The Three Choices of God: Divine Election made simple

The 3 Choices of God according to Jesus

The story that Jesus tells about The Wedding Feast has probably been the most helpful in bringing clarity to the complex issue of divine election. Within this narrative there clearly are three different and very distinct choices of God represented.  It is my contention that Calvinists (and others) have confounded these three very distinct divine choices by treating them as if they are all one in the same.

Please allow me to explain and defend this contention carefully and with respect to my fellow brethren.

If you haven’t read the parable of the Wedding Feast recently, then please take a moment to do so before proceeding.  You can find it HERE in Matthew 22:1-14.

Divine Choice #1:  The choice of His servants, who were given the task of sending out the invitation.

Divine Choice #2: The choice to send the invitation first to His own and then to all others.

Divine Choice #3: The choice to allow only those clothed in proper wedding garments to enter the feast.

The king in this parable clearly represents God and the wedding feast is obviously the kingdom prepared for us. His wedding invitation list includes the people of his own chosen nation, which represents Israel. His servants, people of this same nation, who are called to send out the invitation, clearly represent his prophets and apostles (most of which are mistreated by those of Israel).  The king chooses to send his chosen messengers to those outside of his own nation, to the “good and bad alike” (vs. 10).

Jesus is clearly giving us a parable that explains how God’s elective purposes have come to pass. He chose a people (Israel) to be the nation through which the law, prophets and his Word would be delivered to the entire world. This choice was not based on the impressive size or morality of the nation or its individuals. Scripture clearly tells us that God did not choose the nation of Israel because of it was more impressive (Deut.7:7), nor did he choose the individuals from that nation to carry his invitation because they were more moral (Rom. 9:11; Acts 22:3-4). Likewise, the choice to send the message first to the Jews and then the Gentiles doesn’t appear to be based on the morality of those being invited. He clearly states, “the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike” (vs. 10).

One might describe these choices as being “unconditional,” (as in the Calvinistic concept of “unconditional election”).  After all, he did not choose the nation based on its impressiveness, or the individual servants called to carry his invitations based on their morality.  Nor does he send the invitations specifically to people who are more moral.  So, unconditional election is proven to be true!  Right?!

Not so fast.  We have not even gotten to Divine Choice #3 represented in the parable. So far we have only talked about the “many are called” aspects of parable, not the “few are chosen.”

So, who are the “few” who are “chosen” being referenced by Jesus in this parable?

“The king went in to look at the guests and saw a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ the king asked him. But the man said nothing. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him outside in the dark. There he will cry and gnash his teeth.’”  And Jesus concluded, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

That choice is anything but unconditional. The choice of those who were allowed to enter into the banquet was clearly conditioned upon the individual showing up in the proper clothing.  The wedding garments clearly represent being clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith. The “few” who are “chosen” represent those who responded freely to the invitation sent by the King through His unconditionally chosen servants from His unconditionally chosen nation.

The confusion comes when we convolute these three distinct choices. For example, does God’s choice of Jonah, a servant chosen to carry invitations to Nineveh, equally represent His choice of any particular Ninevite who may respond willingly to this invitation?  Does the fact that God uses externally persuasive means, like a storm and big fish, to convince Jonah’s rebellious will to obey prove that God uses internally irresistible means (like effectual grace) to cause pre-selected Ninevites to respond willingly to Jonah’s invitation?  If so, the text certainly never draws that conclusion.  Why do Calvinists?

Someone may protest that Calvinists do not convolute these divine choices in this manner, but think of how often you have heard a Calvinist point to the calling of Paul on the road to Damascus as an example of God’s effectual calling of some to salvation.  Think of how many times passages like John 15:16 (“You did not choose me; I chose you…”) are used as proof texts for the Calvinistic belief of individual election to salvation when clearly Jesus is speaking to His servants who are being prepared to take the invitation to the rest of the world.  They are using Divine Choice #1 as proof for their belief about Divine Choice #3.

Think about how many times you have heard Calvinists argue that God has granted repentance or faith to some individuals but not others, yet clearly such passages represent Divine Choice #2 where by the king chose to send His invitation first to the Jews (so they may believe and repent) and then to the Gentile (so that they too may believe and repent).  Faith comes by hearing and thus God is “granting faith or repentance” by sending the invitation to believe and repent.  How can they believe in one whom they have not heard? (Rom 10) How can they come to the banquet without an invitation?  By inviting them, He is GRANTING them the ability to come.

I am thoroughly convinced that as long as the church does not come to understand that God’s divine elective purposes in unconditionally choosing the nation of Israel and certain servants from that nation to carry His invitations AS DISTINCT FROM His choice to save whosoever willingly responds to that invitation in faith, then we will continue to be confounded by this biblical doctrine.

Listen to this PODCAST for more explanation on the topic of Divine Election.

For further study on the doctrine of Corporate Election PLEASE CLICK HERE.

28 thoughts on “The Three Choices of God: Divine Election made simple

  1. Another fantastic post, Leighton! I am often thinking, “How can we get Calvinists to stop reading the words, ‘Many are called but few are chosen’ as if they read ‘Many are being called but REALLY ONLY a few HAVE BEEN chosen.'” Your post above will be a great help to some of them I think! How more obvious can it be that Jesus is describing what IS happening, NOT what has been predetermined! The only reason few ARE BEING chosen is, as you pointed out, their own rejection of the call, and as I would add – “the laborers are [too] few” (Matt 9:37) for the plenteous harvest.

    And, I loved your discussion of Peter’s referencing of Paul’s difficult matters. It should be obvious to everyone who reads Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4 & 11, Calvinists’ premiere passages on election, that Paul had no intention in those contexts to explain how election works! Paul was just mentioning election to help inspire the confidence that believer’s should have in the future good and in the final blameless standing that belongs to all who are now “in Christ”.

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  2. Any theology that leans occasionalistic and reductive will tend toward what you’re talking about: Squishing things that God finds meaningfully distinct together like Play Doh.

    The counter-theology that leans concurrentistic is that which wants to preserve those meaningful distinctions and, in doing so, will often proclaim that the red, blue, and green do not have any sense whatsoever of “Play Doh commonness.”

    A “third way” articulation is possible. Calvinists and Arminians can continue to have their soteriological quibbles atop a shared acceptance of compatibilism.

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  3. Pastor Flowers writes, “…think of how often you have heard a Calvinist point to the calling of Paul on the road to Damascus as an example of God’s effectual calling of some to salvation.”

    BUT it is an example of God’s effectual calling of Saul of Tarsus to salvation. The issue is whether the Calvinist is justified in extrapolating this to all people – thus concluding that all people are effectually called to salvation even as Saul of Tarsus was (although now in as dramatic fashion).

    Pastor Flowers writes, “…does God’s choice of Jonah, a servant chosen to carry invitations to Nineveh, equally represent His choice of any particular Ninevite who may respond willingly to this invitation? Does the fact that God uses externally persuasive means, like a storm and big fish, to convince Jonah’s rebellious will to obey prove that God uses internally irresistible means (like effectual grace) to cause pre-selected Ninevites to respond willingly to Jonah’s invitation? If so, the text certainly never draws that conclusion. Why do Calvinists?”

    If Calvinists do this, I am surprised. Jonah is a believer under God’s discipline for his grievous sin of disobedience. If anything, this tells us that God uses external difficulties to discipline believers.

    Of the Ninevites, Calvin writes, “It is worthy of being noticed, that the king of so splendid a city, nay, at that time the greatest monarch, should have rendered himself so submissive to the exhortation of Jonah: for we see how proud kings are; as they think themselves exempt from the common lot of men, so they carry themselves above all laws. Hence it comes, that they will have all things to be lawful for them; and while they give loose reins to their lusts they cannot bear to be admonished, even by their equals. But Jonah was a stranger and of a humble condition: that he therefore so touched the heart of the king, must be ascribed to the hidden power of God, which he puts forth through his word whenever he pleases. God does not indeed work alike by the preaching of his word, he does not always keep to the same course; but, when he pleases, he so efficaciously touches the hearts of men, that the success of his word exceeds all expectation, as in the memorable example presented to us here. Who could have said that a heathen king, who had ever lived according to his own will, who had no feeling as to true and genuine religion, would have been thus in an instant subdued? For he put aside his royal dress, laid himself in the dust, and clothed himself in sackcloth. We hence see that God not only spoke by the mouth of Jonah, but added power to his word.”

    Calvin argues that the depravity of men requires that God intervene – through internally irresistible means – if they are to be saved. He does not link it to God’s discipline of believers through external means.

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    1. It’s effectual because Paul “did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision.” His choice not to be disobedient makes it effectual, not the mere revelation itself.

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  4. Pastor Flowers writes, “I am thoroughly convinced that as long as the church does not come to understand that God’s divine elective purposes in unconditionally choosing the nation of Israel and certain servants from that nation to carry His invitations AS DISTINCT FROM His choice to save whosoever willingly responds to that invitation in faith, then we will continue to be confounded by this biblical doctrine.”

    The key phrase here is “…whosoever willingly responds to that invitation in faith…” By willingly, we mean that the person exercise “free will” often described a s contra-causal freedom. Contra-causal freedom requires three things:

    1. The awareness of a choice – eternal life vs eternal death – else there is nothing for the person to choose;
    2. A differentiation between the options – the benefits of eternal life vs the costs of eternal death – else there is no reason to choose; and
    3. The ability to make a rational decision that reflects (1) and (2) – else he cannot choose willingly.

    Thus is the “freedom” of the will to be described. It is the Calvinists who conclude that depraved people have no free will and always reject salvation being enslaved to sin. It is only through regeneration whereby freedom is restored to the will that a person is then able to respond to the gospel and all people who have been granted free will naturally accept salvation. To do otherwise is to make an irrational choice and evidence of a corrupted will that is not free.

    Election refers to those whom God has favored is such a way that they come to salvation and one means towards this end is to restore within a depraved sinner a free will and then to bring them under the preaching of the gospel which then proves irresistible to the restored will.

    The King said to him, Friend, how is it that you came not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. How is it that the others wore proper wedding clothes and this man did not? Those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. Who supplied wedding clothes to those gathered from the highways? Who but the King. Many were called to the wedding but wedding clothes provided to a few – the elect.

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    1. It makes little sense for the King to express such anger toward the individual who was not properly clothed if indeed the king is the one who (1) asked his servants to invite anyone and everyone unconditionally and (2) is the one responsible to give them the needed clothing. Was the king handing out clothes and just run out, so he decided to torture the guy who wasn’t supplied with the proper garments? That makes no sense and makes the king seem like a tyrant.

      It only makes sense for the king to get this angry if the person is actually RESPONSE-ABLE for the garments he chose to wear.

      We see this when Jesus rebukes men for their lack of faith. This makes no sense if God is responsible for granting faith and causing men to act in accordance with that faith. Jesus should rebuke God for not giving them the faith, not the man for his lack of it.

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      1. You will say to me then, “Why [then] does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?” Romans 9:19

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      2. I wonder if you would agree, Jared, that Paul is quoting a hypothetical man in Rom 9:19 whose statement can not be used to prove anything (especially not the premise that no one can resist God’s plan). Doesn’t this made up statement from a hypothetical person clearly express resistance to God’s declared plan? Even if this hypothetical person was expressing the truth, would you agree that God’s irresistible plan is to show mercy to all (Rom. 11:32).

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  5. Mr. Flowers, thank you so very much for creating this blog. I’ve been listening to your podcasts as well. You’re a breath of fresh air. I’m a former Calvinist. It was an agonizing exit but I’m free. Now, the Word of God makes sense again (I didn’t believe TULIP when I was first born again). Robert Shank’s book “Elect in the Son” was helpful, too. Again, thank you!

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  6. PROFESSOR FLOWERS WRITES: “The choice of those who were allowed to enter into the banquet was clearly conditioned upon the individual showing up in the proper clothing.”

    1. The text actually says that being thrown out of the banquet would be conditioned upon not wearing the appropriate clothing. God can most certainly throw unbelievers into hell for their wicked deeds and unbelief. This is certainly not an example of conditional election and it is not an example of reprobation either.

    2. The improperly dressed individual did in fact enter the wedding hall. And this is indeed relevant, as this shows that hypocrites can exist within the church for a time.

    3. Election occurs before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), not at any point in time during this parable.

    PROFESSOR FLOWERS WRITES: “God is “granting faith or repentance” by sending the invitation to believe and repent.”

    The General/External call is not the same as God granting repentance. 2 Timothy 2:25 “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”

    PROFESSOR FLOWERS WRITES: “…think of how often you have heard a Calvinist point to the calling of Paul on the road to Damascus as an example of God’s effectual calling of some to salvation.”

    Can you explain why not?

    PROFESSOR FLOWERS WRITES: “…Think of how many times passages like John 15:16 (“You did not choose me; I chose you…”) are used as proof texts for the Calvinistic belief”

    John 15:16 is a straw-man as even John Calvin stated in his commentaries”…the subject now in hand is not the ordinary election of believers, by which they are adopted to be the children of God, but that special election, by which he set apart his disciples to the office of preaching the Gospel…”

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    1. Hi Jared, I am so glad that you choose to discuss specific Scriptures! You probably would agree that it’s only going to be from the truth and understanding of Scriptures that the conversation can be moved forward.

      I think you would also agree that Paul’s emphasis in Eph 1:4 was not to describe in detail what happened before creation in terms of election (all preselected individuals to be saved or an open group to be joined to Christ through personal active faith). The context was Paul’s encouragement of all the blessings that believers presently have in Christ, and in 1:4 the blessing Paul itemizes is being chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless before God in the day of judgment. In support of the corporate view of election Paul could be speaking anachronistically, “Our group was chosen, because of the plan made in Christ before creation, to be stand together in Him as holy and blameless at the end of human history.” I hope you will be willing to see this interpretation as at least a possible and grammatically reasonable one, even if you do not choose it.

      I love the passage 2Tim 2:22-26. I wish more posters on this site more would take all the exhortations found in it to heart! 🙂 Would you be willing to consider that repentance could be a pre-salvation work, graciously connected to the enlightenment, conviction, and drawing that God has planned for everyone (John 1:9, 16:7-8, 12:32, 2Pet 3:9). If they do not go any further, and fall away in a willful way, they will never be renewed to that point of repentance (Heb. 6:4) and therefore they should not harden their hearts when they hear His voice which is leading them into that place of repentance (Heb. 3:7-8). Paul says the repentance leads to a knowledge of the truth, but that does not require that such leading or that repentance has to be irresistible.

      You make a good point that Calvin did not see the choosing of John 15:16 as relating to his doctrine of pre-creation individual election. But popular commentator John Gill did, and I believe Augustine and others (according to Lange) held this view also for this verse. So Leighton’s point is not a straw man in my view. And I would wonder also how you would separate their election to be disciples from their election unto salvation since I assume you have it all happening before creation in the predetermination of all things, which really is the bigger issue that has no clear biblical support that I have seen. Blessings!

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    2. Do I really need to post links of Calvinists who refer to John 15:16 as proof of their soteriology? Just bc Calvin didn’t make that error doesn’t mean it’s not made regularly. Blessing brother!

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    3. Jared. It is disingenuous to pretend today’s restless reformed don’t argue the verse for that proposition. They do and we all know it. But it is encouraging to find a Calvinist who rightly understands John 15:16.

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  7. Professor Flowers, I am a student at Biola and I cannot tell you how refreshing it has been to catch up on your work. You have been busy! The tenor of the conversation leads one to believe that the weight of “scholarly” opinion is squarely in the Calvinist camp. Something just felt wrong about the doctrines of grace I was leaning from my reformed professors, even if I could not adequately refute them… This was not the Christ that saved me from my sin, how could he actually desire some to be in hell? I have recently learned that there is a broad christian world out there that is not stuck in the compatibilist matrix and have not swallowed the blue pill. Corporate election shows you how deep it actually goes. Much more rigorous. Much more faithful and much more harmonizing between the old and new covenants! Question, have you worked in or looked at Monism? Blessings to you!

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    1. Molinism? I have studied it, yes. It’s philosophical as is Compatibilism. They are theories.

      As a theologian I’m content with mystery…to be silent where scripture is silent…though it is fun to theorize. William Lane Craig is the man to go to for more on that.

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  8. Leighton Flowers, you wrote:

    ‘(…) yet clearly such passages represent Divine Choice #2 where by the king chose to send His invitation first to the Jews (so they may believe and repent) and then to the Gentile (so that they too may believe and repent). Faith comes by hearing and thus God is “granting faith or repentance” by sending the invitation to believe and repent. How can they believe in one whom they have not heard? (Rom 10) How can they come to the banquet without an invitation? By inviting them, He is GRANTING them the ability to come.’

    In light of this conclusion, what would you say to my Christian North Korean friend, whose father is still a farmer in North Korea who very probably has never heard the Gospel? 🙂

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    1. Rom. 10:18 But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.”

      Col. 1:5b-6a …the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit….

      Consider that there may be enough contact by God through creation and conscience with everyman that each can a some point cry out – “God be merciful to me a sinner!”

      Or at least each gets enough grace to begin to seek… And if they seek… they will find.

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  9. So in the Parable we have servants acting as messengers, which is the greek term that describes evangelists. So, the servants were commanded to invite all. They faithfully invited everyone they saw. Oddly enough a man had no wedding garments (which should also make you think of eph 4:24). The new garment is provided by God. The new self is Christ. We are hidden in him. With that said, the parable seems to provide evidence for Calvinism. We are even told that many will profess Christ and do works and Christ will deny them and say “I never knew you.” Christ died for those that were given to him. When Peter talks about “all” he speaks of the elect.

    Romans 9 talks of vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. God is a potter and we are clay.

    It’s funny that we believe we should be able to choose who we marry but Christ can’t choose his bride. It’s not unloving for me to choose a wife and not choose other women. Christ fully accomplished what he set out to do on earth. All those whom he died for will be in heaven.

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    1. Hi Andrew! Welcome to the conversation! It appears you have all the Calvinist talking points down. But you may want to drop the marriage illustration and comparison. I don’t think you will want folks to think that your wife had no free choice when you invited her to be your bride because you considered yourself irresistible! 🙂

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