Arminius, at times, equated election with predestination, as many Calvinists do as well. For these people, the matter of one’s eternal destination is wrapped up in the word, “predestination.” Today, however, theologians have properly distinguished the two terms, knowing that they were never intended to mean the same thing.
The word “predestination” literally means horizon, to mark off a boundary, or to determine or decide beforehand. It does not mean to decide one’s future for either heaven or hell, and you will search in vain looking for that definition.
The word “election” means to make a choice, select, or special, chosen out for a purpose. Depending on your theological convictions, the word will take on your nuanced definition. For example, Calvinists take election to mean chosen by God unto salvation (implying there are those not chosen unto salvation, or worse, those chosen for hell, though the former implies the latter).
Some Arminians take election to be more of an identification, i.e. believers are elect because of their union with and identification in Christ Jesus; they are elect, special, chosen, or choice. Other Arminians side with the notion that God foreknew who would believe, so He elected them unto salvation and spiritual blessings in Christ.
What Arminians want to avoid at all cost is to imply that God elected one person unto salvation and not another because 1) we do not find such a teaching in the Bible, and 2) it is contradictory to the nature and character of God as found in the Bible and in the life and teachings of Christ Jesus, who is the exact representation of God’s being (Heb. 1.1-3). Calvinism has Christ Jesus saying, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” but all the while He knows that His call is not genuine, for only the elect are going to be saved.
Arminians avoid such disingenuous and inconsistent teachings on the part of Christ Jesus. If Jesus told all the people to come to Him, and that He would sacrifice Himself for all people, we believe what He said at face value. Arminius also tried his best to avoid Calvinistic inconsistencies. He wrote:
“That [election] is the decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ, by which He determined within himself from all eternity to justify believers, to adopt them, and to endow them with eternal life, ‘to the praise of his grace,’ and even for the declaration of his justice.
“This [election] is evangelical, and therefore peremptory and irrevocable: And as the Gospel is purely gracious, this [election] is also gracious according to the benevolent (affectum) inclination of God in Christ. But that grace excludes every cause which can possibly be imagined to be capable of having proceeded from man, and by which God may be moved to make this decree.
“But we place Christ as the foundation of this [election], and as the meritorious cause of those blessings which have been destined to believers by that decree.
“For the love with which God loves men absolutely to salvation, and according to which He absolutely intends to bestow on them eternal life, this love (non est) has no existence except in Jesus Christ, the Son of his love, who, both by his efficacious communication and by his most worthy merits, is the cause of salvation, but likewise the solicitor, obtainer . . . of that salvation which was lost.”1
Paul taught, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8.29). What did God predestine? What did He decide beforehand? God decided beforehand to conform to the image of His Son “those whom He foreknew.”
Whom did He foreknow? The context forces us to concede that Paul is speaking of believers. So, God decided beforehand to conform believers to the image of His Son, Christ Jesus. It’s that simple.
Paul continued, “and these [believers] whom He predestined [to be conformed to the image of His Son], He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom he justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8.30).
The fact that believers (and only believers) will be glorified to be like Christ Jesus someday (1John 3.2), and also justified them is not contested by any Christian. But someone may ask about those whom God “called” (from verse 30). If God “calls” out to everyone, through the gospel, to receive Christ and so be saved, then how is it that God also only “calls” believers (Rom. 8.30)?
Those whom Paul calls “the called” are believers. This title, the called, means more than a summoning unto (i.e. that God summons those whom He predestined and foreknew). Those who are the called are believers; they are called the called because God called them unto Himself, to belong to Him (Rom. 1.7) through faith in Jesus Christ, and they answered His call through faith.
For further study on “the called,” see this article by Brian Abasciano: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3817/is_200606/ai_n17176282/pg_1, and also this article by William Klein: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/27/27-1/27-1-pp053-064_JETS.pdf.
As for the “foreknowledge” view of election, Dave Hunt offers the following comment: “To foreknow is simply to know in advance and can’t legitimately be turned into anything else. Clearly, to know in advance is not the same as to determine or ordain. If it were, we would again have a redundancy: whom God foreordained He predestined. Foreknowledge would have been reduced to a meaningless repetition. Why even mention it unless it has special significance?”2
No matter what one’s opinion of Dave Hunt may be, he is on to something when he asks, “Why even mention it [foreknowledge] unless it has special significance?” If election, in whatever way one views the doctrine, is based on or according to God’s foreknowledge, then it cannot be based on or according to an eternal decree, for the Bible does not teach that election was based on an eternal decree.
Robert Picirilli offers an insight into God’s foreknowledge and human choices that is worth considering. He wrote, “The classic Arminian view affirms that the future is perfectly foreknown by God and yet is, in principle and practice, ‘open’ and ‘undetermined.’ That is, future free decisions are certain but not necessary. In other words, the person who makes a moral choice is free either to make that choice or to make a different choice.”3
If God has always known everything which is knowable, and His so-called election of individuals unto salvation is based on His foreknowledge, it would behoove the student of Scripture to ponder just what it was that God foreknew. Did God foreknow the individual’s faith? Though that is likely, considering He knows everything knowable, that is not what Scripture teaches. Paul wrote, “For those whom God foreknew . . .” (Rom. 8.29). This brings the reader’s attention to focus on the individual whom God foreknew, not some aspect about the individual (i.e. their faith).
The ground of election should be in Christ Jesus, since He is the Elect/Chosen One (Isa. 42.1; 1Pet. 1.20; 2.6), and not based on an eternal decree. Without or outside of Christ Jesus, there is no election. Thus those who are united with Him are also elect, the chosen of God, special, choice, set apart for the Master. This invitation to become an heir into God’s family is open to all who hear the gospel.
1 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations,” The Works of Arminius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 392.
2 Dave Hunt, What Love Is This? (Sisters: Loyal Publishing, Inc., 2002), 226.
3 Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, and Free Will (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 60.