The Doctrine of Election

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

The doctrine of election describes how God has chosen those with whom he will enjoy a special covenant relationship. God’s elective actions are made through a mediator. For Christians, God has chosen to be in a covenant relationship with all those who are in Christ. This relationship is dependent upon God’s Word which creates faith in the lost by which they may be saved.

The position advocated in this article is not the extreme position of unconditional particular election[1], nor is it double predestination[2]. “We believe firmly in election to salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but we discard from our creed the miserable, wretched doctrine of reprobation without sin.”[3][4] In the Old Testament God chose his elect through a mediator (Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, etc.). The relationship with God and his elect people in the Old Testament has been superseded by the relationship he now enjoys with the church through Christ. Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant relationship. Christians are the elect in Christ. This special relationship should drive us to praise for the privilege of belonging to Him.

 

What Is Election?

Election[5] “refers to God’s choice of a person or people group for a specific purpose, mission, or salvation. The theme of election is prominent in both the Old and New Testaments. The doctrine of election traditionally is related to the concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, and free will.[6] Fergusson summarized the doctrine of election:

“Election refers to how the covenant was made with a particular people. God’s people are a chosen race (1 Pet. 2:9), that is, a chosen group and not chosen individuals. The people of God is an elect people, a chosen people (1 Pet. 1:1 – “elect” and “chosen” are alternative English translations of the same word). For the connection between “people” and “election,” note the parallelism in Psalm 105:43, “So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.” God chose a people for his own possession (1 Pet. 2:9); note the connection of election and possession in Psalm 135:4: “For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.”[7]

The doctrine of election is formulated by God’s declaration to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 7:6-8: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen[8] you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

 

Is Election Corporate or Individual?

Sometimes God chose specific individuals for specific purposes. These choices have to do with God working out his plan on earth and not necessarily the salvation of that individual. The Old Testament pattern shows how God often chose a group of people through an individual. This choice does not guarantee the salvation of the individuals. The pattern does help us to understand how God has a chosen people—the church—in Christ. The references to God’s election typically have to do with a relationship to a group of people rather than choosing to save one individual.

God chose Abraham, and all who are in him, that is, his descendants. The call of Abraham is first expressed in Genesis 12:1-2, and already the call includes the promise that from him will come a “great nation…. The choice of Abraham by God continued to be a frequent theme in the Bible. For example, “Because God loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them” (Deut. 4:37). “You are the LORD, the God who chose … Abraham; and you … made with him a covenant to give to his descendants the land” (Neh. 9:7-8). The choice of Abraham included in its provisions his descendants (Isa. 51:2). God likewise chose Jacob (or Israel) and all in him. The promises to Abraham were repeated to his son Isaac (Gen. 26:24) and his grandson son Jacob (Gen. 28:13-14), in each case including the offspring in the blessing. Deuteronomy 7:6 uses the language of election for the people descended from Israel (Jacob): “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” This election was not because of Israel’s virtues but an expression of the Lord’s love (Deut. 7:8). Choice by God made the people holy, consecrated, or set apart for God, because they became his special possession (cf. Deut. 14:2; Ps. 135:4). Once again, we note that choice of the patriarchs included their descendants (Deut. 10:15; cf. Acts 13:17). Israel was the “chosen people” not because of any merit or virtue of their own but by reason of God’s love for and covenant with the patriarchs (Deut. 7:7-11; cf. 9:4-5). God chose the tribe descended from Levi for the priesthood. “God has chosen Levi out of all your tribes, to stand and minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for all time” (Deut. 18:5). Notice the wording of the reminder of this choice in 1 Samuel 2:27-28a, 30. The promise to Levi was a promise to his family. The covenant with Levi held firm, but this did not guarantee that all the Levites would be faithful to their task (Mal. 2:4-9).[9] In these cases – Abraham, Jacob, Levi, David – the choice of an individual was the choice of a group, the descendants of the person chosen. The recognition of this divine choice is expressed in the New Testament: “The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt” (Acts 13:17).[10]

God chose a group through an individual. Today, God has chosen a group—the church. That group exists through an individual—the Christ. This is difficult for theologians in western civilization to grasp because we are individualistic. The Ancient Near Eastern mindset was not one of individualism. All of life was wrapped up in group relationships formed by a paternal head or representative. The doctrine of election functions in this ancient near eastern framework and not our rugged western individualism.

 

God’s Choice of Individuals for a Special Task

The Bible also records how God has chosen special people for special work. Fergusson noted that “Moses, who was called to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage (Exod. 3:1-12), is described as God’s “chosen one” (Ps. 106:23). Jesus chose the twelve (John 6:70) to be representatives of Israel. Similarly, the resurrected Lord called and set apart Paul to be an apostle (1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:15). These were chosen for ministry, a service, not for salvation.”Even God’s choice of an individual for a specific task could be refused. His election is not completely unconditional, and grace is not completely irresistible as radical determinists argue. Fergusson wrote, “Individuals chosen for a task could refuse. Moses argued with God, but then he complied with his call (Exod. 3:13-4:17). King Jeroboam I is a prime example: chosen as king over Israel (1 Kings 11:26-40) but later leading the people into sin and rejected (1 Kings 12:26-13:10). Judas fell away from his apostleship (Acts 1:17, 20). Paul could have said “No” to the risen Lord, although it is hard to imagine his doing so (1 Cor. 9:16).” God’s choice of individuals for specific tasks or roles is not equal to his calling of individuals to election for salvation through the Gospel.

 

Can God’s Call to Election Be Refused?

“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Election to salvation, in contrast to the election of individuals for a ministry, is “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4). Human beings can reject the call of God (Isa. 50:2). God described how he chose Israel to be his people but they rejected that relationship in Isaiah 1:2-6.

God has chosen to call through preaching and to have the elect through faith in Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 states this clearly: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the mission of world evangelism is imperative. Romans 10:14-17 reminds us of the importance of spreading the Gospel message as we participate in God’s calling of the world as his ambassadors.

When individuals hear the Gospel call in the preached word, they then must choose to accept that call through faith or to reject that call and be faithless. John 3:36 says, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead the wrath of God remains on him” (CSB).  It is possible to reject the call of God through the preached Word. It is also possible to accept the call of God through the preached Word.

 

Is Election Eternally Fixed by God?

There are several things to keep in mind in this discussion. First, God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that does not guarantee universal salvation. Next, we see that God’s prior knowledge of a thing does not necessitate his causation of the thing. God can know what we will do without causing us to do it. Finally, it is possible that God describes election as eternal because that reality exists in eternity. This existence in the eternal realm does not negate the elect’s need to be faithful in the transient realm.

Election is described in the Bible as part of the purpose of God (Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:11). Election is according to the foreknowledge of God (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2). Election occurred before creation (Ephesians 1:4). God’s election is described as an exercise of his sovereignty (Romans 9:15-16; 1 Corinthians 1:27; Ephesians 1:11). God’s election is by grace (Romans 11:5). God has chosen that this election occurs in space-time through faith (“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Romans 8:30 holds one of the strongest arguments for the radical determinists. Paul wrote, “And those who he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified” (CSB).  As we look at the context the passages affirmation can be better understood. First, remember that this section of Scripture is written to encourage Christians during their suffering. There are soteriological terms used and the ultimate consolation is in the salvation of the soul, but Paul wrote to alleviate their concerns for the present moment. As they suffered in the present, Paul wanted to remind them that God had eternally known them and continued to care for them as a part of his eternal plan.

The verse described the comfort Christians have because they are saved by God and safe with God. This great salvation is timeless. Paul used words to convey the timelessness of God’s saving work (“foreknew,” “predestined”). The typical human fascination with time is not taken into consideration here. We shouldn’t look at Romans 8:29-30 as if it is describing a step-by-step process we go through with God. Rather, the things God has done for us happen simultaneously in eternity. Aside from God knowing before who would be saved, all the other actions (called, justified, glorified) occur when hears the Gospel and responds appropriately by being saved by grace through faith at baptism.

Faith is the avenue by which mankind is linked to a saving relationship with God. It is through the Gospel message that mankind is called by God (2 Thessalonians 2:15). That faith is manufactured by the word of the Gospel (Romans 10:17). All these grand doctrines of God’s blessings for mankind fall into this simple paradigm. When we understand the basics of faith, we can then begin to better understand the grandiose doctrine of predestination, election, and glorification. Without the foundational understanding of how God works through the Word to establish faith in the heart of mankind, we can never accurately understand the other higher doctrines.

 

Practical Application from the Theology

All good theology is practical and leads to worship. So, what practical applications can we make from the doctrine of election? First, enjoy the majesty of God which we can’t understand. Deuteronomy 29:29 told us “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.” The doctrine of election should cause us to praise God for the concrete nature of our relationship with him.  The doctrine of election helps us to keep our ego in check when we think about our salvation. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The ancient man approached God . . . as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.[11] God is in charge. We are not. The doctrine of election should lead us to humbly embrace our God who holds us in his sovereign care. The doctrine of election should lead us to worship, because it is impossible without Jesus at the center as our Representative and Mediator.

 

One of the reasons we worship God is recorded in 2 Thessalonians 2:13. Paul wrote, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” We should praise God because “He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” The doctrine of election helps intensify our understanding of God’s love for his people. The doctrine of election helps to reinforce the family relationship necessary for the church. The doctrine of election helps to reinforce righteous behavior befitting children of God.

‘Twas with an Everlasting Love (John Kent, 1803)

  1. ‘Twas with an everlasting love

That God His own elect embraced,

Before He made the worlds above,

Or earth on her huge columns placed.

  1. Long ere the sun’s refulgent ray

Primeval shades of darkness drove,

They on His sacred bosom lay,

Loved with an everlasting love.

  1. Then in the glass of His decrees,

Christ and His bride appeared as one;

Her sin, by imputation His,

Whilst she in spotless splendor shown.[12]

 

 

[1] Unconditional particular election is a tenet of hyper Calvinism which holds that individuals are chosen by God and saved by God without their consent. After being saved in this way, these Calvinists teach that the individual may repent and believe.

[2] Double predestination holds that God chose to save individuals and to condemn individuals with no regard to their person.

[3] John Bloomfield, “Election,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 7 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1861), 305.

[4] The doctrine of reprobation or double predestination holds that God has chosen individuals to save and other individuals to condemn. This is prominent in extreme Calvinist groups, but others will not hold to this doctrine. Mankind has a responsibility to accept or reject salvation (John 3:36).

[5] בָּחַר, bachar; בָּחִיר, bachir; ἐκλέγομαι, eklegomai; ἐκλεκτός, eklektos; ἐκλογή, eklogē

[6] A. Chadwick Thornhill, “Election,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[7] Everett Ferguson. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Kindle Locations 1109-1129). Kindle Edition.

[8] “The Term br in Hebrew Usage. At the time when Deuteronomy was composed, the word br had currency in everyday Hebrew for the human act of choosing or selecting. It could be used of the mundane act of selecting an object for use (1 Sam 17:40; 1 Kgs 18:23, 25) or a place to reside (Gen 13:11; Deut 23:16). The criterion for choice appears to be fitness for the chooser’s purposes. The verb could also be used of possible courses of action (2 Sam 15:15) and suffering (2 Sam 24:12). Persons, too, could be chosen for the purposes of the chooser: men are selected for military service (1 Sam 13:2; 2 Sam 10:4; 17:1), and individuals for leadership (Exod 18:25; 1 Sam 8:18; 12:13). When Saul charges Jonathan with choosing David (1 Sam 20:30), this may indicate that it was normal to speak of br in the context of friendship, but given the general tenor of the evidence one should probably hear overtones of a political alliance. (See TDOT 2: 78–87; THAT 1: 275–300.)” Dale Patrick, “Election: Old Testament,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 435–436.

[9] Ibid. Kindle

[10] Everett Ferguson. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Kindle Locations 1138-1139). Kindle Edition.

[11] “God in the Dock,” in Lesley Walmsley, ed., C.S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces[London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000], p. 36.

[12] Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 2004 (Founders Press) #46.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s