This posting is the second of a three-part series I plan to write about the “Modes of Salvation.” In this installment I’ll be discussing salvation by choice. Salvation by choice refers to salvation that is acquired by man’s own initiative or decision. In this installment of the series, I plan to provide scripture references and other arguments used to support the concepts presented in the “Choice” cross-functional flowchart from my “Modes of Salvation: Overview” posting. I’ve reproduced the flowchart events here in the style of a screenplay as follows:
An indeterminate period of time passes.
3 Age of Accountability
5 Accept the Gospel?
Man decides to either accept or reject the Gospel.
If man rejects, then God makes additional attempts at conviction. If man accepts, then our scenario advances to the next event.
6 Born Again
7 Lamb’s Book of Life
According to our salvation by choice event flow, God has opened up salvation to whoever is willing to accept it through faith by grace. The “whosoever” is taken from John chapter 3, verse 16 in the King James Version (KJV); one of the most oft-quoted, hence familiar, verse in the Bible.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 KJV
The translation of the Greek word pas (Greek NASB Number: 3956) into the English word “whoever” (NASB) or “whosoever” (KJV) conveys the notion of any random person, or according to one online source, “whatever person” or “any person at all”1 And since both English words in question imply the “any person at all” concept, the only way the reader, or hearer, can interpret John 3:16 is in the future tense. It can only be interpreted in this way since the members of the set of all those who “believeth in him” are not yet known. And, since the members of the set of all believers are not known beforehand, salvation must be open to any and all who would chose to believe—man’s free will. Hence, the reason why I placed the “Whosoever…” as the first event in the salvation by choice sequence.
John 3:16 is probably the most compelling argument in the salvation by choice arsenal. On the surface it appears to be impenetrable; a fortress if you will. But like all fortresses, it does have a weakness which I’ll explore in the next installment of this series.
The “Birth” event is really intended to be a placeholder in the sequence of events. I’ve included it in the same swim lane in both the “Choice” and “Election” flowcharts. It resides in the Man swim lane, not because man can birth himself, but because it seemed the natural choice. One could argue that it really is God who is responsible for who is born and when, but I think you see my point.
Age of Accountability
The age of accountability is an interesting doctrine that is primarily derived from a statement made by David, in the Old Testament, after the death of his young child, “’I will go to him [in death], but he will not return to me.’”2 Note that I added the clarification, “in death” to the verse, since I believe that is exactly what the verse is trying to say. I believe it is somewhat of a stretch to infer any other doctrine from this verse other than the obvious consequences of death clearly stated in Job 7, verses 8 through 10, as cited in the NASB.
Another verse that is used to derive the age of accountability doctrine is from the New Testament where Jesus said, “’Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”3 Here, Jesus is using an obvious analogy of children to believers. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, also continues to use the analogy of “little children” to believers many times in his writings, specifically his first epistle (1 John), I don’t believe this analogy was intended to teach that children or little children are automatically believers, though some may be. On the other hand, there is a verse in the New Testament that may help to complicate (or clarify?) this subject, but I’ll save that for a future posting.
The obvious problem with this doctrine is that no specific guidance is given in the Bible for determining at what age a person becomes accountable. I completely understand when ministers feel compelled to use this verse to comfort those who have lost infants or very young children, and I won’t walk through that mine field.
After a person reaches the age of accountability (at whatever age that may be), God proceeds to convict that person of their sin through the Holy Spirit. This happens throughout a person’s lifetime or until that person decides to accept the Gospel and be saved. Many preachers, in their zeal to make converts, employ a highly scripted sermon progression where they first warn their congregations not to harden their hearts when the Spirit of God speaks to them;4 which they immediately follow up with the declaration that “now is the acceptable time” and that “now is the day of salvation.”5 Both of these verses quoted back-to-back using a rapid-fire delivery technique can be very effective in convincing some folks to raise their hand during the invitation. As I see it, if this technique is successful in bringing some to true faith and repentance then so be it; but the problem I have is that both of these verses were actually written to those who already believe!
Accept the Gospel?
Since God desires all to repent and believe,6 He continues to strive with man until he either arrives at a decision to accept the Gospel or he hardens his heart sufficiently so that he is unable to respond any longer to God’s advances. People that die without accepting the Gospel are considered lost, otherwise they are considered born again. It’s important to understand that in the salvation by choice belief system, an individual makes a conscious decision to accept the Gospel.
Ironically, the proponents of the salvation by choice method also quote Ephesians to defend their position that salvation can’t be earned or achieved by individual works, that it is the gift of God by grace and received through faith.7 If salvation is a gift that is received through faith, then how does one acquire this faith? If it’s not of ourselves then from who? If you believe that it’s through man’s free will, then you need to explain how it’s “not of yourselves.” Is it possible then, that Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8 is really saying that faith is the gift of God?
That said, the salvation by choice belief system is rarely challenged since the vast majority of pastors and televangelists are adherents and promoters of this system. It’s no coincidence that the official publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is named Decision Magazine8 since the world famous evangelist is also a firm believer in salvation by choice.
The salvation by choice doctrine paints a picture for us of a person deliberating over whether it’s better to believe the Gospel now and spend eternity in paradise or to reject the Gospel and spend eternity being tormented, without rest, in the lake of fire. Tough decision? It shouldn’t be, but it is.
In John chapter 3, verse 3 in the New Testament, John records a meeting between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus. Nicodemus approached Jesus at night either because he was afraid to be seen talking to Jesus (the popular view) or maybe because he wanted to get some quiet time alone with Jesus (an alternative view). Nicodemus greets Jesus with the title, “Rabbi” and then proceeds to declare that He is a teacher sent by God.9 Instead of acknowledging or denying Nicodemus’ claims of who Jesus was, Jesus gives Nicodemus the following unexpected and somewhat fantastic response:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus was completely baffled by Jesus’ statement and mistakenly assumed that Jesus was talking about natural or physical birth. “’How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’” was Nicodemus’ response.10 But Jesus was talking about another kind of birth; and just as man can’t birth himself physically, he can’t birth himself spiritually either.11 Even so, Billy Graham wrote an entire book on how to be born again!12
In the salvation by choice system, being born again occurs after a person makes a profession of faith and in the salvation to election system, being born again occurs before a person makes a profession of faith; these are important points to remember.
Lamb’s Book of Life
The salvation by choice system has a person’s name being written in the Lamb’s book of life, or simply book of life, after that person becomes saved. The implication here is that the Lamb’s book of life is a living document, that is, it is continually being revised with the names of new believers and with the names of others being blotted out.13 This interpretation is inferred since the set of all believers is not known beforehand.
Death is another placeholder event in our salvation by choice flowchart. The same rationale used for placing birth in the flowchart applies to death as well.
The “Chosen…” event refers to the following verse in Ephesians:
…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
The salvation by choice advocates have a hard time dealing with this verse, and many others like it, so they’ve adopted a clever allegorical device to explain Ephesians chapter 1, verse 4:
Written on the outside of the gate of heaven are the words, “Whosoever will may come.” And on the other side of that gate, which you can read from the inside, is written: “Chosen before the foundation of the world.”
D. L. Moody
The “Whosoever…” event in our salvation by choice flowchart is intended to illustrate the words that are written on the outside of the gate of heaven and the “Chosen…” event is placed at the end of the flowchart to illustrate the words written on the inside of the gate of heaven. In other words, the omniscience and foreknowledge of God is constrained by man’s own (fallen) will. What the salvation by choice adherents are trying to tell you with this saying is that God hasn’t really chosen anyone from before the foundation of the world, He only considers them chosen after they’ve already decided to be saved. This is posteriori knowledge if I ever heard it! Ultimately, it says that God really doesn’t have the prerogative to choose any one person over another.
I first heard this D. L. Moody quote many years ago before I really understood much about theology and even then it rubbed me the wrong way. Personally, I consider the quote an attempt to reconcile two mutually exclusive concepts: man’s free will and God’s foreknowledge.14 Of course there is another equally absurd explanation and that is that God has chosen a select few for salvation and left all the others to decide for themselves. Either way, I consider both explanations to be inadequate.
In my next posting in this series, I’ll attempt to show that the Bible really teaches salvation by election. In order to convince you of my position, I’ll need to connect the dots between many of my previous postings that have gotten us to this point.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Greek-Hebrew dictionary references are from The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2014 Gerard Sczepura
Merriam-Webster, “whoever,” LearnersDictionary.com, accessed September 20, 2014, http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/whoever ↩
2 Sam. 12:23 NASB ↩
Matt. 19:14 ↩
Heb. 3:7-10 ↩
2 Cor. 6:2 ↩
2 Pet. 3:9 ↩
Eph. 2:8 ↩
John 3:2 ↩
John 3:4 ↩
John 3:6-8 ↩
Ps. 69:28 ↩