The doctrine of election is one of the most hotly debated mysteries of the Christian life. Theologians through the ages have pondered the meaning of Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” What did the apostle Paul mean when he wrote that God “Foreknew” certain people? How are we to understand the notion of God having “predestined” certain individuals to be saved and sanctified?
In attempting to resolve these profound questions, Bible students have typically aligned themselves in two camps. Arminians, those who embrace the position of the seventeenth century Dutch pastor Jacobus Arminius, understand foreknowledge to mean God’s knowledge in advance of those who would repent of their sin and believe the gospel. In other words, in eternity past, God looked down the corridors of time to see all who would one day accept the elect. The fact that they would eventually believe in Christ was the condition that prompted eternal life. To bolster their position, Arminians point to verses that clearly state God’s desire for all people to be saved (see 1 Tim. 2:3, 4; 2 Pet: 3:9). Furthermore, they argue the universal salvation is determined solely by God apart from the free will of a person.
Calvinism is the second dominant viewpoint. Calvinists, named for the French Reformer John Calvin, understand foreknowledge as a “relational” term. In other words, foreknowledge refers to God’s intimate knowledge of and love for His elect before they came into existence. From the Calvinistic perspective, it is God’s sovereign choice, and not a person’s exercised faith, that determines who the elect are. Put simply, Calvinists define election as the unconditional choice of God that is the cause of our faith. Arminians, on the other hand, would define it as the conditional choice of God that is the result of our faith. Calvinists defend their position with passages like 9:6-24 which describe why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Moreover, they argue that depraved, spiritually dead people could not choose to believe and would not choose to believe.
Regardless of one’s stance on the matter of election, this much is clear: God is infinitely wise, powerful, and good. We cannot accuse Him of being unfair in His dealings with humans. It was our own sinfulness that has entrapped us and condemned us. Yet God, out of His infinite mercy, chooses to save.