God’s Plan: Election

We’re working through Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan. by John H. Walton.

Never do the biblical writers describe election as a reward. It does not come in response to any attribute or action of Israel. His election did not give Israel a privileged position among the nations so she might gloat. Rather, God chose Israel to serve him and reflect his character and ways to other nations—“that they may proclaim [His] praise” (Isa. 43:21).

(Kindle Locations 257-260).

Thus Israel’s election does not mean God has rejected the other nations. Rather, election creates for Israel the task of representing God among the nations so salvation might come to them.

(Kindle Locations 261-262).

Ahh … finally we can get past the old Calvinist v. Arminian debates about election. Election is God’s choice to call someone into relationship — so that person will serve God by revealing him to the world — by giving testimony, by being a witness, by being a person through whom God does his work in this world.

But is this right? Well …

Yahweh elected Israel to make himself known to the world through her. Israel was to show that “there is none like him in all the earth” (Ex. 8:10; 9:14; 14:4, 18), “the earth is Yahweh’s” (9:29), and “Yahweh is greater than all the gods” (18:11). By doing miracles and wonders for Israel, Yahweh demonstrated his existence and power to Israel as well as to other foreign nations. Thus Yahweh used Israel to be an instrument, to be his witness.

(Kindle Locations 299-302).

In my proposal both salvation and kingdom are important aspects of the covenant-revelation program, but neither is the primary focus. They are both subsumed under the aegis of an overarching plan of God’s revealing his character, his will, and his plan. In so doing, God provides a foundation for relationship with him (knowing God and being like him), a means by which that relationship might be achieved (salvation), and the structure that will define that relationship (kingdom).

(Kindle Locations 320-323). Notice that this approach converges nicely with the Eastern Orthodox teaching of theosis — of man being saved to become like God. And it fits exactly with the interpretation of John’s Gospel I’ve recently suggested.

It’s not just self-revelation, but self-revelation to allow us to draw close to God by becoming like God. Obedience, doctrine, and all such considerations — as important as they are — are means to an end. Obedience not only pleases God but it’s how we demonstrate who God is to others; and it’s part of how we become like God. God’s rules aren’t arbitrary but rather are set to take us on a path toward becoming like him.

Just so, doctrine is merely a means of understanding God’s self-revelation. We aren’t so much concerned to understand election because it will be on the Great True-False Test in the Sky but because election explains why God revealed himself to us and how we’re to respond to that revelation.

Thus, the real point of learning about election is not to prove or disprove the understanding of John Calvin but to allow God’s sovereign election of us to reshape us into his image. (Do you see how horribly we sometimes miss the point?)

Consider, for example, God’s call of Moses —

(Exo 6:2-8 ESV)  2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD.  3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.  4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.  5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.  6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.  7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'”

God elects Israel as “my people” in order that “you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” Election is for the purpose of self-revelation.

God provides as more extensive explanation of his thought early in Deuteronomy —

(Deu 4:32-40 ESV) 32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.  33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?  34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?  35To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.  37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power,  38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day,  39know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

Again, the theme is reiterated: God elects Israel to reveal his true nature.

David reaches the same conclusion —

(Psa 106:7-8 ESV)  7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.  8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.

Ezekiel connects God’s sovereign election of Israel with the new covenant —

(Eze 16:59-63 ESV)  59 “For thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant,  60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you.  62 I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD63 that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord GOD.”

Examples could be multiplied many times. The point is that God plainly states why he does what he does: to reveal himself, that he may be known.

But when we Westerners read these texts, we read right over these statements. We already know that the Lord is God. The text seems unimportant to us because it tells us what we already know.

As a result, what we miss is that God is acting to reveal himself — which tells us a lot about God and his purposes in salvation history.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to God’s Plan: Election

  1. Royce Ogle says:

    This is not only an OT idea. A thoughtful reading of Ephesians chapter 1 confirms god’s intention in his choice is his own glory and praise. The same theme is repeated in Romans 9 and others. Man’s well being is not the central goal of Gods scheme of redemption, it is rather for his own name and glory.

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