My wife told me to be a bit careful about preaching on election and predestination. Meat is good for adults with strong teeth and a healthy digestive system; to give it to babies is in effect to choke them instead of to feed them. Whew! point well taken. Anyway, here a few more random thoughts on the subject:
One, I don’t think God really means for us to completely understand what predestination/election is all about. The practical point of the doctrine is simply to get us to see that we owe everything to God. As Paul puts in in Ephesians 2, Predestination/Election is to the praise of his glorious grace! It’s not meant to negate our responsibility and existential freedom to choose life. The dilemma, however, still remains and will always remain: How do you reconcile the parallel line of an eternal cause (God’s predestination in eternity) with the parallel line of a temporal effect (man’s freedom and responsibility in time)? The best answer anyone can give is, I think, “The secret things belong to the Lord, the things that are revealed to us and our children.
Two, be that as it may, election and predestination are there in the Bible for all to read. And the effect of these doctrines on many is really that of a “horrible decree” (I think it was Calvin who said that). But I think this is because we consider election in a vacuum, we disconnect it from Christ. Paul speak of election in Christ. I also take note of the observation by some that election has a positive and gracious flavor to it. It’s not an election unto death but unto life! Of course, R. C. Sproul might be correct in saying that election implies reprobation as a matter of logical inference. But even so, if we focus our eyes on Christ who is the mirror of election, in whom election has its true meaning, from whom God’s election cannot be separated, election cannot be anything else than gracious. For – and this I learned from Barth – Christ is the goodness of God. In begetting his Son in eternity, in entering into a covenant of redemption with his Son in eternity (see John Owen) God showed that he is for man and has always been for man, and this is the meaning of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s being with us and God’s being for us. Therefore since election is in Christ in eternity election is then about the goodness of God and God’s being for man from the very beginning.
Third, it must be stressed that Jesus Christ is offered to all. He is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Whoever comes to him he will not turn away. Whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Christ is the sign of God’s acceptance. The cross is the sign of God’s reconciliation. That is why we are commanded to be reconciled to God. It is true that election is God’s sovereign, exclusive, all-comprehensive prerogative and initiative. But precisely because election is in Christ, and Christ is offered to the whole world, the whole world is enjoined to come to Christ and discover the possibility that it was all along elect in him! In this case, election no longer becomes frightening, but a belated surprise that my coming to Christ was all along a result of God’s invincible determination from the very beginning to have me as one of his people regardless of who I am – provided I come.
Fourth, but once again we are in a dilemma. For this invincible goodness of God to the elect in Christ surely does not mean that all are elect, for not all are ultimately saved. To say that there are those who are elect who will nevertheless fail to be saved is to say that God’s goodness in election in Christ is not invincible. This I think goes against Paul’s argument in the latter part of Rom. 8, the point of which is “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” That is why Calvinists are forced to say that election in Christ involves a definite number and a particular people who are foreknown by God from the very beginning. Election in Christ cannot refer to a hypothetical people who may or may not choose in time to be in Christ, for that leaves open the possibility that for all the predestinating God may do in eternity the outcome might still be that none will be saved at all!
Fifth, we must conclude then that we stand in a place of unresolvable tension. The whole world is in hope included and not excluded in God’s election, precisely because election is in Christ and Christ is for the whole world – he will not reject anyone who comes to him. At the same time election is invincible: the predestined will be glorified. The fact that not at all will be glorified implies that not all are predestined. To say that all are predestined but unfortunately there are some who reject their elect status and will therefore not make it is to jeopardize Paul’s argument of “No separation from Christ for the predestined” in Rom. 8.