A Meditation on Romans 9:11-13 and other Selected Scriptures
Bill Hybels related the following story in a sermon on Romans 9. He was sitting in a class taught by R. C. Sproul on election. Hybels asked a question for clarification, “So what you’re saying is that God arbitrarily elects some to salvation, while passing over others?” Sproul responded with indignation, “What word did you use?” Hybels said, “I knew I was in trouble.” Sproul continued, “You used the word arbitrarily. Just because God doesn’t tell you why He does what He does, doesn’t mean that He does so arbitrarily. God has good, wise, and loving reasons for everything He does, even if He doesn’t reveal those reasons to you.” Hybels conceded that Sproul had a point, but still struggled to accept the difficult doctrine, as many do.
Let’s start with the obvious: Election is a biblical doctrine. I laugh to myself when Christians say, “I don’t believe in election.” I’m always tempted to say, “Well, let me get you a pair of scissors then, so you can cut out all the verses that talk about the elect or election” (see Matt. 24:22; Lk. 18:7; Rom. 8:33; 9:11; 11:28; etc.).
Once we accept election as a biblical doctrine, we have to define our terms, and this is where Christians part company. Some hold to conditional election, which means God looks down the corridors of time and sees who will believe in Jesus, and based upon their future faith He elects them before the foundation of the world. The election is conditional, because man must believe to be one of the elect. Others, like myself, hold to unconditional election, which means God elects based upon His own sovereign purposes, and not because of any future faith He sees in us. The election is unconditional, since people don’t have to meet any conditions. Indeed they cannot. In the first view, God’s choices are contingent upon man’s, in the latter view man’s choices are contingent upon God’s. Simply put, we must ask whether faith leads to election or whether election leads to faith.
Those who hold to conditional election site 1 Peter 1:2 to support their position, which says election is “according to the foreknowledge of God.” Similarly, Romans 8:29 reads, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…” However, both sides concur that election flows from foreknowledge, but again they disagree about the definition (If you learn anything from this study, you’ll learn about the importance of definitions.). Does foreknowledge mean knowing in advance that a person will believe? This is pure eisegesis (reading into the text). The foreknowledge is not of choices, but of people. Those whom He foreknew. The foreknowledge relates to a special, saving relationship that God initiates before the elect are even born (Jer. 1:5). John Stott writes, “[W]hen God ‘knows’ people, he watches over them (Ps. 1:6), and…[cares] for them (Hos. 13:5). Indeed, Israel was the only people out of all the families of the earth whom Yahweh had ‘known’, that is, loved, chosen, and formed a covenant with. The meaning of ‘foreknowledge’ in the New Testament is similar. ‘God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew’, that is, whom he loved and chose” (Rom. 11:2; John R. W. Stott, Romans, p. 249).
Moreover, there is another reason for rejecting conditional election and its definition of foreknowledge, namely express statements in Scripture to the contrary. The Bible specifically declares that our involvement, whether good or bad, is inconsequential in relation to election—a non-factor. Paul says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:8-9). Likewise, Romans 9:11-13 says, “[T]hough 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 his call—she [Rebecca] was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” It is clear that God’s purpose in election is wholly apart from anything we do—positively or negatively. This is what makes “election by grace” (Rom. 11:5-6). If God elects “people because they are going to believe, then the ground of their salvation is in themselves and their merit, instead of in him and his mercy…[and] grace” (Ibid.).
“In love he predestined us for adoption 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” (Eph. 1:4-6). To be sure, there is much mystery in election. But this much we know for sure, it is based upon God’s love, God’s purpose, God’s will, God’s grace, God’s blessing, and it will result in faith. And when it does we should exult: Soli Deo Gloria—“To God alone be the glory.”
~Pastor Wayne Christensen