This is about God’s foreknowledge, choice, and human freewill. If we have the right perspective, we can reach sensible conclusions.
Don’t feel frustrated if you have to read this post several times before it clicks. I have to do this for many issues!
The vast majority of Renewalists, particularly revivalists, zero in on human free will. They are not entirely wrong.
Let’s use the Question and Answer format, for clarity and conciseness.
Here are the basics.
1.. What do calling or call mean?
In the context of salvation, it means God calls or woos us to salvation in Christ.
2.. Is there a general call to salvation?
Yes, and it means God’s salvation is for everyone.
A good passage is Matt. 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding banquet. The king prepared the wedding banquet for his son, and he sent his servants to invite certain ones. They refused to come and brought up excuse after excuse. Then he sent his servants to call more people, and they did come.
Both calls illustrate the general call. The first group, representing Israel, said no. The second call, representing Gentiles, said yes. And many Jews converted to the Messiah (Acts 21:20), but not the national leaders who represented the nation.
Either way, God calls everyone, but not everyone responds, but walks away. So the gospel does not always generate a positive response, but that responsibility is on the hearer and refuser.
3.. So is there a specific calling?
If it means that God calls only those whom he foreknew can choose him, then I say no. God so loved the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). His call to salvation is general or for everyone.
4.. But what does it mean at the end of the parable: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:1-14)?
We should not over-analyze the words “many,” as if that does not mean “everyone.” The context of the parable includes all Jews and Gentiles at large and now around the globe where the gospel is gradually going forth. The gospel is for everyone.
For an extensive commentary, go to this chapter in my translation and commentary:
Scroll down to v. 14
5.. So you’re saying that verse is not a specific call to salvation, just for a few?
Right. As noted, God so loved the world that he gave his unique and special Son.
Commentator Blomberg is on target. We should not over-read “many” and “few.” He writes:
Many people hear the summons of the gospel, but only a certain percentage responds properly. In light of the imagery of the parable itself and in view of common Semitic usage, “many” here may well mean all. “Few” may thus imply nothing about how many are saved except that the number is noticeably less than all. This is interesting use of election terminology. Klētoi (literally, called) is not to be taken here as irresistible calling, as apparently sometimes in Paul (e.g., Rom 8:29–30) but in the sense of “invited.” Those responding properly may be said to have been chosen. The elect are the true community of the people God chooses to save, even as Israel had once been so chosen, but those people must freely respond to the Spirit’s work in their lives. The imagery here is in fact more that of corporate than of individual election, but the former cannot exist without the latter. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are again finely balanced. Neither can be jettisoned at the expense of the other. The man’s behavior demonstrates he is not elect. Election does not violate free will nor occur irrespective of the man’s conduct.
So few just means that the ones who enter the kingdom are fewer than those who are invited in. Key line: “Those responding properly may be said to have been chosen.”
So it works out like this:
Invitation → The corporate community enters → They were chosen
This does not mean, however, that God himself acted to exclude the ones who were unwilling to respond to the general invitation. In the parable, the man who was “disinvited” into the kingdom did not have the right garments on. He sneaked in. The whole context of the parable reveals a corporate calling (Israel or Gentiles), not an individual.
Once again, I quote other commentators in Matthew 22:
Scroll down to v. 14.
6.. What does effectual calling mean?
It means the salvation calling of God which is so effective that you get saved. That is, the gospel was proclaimed in some form, and it went into your heart and energized or produced faith in you that saves you.
7.. What do God’s choosing and election and predestination mean?
They are synonyms for our purpose here.
Some verses spell out his election.
2 Thess. 2:13-14 says God chose believers from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. He called us to this.
This clearly shows that the call of salvation went forth, and we believed it, and he chose us to be saved. Our sanctification just means he sustains our salvation and leads us on the paths of righteousness. So our faith and his choosing work together. It is like the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, again. God sent out the invitations, but some refused and others responded.
Eph. 1:4 teaches that he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
This means that before Gen. 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”), God chose us. It is a remarkable that his plan reached back that far!
Eph. 1:12 says that in Christ we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works everything out according to conformity to his will.
So election means that God chose or elected us or predestined us. But he did not compel us against our wills to accept his invitation.
Foreknowledge ≠ Force
Foreknowledge ≠ compulsion
Foreknowledge ≠ Causation
Imagine that God revealed to you in a dream that your best friend was going to be promoted at his job tomorrow. You know this. You have foreknowledge. You get a phone call later. She really got promoted! Did your foreknowledge cause the promotion? No.
An objector replies: But you’re not God. God can cause things. He can promote your friend.
Reply to the objector: True, but the illustration shows we should not conflate the categories of knowledge and causation. God foreknew that some people, out of their own free will, would reject the gospel. But he did not cause their rejection. God foreknew that some people would accept the gospel, after they heard the word, which is efficacious enough to instill saving faith in him. Then, out of their free will and now grace-inspired saving faith, they responded to the call of salvation and are now saved. God saved them through his grace and the means or channel of their faith, which was made alive through grace. Yet human free will, a gift of God, plays a part.
God’s grace is resistible. God woos; he does not “rape.”
8.. What is the background of effective calling?
Several verses mention a remarkable truth: God’s plan was established from long ago, before the foundation of the world.
2 Tim. 1:9 says that we are called not by our works, but by his purpose and grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.
Eph. 3:10-11 says that the church is to make known his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus.
Eph. 1:9-10 teaches us that the ultimate purpose of God is to head up or sum up all things in Christ.
The import of these verses is that since God is omniscient and eternal, his plans don’t pop into his mind at random or like a light bulb lighting up, while before it was dark. Rather, he purposed the whole plan of salvation from eternity past.
9.. How does God’s foreknowledge play a part in God’s effectual calling?
Rom. 8:29-30 says that those whom he foreknew, he predestined or elected. This is simply saying that God is not a blank-minded genie who has no purpose for our lives. No, he is omniscient. He knew you in advance and issued the general call to salvation. And the Spirit energized faith in your heart, so you responded in faith for salvation, and now you are in his heart and kingdom.
His general call simply adds up to his choosing you. He was not caught by surprise. “Oh, look! Suzie chose me. I didn’t expect that. Good for her!” No, it means that God foreknows everything, and he chose you by his calling and your response to that calling. It also teaches us that we cannot simply strut into his kingdom and his salvation on our own. We don’t stumble into his kingdom. We don’t enter it on our whim. He has to call us and choose us.
10.. So are you saying he chose me, but I did not choose him?
Not exactly, for you have to respond to God’s call, as we saw in 2 Thess. 2:14. You believe, but only through his call. He initiates. You respond. So in effect you both chose each other, but he went first.
11.. How can God choose us before the foundation of the world, and yet we have to respond in faith and choose him?
Yes, it can be confusing (for me too, sometimes!). I think what Paul and others are saying is that God is omniscient, so he foreknew those who would choose him, after he sent out his call to salvation through a variety of means, like a gospel tract or a street preacher or a TV program or even in a dream, which is happening in the Muslim world, more and more. He was not caught by surprise, but your faith has to respond to the general call.
I don’t think we should over-analyze predestination or election or choosing. I surely don’t.
12.. Are you saying that God chose only those who can believe?
No. God chose those who do believe.
13.. If God is sovereign, and some do not believe, does this mean he predestined some to damnation?
No. This is what a certain strand of Calvinism teaches. Nor does he pass them by or ignore them, as some moderate Calvinists say.
Clearly, then, humans have enough free will to resist the call of God for salvation. So God’s sovereignty is limited to the wonderful gift he gave us—our freewill.
In this simple diagram, the two arrows coming from “foreordination” means that God predestines humanity in two directions: some for saving faith that leads to heaven, and others for unbelief that leads to hell. The horizontal arrows mean “leads to” (adapted from J. Rodman Williams, vol. 2, p. 22).
The Bible speaks of two destinations (heaven or hell), but not two predestinations. There is only one—for salvation.
Election does not rule out human responsibility. “Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light (John 3:19). This “love” that men have and express and by which they choose darkness speaks of free will.
So humans set themselves on the path of damnation, like so:
Human freewill → Refuses the gospel → Hell
14.. So is election closely related to human faith?
Yes, absolutely. God does not choose us based on his foreseeing our faith (Arminianism), nor does he choose us who are able to believe (Calvinism). Just because God foreknows something does not mean he forces it into our hearts.
Once again: Foreknowledge ≠ Compulsion (or Force)
He allows us to respond or not respond (and even refuse) to the call of salvation throughout our entire lives. Election just means that this is God’s plan and you did not just stumble across it or invent it on your own.
15.. But doesn’t this gift of freewill limit God’s absolute sovereignty?
Temporarily, yes. But he gave us a certain measure of free will–it is his gift to humankind. But it is only temporary because when God returns through his Son, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). Then his gift of freewill to us will be limited.
And no, the attribute of sovereignty is not lost when he gives us free will. He chooses not to exercise it with absolute power until Phil. 2:10-11 is carried out.
16.. But what about those outside election and faith?
God yearns for their salvation, and Jesus died for them as well (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
17.. So there is no limited atonement then?
Right. As Renewal Theologian J. Rodman Williams says, “It is reprehensible to speak of limited atonement, that is to say, Christ died only for those whom God elected to salvation. Christ did not come into the world to save some and condemn others, but to save all” (ibid. p. 20, emphasis original).
He adds: “Thus general calling is the calling of God’s outreaching love that would take every person to Himself. He has no hidden agenda, by which He has already decided to save some and reprobate or bypass others. There is no predestination to death” (ibid., emphasis original).
18.. But what does Rom. 9:22 mean when it says that some are fitted for destruction?
The larger context says they were not prepared beforehand by God for wrath and destruction, but they are ready or ripe for it because of their own condition and refusal to obey the call to salvation (Ibid. p. 21 and note 31). God did not foreordain or predestine them for hell.
Williams adds: “Accordingly, a view of ‘double predestination’—a predestination referring to death and damnation as well as to eternal life—has utterly no basis in Scripture. This does not mean there is no death or damnation, but such does not belong to God’s predestining action, which … refers only to the general arena of salvation” (ibid., p. 17)
19. So what is the method of the general call that leads to salvation?
Here are two ways.
First, the proclamation of the Word or the gospel must go forth. Christ’s followers are sent, they proclaim, people hear, they believe, and then they are saved (Rom. 10:14-15).
But the gospel must be clearly presented, not with a lot of confusing ideas. In other words, this post is not designed for unbelievers. It is too complicated. Evangelists don’t need to bring up these ideas.
Second, the Holy Spirit must apply the Word. For Renewalists like myself, the cooperation and direction and empowerment are the main thing. The Spirit must energize the Word. A preacher cannot use soul power, a lot of shrieking and freaking and dancing and prancing, but in the power from on high (Acts 1:8). I have heard very calm presentations of the gospel, and people respond. Yes, it is okay to be animated; we are not androids, after all. But the Spirit has to super-charge the Word, and he sparks faith in your heart and mind, and this Spirit-inspired faith leads to saving faith.
How does this post help me know God better through Christ?
Personally, I don’t make a big thing of God’s foreknowledge or election. To me, it just means that he is omniscient and had a plan of salvation from eternity past. This plan did not just pop (so to speak) into his head billions of years before Gen. 1:1. Your salvation did not catch him by surprise. He was involved from the very beginning.
How else were the NT authors supposed to write about God’s omniscience and his eternal existence and his eternal plan of salvation and his love for humanity? That all of this was just his whim? That he was not involved? That he just stumbled across an interesting and clever idea? That you can just strut into his eternal plan on your own? On a whim? On your own power? Or that can just stumble into it? That you initiated the whole thing? No.
As I noted in the related post, God’s plan of salvation is not like Dorothy getting caught up in an unexpected tornado and landing her in Oz against her will, in the movie the Wizard of Oz. Rather, God’s call to salvation was carefully planned from the beginning and then we have to respond in faith.
I hope this simple equation clarifies matters (the one arrow means “leads to”):
God’s foreknowledge (omniscience) + his eternal plan of salvation + the Spirit-inspired Word + your Spirit-inspired faith response → your salvation = his election = Wow!
To me, his election just means that you did not initiate any of that equation or process. Apart from that, I don’t quarrel about or over-analyze isolated verses out of context.
Most Renewalists, particularly revivalists, just focus on their proclaiming the Word, the Spirit energizing it, and people responding to it. These Renewalists and revivalists are right.