From a casual reading through Ephesians, the student of Scripture can easily summize that whether or not one finds himself as one of the “elect” depends solely on his union with Christ Jesus. The phrases “in Him,” “in Christ,” or one of its variants is found ten times throughout the first chapter of the epistle alone (1.1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 20). This leads us to question, then, whether election can rightly be spoken of as being founded upon a mere decree made in eternity rather than upon union with Christ Jesus. The accusation is that the Calvinist’s doctrine of election is not Christocentric, but creedal.
Picirilli states, “Election is Christocentric. This was one of Arminius’ main concerns; as Clarke puts it, his ‘final objection to Calvin was that his doctrine of predestination was just not sufficiently Christocentric.’ He felt that the traditional Calvinistic approach did not adequately honor Christ.”1
This has been the Arminian complaint since Arminius wrote on the subject. Rather than finding the source of individual election in Christ Jesus (and founded upon His atoning death, burial, and resurrection), the Calvinist places election in a decree; a rather misplaced election in the opinion of the Arminian. Again, Picirilli writes, “For him [Arminius], Christ should be the foundation and focus of election, as of salvation or Christianity itself, the one ‘on whom that decree is founded.’ Arminius insisted that ‘The love with which God loves men absolutely to salvation . . . has no existence except in Jesus Christ.'”
God the Father, motivated by love for His creatures (John 3.16-18), sent His Son into the world to die for the sin of the world (John 1.29) and brought Him back to life so that whoever would trust in Him would be saved from sin and hell. God reconciled the world of sinners back to Himself through Jesus Christ. Now, by faith in Christ, anyone who will trust in Christ can be saved. The saving grace of God is also extended from God the Son.
Arminius wrote, “Since God can love no sinner unto salvation unless he be reconciled to Himself in Christ, hence it is, that there would be no place for Predestination, except in Christ.”2 The grace by which a sinner is saved is thought to derive not only from God the Father, but also from Christ Jesus. Clarke comments, “What Arminius stresses is that a natural, carnal, sensual, sinful man cannot perform an act of faith; no-one can perform it except through God’s grace. The question is whether this grace is not only that of God the Father, but also of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Arminius had made it clear in his inaugural oration that the covenant in Christ’s blood is a covenant of grace and referred to Ephesians 1:7 with its reference to redemption in Christ and through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace. One of the works of Christ as High Priest was to ask and obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of grace, for his people.
“Arminius was to use the actual phrase ‘the gift of Christ . . . which belongs to regeneration’ in his ‘Letter to Hippolytus a Collibus,’ and the means of grace are the word and the Spirit (of Christ).”3 It is certainly biblical to think of Christ as the dispenser of grace as well as the Father, for John wrote, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized [lit. came to be] through Jesus Christ” (John 1.17). So, where does election fit into God’s plan of salvation?
The Calvinist protests, “If ones election is based on the foreknowledge of God the Father [as the bible states at Rom. 8.29 and 1Pet. 1.2], then does that not take away God’s freedom and sovereign right to choose whomever He wanted to elect unto salvation?” Yet, Paul informed us that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2.4). So why would the Calvinist ask such a question?
God has always known His children, for He knows all possible things that can be known; few today would deny this. Thus election is as eternal as is God Himself. Picirilli wrote, “God’s will to save (which includes both determining what the condition is and knowing who will meet it and electing to save them) is as eternal as He is . . . Thus Arminius, as we have already seen, defined election as the decree of God by which He determined from all eternity to justify believers.”4
We conclude, then, that the Calvinistic notion of unconditional election is wrong. Nowhere in the bible has God said that He would save anyone unconditionally; salvation is by grace, but conditioned upon faith in Christ Jesus. Thus, those who are in union with Christ Jesus, the Elect One, is an elect child of God. And since God has always known His own, the authors of Scripture can speak of election in terms of eternity.
Believers have not always been “in Christ,” as some erroneously teach. Before anyone was ever “in Christ,” he had to not be “in Christ,” but a child of wrath, as everyone else (Eph. 2.3). So, how does one get “in Christ”? By faith. You ask, “But does not Paul say that a person comes to be “in Christ” by the choice of God?” No, he certainly did not teach that at all.
Paul wrote, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1.4). Paul did not say that God chose us “to be” in Christ, but to be “holy and blameless.” Thus it should read, that God chose us who are in Christ, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. All who are in Christ are God’s elect; just as all the angels who did not abandon their proper abode, but remained in God, remained among God’s elect angels (1Tim. 5.21; Jude 6).
Again, Picirilli offers, “Election is conditional. This is the Arminian’s main point of departure from Calvinism, understanding the Bible to teach that specific persons are elected or reprobated (i.e., chosen or rejected) as believers or unbelievers. Arminius’ way of presenting this strikes me as the most appropriate and properly cautious. His definitions . . . indicate that he saw people elected as believers (or reprobated as unbelievers). Consequently faith is the ‘condition’ for election. For Arminius, if salvation is by faith, then election is by faith. If salvation is conditional, election is.
“This is not to say that God’s decrees are conditionally made. To repeat what has been observed above, God’s eternal decisions are made without any conditions imposed on Him. He has unconditionally decreed a conditional election, electing people as believers.”5
1 Robert Picirilli, Grace, Faith, and Free Will (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 49.
2 James Arminius, “Examination of a treatise concerning the Order and Mode of Predestination, and the Amplitude of Divine Grace,” by William Perkins, The Works of Arminius, Vol. III, trans. Rev. W. R. Bagnall, A. M. (Buffalo: Derby, Orton and Mulligan, 1853), 295.
3 F. Stuart Clarke, The Ground of Election: Jacob Arminius’ Doctrine of the Work and Person of Christ (Waynesboro: Paternoster, 2006), 91.
4 Picirilli, Grace, Faith, and Free Will (53).