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Monday, March 14, 2005

A Catholic on Election, Free Will, and Salvation

The following was a forum post at ChristianForums.com and includes my response to this person. I am including it here because these questions are both common and important, and I desire to do all I can to publish these answers publically, spreading the Word of truth as far as I can, anticipating others who might harbour similar questions. This will become a fairly regular feature in this blog, wherein I will publish here the questions and concerns I encounter in my experiences on the Internet and in real life. As always, when my interlocutor is not a public figure, the questioner is left nameless.

I am what I consider a 'new Christian'. I was born Catholic, fell away from God in my late teens and twenties, and am now working to build my relationship back with God. A part of that is struggling with the various doctrines who all say their's is the correct path.

With Calvinism, if I understand correctly, one does not choose to be saved. God chooses you -- or elects you, basically. It is predetermined.

If this is true, then I have no control over my saving? It is already decided before I existed whether I would be saved nor not?

If that is true, how does this work with the idea of God giving us free will to choose Him or not?

If I want Christ in my life, and truly want to follow His Word, and want to be saved, and I take the actions of one that is saved, is this indication of me being predetermined? How does one know they are elected?

It seems to me that Calvinism does not coincide with the gift of free will to follow God or not. But yet, if God knows all, then I can understand how he knows who will and will not choose him-hence him predetermining you. So I can see both sides-which confuses me even more.

"With Calvinism, if I understand correctly, one does not choose to be saved. God chooses you-or elects you, basically. It is predetermined."
I would emphasize caution here over the important theological distinction between 'salvation' and 'election', to the effect that we must never conflate the two.

Concerning 'salvation' and your above statement I would say that, on the Reformed view, there is no conflict between the two ideas. In other words, both ideas are true: God chooses us, and we choose God. Salvation is a multifaceted rubric which, in at least some respects, involves interaction between God and man. The different facets of salvation are outlined under the Reformed ordo salutis (Lt. 'order of salvation'). However, although it is true that 'election' is one facet of salvation, it did not involve any interaction between God and man; 'election' is a different matter because this act took place in the divine singularity of God's eternal frame of reference, which is antecedent to and transcendent of the created order. Scriptures speak of 'election' occurring before any of the elect were born both explicitly (e.g Rom. 9:10-16) as well as implicitly, insofar as scriptures reveal election taking place before the world was even created (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Matt. 25:34 [cf. Psalm 32:1,2]; Rev. 13:8; etc.).
"If this is true, then I have no control over my saving? It is already decided before I existed whether I would be saved nor not?"
This will be one of the most notable differences you will discover between Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine. Reformed theology affirms and emphasizes the scriptural truth that no one has any control over their salvation—no one can save themselves apart from God, nor can anyone coerce God into saving them against his will. Reformed theology affirms and emphasizes the sovereignty of God as ultimate and supreme over all things; his nature, his character, his will, his purposes, his decrees, every facet of God's being is sovereign, subject to nothing external to him.

And this must be so if we are to contemplate God as God, not lacking anything prior to creation; to the degree that God is subject to anything external to himself, to that degree God was incomplete prior to creation. But scriptures do not proclaim God as a contingent existent; quite to the contrary, scriptures proclaim an absolute, sovereign, necessary, complete, self-existent God, and repudiates the notion of any reality that transcends God.

All of this is to say that, if anyone is saved, it can never be said to be independent of nor contrary to God's will. Scriptures proclaim that salvation is under the jurisdiction of the sovereign and righteous God, not the jurisdiction of mortal and sinful man. If we are saved, it is because God saved us. Never should a man think that he did, or even can, save himself.

Do I have any control over my salvation? No. Did God already decide from eternity whether or not I would be saved? Yes, and could such a decision be in any better hands? Would not such a decision be better left up to sinful man? God forbid.

Do I have any part to play in my salvation? Absolutely.
"If that is true, how does this work with the idea of God giving us free will to choose Him or not?"
Man does not have a 'free' will, and hasn't since the Garden of Eden. Man's will is subject to his nature. Surely it would be agreed that every decision of his will is a product of man's nature, every decision a concert of his desires, his passions, his intellect. But this nature is fallen. Man's will is not free, man does not have 'free' will. He does, however, have free agency, insofar as he is capable of making decisions, of making choices according to his greatest desires, but the will that directs this free agency is not itself free—it is corrupted by sin.
"If I want Christ in my life, and truly want to follow His Word, and want to be saved, and I take the actions of one that is saved, is this indication of me being predetermined? How does one know they are elected?"
Because election is necessarily the sole jurisdiction of God, since it took place from eternity, antecedent to creation, who is and who is not of the elect is not man's concern. It is not our jurisdiction, not under our control, not our concern. And this abdication of any concern about the identity of the elect is an expression of supreme faith and trust in the mercy, grace, and justice of God. We trust God absolutely, we praise him and give glory to him. We do not question him, we do not audit his choices, as though his purposes are subject to a higher court. And we certainly do not hold his purposes and choices accountable to man.

If you want Christ in your life, pursue him with all your heart. If you truly want to follow his Word, then seek after it like a man starving for bread. If you want to be saved, cast yourself at the feet of the Lamb and cry out, "Have mercy on me, a sinner!" Pursue God through Christ Jesus our Savior like there is nothing more important in your life or all of the universe, because there really is nothing more important than that.

And trust God's choices, absolutely and completely, never thinking to question his righteousness. Trust him to have made the best decision, for he is God and God is good.