Election: Does God Send People to Hell?
DECEMBER 16, 2021
For context, as a member of Presbyterian Church in America, I come from the "Reformed Camp" and Calvinism is a part of the Reformed faith. (As an aside, not all Presbyterians are 5-point Calvinists; while churches belonging to PCA as well as Orthodox Presbyterians, are 5-point Calvinists.) The Westminster Confession of Faith is simply a statement of Reformed beliefs.
The five points of John Calvin, in explanation of Reformed theology, are under the acrostic TULIP: Total Depravity—radical and pervasive depravity, the sinful condition of man. Unconditional Election—God has chosen his people before the foundation of the earth. Limited (or Particular) Atonement—Augustine said that the blood of Christ is sufficient for the sins of the world, efficient for the sins of the elect. Irresistible Grace—God’s grace of Christ on the cross. Perseverance of the Saints—eternal security based on the doctrine of election; God will persevere in the life of the believer (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:30, 38, 39; 11:29; Philippians 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:3).
There is some good news here: Because of sin, man is in great need and God met that need—with forgiveness, acceptance and love—in Jesus Christ. God is God. He is sovereign and knew, loved and chose you from the foundation of the earth. Once you have accepted Christ into your life and heart, your salvation is secure. Because our salvation is only by the grace of God (it is not something we do or do not do), it can never be lost.
There is much discussion and disagreement over the issue of election—how much God, how much man. Salvation obviously has both present and future implications. Election simply means that God has chosen his people before the foundation of the earth. The issues of election and predestination are difficult and have been struggled with by many.
J.I. Packer (his book is Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God) says that there are two truths in the Bible. One is the truth of human freedom and responsibility and the other is the truth of God’s sovereignty. Packer says that it is impossible for the truths to be reconciled and thus they become what is called an “antinomy” (i.e. two truths that are both true, but which can’t be brought together according to the rules of logic).
I believe in both election and human responsibility. Check out Romans 8 and 9, and Ephesians 1. God has determined beforehand that those who believe in Christ will be adopted into his family and conformed to his Son (Romans 8:29). It involves a choice on his part (Ephesians 1:4); it is done in love (v. 4); it is based on the good pleasure of his perfect will (vv. 5, 9 & 11); and its purpose is to glorify God (v. 14); but it doesn’t relieve man of his responsibility to believe (v. 13).
There is no indication in Scripture as to exactly how God foreknew. I believe, though not biblical, that God does arrange circumstances so that the greatest possible number of people would be elect given the factors of human freedom and responsibility. God’s love and election have to be reconciled somehow. God chose with tears in his eyes.
There is a big difference between fatalism and the Christian faith. We are not “puppets.” The Bible assumes our human responsibility. Our choices are meaningful and our actions bring about change. God is in charge and at the same time we’re free and responsible.
The Bible teaches the absolute sovereignty of God. My friend, R.C. Sproul, says that if there is one molecule outside of God’s sovereignty, then nothing is under God’s sovereignty. In other words, God is in charge of everything and Romans 8:28 is true. If there is anything in the world not under God’s control, then God is not really God. The Bible also teaches that we are free and responsible. Our individual decisions and the decisions of nations affect the way things are.
God’s universal love is taught in John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4, among other passages of Scripture.
The love of God can be seen throughout creation for all of us—in the warmth of the sun and a beauty of a sunset, the laughter of a child and the joy of an ice cream cone. On a deeper level, the world is still intact, we are breathing and the grace of God is at work, affecting all people. (If God gave us all exactly what we deserve because of sin, the world and all of us would be destroyed in an instant.)
The love of God is also taught throughout Scripture in the involvement of God with his people—in the act of creation, in the calling of God’s people to himself, in the incarnation of God in Christ, in the person and teaching of Christ, in Christ’s death on the cross and in Christ’s promise of return. God’s love is unconditional and offered to everyone. (Whether or not an individual accepts God’s love is another issue.)
Jesus Christ died for everyone . . . God loves each and every individual enough to die for him or for her. The Scriptural base for that is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The “world” refers to everyone, all individuals. If God had meant “certain individuals,” he would have said so.
Coming at this from a Reformed perspective, I hold to the system of a “universal invitation” (inviting all to respond to God’s offer of salvation), but warn that one must be careful in how that invitation is issued. There is still a decision to be made by the individual. The invitation should be that eternal life is offered to everyone who believes. God doesn’t harden a person’s heart; he or she has chosen that path. As I’ve said many times, God greases the track in the direction you want to go.