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What does the Bible teach about election?
Election is the act of God whereby in eternity past He chose those who will be saved. Election is unconditional, because it does not depend on anything outside of God, such as good works or foreseen faith (Romans 9:16). This doctrine is repeatedly taught in the Bible, and is also demanded by our knowledge of God. To begin with, let's look at the biblical evidence.
The Bible says prior to salvation, all people are dead in sin--spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). In this state of death, the sinner is utterly unable to respond to any spiritual stimulus and therefore unable to love God, obey Him, or please Him in any way. Scripture says the mind of every unbeliever "is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8). That describes a state of total hopelessness: spiritual death.
The effect of all this is that no sinner can ever make the first move in the salvation process. This is what Jesus meant in John 6:44, when He said, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him."
This is also why the Bible repeatedly stresses that salvation is wholly God's work. Consider these passages:
In Acts 13:48 we read, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
Acts 16:14 tells us that Lydia was saved when, "... the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."
Romans 8:29-30 states, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
Ephesians 1:4-5,11 reads, "Just 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 to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will ... also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."
Ephesians 2:8 says even our faith is a gift from God.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul tells his readers, "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation."
Second Timothy 1:9 informs us that God "has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity."
John wrote, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).
Occasionally someone will suggest that God's election is based on His foreknowledge of certain events. This argument suggests that God simply looks into the future to see who will believe, and He chooses those whom He sees choosing Him. Notice that 1 Peter 1:2 says the elect are chosen "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father," and Romans 8:29 says, "whom He foreknew, He also predestined." And if divine foreknowledge simply means God's knowledge of what will happen in advance, then these arguments may appear to have some weight behind them.
But that is not the biblical meaning of "foreknowledge." When the Bible speaks of God's foreknowledge, it refers to God's establishment of a love relationship with that person. The word know, in both the Old and New Testament, refers to much more than mere cognitive knowledge of a person. Such passages as Hosea 13:4-5; Amos 3:2 (KJV); and Romans 11:2 clearly indicate this. For example, 1 Peter 1:20 says Christ was "foreknown before the foundation of the world." Surely this means more than that God the Father looked into the future to behold Christ! It means He had an eternal, loving relationship with Him. The same is true of the elect, whom we are told God "foreknew" (Romans 8:29). That means He knew them--he loved them--before the foundation of the world.
If God's choice of the elect is unconditional, does this rule out human responsibility? Paul asks and answers that very question in Romans 9:19-20. He says God's choice of the elect is an act of mercy. Left to themselves, even the elect would persist in sin and be lost, because they are taken from the same fallen lump of clay as the rest of humanity. God alone is responsible for their salvation, but that does not eradicate the responsibility of those who persist in sin and are lost--because they do it willfully, and not under compulsion. They are responsible for their sin, not God.
The Bible affirms human responsibility right alongside the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Moreover, the offer of mercy in the gospel is extended to all alike. Isaiah 55:1 and Revelation 22:17 call "whosoever will" to be saved. Isaiah 45:22 and Acts 17:30 command all men to turn to God, repent and be saved. First Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 tell us that God is not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should be saved. Finally, the Lord Jesus said that, "the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37).
In summary, we can say that God has had a special love relationship with the elect from all eternity, and on the basis of that love relationship chosen them for salvation. The ultimate question of why God chose some for salvation and left others in their sinful state is one that we, with our finite knowledge, cannot answer. We do know that God's attributes always are in perfect harmony with each other, so that God's sovereignty will always operate in perfect harmony with His goodness, love, wisdom, and justice.
God's sovereign choice of believers are not in the Bible to cause controversy, as if God's election means sinners don't make decisions. Election does not exclude human responsibility or the necessity of each person to respond to the gospel by faith. Admittedly the two concepts don't seem to go together. However, both are true separately, and we must accept them both by faith. You may not understand it, but rest assured--it's fully reconciled in the mind of God. You must understand that your faith and salvation rest entirely on God's election ( Acts 13:48). And yet the day you came to Jesus Christ, you did so because of an internal desire--you did nothing against your will. But even that desire is God-given--He supplies the necessary faith so we can believe (Eph. 2:8).
Think about it--if your salvation depends on you, then praise to God is ridiculous. But, in truth, your praise to God is completely appropriate, because in forming the Body before the world began, He chose you by His sovereign decree apart from any of your works. The doctrine of election demonstrates God being God, exercising divine prerogatives. For that we must praise Him.
Jesus said, "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day" (John 6:39). God the Father chose certain individuals to form a Body as a gift to Jesus Christ. Every believer is part of that love gift to Christ--a gift of the Father's love to His Son.
To those who say that is unjust, Paul answers: "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'" (Rom. 9:14-15).
So why does God still find fault in unrepentant sinners when He didn't choose them? Doesn't this deny human responsibility? Is it fair for God to still hold them accountable?
Paul answers all such questions with a rebuke--"who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (v. 20). Does the clay jump up and ask the potter why it looks the way it does? Not at all.
Some believe that is terribly cold and calculating. But that is only one side of God's sovereign election. Paul continues in the next chapter by saying, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved ... for 'whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (10:9, 13).
How these two sides of God's truth--His sovereignty in choosing us (Rom. 9) and our responsibility to confess and believe (Rom. 10)--reconcile is impossible for us to understand fully. But Scripture declares both perspectives of salvation to be true (John 1:12-13). It's our duty to acknowledge both and joyfully accept them by faith.
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"We are the Bridegroom's friends, and we rejoice greatly in His joy, but we sigh and cry till we have found the chosen hearts in whom He will delight."
"The motive of the church is to glorify God. And the mission that does that is to win men and women to the Savior."
"To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of His people-these things will be the holy person’s principal enjoyments."
"It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ."