Election is sometimes debated and misunderstood. And no, I’m not discussing the election of public officials. I’m referencing the doctrine of election as it is found in the Bible.
According to the Lexham Bible Dictionary, election is “God’s choice of a person or people group for a specific purpose, mission, or salvation.”
To be elect means that God has chosen us out of this world, to journey through this world as exiles, in order to find our home with him in the next world.
The doctrine of election is associated with Calvinism or the five points of Calvinism. Without going into much detail here, election is more than a term used by a theological system. It is a biblical concept. Election refers to God’s choice of a nation (in the Old Testament) and a people (the church in the New Testament) as his own. Election is important as it underscores the importance of God’s sovereignty and work in salvation.
Several passages of Scripture refer directly to the doctrine of election:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.Deuteronomy 7:7-8, (emphasis mine)
“You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”Amos 3:2 (emphasis mine)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia,Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.1 Peter 1:1-2 (emphasis mine)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.Ephesians 1:3-6 (emphasis mine)
These passages are but a sample, but they make it obvious that election is a biblical doctrine. It did not come from the minds of men, but rather from the plans of God.
Election in this biblical sense is unconditional. God did not choose Israel because they were good. Indeed, the prophet Amos above reflects that God would punish Israel because as his chosen people, they had rebelled. God did not choose Israel because they would be good. They never really were good. God chose them to reveal his grace and kindness in redemption.
How does election work? God elects according to his foreknowledge. See 1 Peter 1:2 above. This is another oft misunderstood term. How does God foreknow? The term foreknowledge implies intimate, personal knowledge. See God’s statement to Jeremiah below.
God knew us before he formed us, and God’s knowing of us formed the basis for his election. God knows us in a personal sense. So according to God’s foreknowledge, he elects us to be part of his family.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”Jeremiah 1:5 (emphasis mine)
I realize that divine election as an aspect of salvation is a thought-provoking subject. It has also spawned much debate over the centuries. But it is not a fatalistic doctrine. Rather it is a doctrine that encourages the greatness of God’s work in our salvation. Robert Letham helpfully observes the following in his Systematic Theology:
Election cannot be understood biblically and theologically in abstraction from Christ. It is a Trinitarian decree, bears an inseparable connection to the person and work of Christ, cannot be severed from the gospel, and is the root of all the ways union with Christ is worked out in the life experience of the faithful. It is as far from fatalism as could be imagined.Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 409.
The doctrine of election should encourage us in our faith.
- The doctrine of election reminds us that our salvation was in the mind of God before our lives began.
- The doctrine of election encourages us to give God the appropriate glory for our salvation.
- The doctrine of election inspires us to thankfulness for the Father’s planning of our salvation, the Son’s accomplishing our salvation, and the Holy Spirit’s bringing us to salvation.
- The doctrine of election motivates us to share the good news of Christ’s salvation to everyone we can.
The doctrine of election should not divide us. Rather it should encourage us that God has acted in salvation to make us a part of his family.