Every Bible-believing Christian must believe in Election.
While that statement may surprise some, such a statement can only be surprising to those who have not thought much about what the Bible actually says. The word Election (or some variation) is frequent in the Bible; and it is especially recurrent in the New Testament letters written by Paul, Peter, and John. Furthermore, the concept is a common theme for the people of God throughout both Testaments.
Noah was elected from the mass of humanity alive before the great flood (Gen. 6:5-8).
Abraham was elected from among the pagan people of Ur (Gen. 12:1).
Isaac was elected over his older brother, Ishmael (Gen. 17:15-19).
Jacob was elected, and not his older brother Esau; and the New Testament uses this electing act of God as a prominent example of God’s electing freedom and sovereignty (Gen. 27:26-29; cf. Rom. 9:10-16).
No Bible-believing Christian I know of has any problem acknowledging and affirming God’s election in these examples above. More could be cited, but the point has been made… Once you really think about what election is and how the Bible repeatedly speaks of God’s electing acts, it becomes clear that one must believe in election.
The questions we might ask now are, “How does God elect?” or “Why does God elect?” However, only someone naive to the Scriptures would ask, “Does God elect?”
While many people today may disagree about how to define and describe the doctrine of Election, it cannot be avoided. Indeed, this biblical doctrine should not be avoided; for God has included it in sacred writ for His glory and for our joy.
Defining Our Terms
The doctrine of Election is the biblical teaching that God has chosen some individuals from among the mass of humanity to be recipients of His saving grace. This doctrine necessarily includes an examination of the cause for God’s choice and some attention to the concept of reprobation, which refers to the posture God has towards those whom He does not save by His grace.
I believe the Bible clearly teaches God’s unconditional election of believers and His sovereign reprobation of those who remain under His condemnation. I entreat the reader to consider the case I will present below.
Three Steps to the Final Destination
First, I will attempt to explain my view of the doctrine of election from the Scriptures themselves. After all, the text of Scripture should not only correct our theology when it is in error; it should be the very source and substance of our doctrine.
Second, I will offer a few words from past and present theologians on the doctrine. Once the Scriptures compel our hearts to sing in humble adoration, I shall then raise the voices of a couple of theologians to join our doxological choir.
Third and last, I will present some pastoral application of the doctrine. I will make an appeal for the ordinary use of this worship-inducing and assurance-conveying truth.
From the Scriptures
The noun “elect” (Greek: eklektos), meaning that which has been chosen, occurs twenty-three times in the New Testament. This word comes from the verb “choose” (Greek: eklegomai), which is a derivative of two root words: ek (out) and legō (call), literally meaning to selectively call out. It should go without saying, that a chosen thing must proceed from a purposeful choice, but I cannot take this for granted here. There are many Christians (including some pastors and teachers) who do argue that the chosen people of God are not in fact chosen by God at all. However, in spite of what some people might say, the Scriptures seem quite clear on the subject.
One of the most comprehensive and beautiful passages to instruct us on the doctrine of election is found in the Apostle Paul’s opening sentences in his letter to the saints of Ephesus. Paul says,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:3-6).
Blessed be the triune God of our salvation indeed! Such a prologue of praise and blessing is motivated by something, and Paul articulates his rationale for it in the passage. According to Paul, “[God] chose us” (Eph. 1:4). We may marvel at the plainness and candor of such a statement, and we are wise to ask at least a couple of questions of it.
- Who is “us?”
- What does it mean that God “chose” the ones to whom the “us” refers?
1) So, who is the “us” in this passage? We may begin to answer this question by looking at Paul’s opening greeting. Paul wrote this letter to “the saints who are in Ephesus” (Eph. 1:1). Therefore, we may identify the “us” as including (at the very least) Paul and the Christians in Ephesus. And yet, does the passage indicate that there may be more to the “us” than just Paul and the Ephesian Christians? It seems obvious that Paul is making a particular application of an expansive reality in this profound passage of doctrinal praise.
Consider the context of what Paul is talking about here. He is walking through the Gospel – the historical outworking of God’s plan to graciously redeem guilty sinners. In this passage, Paul speaks about “us” having been “adopted” (v5), the “forgiveness of our trespasses” (v7), and God’s grace being “lavished upon us” (v8). Are only some Christians “adopted” into the family of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5)? Do only the Ephesian Christians receive “forgiveness” of their “trespasses” (Col. 2:13; 1 Jn. 2:12)? Has God’s grace only been “lavished upon” these first-century believers (2 Cor. 8:9; Titus 2:11)? Of course not!
Therefore, we may conclude that Paul’s use of the word “us” is directly referring to himself and the Ephesian Christians, but this is merely an application of the reality that all Christians are beneficiaries of the gracious, adopting, and forgiving work of the blessed and triune God. The “us,” then, refers (at least indirectly) to all Christians of all time. Furthermore, God’s discrimination of an “us” necessitates another category: a “not us” group. So, we may conclude that whatever God’s choosing means for all Christians of all time, it by definition means the exclusion of all non-Christians of all time.
Now that we have made some efforts to answer the first question, let us turn to the second.
2) What does “God chose us” mean? Well, simply put, it means that God discriminately selected all Christians of all time for salvation from among the totality of humanity. As has already been pointed out, the “selection” was for salvation, and we can know this because the context is the Gospel message itself. God lavished grace upon those He has adopted into His family by way of His gracious redeeming work in Christ Jesus.
But, the questions we are really asking here are “When did God do the choosing?” and “Why did God choose the people He did, and not choose others?” I shall attempt to answer these in short order.
First, “When did God do the choosing?” Fortunately, the Apostle Paul directly answers this question for us. Paul says, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world…” (Eph. 1:4). So, God’s act of choosing, according to the Scriptures, took place “before the foundation of the world” (pro katabolēs kosmou; lit. “before the world was cast” or “put” in place). This means that God chose (discriminately selected) all Christians of all time for salvation before even He created the earth upon which those Christians would live. Before there was an earth, and before there was a human, God predestined the final end of each human who would come to be.
Second, “Why did God choose the people He did, and not choose others?” Once again, the Apostle Paul provides a direct answer for us. Paul says, “having predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). From this verse we learn that God’s purpose is the reason He elected those He decided to save. In fact, it is the purpose of “His will.” The term will refers to desire, and purpose refers to intentionality. Therefore, we may rightly understand the reason God has elected some for salvation and not others is that He intentionally determined to do so.
In this brief essay, it is not possible to do justice to each of these points, but allow me to summarize what I have attempted to demonstrate from the Scriptures. First, God has elected to give saving grace to some people, and this necessarily means that He has refrained from giving that same saving grace to others. Second, God has made His elective decision before any human ever existed, and His decision was based on His own purposes; not on anything in the recipients.
From Faithful Theologians
Every successive Christian generation owes a deep debt of gratitude to all those who have come and gone before it. In my own generation, it has rightly been said that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and I am grateful to those who have thought deeply and spoken articulately on the doctrine of Election.
I appreciate the concise definition of this doctrine provided by Wayne Grudem. He says,
“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”
Grudem points out both the lack of any precondition on the part of the recipient and the predestinating aspect of God’s election. In other words, God chooses to save based on His own rational, not because of something or anything in the ones He saves.
Theologians have often examined the doctrine of Election in concert with the doctrine of Predestination because both are very closely related. R.C. Sproul explains the distinction in that predestination is a term with a broader focus. He says,
“What predestination means, in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God.”
This may or may not seem like a big distinction to the reader, but predestination includes all things and election specifically includes those things related to salvation.
Wayne Grudem and R.C. Sproul each come from different theological traditions, Baptist and Presbyterian respectively. And yet, both of these wholeheartedly affirm the doctrine of Election as it has been described and defended in this essay.
It would be an understatement to say that the doctrine of Election has caused some discomfort in local churches. This doctrine is often accompanied by a high emotional charge, but I believe that avoiding it would be a tragedy. Charles Spurgeon said,
“Take any doctrine, and preach upon it exclusively, and you distort it. The fairest face in the world, with the most comely features, would soon become unseemly if one feature were permitted to expand while the rest were kept in their usual form.”
So too, does the Gospel of electing grace become unseemly if we concentrate only on election and neglect the rest, but this doctrine adds much to the exceedingly great beauty of the Gospel itself when it is in its proper place and proportion.
Therefore, I believe that a wise pastor will present this doctrine as an important part of the beautiful Gospel of Christ. What joy there is to know that God has loved me and chosen me out of His great love! This steadies my fears and calms my anxieties, for I know my heart is prone to wander. But God has decided to have me, and so He shall – for all time!
Furthermore, I believe that the wise Christian will be humble in his or her reception of truth and instruction from God’s Word. It is unwise to maintain an opposing position to Scripture, and it is also foolish to create and maintain a theological position without examining the Scriptures at all.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 361). New York: United Bible Societies.
Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 26). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
See Dr. Younce’s arguments under the explicit title: Younce, Max D., Th.D. “NOT CHOSEN TO SALVATION.” Jesus Is Savior. Accessed September 06, 2016. http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/BTP/Dr_Max_Younce/Salvation/toc.htm.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 1458). EPub ed. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015.
Sproul, R. C. (1986). Chosen by God (p. 22). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Spurgeon, C. H. (1905). Election: Its Defences and Evidences. In The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 51, p. 50). London: Passmore & Alabaster.