The Three Choices of God: Divine Election made simple

March 6, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
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The other night when I was trying to fall asleep I got to thinking about why the topic of election was confusing to so many, including myself. God is not the author of confusion. I recalled Peter’s warning in 2 Peter chapter 3 about the likelihood of Paul’s difficult teachings being misinterpreted:

The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins. But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief…

Look on our Lord’s patience as the opportunity he is giving you to be saved, just as our dear friend Paul wrote to you, using the wisdom that God gave him. This is what he says in all his letters when he writes on the subject. There are some difficult things in his letters which ignorant and unstable people explain falsely, as they do with other passages of the Scriptures. So they bring on their own destruction. But you, my friends, already know this. Be on your guard, then, so that you will not be led away by the errors of lawless people and fall from your safe position.

Peter recognized the difficulty of Paul’s teachings and warned of misinterpretation.

SIDE NOTE: If Peter is supposed to be a Calvinist warning against the Arminian interpretations of Paul (as I’ve heard some say), then he certainly chose words unlike any Calvinist I’ve ever heard…”God is patient with you…he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins …look at our Lord’s patience as the opportunity… they bring on their own destruction… fall from your safe position.”  Suffice it to say, Peter was no Jonathan Edwards.

I love Paul’s teachings, but I agree with Peter.  The apostle Paul tends to be more difficult to understand than the other authors.  Because I have a simple mind, I certainly prefer the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus told stories.  I guess in the same way I prefer books with pictures, I also prefer sermons with stories.

The 3 Choices of God according to Jesus

For my average mind, the story that Jesus tells about The Wedding Feast has probably been the most helpful in bringing clarity to the complex issue of divine election. Within this narrative there clearly are three different and very distinct choices of God represented.  It is my contention that Calvinists (and others) have confounded these three very distinct divine choices by treating them as if they are all one in the same.

Please allow me to explain and defend this contention carefully and with respect to my fellow brethren.

If you haven’t read the parable of the Wedding Feast recently, then please take a moment to do so before proceeding. You can find it HERE in Matthew 22:1-14.

Divine Choice #1:  The choice of His servants, who were given the task of sending out the invitation.

Divine Choice #2: The choice to send the invitation first to His own and then to all others.

Divine Choice #3: The choice to allow only those clothed in proper wedding garments to enter the feast.

The king in this parable clearly represents God and the wedding feast is obviously the kingdom prepared for us. His wedding invitation list includes the people of his own chosen nation, which represents Israel. His servants, people of this same nation, who are called to send out the invitation, clearly represent his prophets and apostles (most of which are mistreated by those of Israel).  The king chooses to send his chosen messengers to those outside of his own nation, to the “good and bad alike” (vs. 10).

Jesus is clearly giving us a parable that explains how God’s elective purposes have come to pass. He chose a people (Israel) to be the nation through which the law, prophets and his Word would be delivered to the entire world. This choice was not based on the impressive size or morality of the nation or its individuals. Scripture clearly tells us that God did not choose the nation of Israel because of it was more impressive (Deut.7:7), nor did he choose the individuals from that nation to carry his invitation because they were more moral (Rom. 9:11; Acts 22:3-4). Likewise, the choice to send the message first to the Jews and then the Gentiles doesn’t appear to be based on the morality of those being invited. He clearly states, “the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike” (vs. 10).

One might describe these choices as being “unconditional,” (as in the Calvinistic concept of “unconditional election”).  After all, he did not choose the nation based on its impressiveness, or the individual servants called to carry his invitations based on their morality.  Nor does he send the invitations specifically to people who are more moral.  So, unconditional election is proven to be true!  Right?!

Not so fast.  We have not even gotten to Divine Choice #3 represented in the parable. So far we have only talked about the “many are called” aspects of parable, not the “few are chosen.”

So, who are the “few” who are “chosen” being referenced by Jesus in this parable?

“The king went in to look at the guests and saw a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ the king asked him. But the man said nothing. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him outside in the dark. There he will cry and gnash his teeth.’”  And Jesus concluded, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

That choice is anything but unconditional. The choice of those who were allowed to enter into the banquet was clearly conditioned upon the individual showing up in the proper clothing.  The wedding garments clearly represent being clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith. The “few” who are “chosen” represent those who responded freely to the invitation sent by the King through His unconditionally chosen servants from His unconditionally chosen nation.

The confusion comes when we convolute these three distinct choices. For example, does God’s choice of Jonah, a servant chosen to carry invitations to Nineveh, equally represent His choice of any particular Ninevite who may respond willingly to this invitation?  Does the fact that God uses externally persuasive means, like a storm and big fish, to convince Jonah’s rebellious will to obey prove that God uses internally irresistible means (like effectual grace) to cause pre-selected Ninevites to respond willingly to Jonah’s invitation?  If so, the text certainly never draws that conclusion.  Why do Calvinists?

Someone may protest that Calvinists do not convolute these divine choices in this manner, but think of how often you have heard a Calvinist point to the calling of Paul on the road to Damascus as an example of God’s effectual calling of some to salvation.  Think of how many times passages like John 15:16 (“You did not choose me; I chose you…”) are used as proof texts for the Calvinistic belief of individual election to salvation when clearly Jesus is speaking to His servants who are being prepared to take the invitation to the rest of the world.  They are using Divine Choice #1 as proof for their belief about Divine Choice #3.

Think about how many times you have heard Calvinists argue that God has granted repentance or faith to some individuals but not others, yet clearly such passages represent Divine Choice #2 where by the king chose to send His invitation first to the Jews (so they may believe and repent) and then to the Gentile (so that they too may believe and repent).  Faith comes by hearing and thus God is “granting faith or repentance” by sending the invitation to believe and repent.  How can they believe in one whom they have not heard? (Rom 10) How can they come to the banquet without an invitation?  By inviting them, He is GRANTING them the ability to come.

I am thoroughly convinced that as long as the church does not come to understand that God’s divine elective purposes in unconditionally choosing the nation of Israel and certain servants from that nation to carry His invitations AS DISTINCT FROM His choice to save whosoever willingly responds to that invitation in faith, then we will continue to be confounded by this biblical doctrine.

Listen to this PODCAST for more explanation on the topic of Divine Election.

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Jim Poulos

Hello Prof. Flowers,

I’d like to suggest that the interpretation of the parable of the King entering the wedding feast is not so much about ‘salvation by faith’ as those who persevered to be worthy of the King’s approval. I don’t know if this is calvinistic or non-calvinistic. Putting this conflict to the side, the natural reading suggests that wedding clothes are the outward, while the call is the inward. Those who came with the wedding clothes, the outward, prepared to meet their King. Those who did not, which, in the parable, like in the real world and many churches, take too much for granted and are too casual about their preparation.

Wouldn’t most churches want their members to be challenged to prepare? I think you would agree. You’re article touches on good points but I sometimes feel the conflict between Calvinism and non-calvinism detracts for the plain reading of scripture.

Thank You, J Poulos

    Leighton Flowers

    Jim,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that all future applications of any given text are not necessarily intended by the author. In other words, I was not meaning to suggest that Jesus told this parable with the intention of refuting Calvinism’s interpretation of divine election. Just as I don’t believe Peter was attempting to address the Cal/Arm debate in 2 Peter 3. In fact, I seriously doubt any biblical author had the Cal/Arm issues in mind when they wrote the text. If any “debate” or “contention” was in mind it was likely the “Jews are elect, not the Gentiles” debate and the “mystery” that Paul is sacrificing his very life to explain and defend (Eph. 3).

    My intention was to borrow Jesus’ parable to show the clear distinction between three choices that God has made in regard to the salvation of man in redemption history. He did choose the nation of Israel unconditionally (Deut. 7). He did choose individuals from that nation unconditionally (not based on morality-Rom. 9:11; Acts 22:3-4). He did choose to send the invitation to all without respect of their nationality or morality…ie “unconditionally” (vs. 10). Do we agree so far?

    These are all factual truths we gather from the whole of scripture, not merely this parable. The parable serves the purpose of illustrating or explaining these established truths. Do you disagree with them thus far? If not, why not? Even if you don’t think Jesus was intending to teach these applied truths, can you still acknowledge them as true?

    Finally, the choice of the king to permit entrance into the banquet being linked to their coming in proper garments. Scripture often refers to being “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” The wedding garments seem to be representative of the imputation of Christ who covers us, which we know is applied to all who believe. You wrote, “the wedding feast is not so much about ‘salvation by faith’ as those who persevered to be worthy of the King’s approval…” but I fail to see much of a distinction given that we cannot be persevered as worthy of His approval apart from faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ.

    You go on to write, “the natural reading suggests that wedding clothes are the outward, while the call is the inward.” (Did you mean to say the opposite? Not sure if this was a typo?) The call is clearly sent to all and is outward (go into the highways and byways and invite all). That is very OUTWARD. That represents the gospel call sent to “every creature.” (Mark 16:15) The response to that invitation seems to represent our response to the gospel appeal (2 Cor. 5).

    Thank you for the dialogue. Blessings brother!

      JIm Poulos

      Hello Leighton,

      I want to say up front I do appreciate dialogue. Without that there is really no forward momentum in much of anything.

      Yes, you are correct the outward is ‘the call.’ To clarify then, the inward is the response of ‘faith,’ to that call. So those called who respond in faith ‘know the King’ on that level. But that is not sufficient to meet His approval to partake of His Wedding feast which shows itself in the ‘wedding garments.’ Wedding garments take work to prepare.

      I think that is the distinction needed of the one cast out. Initial faith is not sufficient to partake of the wedding feast. It is sufficient to be part of the kingdom. He ignored his responsibility to ‘grow in the grace and the knowledge of Christ,’ which I see as the ‘wedding garments.’

      I feel this is the most natural reading and intention of this parable. The conflict with Calvinism influences that natural reading.

      Thank you again, J Poulos

Andrew Barker

Jim Poulos: In the parable, the incorrectly clothed guest is thrown out ….. you know where! I don’t think this sits well with your suggestion that the parable is about persevering to be “worthy of the King’s approval.” I think you are going to run into problems on all sides; Calvinists, Arminians and those of us who take a Biblical viewpoint as well ! ;-)

I think it’s important to bear in mind that parables are only ever meant to be used as illustrations of one main point. They are not meant to be used allegorically where every aspect of scripture is reflected. For example, in this case, we have the King talking to a ‘guest’ who has gatecrashed the party! That’s never going to happen, but then that’s not the point of the parable, is it.

    Jim Poulos

    Hello Andrew,

    “…you know where!” is completely your assumption, Andrew. If anyone is using scripture allegorically it is not me. All we know in the parable is that he was ‘put out of the wedding feast’. Neither is there any thing of gatecrashing. The quest’s problem is he not appreciating where he was, he very much assumed he had a right to be in the feast.

    JIm Poulos

      Andrew Barker

      Jim Poulos: If you read my comment carefully, you’ll see I’m quite happy with allegory, just not over stretching it. That’s why I wouldn’t be too concerned about what the gnashing of teeth etc. refers to in particular. The point is that wherever it is, it’s not where you want to be! You’re correct in saying the man assumed he had a right to be there. But he was wrong on that score, wasn’t he! The invites went out to two groups of people but to attend the wedding, it was mandatory to be correctly dressed. This is where care needs to be taken as far as the ‘allegory’ goes. My understanding of this is that it was customary in that society for guests to be provided with wedding clothes. In which case, the man may have been well dressed, but he was not correctly dressed. I’m sure people will put me straight if that is not the case! :)

      So in the parable as Leighton has set out we have two unconditional invites and a conditional acceptance into the wedding. My view is that salvation is freely offered to all but acceptance is conditional on faith. If you like, by faith we are clothed in his righteousness and are made acceptable.

      If you wish to see the wedding feast as some reward for good service and faithfulness, I think you are on shaky ground. You also run the risk of ending up in the place of the man who thought he was good enough because he was relying on his own efforts. There may be a place for reward for good service in the Kingdom, but I just don’t think this parable is referring to it. I don’t think Christians who miss out on faithful service will end up gnashing their teeth will they? As the Psalmist put it, better to be a door attendant in the Lord’s house than to party in the tents of the wicked. (my paraphrase).

Jim Poulos

Andrew,

Yours is the perspective (interpretation driven by academic isms) of separating faith from its inherent goal (telios), a wedge driven between faith and practical living.

J Poulos

    Andrew Barker

    I’d be interested to hear where your ideas come from. Did you read this somewhere or is it something you’ve thought up?

      jpoulos11@earthlink.net

      Hello Andrew,

      You question is difficult to answer. I have read and read and read. I have thought and thought and thought. And still do both. I am convinced that most of who I have read and are not “skilled in the word of truth.” I want to be because it is the only way to move God’s people and produce fruit onto everlasting life.

      At the church I’ve attended I’ve been working to understand how Christian Maturity takes place. This has helped me understand the ‘blinding influence’ (truly blinding) people’s pre-conditioning has hardened them to the truths scripture tries to teach.

      Mark 7:13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” None effect, is as valid today in the church as was with the Jews in Jesus’ time in the flesh.

      Anyway, mentioning names or theological systems detracts from the source which is Scripture.

      In that I hope I would share a bit of the skill mentioned in 2 Tim. 2:15.

      Thanks for asking,
      J Poulos

Andrew Barker

J Poulos: “At the church I’ve attended I’ve been working to understand how Christian Maturity takes place. This has helped me understand the ‘blinding influence’ (truly blinding) people’s pre-conditioning has hardened them to the truths scripture tries to teach.”

Christian maturity is a good thing for which to aim and only comes with years of patient experience. Personally, I think it’s good to expose yourself to as wide a range of Christian thinking as possible. If your church is telling you that everyone else is ‘blind’ and ‘hardened’ then for me, that sets the alarm bells ringing.

Greg Roberts

For a better understanding of the OUTER DARKNESS, I might suggest Dr. Charles Stanley and his book on ETERNAL SECURITY also look at the following article in .Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society .
THE “OUTER DARKNESS”
IN MATTHEW AND
ITS RELATIONSHIP TO GRACE

Peace

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