emphasis added:
- “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
- “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
- “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:11-13)
- “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
- “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)
- “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
- “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
- “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8).
Why the New Testament Teaches Election
There are several reasons God teaches election in Scripture. For one, it is given as a comfort to believers. Paul reasons that God works all things for those who love him because of election (Romans 8:28-30). Secondly, election is given as a reason to praise God. Paul tells us God predestined us “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6). And finally, election is taught as an encouragement for evangelism. Paul says he endures “everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10). In other words, his personal sacrifice will be rewarded because God has chosen some for salvation.
Misunderstandings of Election
There are a couple of ways people misunderstand the biblical doctrine of election. For one, some surmise that election is fatalistic or mechanical. “Fatalism” is a system in which human choices or decisions don’t make any difference. A “mechanistic system” is an impersonal universe in which all that happens has been inflexibly determined by an impersonal force long ago.
However, the New Testament presents a different sort of reality. Jesus called people to a personal commitment in the context of love when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). A relationship of love is neither fatalistic nor mechanical.
A second misunderstanding of the doctrine of election is that it’s not based on God’s foreknowledge of our faith. In other words, some think God is seeing the choice people will make and confirming the decision he knows they will make. They will use Romans 8:29, to suggest as much: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” But this verse does not teach God knowing facts about a person, rather it’s about God’s relationship with a person.
Instead of foreknowledge-based election, the Bible presents unconditional election. Romans 9:11 speaks to this idea regarding Jacob’s election, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— ” So God did not foresee any future faith or merit in Christians. Instead, he elects people unconditionally regardless of their actions.
Objections to the Doctrine of Election
There are several objections to the doctrine of election. The first one relates to how our choices are not real choices – including our choice on whether we accept Christ. Choices are voluntary because they are what we want to do and what we decide to do. This does not mean they are absolutely free, without input from God. But they are nevertheless real choices.
Others suggest that election does not allow unbelievers a real chance to believe. But the Bible does not allow for this possibility. Instead Jesus said, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:43-44). Those who opposed Jesus “willed” to oppose them. They did not want to believe. And ultimately they are without excuse for their unbelief (Romans 1:20).
Another objection is that election is unfair. After all, why would God create some people that he knew would be eternally condemned in the end? Peter addresses this question in one way. God did not save any of the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4). So why is he obligated to save any humans? Simply put, he’s not. Paul further illuminates the answer by saying God has every right to do with his creation as he wants. Because he is God.
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Romans 9:20-23)
The Doctrine of Reprobation
The doctrine of reprobation is the corollary negative aspect of election. Reprobation “is the sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice.” There are several passages that teach reprobation:
- “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).
- “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7).
- “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8).
Reprobation, sometimes referred to the second part of “double predestination,” can be an emotionally difficult doctrine to accept. Eternal separation from God in hell is a horrendous destiny for anyone. The fact that God would pass over anyone for salvation is hard, especially if we know these unbelievers well. But we must remember people chose to rebel against their creator and failed to respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation. Human responsibility is always present when unbelievers reject the gospel.
Application: Praising God for his Election
As Christians, we should be overwhelmed in praise for God in his election of us. In speaking of God’s election of believers, Paul responded “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). Ultimately, we should be eternally grateful for God having mercy on us despite of willful rejection of him in sin. For while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and chose us to be saved from eternal judgment. Praise God!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Resources: Wayne Grudem
- Wayne Grudem: Book: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
- Wayne Grudem: 148 Lectures on Systematic Theology at Scottsdale Bible Church