In regard to the call to Christ, there’s two forms: First, there’s a general call that goes out to the world via the spoken or written gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s inevitable that there will be many people who hear the words of the gospel message, because the message is going out to the world via church services, through the faithfulness of individual Christians, the internet, the radio, gospel tracts, books and from reading the Bible itself. This is the general call.
Then there’s a specific call from God Himself upon one’s life that always results in salvation. To illustrate, if there are ten unsaved people sitting in church on a Sunday morning, and the gospel message is clearly proclaimed, all ten of those individuals hear the words of the message; this is the general call that goes out to the world. However, only 4 of them hear the voice of God Himself, calling them to His Son for salvation. This is the specific call of God upon their lives. This is made clear in the following passages:
(Matthew 22:2-3) – 2 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come…….14 For many are called, but few chosen.” (WEB)
Many are called via the words (preaching) of the gospel message, but “few are chosen.” In other words, those who are chosen for salvation are those who are called via the voice of God Himself, where God directly intervenes in their lives. This is even more clearly illustrated in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24:
(1 Cor 1:22-24) – 22 For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God; (WEB)
This passage is a perfect and clear example of both the general call of salvation that goes out to the world, and the specific call of salvation that goes to certain individuals. Paul speaks of preaching to both Jews and Gentiles (“Greeks”); this is the general population of the world. He tells us that the message of Christ is “a stumbling block” to Jews and “foolishness” to Gentiles. However, among those same Jews and Gentiles are those who are specifically “called” to Christ, and to them He is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To those individuals the gospel message is not “foolishness,” because they’re able to hear and understand (spiritually) the gospel message with conviction. They see (spiritually) the truth of that message and realize their need for Christ as Savior. Paul is clear that among the general population of Jews and Gentiles who hear the preaching about Christ, there are certain individuals who are called by God for salvation. Paul continues this discussion about this specific call to Christ in the same chapter, verses 26-31:
(1 Cor 1:26-31) – 26 For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; 27 but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that don’t exist, that he might bring to nothing the things that exist, 29 that no flesh should boast before God. 30 Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: 31 that, as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” (WEB)
In verse 26 Paul refers to the “calling” of those who are “chosen” (verses 27 & 28). These are chosen and called out of the “world” of people who may or may not hear the preaching of the gospel message. In verses 22-24 (see above), Paul refers to the Jews and Gentiles of the world who do hear the preaching of the gospel message. In these verses (26-31), it’s the whole world of sinners he’s referring to—who may or may not hear the gospel message. Many hear the preaching of the gospel and many don’t. What we need to see here is what Paul reveals, that among the people of the world there are certain individuals who are specifically chosen and called to Christ by God Himself: “God chose, God chose, God chose.” How many times does God have to say it before we believe Him? How many times does He have to say it before we believe that He actually means what He says? That He actually did choose certain individuals for salvation in Christ, “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4)?
The repetition in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 is significant. Anytime we see repetition like this in Scripture, we know God is making a point that we must recognize. Arminian Christians don’t believe that God really means what it sounds like here. They don’t believe that He actually chooses specific individuals for salvation. However, plain statements of Scripture should never be explained away to mean something else, unless it’s clearly revealed otherwise elsewhere in the Bible (it’s not). We must be careful not to interpret and conform Scripture to our preferred doctrinal position.
Paul wraps up this discussion by restating this choosing and calling by telling his audience that it’s “because of God that we are in Christ Jesus” (vs. 30). It’s because of God that we come to faith in Christ. We don’t have that power, for we are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1,5). He is the one who reveals “to us” that Christ is “wisdom of God,” and not “foolishness.” It’s God who takes the initiative and intervenes in the lives of certain individuals. Salvation is of God from start to finish, so that “no flesh should boast before God” (vs. 29). Rather, our boast is to be “in the Lord” (vs. 31). For those who would interpret “it’s because of God that we are in Christ Jesus,” to simply refer to the fact that He has provided the way of salvation for us, that idea doesn’t fit the context where the choosing of God is mentioned over and over. It seems clear that those references of choosing is meant to interpret this statement. In other words, “we are in Christ Jesus” because God chose us and called us to it.
All of this is confirmed in the following scriptures:
(John 6:44-45) – 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. (NET)
In verse 45, Jesus interprets what He means in verse 44: “Everyone” whom the Father draws to His Son, are those who “hears and learns” (understands the gospel message with conviction) and “comes to me” (receives Him as Lord and Savior). Or vise-versa, “everyone who hears and learns from the Father,” are those whom the Father draws to His Son. In other words, everyone who is drawn to Christ hears the specific call to salvation, and they answer the call and go to Jesus (“comes to me”) and receives Him as Lord and Savior. The Apostle Peter says the same thing here:
(Acts 2:38-39) – 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (WEB)
“as many as” means “everyone” or “all” who are called (ESV, NIV, EXB, NLT, NRSV)
“As many as, or everyone whom our God calls to himself” receives “forgiveness of sins,” by receiving Christ as Savior. Everyone who is specifically called gets saved. No one who is called to Christ by the Father, rejects Him. It’s not possible to reject Christ once the truth has been made known to those chosen to receive it. Just like a sheep recognizes the voice of their shepherd and follows (Jn 10:3,4,16,27). Again Paul:
(Romans 8:28-30) – 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified. (WEB)
Paul reveals that everyone who is specifically called to Christ, receives Christ. How do we know that? Because those who are called are “justified and glorified.” This is a highly significant revelation. This leaves no wiggle room for those who believe that sinners can choose Christ or reject Him once their spiritual eyes have been opened to the truth. If everyone is called in the same manner – and free to choose either way – how can rejectors of Christ be “justified and glorified?” That’s the point, they can’t. Paul strengthens this point by also revealing that those who are called were “foreknown and predestined” for it. These are the same ones who were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Again, how many times does God have to say it before we take Him at His word about a specific call to certain individuals who are chosen for it? Jesus Himself says that He gives life to whomever he wishes (wants, wills):
(John 5:21) – 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. (NET)
James says the same thing:
(James 1:18) – 18 Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. (WEB)
“By his own choice, he gave us birth” – CSB
Our election and calling to Christ is a Sovereign choice. Christians who believe the Bible teaches free-will salvation, where a person is free to choose Christ as Savior or free to reject Him (that it’s us who ultimately decide our eternal outcome), regard Sovereign election as something that is forced upon us, that we’re just puppets, that it’s really God who believes for us—since Calvinists believe that God provides the needed faith (Eph 2:8-9) and are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Jn 6:44). This is known as “irresistible grace.” But this Arminian viewpoint is based on a misunderstanding of what actually takes place at the point of salvation. On the other hand, I don’t think this idea of being irresistibly drawn to Christ is an accurate understanding either. As I already indicated, I believe Jesus reveals something else:
(John 10:3) – 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. (WEB)
(John 10:27) — “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
When elect sinners are drawn to Christ, it’s more like God giving them a heart of a sheep (regeneration), who are then able to hear the voice of their Shepherd, and when they hear they follow, because that’s what sheep do. They know the voice of their shepherd and they follow. It’s a natural relationship. It’s not that a sinner is irresistibly drawn to Christ, it’s that He reveals Himself so clearly and provides conviction so strongly, that all barriers are removed that prevents someone from refusing Him. Again, it’s as natural as a sheep hearing the voice of their shepherd, and following Him. They’re able to recognize who they belong to. There is no irresistible forcing in receiving Christ. It’s regeneration that gives us a new heart to see and believe. We’re made alive first so that we’re able to believe. Faith in Christ is the natural outcome of the new-birth. We believe, because we’re enabled to believe. Not only that, but the new-birth ensures that we believe. Spiritual birth and unbelief cannot co-exist, because that is what belongs to the spiritually dead. Unbelief exists with those who are spiritually dead, and belief exists with those who have been made alive. That’s why the idea that someone is able to reject Christ once He reveals Himself, is so certainly incorrect.
The Arminian view of election and the process of salvation doesn’t make sense. It’s out of harmony with so many scriptures, and we covered a few of those scriptures in this study. Having been Arminian in my theology most of my Christian life, and teaching it for several years, I can tell you that it takes a lot of work to explain, or rather, explain away scriptures (I call it fancy theological footwork) like the ones we covered in this study. If you have to work that hard to explain such clearly revealed truths to mean something that it’s not actually saying (as I once did), then it tells us that what we believe is likely incorrect.
This specific call that always results in salvation, as revealed in Scripture, is one of the most compelling arguments for unconditional Sovereign election. When one thinks through it, I believe we have to acknowledge that it can’t be any other way. No one is able to hear and learn the gospel of Jesus Christ on their own. No one is able to draw themselves to Christ. No one is able to call themselves to Christ, and no one is able to receive the call to Christ in their dead state. It requires a direct intervention of God within the lives of helpless sinners. That’s what all these scriptures we looked at reveal. In calling dead sinners to Christ, it requires God to regenerate them so that they’re able to not only hear the call to Christ (Jn 3:3-8; Eph 2:1,5; 1 Cor 2:14), but also to respond in faith. This is an elective and specific calling of God to Christ that always results in salvation.
A word about God’s justice:
Having been Arminian in my theology for most of my life, I believe most who hold to the Arminian understanding regarding the doctrine of election, reject the Calvinist understanding because of how they perceive the justice of God. They believe that such a viewpoint makes God unjust. But who are we to make that determination? Who are we to decide what the justice of God looks like? The best we can do is follow the truth of Scripture where it leads us. I believe that a completely unbiased approach will most certainly lead one to understand the doctrine of election as submitted in this study. We know for sure that God is a just and good and loving and merciful God, and that His judgments are just, righteous and true (Rev 16:7; Rev 19:2; He 6:10). Therefore, even though we don’t fully understand or have all the answers, we can rest in these attributes of God, knowing that He is worthy of our trust. We can trust that God can do no wrong and that He knows what He’s doing, and that no one ever receives what they don’t deserve.
We can’t allow our own preconceived notions about God to influence how we interpret Scripture. Preconceived notions about God or about certain doctrines, hinder true understanding. We must be willing to follow the truth where it wants to lead us. The most natural reading and understanding regarding election and our call to Christ, most certainly favors unconditional Sovereign election, as this study reveals.
(Romans 9:14-15) – 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! 15 For he says to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (NET)
(Romans 9:19-21) – 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?” 20 But who indeed are you—a mere human being—to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use? (NET)
Understanding the doctrine of election as the Sovereign choosing of God, takes the pressure off. In my Arminian years, I always felt that the salvation of others depended so much on my own faithfulness to share the gospel of Christ, that people may go to hell if I didn’t tell them about Jesus. There was always a certain amount of guilt involved when I failed to do so, believing that someone’s salvation relied a lot on me to deliver. That’s a heavy burden to carry! However, in truth, a person’s salvation depends completely on the faithfulness of God—not on our faithfulness! Don’t misunderstand, we’re always to be faithful to obey God, and that includes sharing our faith with others. God uses His people to spread the gospel message (Ro 10:14-15). However, knowing that a person’s salvation is ultimately in God’s hands (whether someone comes to faith in Christ or not), relieves all the pressure. We can simply share our faith and rest in the faithfulness of God, leaving the results to Him. And if we fail to take advantage of an opportunity God gives us to share Christ with someone, we don’t have to beat ourselves up about it, thinking that that person may go to hell because I didn’t share the gospel with them. It’s right to feel bad about a blown opportunity, but we don’t have to feel responsible for their salvation….because we’re not. God will get the message to him or her some other way.
Not only does the Arminian view of election suggest that we deserve some sort of credit for our own salvation, but it also suggests that we deserve some sort of credit for the salvation of others when we share the gospel (Lu 17:10). However, all glory goes to God, for He is sovereign over both.