Steve Sewell, “Election and the Character of God”

, posted by Steve Sewell

When studying any doctrine of the Bible, it’s important to have a correct starting point, and that is especially true when studying the doctrine of election. An incorrect starting point will lead us down the wrong path, and where we end up will be far from the truth.

The starting point is the foundation we lay for ourselves. Our conclusions will only be as strong as our foundation. If we lay a faulty foundation, we will end up with a faulty position regarding any doctrine of God’s Word.

 

How do we know what the correct starting point is?

  1. You have to abide by correct rules of interpretation:

1) Consider who is being addressed and the circumstances.

2) Consider the historical background.

3) Consider the original language of key words and passages.

4) Consider the context.

5) Consider all key verses in the Bible regarding any one subject.

 

Let’s discuss rule number 5. When studying any subject of God’s Word, we must take a close look at every key verse or passage of Scripture that relate to the same subject. A careful comparison must be made between them all. When making comparisons, we must make certain we are using the correct verses for our foundation. For it is from those verses that we must build our position on any doctrine under study. One verse or passage must build upon another. If we start with the wrong verses, and come to wrong interpretations of those verses, we will always end up with the wrong understanding of any doctrine under study.

So how do we make sure that we are beginning with the correct verses? We do this by determining which verses are clearly understood, and which one’s are difficult to understand – possibly having more than one meaning. Then we take those verses that are clearly understood and we use those as our foundation.

We must interpret the difficult verses according to the verses that are clearly understood. If we do this the other way around, and come to a wrong conclusion about those verses, we will always end up with an incorrect understanding of the doctrine under study. If our conclusions about the difficult verses are in error, then it follows that the clearly understood verses must be twisted to mean something they don‘t. Interpreting clearly understood verses according to one’s faulty understanding of the difficult verses will always lead us away from the truth. This is a common practice among the cults. They will come to a wrong conclusion about a difficult verse or passage, and will then use that to form a position. In turn, they will come to a wrong conclusion regarding the clearly understood verses, having to twist them to fit their position.

  1. We must have a correct understanding of God Himself (so far as God has revealed Himself in Scripture).

I don’t believe we can have a correct understanding of any major doctrine of Scripture if we don’t have a correct understanding of God Himself. This of course includes a correct understanding of each Person of the Trinity. This involves the individual attributes that comprise the overall character of God. In studying any major doctrine, we must have a solid position on the doctrine of God, for every other doctrine flows from that doctrine. If our understanding of God and His ways are flawed, then our conclusions regarding all other major doctrines will be flawed. I’m not saying that we have to know and understand every detail about God in order to understand every major doctrine under study, but I am saying that for each major doctrine we study we need to keep certain things about God in mind.

This is especially true in understanding the doctrine of election. If we lose sight of the attributes and character of God, then it is certain we will come to wrong conclusions and to a wrong position on this doctrine.

If we develop our position on election upon a foundation of clearly understood verses, while keeping God’s attributes and character in view, then a correct understanding of this doctrine will be the result.

 

Attributes And Names Of God

This is not meant to be a complete study of God’s attributes, but merely to provide a brief statement about each one, followed by supporting scriptures. The idea is to present these truths with the purpose of keeping these truths before us at all times when studying election. We will begin by considering the major attributes of God, then we will take a look at various names of God that reveal important truths about who God is and how these truths relate to this doctrine.

  1. Major Attributes Of God

 

God Is Omniscient God is all-knowing and includes His foreknowledge of all things.

1 John 3:22

Psalm 147:4-5

Isaiah 46:9-10

 

God Is OmnipotentGod is all-powerful.

Jeremiah 32:17,27

Revelation 19:6

 

God Is Omnipresent God is everywhere-present.

Jeremiah 23:24

1 Kings 8:27

 

God Is Eternal God has no beginning or ending. He is also an ever-abiding presence throughout time and eternity.

Psalm 90:2

Isaiah 57:15

 

God Is Immutable –  God does not change.

1 Samuel 15:29

James 1:17

Hebrews 13:8

 

God Is Sovereign –  God governs the whole universe and is directing all things according to a divine plan for His glory.

Daniel 4:34-35

Isaiah 46:9-10

Ephesians 1:11

Romans 11:36

Colossians 1:16

 

God Is Holy –  God is altogether pure, glorious, perfect, without sin.

Isaiah 6:3

 

God Is Love –  God is not simply a God of love, He is love.

John 3:16

1 John 4:7,8

Matthew 5:44-48

Luke 6:27-35

Ephesians 3:17-19

 

God Is Good

Psalm 25:8

Psalm 145:8-9

Matthew 19:17

Matthew 5:44-45

Luke 6:27-36

 

God Is Compassionate and Merciful

Psalm 86:15

Psalm 103:17-18

Psalm 145:8-9

Psalm 147:11

Lamentations 3:32-33

Luke 6:35

 

God of Grace

1 Peter 5:10

Acts 20:24

Tit. 2:11

Romans 5:15-18

 

God of Forgiveness

Psalm 86:5

Ephesians 1:7

1 John 2:2

 

God Is Just and RighteousGod is just and righteous in all His dealings with man.

Deuteronomy 32:4

Isaiah 45:21

Isaiah 33:5

Psalms 145:17

 

God Is Impartial

Deuteronomy 10:17

Matthew 5:43-46

Acts 10:34-35

Romans 2:11-16

Galatians 2:6

1 Peter 1:17

 

God of Light

John 1:9

1 John 1:5

 

God of Wrath –  God hates sin and will extend His wrath to those who die without Christ.

Romans 1:18

Romans 2:5,6

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9

 

Names Of God

 

Yahweh / Jehovah –  The Self-Existent One, The Eternal “I AM”

Distinctly the redemption name of Deity. As Savior, this is the name Jesus identified Himself by when He said, “before Abraham was, “I AM. (Jn. 8:58)

Jehovah – Jireh –  The LORD Will Provide.

When God provided a ram as a substitute for Abraham’s son, Isaac, Abraham called the place “Jehovah – Jireh”, referring back to his statement to Isaac that “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” (Gen. 22:8,14). This is a clear picture of Christ, as the lamb of God, who would die for the sins of the world, as our substitute (John 1:29 Rom. 5:8 2 Cor. 5:14-15 1 Cor. 15:3).

Jehovah – Rophe –  The LORD Who Heals.

This refers to physical and emotional healing, but especially spiritual healing, for that is the greatest of all needs. Spiritual healing is needed by all mankind, and it is only through Jesus that this healing is provided for.

Jehovah – Tsidkenu –  The LORD Our Righteousness.

Portrays the LORD as the means of our righteousness. Applies to those who place their faith in Christ through whom we are made righteous (Rom. 4:5-6 Rom. 4:20-25). All who have Jesus as their Savior may address God as “The LORD Our Righteousness”.

Jehovah – Elohim –  The LORD God.

It is significant to note that when sin entered the world, thus the need for redemption of mankind, it was Jehovah-Elohim who sought the sinning ones and clothed them with coats of skins. This is a beautiful picture of the righteousness provided by the LORD God through sacrifice.

 

Summary

All these attributes of God, and the meanings of the names of God are eternal and never change. They always work in harmony and none will ever be lessoned or sacrificed for the benefit of some other attribute. The attributes and names of God are a constant. This is necessary to remember when developing a correct position on the doctrine of election.

 

Calvinism And The Character Of God

Does God choose certain individuals for salvation while purposely passing over all others, leaving them totally without hope? In other words, does God decide whose hearts He will change and whose hearts He will not change? Is this really what God’s Word teaches? The first thing we need to consider is if this idea is consistent with the attributes and names of God.

As we shall learn, the teachings of Calvinism is in fact inconsistent with every major attribute of God, and contrary to how God has revealed Himself through various names.

When one thinks of the idea that God selects specific individuals for salvation while passing over the rest, without any possibility of salvation, the first thing that comes to mind are the following verses that refute that idea:

1 Timothy 2:4

2 Peter 3:9

These verses state very clearly that God desires salvation for all people. This fact is in harmony with the love of God. God’s love would naturally want everyone to turn from their sins and to accept Christ as their Savior. So how could God choose specific individuals for salvation, leaving the rest without any hope, if it is in God’s power to choose everyone?

Years ago, a Calvinist suggested to me that perhaps something more important is in view here than “God‘s love” and “God’s desire“, and that would be God’s glory. At first, that sounded reasonable, for God does do all things for His glory, but after I thought about it for awhile and prayed about it, I realized that if this idea is true, then many attributes of God would have to be violated or sacrificed, and of course this can never be.

For example, God’s love would have to be violated, for God loves all, as we shall demonstrate from Scripture later on. God is love and He can do no less than to love completely and at all times and to do everything that is consistent with His love. To choose some for Heaven and to leave the rest without hope is a very serious contradiction and violation of His love. As a God of love, He could not bear to deliberately choose some for salvation while leaving the rest to be damned.

For selective choosing to be true, God must operate out of harmony with every one of His attributes, as well as all of the aforementioned names of God. This means He must become someone He is not. If God desires all to be saved, then His means of salvation must be consistent with this desire and with who He is. It must be a plan of salvation that is fair and just. God is just and righteous in all that He does. He can’t simply choose one person above another without violating that truth. Furthermore, His plan of salvation must make sense. He can’t desire all to be saved, then ordain a plan that contradicts that truth. God does not contradict Himself, nor is it possible for Him to do so. This position on the doctrine of election violates the very essence of who God is.

In all that God does, every one of His attributes must work in complete harmony. God cannot exercise one attribute at the expense of another. Furthermore, all that God does must be consistent with what His name reveals about Himself. He has revealed Himself to this world through various names. God is totally consistent with Himself. And that brings us to another of His attributes, which is the Immutability of God. God is unchanging. God does not and cannot change. God can never work against Himself, but only according to Himself.

If God chooses selectively, then it would require God to come up with a plan that is totally consistent with His attributes and with the various names through which He has revealed Himself. A God who is all-knowing; all-powerful; everywhere-present; eternal; and sovereign would have to come up with a plan that would bring every one of His other attributes into perfect harmony. Selective choosing does not even come close to accomplishing that.

To hold the position that election means that God chooses some for Heaven, while leaving the rest for hell, you must completely disregard the unity of God’s attributes.

 

God Is Love, Good, Kind, Merciful, Compassionate, Impartial – To All

Among Calvinists, there are some who believe that God only loves “the elect”. But is that really consistent with a God of love? Is love not an inherent attribute of God? How then can there be exceptions to this truth? God hates sin, but He loves the sinner. Is that not what we’ve all been taught to do ourselves? And why? Because that is God’s way. As the following scriptures and discussion reveals, God truly does love everyone, the good and evil alike.

First of all, consider the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27, where he walked away sad, not willing to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. Verse 21 states that Jesus loved him:

“Then Jesus beholding him loved him..”

This verse alone is enough to demonstrate that God does not love the elect only.

Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:27-36 reveals much about how God feels about all mankind and how He deals with us:

It’s difficult to understand how anyone can agree with Calvinism in light of these scriptures. Here we are told that we are to “love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecutes us”, and it indicates that in doing so we are like our Father in Heaven.

How can this be misunderstood? God loves everyone, saved and unsaved alike. To love everyone is God-like. In fact, these passages of Scripture teaches us that to love only our own kind or to love only those who love us, is no better than sinners who love their own kind. The Luke passage tells us that God “is kind to the unthankful and evil.” And that we are to “be merciful, just as our Father also is merciful.”

Nothing can be clearer than God’s love for all mankind. Now this begs the question:

 

Does God’s love and treatment of people only extend to those things that pertain to this life?

Things that are only temporary? Things of no real value? If it is God’s character to be kind to the unthankful and evil pertaining to the temporary things of this life, does it not make absolute sense that He will deal with them in love and kindness regarding spiritual, eternal matters too?

 

Does God’s love and kindness and mercy cease to exist for them when it comes to His plan of salvation?

To suggest that God is only interested in doing good and being kind to the unthankful and evil regarding the things of this life, but not in regard to the things of the life-after is unthinkable. It simply does not line up with what we know about God and His character. Furthermore, a person does not cease to exist when he or she dies. If God is loving, good, kind, merciful, compassionate, and impartial to them in this life, then He does so with their eternity in view, because we are all eternal creatures, and not simply creatures of this life.

What these passages of Scripture teaches us, is that we as Christians are not to be partial to anyone. We are to treat everyone the same, and in doing so we are being like God. Therefore, the greater lesson to be learned is that God is impartial in His dealings with mankind, and you have to conclude – especially in spiritual matters! The Bible is clear that it is only the eternal things that have any true value, and no one can possibly disagree with that.

Does God not love His enemies? Does He not love those who curse Him? Does He not do good to those hate Him? If God requires this from us, it is because that is His way of doing things. That is the way He treats people. If God is impartial in His dealings with mankind regarding the temporary things of this life, would He not be even more so in His plan of salvation? Surely it does, for one of God’s attributes is His impartiality.

For God to purposely choose certain individuals for salvation while leaving the rest for hell, demonstrates a partiality that is uncharacteristic of who God is and how He deals with man.

 

Of all things, would God not be impartial in the plan He chooses for the salvation of mankind?

Furthermore, we are told to “pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us”. In praying for these individuals, what could be more important than praying for their salvation? And the fact that we are to pray for their salvation within this context of impartiality, doesn’t this indicate that God’s plan of salvation is available to all? I believe it does.

 

Consider the following Scriptures:

James 2:15-16

1 John 3:17-18

If we see a brother or sister in need of food and clothing, but choose not to do anything about it, but simply say “be warmed and filled”, it demonstrates that we don’t really care. What God wants us to learn from this is that if we see someone in need and we have the means to help, but don’t, we are guilty of a lack of love and compassion. True love always expresses itself in giving. And considering all that the Bible says about helping the poor, and treating all people without partiality, this applies not simply for brothers and sisters in Christ, but for everyone we see in need.

There is a wonderful principle we are to learn from all this: We have a responsibility to meet the needs of those around us when it is in our power to do so. If God brings certain people our way who have serious needs, we are to help meet those needs out of a heart of love for them. We are not to “shut up our heart” to them, and simply say “be warmed and filled”, we are to act on those needs we see around us. Many of us have the ability to meet the material needs of others, and if we have that ability, God requires us to use what He has given us to be of help to others. It is not within our power to give salvation to others, but it is in our power to give to the material needs of others.

Here is the principle to be learned: As human beings it is in our power to give of our wealth to help the needs of those who have not, and as Christians, God fully requires us to be faithful to give as He has blessed us. In the same way, it is in God’s power to offer salvation to all, and to select only certain individuals for salvation, while purposely choosing not to make the same offer to the rest, seriously violates the very practice He requires of us.

How can God say to the world – “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,” if the offer really doesn’t apply to everyone? Is that not like God recognizing a need and saying, “be warmed and filled”, but He doesn’t give them what they need? Would God not be guilty of “shutting up His heart” from those who have a spiritual need when it is in His power to provide? The apostle John’s question now comes to mind, “how does the love of God abide in him?” If God chooses not to offer the remedy for the spiritual needs of all mankind, but only for certain individuals, is He not violating His own principle of love that He teaches us to practice?

 

The Justice and Righteousness of God

How can God be Just and Righteous if He tells the world to repent and believe in Christ if it is not even possible for them to do so? How can God hold anyone accountable for something that is impossible for them to do? Furthermore, why would a loving God who is infinite in wisdom hold anyone accountable for something that He has chosen not to provide for them? Does this sound like the actions of an all-wise and loving God? Does this sound like the actions of a just and righteous God? God has given us as Christians the ability to discern between right and wrong, between that which is just and unjust. If this were a similar situation occurring in a courtroom somewhere, we would all very quickly recognize the injustice involved here.

Would you come up with a set of rules for your kids that you knew were impossible for them to keep, and then punish them for not keeping them? Do you believe that God would commend you for being a good and just parent? Of course not!

 

Would God not hold Himself to this same standard of justice?

Even worse, if our law-makers came up with a set of laws that applied to you only, and to no one else, and these laws were impossible to keep, and you were thrown into prison for the rest of your life or condemned to death for not keeping them, would you not cry out “This is not just! It’s not right that you impose these laws upon me only, especially when you knew that these laws were impossible to keep!” And would you not be crying out to God for justice, to intervene on your behalf? Or do you believe that God would instead commend the law makers for their just laws and the just punishment they inflicted upon you? The answer is obvious.

When it comes to justice, God has not kept us in the dark. The reason we are able to recognize injustice is because it is God-given. We are to practice love, mercy, grace, kindness, and compassion because these are attributes of God, and He has enabled us to recognize them when we see them. As with those attributes, justice and righteousness are attributes of God, and He has enabled us to recognize them when we see them.

When God reveals His attributes, He does not give us contradictory meanings of each one. What love means here on earth, means the same in Heaven. What justice and righteousness means here on earth, means the same in Heaven. God is consistent, and His attributes are constant. For that reason God will not lead us to practice one form of justice, and then for Himself to practice a form of justice that would contradict what He has taught us.

 

For selective choosing to be true, God would have to violate His own standard of justice and righteousness.

 

God Of Wrath

Another area where Calvinism misrepresents God and His character is in regard to His wrath. Calvinism requires God to be nothing more than a God of wrath to the non-elect. Here’s how: If God chooses selectively, He is a God of love, goodness, mercy, grace, etc. only to the elect. If these same attributes of God are not operational towards the non-elect, then the only attribute that’s left is His wrath.

God presents Himself to this world in all of His attributes functioning as one single unit. Just as each Person of the Trinity works in harmony with one another, so does all of God’s attributes. If individuals choose not to accept the love, mercy, and grace, and forgiveness of God, that is one thing, but for God to offer only His wrath to an individual, that is quite another.

The idea that only the wrath of God is available to the non-elect is contrary to what Jesus said in Luke 9:56.

 

There is only one way that this statement can be true, and that’s if Jesus came to save everyone.

However, if Jesus offers only His wrath to the non-elect, then that statement cannot be true. In that case, He would have come to both save and to destroy. He would have come to save the elect and to destroy the non-elect. For if He came to save only a select few, then by doing so He forever sealed the fate of the rest, guaranteeing their destruction. If Jesus came to save only the “special elect few”, then all that He would have to offer the rest is His wrath. He would be only a God of wrath to them. This is a serious contradiction that the character of God in all of His attributes cannot allow for. Jesus came to save the lost, but if man rejects the light that is given to them, then and only then are they left to face the wrath of God. Man experiences the wrath of God because of their rebellion against Him, not because He has selectively chosen them for it. The attribute of wrath provides balance to God’s other attributes, and His other attributes provide balance to the attribute of wrath.

 

God Of Light

John 8:12

John 1:9

 

As the Light of the world, giving light to everyone in the world, what light is being radiated? Is it not God in all of His attributes and glory?

Psalms 97:6

Is the light of Christ not a constant beam shining throughout the universe? And is it not the same light that everyone in the world sees? God is who He is, and when the message of Christ is preached, Jesus offers Himself to all with all of His attributes working in harmony with one another. The light of Christ is a light of truth, revealing God and His glory as He is. Therefore, He is a God who reveals Himself in all of His attributes, and therefore must avail Himself in all of His attributes to everyone.

 

God Of Forgiveness

Calvinism presents God as a God of forgiveness only for those whom He has chosen to receive it, choosing to offer no forgiveness for the rest of mankind. God cannot work against Himself. He cannot be a God of forgiveness and not offer forgiveness to everyone. To be consistent with this attribute, He must offer forgiveness to all, and that’s consistent with His other attributes of love, mercy, grace, justice, etc. They all work together in harmony. To choose not to offer forgiveness is an offer of His wrath only, but again, God would be revealing Himself only as a God of wrath to those those who haven’t been selectively chosen for life. He must be and act as He is in all of His attributes. Furthermore, the idea that God offers forgiveness to the “elect” only, is a contradiction of 1 John 2:2, which makes it clear that forgiveness of sins is available to all.

 

God Of Grace

Romans 5:15,18,19

This passage of Scripture shows that the grace of God extends to all mankind, and not simply to a chosen few. The “the many died” obviously refers to all mankind, for we have all experienced spiritual death. The “multiply to the many” obviously refers back to “the many died”, confirming that God’s grace is available to all mankind. Verse 18 and 19 supports 15. As a God of grace, this makes perfect sense, for how can God, who is characterized by grace, reveal Himself apart from that grace? If He is a God of grace, then His grace must be made available to all. Yet, Calvinism teaches that God’s grace only extends to those whom God has specifically chosen to receive it, contrary to God’s character and to the clear statements of God’s Word.

 

God Is Holy

What does it mean to be a holy God? Holiness is who God is. He is the Holy God. He is completely without sin, completely free from moral evil, and absolute in moral perfection. He is just and righteous. He is good and loving. He is compassionate and merciful. He is forgiving and impartial. Therefore, God must, by His very nature offer grace to all.

He is a glorious God, whose glory shines throughout the universe in all of His glory, and works in men’s lives according to the harmony of all His attributes.

 

Calvinism And The Names Of God

Jehovah –  Redemption provided

Jehovah-Jireh –  Substitution and salvation provided

Jehovah-Rophe –  Spiritual healing provided

Jehovah-Tsidkenu –  God’s righteousness provided

Jehovah-Elohim –  Seeks the sinning ones

God has revealed Himself through these names as a God of redemption, as a God of substitution and salvation, as a God of spiritual healing, as a God who provides righteousness, and as a God who seeks the sinner. This is who God is, and He cannot be anyone other than who He is. He is a wonderful Redeemer who seeks the sinner in order to provide righteousness, spiritual healing, and salvation. If God is all these things, then how can God not be all these things at all times to all people?

God is complete in all of His attributes, but He is less than who He is if they do not function as one and at all times. I don’t believe it would be inaccurate to say that God is not a God of many attributes, but a God of one attribute made up of many. In other words, the total of His attributes are as one. They cannot be separated or function independently of each other. Again, it’s much like the Trinity. God is three Persons, but one God. The three Persons of the Trinity do not function independently of each other, but in total and perfect harmony. It’s the same with the attributes of God.

Therefore, in order for God to be consistent with Himself, He must make salvation available to all. If God decides who will believe and who won’t, He violates the very nature of who He is. As His attributes and names reveal, He must be who He is at all times and to all people. Otherwise there is a serious breakdown of the oneness of God’s attributes, and contrary to the names that reveal who He is.

 

Original Post:  The Arminian Files