By Matthew Monfore, May 9, 2021. Photo above courtesy of Mike Snow at mikesnow.org
“You make God out to be an unloving monster”
Those who believe God chooses who will be saved are called Calvinists or Reformed Christians. At the other end of the spectrum are Arminians- and then you have those in between who may be called something else, like “Biblicists”- wanting to detach themselves from John Calvin and the stigma of being labeled a “Calvinist”. Probably, the immediate accusation against Calvinists is, “You don’t believe God loves everybody, and you make God out to be a monster”. The two systems are ways of interpreting the Bible. The author believes Calvinism is more Biblical, but he does not believe that those who believe Arminianism cannot be Christian: He would gladly work with anyone who holds to the Biblical gospel of Christ and who is trying to actually reach out to people who do not know God. If you preach salvation exclusively through Jesus Christ, that repentance and faith are necessary for salvation, and in literal Heaven and Hell; we can work together. But, in the mean time, if you are not a Calvinist, what do you do with Romans 9 and Ephesians 1?
We will start with Ephesians 1. The whole chapter is 23 verses. About half of those verses are one section following the process of salvation from the choosing/election of God’s people before the creation of the world, all the way up to our present and future inheritance (the Holy Spirit now, and heaven later).
The passage explicitly says God chose “us”! Not Jesus…
Verse 4 states, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (bold, underline mine). People try to get around this passage by saying that God chose Jesus, and Christians are in Jesus, so God isn’t really picking individuals but an “umbrella”/Jesus which is inclusive of anyone who believes.
Problem: There are rules to grammar called syntax. In the Greek language the direct object is the word “us”, NOT Him. And the “us” is specifically “saints” (verse 1). The “in Him” is essential to the whole section, because the only way believers are “holy and blameless”, and able to be picked out, is because of God’s plan which follows in more detail in the section.
Paul is emphatic!
In fact, Paul is emphatic here. The verse immediately after Paul talks about God choosing saints (verse 5), basically repeats verse 4: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Once again, the emphasis is on “us”, not the mechanism “to adoption”. Paul, with a Hebrew background, was probably aware of the Hebrew parallelism (a proverb/statement is repeated using different words to convey the same idea) used in the OT, and he used it for emphasis here.
God is not like sinful human beings: God’s love vs. man’s love
How else do you interpret this passage? Paul’s emphasis is LOVE. “In love he predestined us…” So, to accuse Calvinists of making God to be “unloving” and “sadistic” seems to be blasphemy (speaking wrongly of God). It hurts my heart when I hear people making accusations against God for what He chooses to do (“The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?” [Romans 9:21]) He defines love as he chooses. “You thought I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes” (Psalms 50:21). God defines love, not man; and He chose to display His love in this manner: redeeming specific people whom He chose before the foundation of the world, and forgiving their trespasses “according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Eph. 1:8). Paul compares Christ and the Church with a husband and wife relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33). Is a man unloving and sadistic for choosing one woman and not many wives? Is he a “monster” for not taking all those husband-less women into his home as spouses? Who thinks that way? When God chooses His bride; it is entirely good, loving, wise, “according to HIs kind intention”, and “to the praise of His glory” (vs. 9.12).
“Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB) New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by Permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org”