Doctrine of Salvation (Part 1)

January 12, 2014     Time: 00:42:37

Today we begin a new locus, or section, in our survey of Christian doctrine. You may remember back when we began that I said we would be looking at the various loci communes of Protestant theology. These were the so-called common places or chief themes of systematic theology. In our survey we’ve looked at things like Doctrine of Revelation, the Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Christ, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Doctrine of Creation, the Doctrine of Man, and now at long last we come to a new locus which is the Doctrine of Salvation. This locus lies at the very heart of the Gospel because it will address the problem that we’ve been discussing; namely, sin and guilt before a holy and righteous God, and how God has chosen to deal with it so as to bring about our salvation.



As with every aspect of Christian doctrine, the Doctrine of Salvation is also a matter of controversy. So we want to begin by looking at the doctrine of election from first a Calvinist point of view and then an Arminian point of view. I am not going to be looking at the original views of John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. This isn’t an attempt to do historical theology, but rather what passes under their names as the theology done in a Calvinist mode versus an Arminian mode. What we will do is look at a couple of key New Testament passages from a Calvinistic perspective and then also from an Arminian perspective and see the difference in the way that these two schools of thought interpret these key passages.

Interpretation of Ephesians 1:4-5

Let’s begin with the doctrine of election from a Calvinist point of view. I would invite you to turn to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, chapter one. We’ll just read verses three to six. Ephesians 1:3-6, Paul writes,

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. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Let’s break down the process of salvation or election as here described.

The source of our election is God the Father. In verse 3, he speaks of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is he who has chosen us. So election has its source in God the Father. He is the one who chooses those to be saved.

The sphere in which this election takes place is Christ. Paul says in verse 4, “he chose us in him,” that is, in Christ. So election is something that takes place “in Christ.” We are elect insofar as we are in him.

When did this election take place? Well, Paul says he chose us in him “before the foundation of the world.” So before God ever created the universe, as is described in Genesis 1:1, he had already chosen us to be holy and blameless before him to be his children through Jesus Christ.[1] So from past eternity this decision has already been made. It is not something lately arrived upon by God the Father, but it is an eternal decision that precedes the very foundations of the world, the creation of the universe.

What is the purpose of this election? Paul says it is “that we should be holy and blameless before him,” and also that we should be adopted as his children. He says in verse 5 to be “his sons through Jesus Christ.” Finally, it is for his glory (in verse 6) “to the praise of his glorious grace.” So the purpose of this election is that we might be holy and blameless before God, adopted as his children, to the praise of God’s glory.

What is the motive? Why did God do this? What purpose did he have in doing this? Well, the motive is love. Paul says that he “destined us in love” to be his sons through Jesus Christ. So election is something that is motivated by God’s love and that leads him to elect and save persons.

Finally, what is the basis of God’s election? It is simply his will. Notice that Paul says he destined us in love “according to the purpose of his will.” It is simply God’s choice to elect whom he wishes. It is according to his own free will. Therefore, election is unconditional. It is not something that we can merit. It is not something that we can bring about through our actions. This is a decision that was unconditionally made by God according to his will prior to the foundations of the universe, before we ever existed. So this is an unconditional election. Notice what Paul says in verses 11-12 of Ephesians 1, “In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.” So he says, again, that this is simply according to God’s purpose. The one who accomplishes all things according to the council of his will. So that is the ultimate basis for election – simply, God’s sovereign free choice to elect those whom he chooses to salvation.

Interpretation of Romans 8:28-30

Now let’s turn over to Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:28-30. Here Paul says,

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, 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 first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Notice according to this passage it says that God’s predestination is according to his foreknowledge. In verse 29, “those whom he foreknew” he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

Now, non-Calvinists will sometimes say that this shows that God looks into the future, so to speak, and sees the free decision of those who would believe in Christ and seeing how they would freely decide he then predestines them. But notice that that view of predestination makes predestination a sort of fifth wheel – it doesn’t really do anything. He looks into the future, sees that these people will believe in Christ, and if they will believe in Christ then there is no need for predestination.[2] They will believe in him! So predestination on this view doesn’t do anything. Foreknowledge of free decisions tells God what is going to happen, and predestination or foreordination becomes a sort of superfluous exercise on God’s part.

So that doesn’t seem to be what is involved in God’s sovereign election of certain persons. Rather, foreknowledge should be understood in a different way according to the Calvinist. If what God does foresee is people’s faith, the Calvinist will say that faith itself is a sovereign gift of God. God sees that he will bestow saving faith on certain persons so what he sees is in effect his own act of bestowing or giving saving faith to those whom he has chosen. So, for example, let’s look at some scriptural passages in support of this view.

John 3:3-8. This is Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus,

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

This is something of a pun because the word for “wind” is the same as the word for “spirit.” Jesus says the wind blows where ever it wills; you can’t control the wind. You don’t know where it comes from; you don’t know where it’s going. Similarly, he says it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. The Spirit blows upon whom he wills in order to bring regeneration and new life.

Turn over to John 6:44-45, Jesus says,

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

Here Jesus ascribes this drawing power of God the Father upon people to bring them to Christ. Apart from this work of God the Father, people will not come to Christ. But if he does draw them, then they will come assuredly to saving faith in Christ.

Look at verse 65 of that same chapter. Jesus said, “This is why I told you no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” If God the Father grants that someone should come to Christ, he assuredly will; but on the other hand, if it is not granted to someone to come to Christ by the Father, then that person cannot come to Christ. The sovereign decision lies with God the Father.

Look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:8. Here Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” So this salvation is not something that you work of yourself. This is from God. He is the one who works it out. That is why there is no boasting Paul goes on to say in verse 9.

Finally, 1 Peter 1:2, speaking to the exiles of the dispersion in various places in Asia Minor, “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Here all of the persons of the Trinity are involved.[3] It is God the Father who chooses and destines certain persons. It is the Spirit of God who sanctifies them for obedience to Jesus Christ.

So, going back to Romans 8:28, if it is true that God looks into the future and sees peoples’ faith in Christ and predestines them on that basis, nevertheless, this faith is itself not a human work. It is not something that any natural person can generate. This is itself the result of God’s effectual work in that person.

Besides that – and this is a very characteristic emphasis of Calvinism – foreknowledge doesn’t really mean “to know something in advance,” as though God looks into the future and finds out what is going to happen. Rather, “foreknew” is a way of saying God loved them in advance. To say he foreknew them meant he foreloved them. He picks out certain persons in the future on whom he will set his love. So foreknowledge is in effect to choose certain persons upon whom he will set his love. It doesn’t mean a certain passive acquisition of knowledge; this is an active bestowal of favor and love upon those persons whom he picks out.

Let’s look at a couple of passages where knowledge is used in this way.

Genesis 18:19. Here God is talking about Abraham and God says in verse 19,

. . . I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.

You’ll notice that in the translation I read, the verse is rendered “I have chosen him” but the word in the Hebrew means “I have known him.” So the knowing of Abraham – when it says “I knew Abraham” – it doesn’t just mean “Yeah, I know this guy.” It means “I favored him. I loved Abraham. I picked him out. I chose Abraham.” Knowledge here is a much richer concept than just the acquisition of information.

Let’s look at a couple of other passages that illustrate this usage. Psalm 1:6 says, “for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” This means much more than God is just aware of or informed about the way of the righteous. Because in that same sense, he knows the way of the wicked, right? He is not uninformed about what the wicked do. So if this is to distinguish God’s knowledge of the way of the righteous from his knowledge of the way of the wicked, this means that God favors the way of the righteous. He somehow bestows approval and personal commitment to the way of the righteous. There is much more here than just the passive acquisition of information about the way of the righteous.

Finally, Jeremiah 1:5. This is a passage about the call of Jeremiah. Look what God says to Jeremiah in verse 5 of chapter 1. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Before Jeremiah was even conceived, before he ever existed, God says “I knew you.”[4] That doesn’t, again, mean just that God had information about him. That is evident from the remainder of the verse: “Before you were born, I consecrated you, I appointed you a prophet.”

So when Romans 8:28 says, “Those whom he foreknew, he also predestined” that means those whom God loved in advance, those whom he had picked out on whom to bestow his favor and his grace. Those persons he predestined. So to interpret Romans 8:28 merely in terms of just foreknowledge without this sovereign bestowal of God’s love and approval is to have a very, very thin concept of foreknowledge in particularly of this verse.

Charles Horn, who is a Reformed theologian, points out that in Romans 8:28-30 we have here a description of God’s eternal counsel, what he does in eternity before the foundations of the world. Then we find its actualization of this counsel in the human affairs of life. So, he would say in God’s eternal counsel we have first God foreknew whom he would save. That means those whom he foreloved. Second, there is then God’s predestination. Those whom he foreknew or foreloved, he then predestined. That is to say, he ordained them to salvation. This is God’s eternal counsel. From before the foundations of the world God foreknew and predestined certain persons to salvation.

Then in verses 29-30, you have the actualization of this eternal counsel described. First comes calling. Paul says those whom he predestined, he called. At some time in your life, if you are elect, if you have been predestined by God, he will then reach out and he will call you to bring you to himself. This calling notice is effectual calling. This is not some sort of, again, passive invitation. This is God reaching out effectually and grabbing you and bringing you in. It is what Jesus described as God the Father’s drawing these persons to himself. This is the doctrine of effectual calling. Then comes justification. Those whom he called, he also justified. This is by faith which is not something that the unregenerate man can muster on his own being spiritually dead and separated from God. This is something that God must bestow upon you. So by faith, then, God will justify those whom he has effectually called. The final step in salvation is glorification. Those whom he justified, he also glorified and this is certainly, surely. This gives you assurance of salvation.

This has been called the unbroken chain in God’s process of salvation. Those whom he foreknew, he predestined. Those he predestined, he called. Those whom he called, he justified. Those whom he justified, he glorified. There is nowhere along the line that someone can drop out of this chain and fail to obtain salvation because it is the work of God throughout. His declaration or choice sovereignly in eternity before the foundations of the world, then in human history its actualization as he effectually calls, justifies, and then finally glorifies those whom he has predestined.[5]

That is the perspective I wanted to share on freedom with respect to salvation.


Question: I really enjoyed and appreciated your lesson last week. It was the first time the subject of election had sort of clicked and it sort of made sense to me. As I understood it, it was all about more of a group election. The group he elects is the group that has faith in Christ, right? Everything you are talking about today seems to be about individual election. Can you reconcile those two things or is it the fact that they are two separate viewpoints?

Answer: First we want to create the tension before we do the reconciliation. I’ve done my best to explicate the Calvinist view faithfully and as persuasively as I can. But the other view that you are talking about is more the Arminian view and we will look at that next. Then we will try to understand how we can understand these passages – who has the right view, if either. But at first I want to lay out these opposing points of view. You are quite right in seeing the Calvinist interpretation as being very different from what we talked about last week.

Question: It seems to me, speaking of the same tension, it appears that John 3:16 “whosoever shall believe in him.” That would be like saying really the way to interpret this is “whosoever that God foreknew.” If you are one of those elect, then if you can believe in him – that seems direct tension; very opposite.

Answer: You are quite right in saying that that is the way the Calvinist would take a passage like John 3:16, “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” Well, that could really be phrased, “Whosoever God has picked out and chosen to bestow his saving grace upon will not perish,” etc. So yeah, that is quite right.

Question: I am having a little bit of a problem with this idea of being foreknown is the same as being foreloved. What about those he didn’t choose? That leaves you with the concept that he didn’t love them. That goes again John 3:16 and many other passages. There is no question in my mind that those he chose, he loved, but . . .

Answer: The Calvinist here, it seems to me, has to maintain that God doesn’t love all people equally. He has a very special love for the elect. He loves all people in general and all of us are equally sinful and condemned before God. But there is this elect group that he has a special love for. In the same way that he specially picked out Israel in the Old Testament, so he specially picks out certain persons to save through Christ and he passes over the others. You will remember Abraham was called a friend of God. There was a special relationship there. Although the Calvinist might want to try to soften this in some way, it seems to me that the fact that salvation is not universal simply requires the Calvinist to say that God does not love everybody in the same way. That doesn’t mean that his love is conditional. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because it is God who chooses on whom to set his love, it is utterly sovereign. God just looks at the mass of humanity and without any merit on their own, or any differentiating factors, he just picks out those whom he wants to save and he passes over the rest. So that does seem to be the implication of this view.

Question: For what it’s worth, I think you have given a very fair overview of Calvinism. I had a question about something you said when we were talking about it earlier. You were talking about the interpretation of Ephesians 1:4-5. You say the source is the Father but the sphere is Christ. I’m trying to understand that. It is my understanding that in the economy of redemption, Christ is subordinate to the Father because he was sent to come to the earth. He is not subordinate as a member of the Trinity but only in the economy of redemption.[6] There was something called the pactum salutis where there was an agreement between Christ and the Father before the creation of the world where the elect would be saved.

Answer: All right, now how do you see that as incompatible with what I’ve said?

Followup: Why do you say that Christ is the sphere? I don’t understand that.

Answer: Wouldn’t that be the result of this pact that you described between the Father and the Son? That it will be through the death and redemption wrought in Christ that election will come. So people are not elect apart of Christ. It is in Christ that they are elect before God the Father. So it isn’t something that God the Father does apart from the second person. He elects them in Christ. That is how I would understand it.

Followup: If you look at the high priestly prayer, it almost seems like . . . in verse 17:6 it says that the Father gives them to the Son and it seems the Son through his substitutionary atonement gives them back to the Father.

Answer: Yes, and eventually Paul talks about how even the Son himself will become subordinate to the Father. You are drawing our memories back to the Doctrine of the Trinity where I believe we distinguished between the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity. The ontological Trinity is the three persons of the Trinity considered in and of themselves apart from the work of salvation. And in and of themselves they are all equal – there is no subordination. They are equally omnipotent, omniscience, morally perfect, and the rest. But the economic Trinity would be the subordination of the Son to the Father for the sake of salvation. Then the Spirit will come at the bidding of the Son to carry on his work after the Son is sent. So there is this kind of economic Trinity that involves a kind of subordination for the sake of salvation. But that doesn’t mean there is any kind of inferiority among the persons of the Trinity.

Question: Coming from a Presbyterian background . . .

Answer: Yes, and that would be a Calvinistic denomination.

Followup: In one way, I would like you to comment on an interpretation that would mean, or would say, that God has a plan, a plan that will ultimately result in his glorification, and that even he did not call Satan to rebel. That may have been part of this plan as the plan necessitated man rebelling, man being redeemed, and in that sense as all angels aren’t ultimately in union and glorifying God as in Satan and the demons, not all men will therefore participate in the ultimate eternal glory, not so much that in the sense of I am going to choose you and I’m not going to choose you. It is more of working out his plan, and therefore God is God, God is perfect in his justification or in his plan. It’s perfection. I don’t . . . I guess there is something that creates the tension as in “He chose you but he didn’t choose me.” So what is this . . . I’ve always thought of it more as total omnipotent and just that we have free will and we utilize that free will and he gives grace to whom he gives grace based on the plan he is working out.

Answer: All right, let’s look at this from the Calvinistic point of view. You are quite right to emphasize God’s plan.[7] In Ephesians 1, he talks about how God is accomplishing all things according to the counsel of his will. He says that God is achieving the purpose of his will. That is his plan. So he has a plan. And you are quite right in drawing our attention to the fact that it says that it is to the praise of his glorious grace. So this is a plan that will redound in glory to God. You will often find Calvinists and Reformed teachers emphasizing very, very strongly the glory of God. The ultimate end is to bring glory to God. So they would say that choosing to save some but not all more effectively brings greater glory to God than if he saved all. Sometimes they will say that the punishment of the damned glorifies God’s justice and holiness because it shows his righteousness and justness in condemning those who deserve it. And we all deserve it. So this is just punishment rightly deserved. But the fact that he would also save some shows how merciful he is and gracious he is to save anybody because nobody deserves it. So rather than having universal salvation, I think they would want to say that in some mysterious way, having less than universal salvation redounds to God’s greater glory.

Followup: I want to emphasize, too, that the creature mankind was also given free will.

Answer: That is not really part of this picture, though.

Followup: No, but I see it as part of our nature. It seems to me if I am loved by someone who is free to choose not to love me or to love me, then that is a dearer love than someone who must love me. They are not choosing out of their heart to love me. They are being, because of who they are, they must love me.

Answer: Yes, I think now you are beginning to express more the Arminian point of view whereas on this view the natural man, especially as I say fallen corrupted man, sinful man, has no disposition to love God at all. He is an enemy of God. He hates God. He loves darkness rather than light. He doesn’t understand spiritual things. So it is God who must pick out this person out of his love and then call him and regenerate him. That will then produce in the justified person a genuine love for God. But this would be the result of God’s actions. So this view, as we said last time, affirms human freedom only in a compatibilistic sense. You remember what that was. That is a view of freedom that says freedom is compatible with being determined. Even though you are causally determined to do something, you still do it freely. That is a different view of freedom than the Arminian has which would be that genuine, real freedom is incompatible with being causally determined to do what you do.

Question: Don’t you think this is more like Dortism than Calvinism?

Answer: Dortism?

Followup: Yeah, from the Council of Dort. Because what they thought of at Dort versus what John Calvin thought of.

Answer: All right. I said that I am not doing a historical analysis of Calvin and Arminius’ view but of the movements that followed them. But having said that, I have heard people say this – that Calvin wasn’t really a Calvinist. But at least in my reading the Institutes and in my Calvin class that I had with a good Reformed theologian, I think Calvin was a Calvinist.

Followup: All the way? Even Romans?

Answer: Yeah, I do. It seems to me that he believed that everything was determined by God and predestined and it was ultimately God who does it. Be that as it may, I recognize that some have said this. In all candor, it sure looked to me like Calvin was a Calvinist.

[someone off-mic mentions “The Five Points of Calvin”]

Followup: Yeah, I was just wondering, is he a TULIP guy?

Answer: Yes, we haven’t talked about all of those points in this class.[8] We haven’t looked at that. We looked at the doctrine of sin, total depravity, now we are coming to unconditional election.

Question: This is kind of a triviality. It says that “he glorified and justified.” Doesn’t that seem sort of hard? Normally, glorification is sort of after you die and you go to heaven. It says, “Those he foreknew he also predestined, those he marked out in advance are predestined and those he called he justified and those he justified he glorified.”

Answer: What are you reading from?

Followup: This is N. T. Wright’s translation of Romans 8. I assume it is a decent translation. He knows his Greek well. I am just wondering why is it in this sort of past tense – justified and glorified.

Answer: I take it that glorification in this passage is referring to beyond death. This isn’t something that takes place in life. We are justified and we are making our way toward our heavenly reward. It will be those whom he justified he glorified in the sense that they will inherit the Kingdom of God and eternal life. But certainly Paul doesn’t think that glorification comes prior to the resurrection, right? When you read 1 Corinthians 15 it is the resurrection body that is going to be our glorified, spiritual, powerful, immortal, incorruptible body. I don’t think Paul could think that we are glorified in this earthly existence.

Followup: I just wondered if the past tense has any implications because all of these are exactly in the past tense: he foreknew, and he predestined (past tense) and he glorified (past tense).

Answer: Sometimes people will say being in past tense shows its certainty. It is though it is done that this is going to happen. There is no falling away from salvation for the elect. It is done. It is a done deal.

Followup: OK, sort of a New Testament version of the prophetic perfect that we find in the Old Testament.

Answer: Yeah.

I think with that we will close today. But next time we will take up the Calvinist viewpoint of calling and regeneration.[9]

[1] 5:02

[2] 10:06

[3] 15:26

[4] 20:12

[5] 25:12

[6] 30:09

[7] 35:00

[8] 40:01

[9] Total Running Time: 42:37 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)