The following question came after a question box was placed in the back of the church. I plan to post other questions and answers as well.
Q: How do we reconcile election, for example Rom. 8:30, Eph. 1:5, with verses such as II Peter 3:9 and John 12:32?
A: The balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility has been a perplexing challenge for many a theologian. J.I Packer in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, calls this challenge an antinomy, which he describes as an “appearance” of a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary (18).
William Pettingill writes:
There is no doubt that God’s absolute sovereignty is taught, and clearly taught, in the Word of God, and just as clearly is man’s responsibility also taught in the Word. Our difficulty comes when we seek to “harmonize” these two doctrines. Such a task seems to be beyond the power of the human mind. Let us believe all that God has said on the subject and be content to wait for further light as to the harmony between these things. We may depend upon it “the Judge of all the earth” will “do right.” Let us preach to men as if everything depended upon them, and then let us pray to God for them as if everything depended upon God. (Bible Questions Answered, 208)
Let us now consider the afore mentioned verses:
Romans 8:30 KJV 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Ephesians 1:5 KJV 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
Predestined means predetermined. That fact that God has decided to do certain things and that He will in fact do them should surprise no one. Eph. 1:5 clearly tells us that He determined that believers would be adopted by Christ. Notice the verse that comes right before Rom 8:30:
Romans 8:29 KJV 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
This tells us that not only did God determine that certain things would happen, but that He based His determination on what He knew would happen- His foreknowledge.
1 Peter 1:2 KJV 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
We should be aware that there is a debate about whether or not knowing what would happen is determining what would happen. That is often at the core of the whole election debate. Election is clearly taught in scripture, but the big question is if it is based on what God knew man would do or if it is based on what God has decided that man would do.
I must be quick to remind us that God is all powerful and that whatever He does is just. We also recognize that He allows man to do evil. Consider as well how often God gave “if then” promises. (If you will do this, then I will do that). I like to refer to such things as man’s limited freewill. Man does not have total freedom to do whatever he wants to. However, God often allows or permits us to act. We must also realize that God has the power to stop us at any time. That is why we are limited. We are not robots programmed by God, nor do we have freedom to do whatever we want to do.
Let us also consider the other verses:
2 Peter 3:9 KJV 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
John 12:32 KJV 32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
I believe that II Peter 3:9 is teaching that within man’s limited freewill there is an offer of salvation to all, not just certain elect. We must also be aware that God knows that some will never accept that offer. He is all knowing and is never taken by surprise. That He would harden those that He already knows would reject Him no matter what, and use them for His specific purposes should not surprise us. I am not convinced, however, that God never interferes in such matters of drawing men to Himself or else I would be slow to pray for His power to influence a lost soul.
John 12:32 clearly teaches that He does draw men to Himself- all men. That He might make that drawing irresistible to some is His right and even my prayer. With that in mind, we must be quick to point out that without His drawing, no one would get saved. John 6:44 KJV 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Regardless of how we interpret election, may we praise God for His justice and control over everything. How much freedom He gives man will not be known this side of eternity. I pray that He limits my freedom when it comes to sin so that I might better glorify Him. I also pray that He limit’s the freedom of my unsaved neighbor to reject Him so that he as well might glorify Him.