Article V of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000: God’s purpose of grace

Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

Every Christian should readily acknowledge that the Bible teaches divine election. Disagreements arise with respect to how this doctrine is biblically defined, and how it’s applied.

Article V of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:

“Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

“All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

Every Christian should readily acknowledge that the Bible teaches divine election. Disagreements arise with respect to how this doctrine is biblically defined, and how it’s applied.

The word “election” in Scripture is derived from the Greek eklegomai, which means “to choose something for oneself.” The Bible also uses words such as “choose,” “predestine,” “foreordain,” and “call” to indicate that God has entered into a special relationship with certain individuals and groups through whom he has decided to fulfill His purposes. 

As the BF&M statement above implies, election is God’s choice of certain individuals to salvation before the foundation of the world. The Reformed (Calvinist) position on election is that it is unconditional; that is, God selected specific persons for everlasting life based solely on his divine will and good pleasure, not on foreseen faith. In other words, God foreknows all future events – including responses to the gospel message – because he first ordained them. 

The non-Reformed (Arminian) position is that God’s election is conditional; that is, God selected specific persons for salvation based on foreseeing their response in belief and repentance to the gospel message. As taught by Jacobus Arminius, after whom Arminianism is named, God’s election to salvation is the election of believers, which means that election is conditioned on faith. Arminius also insisted that God’s foreknowledge of people’s choices did not cause those choices or make them necessary.

Between Calvinism and Arminianism is Molinism. Named for Luis Molina, a 16th century Jesuit priest, Molinism argues that God perfectly accomplishes his will in free creatures through the use of his omniscience. Molinism seeks to reconcile two biblical truths: (1) God exercises sovereign control over all his creation, and (2) human beings make free choices for which they must give an account. 

As Kenneth Keathley explains in Salvation and Sovereignty, “Molinism simultaneously holds to a Calvinistic view of a comprehensive divine sovereignty and to a version of free will (called libertarianism) generally associated with Arminianism.”

Molinism teaches that God exercises his sovereignty primarily through his omniscience, and that he infallibly knows what free creatures would do in any given situation. In this way, the Lord sovereignly controls all things, while humans also are genuinely free. Put another way, God is entirely responsible for salvation; human beings are entirely responsible for sin.

Some theologians hold to a fourth view: God’s election is corporate; that is, according to Eph. 1:4-6, God chose believers in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus is the “elect one,” and the church consists of people who freely choose to receive Christ. 

What is reprobation?

Reprobation is a term that describes those who are left in their sinful and fallen states and thus are eternally damned. 

Generally, those who embrace Reformed theology argue that reprobation is unconditional, meaning that God’s decree of damnation for certain people results in their unbelief. 

Those who hold a more moderate view of Reformed theology, as well as Arminians, contend for conditional reprobation. This means that God foresees the unbelief of certain individuals and thereby decrees their damnation. However, as with the Arminian view of election, God’s foreknowledge doesn’t cause their unbelief, or make it necessary. 

Thus, election and reprobation essentially are two sides of the same coin:

  • Election is gracious and eternal; reprobation is just and eternal.
  • Election is established in Christ; reprobation is declared by Christ.
  • Election is conditioned on faith and repentance; reprobation is conditioned on unbelief and rebellion.
  • Election is personal in its application; so is reprobation.

The doctrine of election, and the related doctrines of foreknowledge and predestination, continue to serve as flashpoints among Christian fellowships. That’s disheartening, because there is a great deal of common ground to be shared. 

While followers of Jesus may debate whether election is conditional or unconditional, we all agree that God is the author of salvation. He is sovereign, free, gracious, and just. He withholds salvation from no one and banishes no one to hell without their permission. And he entrusts his highest created beings with an ability to make decisions for which he holds them accountable. 

Next: Article VI of the BF&M: The Church

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