Our Calling and Election
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
Brothers and sisters, be diligent to make your calling and election sure…” (2 Peter 1:10)
Chances are, if you grew up in an evangelical church like I did, you heard a lot more about making your own decision for Christ than you did about the biblical doctrine of God’s election in Christ. In fact, if you did hear the word “election,” it was probably in the context of the American political process rather than the context of the gospel of our salvation.
WARNING: SOME DENSE THEOLOGICAL/HISTORICAL CONTENT AHEAD… DOES HAVE A POINT IN THE END
One of the signs that we American Evangelicals have forgotten our roots, and all but cut ourselves off from the vine of authentic, historic Christianity, is the way we talk (or don’t) about the biblical doctrine of election, or predestination–especially in the Church of the Nazarene, which stands with others styled “Wesleyan-Arminian” in the habit of casting aside terms like election or predestination into the abyss with Calvin and other hard-line Reformers. The problem with our all-too-easy dismissal of Calvin, election, and predestination is at least twofold: (1) On the one hand, Calvin didn’t invent these important theological categories, and (2) on the other hand, we are more deeply indebted to Calvin for many of our own “Wesleyan-Arminian” theological formulas than we have openly admitted.
In fact, the theological language and traditional church doctrines of election and predestination come from the Bible, not only all over the writings of Paul in places Ephesians 1:4-5 and Romans 8:29-30, but also in Peter’s letters. Therefore, it is incumbent on every diligent student of scripture who would seek to be a “Bible Christian,” like John Wesley recommended, to make sense of what the Bible has to teach us about our own election and, yes, predestination in Christ.
I like to think I would have fully agreed with John Wesley, in his (in)famous sermon titled Free Grace (Click here to read it online), and all the arguments it spawned in writing between himself and his former colleague George Whitefield over predestination, that “the grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL and FREE FOR ALL.” Therefore, I still stand with other Wesleyans opposed to all such forms of “Calvinism” which would limit the universal possibilities of the redemption God has freely offered in Christ, or undermine the work of preaching or missionary evangelism. But, the true, biblical doctrine of election/predestination does nothing of the sort. Moreover, I am afraid that in comfortably distancing ourselves from the language and from any trace of “high-Calvinism,” just to avoid the appearance of error, we evangelicals have succeeded only in straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.
The camel I am talking about is voluntary, decision-based, my-will-be-done Christianity (if such a thing can really be said to exist). In our move away from talk about election, predestination, God’s sovereignty toward making a personal decision for Christ, or for your own salvation, of your own “free will,” we American evangelicals have gone a long way toward putting ourselves, rather than God, at the center of the drama of salvation. And, so, it’s no wonder we are now reaping the fruit that we have sown. People are voluntarily exercising their free will to vacate our churches, making personal decisions to worship Christ in their own way in the comfort of their own homes–to be “spiritual” but not “religious,” you know how that story goes.
Is there any way to reverse the course of American evangelicalism and put God, rather than ego, back at the center of our gospel and our church? Is there any way to repent of former preachers’ missteps, exaggerations, and over-compensations without surrendering our evangelical heritage? I think there’s no reason why we couldn’t do more to reconcile our Nazarene, Wesleyan tradition with the biblical doctrine of God’s election and predestination (which predates Calvin and Calvinism by a long shot), and pass on to the next generation a fuller picture than the one we have received. It all starts, I think, with coming to terms with what the Bible itself really has to say about our calling, our election.
First of all, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ himself is the Elect, the Chosen One of God (Luke 23:35, Isaiah 42:1). He was not democratically elected by the will of the people, or decided upon by any man, but called from being into becoming, chosen to be God’s messenger, par excellence, and sent to earth from heaven according to the sovereign will of God from all eternity. To lose sight of this truth is to lose sight of the glorious gospel of God’s sheer grace and our total dependence on God for salvation. To place the weight of salvation on our decision, or human elections of any kind, above God’s sovereignty and will for us expressed in the never ending kingdom Christ has established on earth in the form of the Church is to take a step away from hope into despair.
Secondly, the Bible teaches that we who are “in Christ” are elect in him (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, no one really is elect on their own in the absolute, eternal sense but Christ alone. If we are elect, it is only insofar as we really abide in Him and, thus, share in what is actually his election. Paul says in this way we have been “predestined for adoption” (Ephesians 1:5), but again, only in and through Jesus Christ, whom we inhabit as the Church, the body of Christ, through whom Christ also dwells in us by the Spirit and the spoken Word. It is not that some folk are elected and others rejected by God’s love, as former generations of evangelicals worried, but that God’s love is revealed in Jesus Christ, the One who was rejected by people but elected by God to reveal both what we are and what we are all called to become.
Finally, not only is Christ the called and elected one, but Christ himself calls and elects. The meaning of our election, in the Bible, is revealed both in Christ himself and in his calling of disciples whom he foreknew, those he purposefully called by name to follow him. It is not just that we have all been chosen, as human beings, to be conformed to the image of God revealed in Christ (our universal calling in the gospel); some have also been called by name to serve a particular purpose for the Kingdom and the body of Christ, the Church in history, just like Jesus called a few to be disciples long ago. This calling is not necessarily a promise of privilege or salvation. Christ called Judas Iscariot as well as Peter; in this sense, both could be called elect or predestined to play a role in God’s great act of salvation. Though in one sense their “calling” was the same, in another sense their “ministries” turned out very different. All according to the inscrutable plan and foreknowledge of the God who loves all, predestines, and personally elects by the Holy Spirit.
What does this last part mean for us today? Through Jesus, God has chosen and called into existence a people with authority to choose and call others by name to him. He calls us, “fishers of men.” He said, “follow me” to teach us to do the same. Think about the difference between been called, chosen, and having to make a decision by yourself. A calling from God must precede a decision for God if it is to have any real or lasting significance. We have not been called to make up our own new and attractive form of Christianity, but to extend God’s call in Christ others that they may answer that call and find abundant life in him. Who are you calling to follow you as you follow Christ? Not just everybody, but who particularly, and by name? If we have no answer to that question, can it really be said that we are living up to our calling, following the example God has given us in Christ?