The Three Choices of God: Divine Election made simple

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.

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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.