Abide in Key Word Studies on Bible Doctrines
Biblical teachings for personal Bible study, daily devotions and sermon preparation with abiding principles and practical applications. Here is a dictionary of the rich terms used in the Christian vocabulary.
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Statements regarding election in the Bible express the truth that the existence of the people of God can be explained only on the basis of God’s plan, will, and action, and not from a series of human resolves.
This great doctrine is set forth in both the Old and New Testaments with great stress on God’s sovereign righteousness and holiness. God’s wisdom and grace are beyond every creature’s comprehension or understanding. All we can do is bow in worship and adoration of the great God and Savior we serve. All praise and glory to Him belong.
The only way depraved sinners can ever be saved is by the sovereign election of God who freely of Himself, and His own free will, chooses to save us. Our election was not arbitrary. It was according to God's purpose, good pleasure and His free will.
God reaches down and draws to Himself those whom He has chosen from all eternity, redeeming and justifying them in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:11ff; Eph 1:4ff).
The whole world is hopelessly lost in sin and cannot save itself by human means. No one will ever be saved apart from redeeming grace of God in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
Election is the sovereign and loving choice by God of those who are to receive His grace. It should not be confused with predestination which is the eternal purpose for which the elect are chosen.
Election involves God’s Gracious Plan of Redemption
The presupposition of God’s eternal decree of election is the fact that the human race is fallen. Man is lost in slavery to sin and cannot redeem himself (Eph. 2:1-3). Election involves God’s rescue plan. It is not based on human works. It is an act of grace (Eph. 2:4-7). Election leads to “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (1:7). His goal is that we be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). The fallen are called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:30).
God chooses solely on the basis of His own free decision and His love is not dependent on any temporal circumstances. Election is a decision rooted in God’s perfect nature which runs right around all the usual humanistic values. With majestic independence God passes by those who are worthy of respect according to man’s standards and presents as His elect the poor, the weak, the foolish and despised of this world (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
The Meaning of Election
The word “election” centers primarily in the Greek word eklectos, an adjective signifying “the chosen,” and in ekloge, a noun, signifying “that which is chosen” or the object of the choice.
Throughout the Old Testament the doctrine of election is set forth with increasing clarity. It is an important teaching of the Old Testament that God elected Israel for His chosen people with covenant privileges not because of anything Israel had to offer, but solely because of the grace of God and His sovereign choice (Deut. 4:37; 7:6-7; 10:15; 1 Kings 3:8; Isa. 44:1-2; 45:4; 65:9, 15, 22; Ezek. 20:5; Amos 3:2; Acts 13:17; Rom. 9:1-5). The reason for God’s choice of Israel was found in God, not Israel. It was because God loved Israel. Not all Israel was of the elect, but only a faithful remnant that God had chosen (Isa. 1:9; 10:21ff; 11:11ff; Jer. 23:3; 31:7). Christ is the chosen Messiah (Isa. 42:1; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4, 6; Matt. 12:18). The ultimate goal of all previous election was to prepare the way for Him to be revealed. It is this One rejected and cast out by men that Yahweh makes His chosen cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:4, 6; Ps. 118:22; Isa. 28:16). God builds His church on this chosen One (1 Pet. 2:9).
In the Old Testament Yahweh is the subject and always the One who chooses. The emphasis is totally on the action of God. The Old Testament quite consciously and consistently directs the attention to God’s free acts of grace which contradicts all human concepts of merit. Hence, it is a strong emphasis on grace.
In Romans 9-11 the apostle Paul deals with Israel’s rejection of God’s chosen One, Jesus. Although the majority has gone astray, there remains a remnant (Rom. 11:5, 7; cf. 9:11; 11:28). Even though all seems lost, during this interval God’s purpose is extended to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:28-36).
The word election is most often used of individual believers (Mk. 13:20, 22, 27; Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2 John 1:13).
The more restricted and most common New Testament use of election refers to the choosing of individuals for salvation. The objects of election to salvation are individuals, and never any sense of universal election (Matt. 22:14; John 15:19; Rom. 8:29; 9:13, 15, 18, 22; 1 Thess. 5:9). It is God’s way of bringing the rebellious, depraved sinner to respond in faith to God.
Election is the decree of a sovereign God who makes an eternal immutable choice to choose from depraved sinners who deserve condemnation those whom He will save. All sinners because of their depravity deserve condemnation. No one deserves to be saved. God provides the source of salvation in grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit applies the regenerative work to bring about a spiritual birth in the believer. Every individual who is saved is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
God’s Sovereign Decree
Election is a sovereign, eternal decree of God. It was “predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:11). God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). He did it “in love” (Eph. 1:5).
The basic idea of election is a sovereign decree of God to “choose out” (ek, “from,” and lago, “to pick out”). God elects those who are to be saved and the means of their salvation in Christ Jesus. It is His purpose that we be conformed to the image and character of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
A good example is found in God's election of the Thessalonian believers. God chose them. “Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you” (1 Thess. 1:4). Election is entirely an expression of God’s love. Everything in our Christian life begins with God's love and His election of us. Believers are the elect of God because He chose them before they chose Him. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Election guarantees that salvation is rooted in the will of God and not man’s merits or virtues. It forces sinful man to confront his transgression and depravity. It forces us to understand the attributes of a holy and righteous God who will not tolerate sin. We do not make any effort to turn from our sinfulness that we so dearly love until God the Holy Spirit convicts us and humbles us. We have no desire to turn to Him from our sins until He does His work in our unregenerate nature. Election focuses our attention on the eternal purpose of God to redeem sinful human beings. Salvation is entirely the work of God from its inception until the believer stands glorified before the Father in heaven.
God alone is the source of our election (John 6:37, 44; Eph. 1:4). No external influence other than Himself affects election. All men are depraved sinners and none will be set apart except by God’s divine intervention in grace. Whom God chooses to be saved lies within His own sovereign will alone (Rom. 9:11, 16, 18; Eph. 1:4-5, 11). The only cause and ground is God’s unconditional love and mercy (John 3:16; Rom. 9:23; 11:33). It is done in a way in which only a holy God can receive all the glory due His marvelous name (Eph. 1:6-12).
The foundation of election
The foundation of the election is centered in the Biblical doctrine of God. He is the eternal Yahweh, above and beyond time and space because there never was a time when He did not exist, so He is not subject to time and place (Mal. 3:16; Rom. 1:20-21; Deut. 33:27; Isa. 57:15). He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the universe. He is the Sovereign Lord over all (Dan. 4:34-35; Isa. 45:1ff; Rom. 9:17ff; Eph. 1:11). Moreover, all that God does is according to His perfect character and nature (Jer. 23:6; 33:16; Rom. 1:17; 10:3; 2 Pet. 1:1).
The doctrine of election is indisputably related to His holiness. The LORD God will not compromise His righteousness.
Administratively election may be viewed as the eternal decree of God the Father by which He gave the Son those whom He elected to salvation in the Son. It is also the eternal decree of God the Son to receive those whom He redeemed through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. The Holy Spirit accomplishes the eternal decree by His regeneration of the sinner causing him to believe on the finished work of Christ, sanctification and final glorification at the second coming of Christ.
Free will of man and election
When man begins with man in thinking about salvation he usually thinks of freedom as an absolute. There is no such thing as absolute freedom in this world. It is always relative. If we begin by assuming freedom for man, we find it difficult to secure a proper freedom for God. Spurgeon suggested that we need to keep in mind that at conversion a man is very sensible of the fact that he has a choice between Christ and unbelief, between life and death. The unbeliever is certain of nothing more than this; it is a real and true choice. However, after the same person grows more and more spiritually mature he is cognizant that even those very first stirrings in his own heart, which led him to choose Christ, were the work of the Holy Spirit. He becomes more sure that he was chosen rather than that he chose. This choice he made depended upon God’s love and not upon his own reaching up to God. The newly converted naturally thinks of the idea of deciding for Christ, whereas the more mature believer realizes the certainty of the divine choice.
Jonathan Edwards said the problem is not with the will itself because the will always chooses what it thinks is best. The will is always free and always chooses what it judges best in any situation.
The problem for the will is what Martin Luther termed the “bondage of the will.” The problem is with our moral nature. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” which is opposed to God. Our sinful motives flow from our corrupt sinful nature. The sinner always makes the wrong choices. Because of our fallen sin nature we resist and reject God’s best choice for us. Since the will is simply the mind making choices on what it thinks is best for the individual it is terribly influenced by its depravity. Unless the grace of God intervenes no one chooses God or embraces the free offer of salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. We always want our will and our way and left to our sinful choices we would never ask God for salvation.
Election does not destroy the value of human choices; it gives sinners the capacity for making the right choices. Without God’s sovereign saving grace we cannot make the correct choices. Our human free will was directed against God, not toward Him. We were free to choose, but we always choose not to do His will. We made the wrong choices that determine our eternal destiny.
God does not save or damn anyone against the individual’s will. God’s election of sinners is not contrary to the human will. It would be a grave mistake to think that God can take action to save sinners only when they graciously give Him permission.
Those individuals who choose not to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation get exactly what they choose and deserve. God does not impose His will on them.
For those who are going to be saved, God sovereignly and graciously changes their hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life. They willingly and readily trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life by their own choice. It is God’s sovereign, quickening power that causes them to respond to His grace.
Election is “in Christ”
The apostle John consistently represents Christ as the agent of election (John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19). He chooses and puts God’s election into effect. Jesus is the explicit subject in these verses.
The grace of God in Christ is effectual in the call that goes out and invites the sinner to come to Christ. The apostle Paul tells us the sinner is chosen “in Christ” who is the elect one of God par excellence. He chose his people “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) and called them in time (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13, 14) in order that they might reproduce His character by being “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29).
While the act of election took place in God’s eternal counsel, its effects are seen in transforming the lives of the elect.
Election involves rescue from sin and guilt and receiving the gracious gifts of salvation. Election is “in Christ” and through Christ. He is also the foundation of election and the foundation of salvation because He went to the cross and paid in full the payment due to the righteousness of God. Therefore He is the Mediator and Head of all the elect. The elect are the members of His Body, the church.
Paul stresses, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:3, 4). God the Father elected from all eternity, but He elected in Christ. The elect are chosen “in Christ.” It is a vital union with Christ.
However, the basis for everything God does is founded upon the ransom Christ paid in His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross (Rom. 5:6, 8; 6:2-11; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 3:3, 4). The believer is seen as co-crucified, co-buried, co-resurrected, and co-ascended with Christ. In this vital union with Christ the redemption is effected in the election of God the Father before the foundation of the earth. It is in Christ salvation was once for all secured by Jesus' ransom blood.
The Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ to the believer (Titus 3:5-7; 1 Pet. 1:23-24; John 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17). "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10). The believing sinner is created anew “in Christ.”
“Our blessed hope” comes into full view when the believer will receive resurrected bodies and stand glorified before God the Father in heaven. It is “in Christ” that we will hear the last trumpet and the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:22-28, 50-58).
Evidence of Election
We must be careful to never allow the assurance of election to be turned into a false sense of security (Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Pet. 1:10). It is only as we live that election becomes evident individually. The evidence is in how we live.
God chose the elect “to be holy and blameless in His sight . . . to be adopted as His sons” (Eph. 1:4-5). The elect are those whom God “foreknew . . . predestined . . . called . . . justified . . . glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).
You will know the election of God by the evidence of the transforming work of grace manifested in your life. If you have trusted in Him then you know and have experienced the love of Christ.
God sees the end from the beginning. That "end" is conformity to the image of His Son. The glorious end product will be like Jesus in His character and destiny.
In no manner does election encourage sinful living. If anything, it promotes a holy lifestyle that is pleasing to a holy and righteous God. Election by its very nature demands holiness in the Christian’s life. If we are not growing in Christ-likeness, we are not saved and are still in our sins.
Have you paused and thanked God the Father for electing you to salvation? Our election is a fact, not human speculation. It is a divine revelation, not something to argue over. It humbles us to the core of our personal being that God did not have to save us, but did so by His own sovereign will and grace. That awesome fact should cause us to fall down on our faces before God, and praise Him for His glorious grace which He has freely given to those whom He loves. Our salvation is to the praise of His glory alone. God took the initiative in providing our salvation from its beginning to its glorification.
The doctrine of election encourages us to praise the wonder of our salvation by grace through faith alone. It is an error to think of making man sovereign in salvation as if God can only look ahead and make His choice if man believes. Nowhere is sovereignty of man taught in the Scriptures. An over emphasis on "free will of man" makes God subservient to man's accepting Him. Man responds to the effectual call of the Holy Spirit changing his attitudes and rebellion and bringing regeneration and faith in Jesus Christ. Man has the responsibility of believing on Christ as his Savior. That is inescapable.
The mystery of God’s sovereign action and man’s responsibility is always present in the doctrines of salvation (Rom. 9:19; 11:33-36).
The preaching of the good news in Jesus Christ is indispensable in effecting God’s election of sinners (Rom. 10:14-17; Acts 18:9-11). God chose the elect “to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
Let it be very clearly stated that this great biblical doctrine does not teach that if one is elect, he will be saved regardless of whether or not he believes on Christ. The Bible is extremely clear, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
The ultimate goal of election
The final goal of election is the glory and praise of God. The Bible makes it very clear that our election is “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). We were chosen “in order that we . . . might be for the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12). Everything in the universe is moving to the goal “to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ.”
We are trophies of God’s grace. Let our lives be a demonstration of His mercy and praise of the riches of His glorious saving grace.
One of the erroneous interpretations is to imply that election was based on foreknowledge by God of the choice which men would make, using foreknowledge or “prior” knowledge. That effectively removes any Biblical concept of election. It completely contradicts the idea of sovereignty, and ignores the basic idea of the word “foreknow.”
The Greek word proginosko has the idea of “regard with favor,” or “to make an object of care,” and carries the additional idea of approval (cf. Ex. 2:25; Rom. 11:2). More than a mere knowledge beforehand is involved. God does indeed have a prior knowledge of man’s actions, but it does not follow that any such actions were the basis of God’s choice of the individual. Prior knowledge arose out of God’s unconditional choice. Foreknowledge implies an act of God’s will to accomplish that which He knows. God’s knowledge cannot be separated from His will, and His will cannot be conditioned by prior knowledge of an event.
It would be incorrect to say a man is elected because he is going to believe on Jesus Christ. It is correct, however to say he believes because he is elect as taught in Acts 13:48. "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 13:48). The emphasis is on the divine counsel in election. “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” God did it. Foreknowledge of faith or holiness is not the cause of election.
Predestination has to do with our being like Jesus. Jesus is our big brother, and we are to bear the likeness of the family of God. His goal is to mold us in the image of His Son. Jesus is the eldest in the great family of God. He is preeminent.
Election made sure
The Puritan reformer Thomas Manton said, “Your election will be known by your interests in Christ, and your interest in Christ by the regeneration in the Spirit. All God’s flock are put in Christ’s hands, and He leaves them in the care of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2).”
C. H. Spurgeon writes: “John Newton used to tell a whimsical story of a good woman who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, ‘Ah! Sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.’ I am sure it is true in my case; I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.”
One of the Puritans observed, "Eternal election is the spring of grace and eternal glory is its consummation.”
The Canons of Dort give a good conclusion to this study. “He decreed to give them true faith in Him, to justify them, to sanctify them, and, after having powerfully kept them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them, for the demonstration of His mercy and the praise of the riches of His glorious grace.”
Election is individual, personal, specific and particular. That means you have to respond to the offer of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Everyone God called to salvation, He called personally. “All that the Father gives Me shall come to me; and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). Emphatic, double negative, I will never, no, never reject. Verse 39 says He will not lose a single one of those given to Him! “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40; cf. 10:14-16, 26-30). God’s personal election leads to the believer’s security and eternal assurance. Personal privileges, blessings, security and comfort are for God’s elect. Claim your inheritance!
God’s grace has been manifested to us in superabundance. It is an oversized grace that is more than enough to keep us saved for now and eternity. God has reached down to depraved sinners in His superabundance of grace and then added more and more to it.
It is humbling to discover that we were chosen in Christ back in eternity before the universe was created. That was God’s eternal choice. God has every believer’s name inscribed on His heart for all eternity.
Our assurance of salvation is based upon God’s eternal choice. How can we ever be lost again? Impossible!
John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16-19; Ephesians 1:4ff; 2:1-10; Deuteronomy 23:5; Romans 8:28-36; 9:19; 11:33-36; 10:14-17
Abiding Principles and Practical Applications
1. God is sovereign and His sovereignty is always wise, holy, good and loving. In election a sovereign God is carrying out His eternal purpose of redemption of lost mankind.
2. God is not obligated to save anyone, but those whom He does save He does so by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-10; Acts 16:31; 4:12).
3. World missions are at the heart of God’s eternal purpose (2 Peter 3:9). No one will ever be able to stand before God and say, “I wanted to be saved, but I was not elected.” Those who are unsaved are unsaved because they chose to be unsaved. God is patient and willing that all come to repentance and believe on His Son for salvation.
4. By divine election God has chosen certain individuals to salvation and predestined them to be conformed to the character of His Son (Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 8:28-36).
5. Election is God’s grace in action. Are you “in Christ” and one with Him? Salvation is entirely the work of God. Election says God is in control of our salvation.
6. Election always implies responsibility on the part of men. People are chosen to do something. We are to live holy and blameless lives before God. Paul is not teaching sinless perfection in this life, but he is calling believer to live a life pleasing to a God who is holy. Purity in this life is not an option; if you love Him you will obey Him.
7. The ultimate goal of election is to reveal God’s character as “the praise of His glory.”
For Further Study
Ephesians 1:4 Chosen Before the Foundation of the Word
Message by Wil Pounds and all content on this page (c) 2005 by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent. Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible (c) 1973, and 1995 Update by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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