Q&A: Israel's Election Conditional?

Israel's Election Conditional?

Question

One of my professors teaches that "Israel's election was conditional on obedience." In this he seems to lean toward Freewill Theism. I imagine what he was saying was that when Israel was disobedient, they ceased to be God's chosen people. He went on to say that election in the New Testament is also based on obedience; however, Christ was obedient for us, so we have security in our election.

Answer

There is a common position regarding the New Testament that sees Jesus as the only elect one, and election simply as a statement of whether or not you are in Jesus at any particular moment. There are also others who say that "elect" means "special" or "best," not "chosen." These also argue that you are elect when you are in Christ, but not elect when you are not in Christ. In both cases, election lasts only so long as you are in Christ, and it can be lost when you cease to be in Christ. I have never heard anyone apply this logic to Old Testament Israel, but I suppose it is to be expected.

It does seem odd to me that you professor would argue that election in the New Testament is secure even though in the Old Testament it is not. I'm not sure what to make of this except to think that he does not believe that salvation in the Old Testament was in Christ. If Old Testament saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit (which they would have to be in order to be regenerate), then they were united to Christ just as we are. After all, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9). In their union with Christ, their salvation would have been just as secure as ours is today. Where David speaks of losing the Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11), he is not speaking of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but of his anointing as king.

Perhaps what your professor means is that in the Old Testament, the election of Israel as a nation, as God's covenant people, was conditional, and not that individual election to salvation was conditional. This would seem the best way to reconcile the idea of secure election in the New Testament with insecure election in the Old Testament. This position might state that Israel ceased to be an elect nation when the people rebelled, but not that individuals ceased to be elect. However, the fact that he would compare Old Testament national election with New Testament individual election seems odd. The better comparison would be between the New Testament church and Old Testament Israel.

In any event, the Old Testament makes it pretty clear that Israel was God's chosen/covenant people for better or for worse. This is why the covenant includes so many curses. Even when the people disobeyed, they were in covenant with God and were responsible to him. Their national election was not to salvation, but to covenant. Covenant is in force whether or not the nation obeys. This does not mean that there are not salvific elements of the covenant. Salvation is, after all, a covenant blessing. But covenant involves both blessing and curse. When the people obey the covenant, they can expect to receive its blessings; when they disobey, they can expect to receive its curses.

That this national election was unconditional is also demonstrated in places such as Exodus 32, where the people were so evil that God was ready to destroy the whole lot of them and begin again with Moses. Nevertheless, Moses reminded God that they were still his people, and that he had covenanted with their forefathers. As a result, "the Lord changed his mind about the harm which he said he would do to his people" (Exod. 32:14). Even in Hosea 1-3, where we find God rejecting his people, we find in the same context that he cannot bring himself to carry through with the threat. They remain ammi and ruhamah (Hos. 2:1), and God restores their relationship with him. And later, in Hosea 11:7-9, we find that God is still calling them his people even when "none at all exalts him." Despite their sin and rebellion, he cannot bring himself to give up his chosen people.

The New Testament affirms this idea as well. For example, in Romans 11:25-29 Paul makes his case that the nation of Israel is not cast off, it is not discarded as the chosen nation of God. Why? Because they are his covenant people, beloved for the sake of the fathers, and because the "gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." This shows us that Israel's status as God's people continues even when that group stands as an enemy to the gospel. This is not to assert that there are two people of God, or that God has different plans for the church and for Israel. It is merely to recognize that the different administrations of God's covenant are all irrevocable, and that they do not all have the same people under them. Israel continues to be under every Old Testament administration of the covenant, even though they are not under Christ's administration of the covenant as is the church (the church is also under all the Old Testament administrations).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.