Are You the Chosen?

by Lisa Quintana, MA

The television series The Chosen has generated a lot of interest lately, but has it made you think if you are part of “the chosen?” The Bible teaches that God chose us to be saved based on His own purposes, and His desire is to show grace to underserving sinners.


“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the one He loves.” Eph. 1:4-6 

So does this mean some people are special or ‘chosen’ over others? 

This line of thinking falls under what theologians call “The Doctrine of Election.” It teaches that God chooses to save some, and, by logical conclusion, if He does not choose everyone, then there are some who are passed over (reprobates). Those whom He has chosen to save are referred to as “the elect” (or chosen).


“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 2 Tim. 2:10

“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…” Romans 8:29

As you read through the New Testament, you will see two words used that are hotly debated: 1) Election and 2) Predestination. To simplify these terms, election is about who is ‘elected’ to salvation; predestination is about what future (destiny) people will have, i.e. Ephesians 1:5 says we are predestined to be adopted as sons and daughters of God.

Two of the more well-known theologies that attempt to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and humanity’s responsibility in the matter of salvation are Calvinism and Arminianism. Other views include Open Theism and Molinism. There are other views, too, but I am not covering all views in this blog. I am still grappling with these topics, as once you delve into them, there a concepts that get quite detailed, and could include topics like Compatibilism to Fatalism, etc. But I am going to simply share the basics and discuss some differing views. I will summarize some of the controversial ideas, with the hope of holding lightly to these views, knowing that no one has it all perfectly figured out.

The goal in any of these issues should alway be to affirm what Scripture says is true, knowing that some of these things are understood differently.

Calvinism
This is a theology based on John Calvin, who was a reformer theologian in the 1500s, who is named after the term “Calvinism.” He wrote on predestination in his work, Institutes of the Christian Religion. To sum it up, here is what is called “Five-point Calvinism” (based on the acronym TULIP)—


T = Total Depravity – simply means that people are dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1). Before God, sin tarnishes everything. We may be able to do good things, but before a Holy God, our “good things” are not so great. We can’t come to God on our own – we need His help.


U = Unconditional Election – that God chooses to give some people eternal life, without looking for anything good in them as a condition for loving and saving them. There is nothing we can do be chosen – it’s God own good pleasure.


L = Limited Atonement – Biblical truth of the Atonement is that His death paid for sins, but not all will be saved. Calvinists see that Christ laid down His life for His sheep, and only them (John 10:11). They see atonement as ‘limited’ to the elect of God.


I = Irresistible Grace – teaches that God’s grace to save a person cannot be resisted in the moment of salvation, when He regenerates you. Calvinists state that if God gives grace to you, there is nothing in the world that you can do to resist it and thwart God’s intention to take you to heaven. 


P = Preservation of the Saints – God preserves His people so they can never be lost. To put it simply, it means this: “Once you are saved, you are always saved.” Some also call this the “Perseverance” of the Saints. Only those who are truly saved will persevere (via the Holy Spirit) to the end of their lives.

…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” Phil. 1:6

To defend this view, Calvinists refer to Romans 9:10-24 as the primary chapter that seems to indicate that yes, indeed, some are chosen, while others seem to be passed over. Yet in any good Bible study, context is key when interpreting Scripture. It’s important to note that Romans was written to help believers find a unity between Jews and Gentiles. So when reading in this chapter, keep in mind that it is talking about how salvation is now open to the Gentiles (nonbelievers or non-Jews). And there seems to be a small part that people play:


“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10

Even though Calvinists believe there is nothing we can do to earn salvation since it’s grace-based, we do at least have to confess with our mouths that we believe it. That does not save us, but it is an action working in tandem with God in the process. 

Overall, the theme of Romans is about how the Gentiles are now grafted into the family of faith (see: Romans 11:11). It’s written to change the mindset of the Jews, who used to think that only the family of Israel would be saved. I am not sure, given the context, that it is a good proof that Calvinism is true.

Alternate Views

Arminianism
This theological take on Election is from the 16th C Theologian, Jacob Arminius, who took issue with some of the Five-points of Calvinism. In a nutshell, Arminianism focuses on God’s foreknowledge. 

“Faith foreseen is prior to election,” Jacob Arminius.

This view sees things quite differently:

1. Partial Depravity: every aspect of humanity is tainted by sin but not to the extent that human beings are unable to place faith in God of their own accord.
    
a. Prevenient Grace – yes, every person has a sinful nature, but instead of total depravity, or the in ability to even choose faith in Christ, Arminians believe that God has put enough grace within us that we have the real possibility to choose Him.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” —Titus 2:11

2. Conditional Election: God elects individuals to salvation based on His foreknowledge of who will believe. God has foreknowledge (predestination). In other words, God sees the future and knows how a person is going to respond to Him. Election is then based on people’s future trust placed in Jesus Christ.

3. Unlimited Atonement: Jesus died for all, but that His death is not effectual until a person receives Him by faith. These verses seem to affirm that idea:
     • 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
      • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
     • 1 Tim. 2:3-4, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

4. Resistible Grace: all are called to salvation but because of free will, many resist this call to salvation. It seems the Holy Spirit can be resisted:
    

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always ‘resist’ the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.”  Acts 7:51

5. Conditional Salvation: a believer can turn away from Christ:

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and share in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come—and who then turn away from God.” Hebrews 6:4-6

Those who oppose Arminianism debate over the nature of sin. There was a Pelagian Heresy in the 5th century that said humans were not tainted with original sin; it only affected Adam alone and sin was not passed down to us. Calvinists see Arminian theory as similar – although Arminianism is not heretical, sometimes we do tend to overestimate our goodness and role in faith. Critics have also stated that Arminianism cannot provide a strong theory of God’s providential control. 

Open Theism
Divine foreknowledge and human responsibility/free will appear to be at odds. So, Open Theists
resolve this by seeing reality as being composed of both settled and open aspects

a. Not all things about the future are strictly determined – there remains room for choices by people that influence how some future events unfold

b. God knows perfectly what the future holds to this extent, partnering with His creation in how His story develops

c. God is in control by steering history towards His desired end, but there is flexibility in how details work together to fulfill His ultimate plan

The paradox of how God genuinely regrets a decision disappears if we understand that the future is partially open. But critics state that there is a fallacious inference when rejecting exhaustive foreknowledge in favor of human freedom. Instead, they argue that God knows the future in advance, as He can see all of time simultaneously. Others are suspicious of any view that portrays God as finite or limited. Calvinists think that Open Theists assume God changes like people change (anthropomorphism). Some say this is a shallow view of the saving grace of God versus the needs of humans.

Molinism
Who is Molina? A16th-century Spanish Jesuit theologian, Luis de Molina, proposed a view about the providence of God in light of human free will. This explores God’s omniscient in view of what some call “Middle Knowledge.” This means that God knows all things a free creature would do in all possible circumstances, and so infallibly enacts His will through those circumstances, rather than directly overriding that creature’s freedom. 

Critics claim there is no way we can know if middle knowledge is true, since it has not actually happened. The strongest scriptural support for Middle Knowledge (Molinism), comes from the use of counterfactuals in the Bible. Counterfactuals are “if — then” statements about situations or choices. For example, Jesus explicitly says, twice, that under different circumstances certain people would have made a different free choice of whether or not to repent (Matthew 11:21–23; Luke 10:13). Jesus also refers to different outcomes under different circumstances (Matthew 26:24; John 14:2). God also references different choices leading to different results in the Old Testament (Exodus 9:15; Isaiah 48:17–19). Further, the Bible clearly states that God allows us to make choices contrary to His preferences (Matthew 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9; Psalm 5:10; Isaiah 30:1).

Molinism shows that God’s knowledge appears to be even bigger, since it not only includes what God knows could happen and what will happen, but what would happen in different circumstances. 

Thus, Molinism attempts to replace TULIP with ROSES:

R = Radical Depravity (instead of total depravity): holds that humans are depraved to the point that they cannot save themselves. However, this depravity does not remove one’s divine image given to them by the Creator. Thus, the human being is unable to save oneself, however this does not mean that he or she could not respond to God’s grace when given.

O = Overcoming Grace (instead of irresistible grace): Rather than holding that a person cannot respond to God’s grace, Molinists hold that God’s grace is able to overcome the depraved human condition leading to a place where the person can respond positively or negatively to God’s free offer of grace.

S = Sovereign election (instead of unconditional election): God knows each person so completely that he knows how each person will respond in certain circumstances (e.g., Pharaoh’s hardened heart in Exodus). Thus, God elects to save those whom He knows will respond to His grace, but this knowledge does not come from the person, but rather within the mind of God. God knows everything about everyone before anything was created. 

E = Eternal life (instead of perseverance of saints): stresses that believers enjoy a transformed life that is preserved, and we are given a faith that will remain. So, a person’s salvation is assured because of the working of God in the person’s salvation.

S = Singular Redemption (instead of limited atonement): old term teaches that Christ died only for the elect and gives the impression that there is something lacking in the atonement. The new term emphasizes that Christ’s death was powerful enough to cover the sins of the world, but only applies to those who respond to God’s grace by faith. Thus, Christ’s atoning work was sufficient to save the world, but efficient to save only the elect.

Conclusion
So, at the end of the day, God is infinite and we are finite in our thinking, so there remains a mystery. We don’t like that because one of our idols seems to be absolute certainty. But that is presumptuous and leaves little room for humility. The bottom line is that human freedom and divine sovereignty are compatible because the Bible affirms both. All Orthodox views admit the depravity of human nature, and insists that humans are powerless and unable to save themselves, so we must magnify the grace of God in salvation. 

What view do I hold? I am still working that out, and will continue to research the topic because it is important to know what we believe and why we believe it.

How do you view “The Chosen”?


Book recommendations: 1. Divine Foreknowledge: four views, ed. Bailey & Eddy, 2. Perspectives on Election: five views, ed. Brand, 3. Determined to Believe? John Lennox.

Trusted sites: 1. gotquestions.org, 2. bible.org

Mere Molinism view: Tim Stratton of Freethinking Ministries


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