Election is such a hot potato that we can end up resenting the very existence of the doctrine, and almost reproach God for putting it in the Bible at all. Because we find many of our arguments about election to be unedifying, we are tempted to conclude that the doctrine itself is unedifying.
But look at the attitude of Paul: he is neither embarrassed nor ashamed of election. The thought of election leads Paul to praise, Eph 1:3ff, to encouragement, Rom 8:33ff, and to ethical appeal, Col 3:12.
Because the doctrine of election touches on the inmost secrets of God, it is strong meat. It is very nourishing to those who can take it, but likely to cause acute indigestion to those whose constitutions are out of order.
1. The idea of election
To ‘elect’, or to ‘choose’ carries the idea in Scripture of selecting something or someone from a number of available alternatives.
The divine choice of sinners for salvation is an act of grace, Rom 11:5f, and is therefore free and unconditional, Eph 1:9ff. If the Christian should ask, ‘Why me?’ the Bible answer is, because in his mercy God choose to. The choice precedes the existence of the persons chosen, Eph 1:4; depends on nothing in them that would commend them to God, and leads to faith, rather than is the grounds of it, Acts 13:48; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2.
Election appears in the Bible in respect to, (a) the selection of Abraham and his family to be God’s covenant people; (b) the selection of particular people for particular pieces of service; (c) the selection of certain individuals to bring them to salvation.
The idea of election implies discrimination: some are selected, but not all.
2. Election and the plan of salvation
Election is the fountain-head from which the whole saving purpose of God flows. It dates from before the foundation of the world, Eph 1:3f; Rom 8:29f.
God chose us ‘in Christ’ – that is, to be saved through his mediation and in union with his person, Eph 1:4. All the blessings that flow from election are enjoyed in and through him – sonship, v5, redemption, v7, the gift of the Spirit, v13, inheritance, v11. Accordingly our election to salvation is bound up with the appointment of Christ as Saviour, 2 Tim 1:10; 1 Pet 1:20. And Jesus testified that he came to fulfil that eternal plan, Jn 6:39; 10:29; 17:2, 24.
‘We speak of the “work” of Christ, meaning the atonement, but in the persepctive set by God’s electing purpose Christ’s heavenly ministry of drawing sinners to himself, Jn 12:32, interceding for them, Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; and preserving them for glory, 2 Tim 4:17f, is as truly part of Christ’s work as was his earthly ministry of suffering and sin-bearing.’
3. Election and evangelism
If Christ came to save only the elect, what gospel is there for the rest?
First, Scripture teaches that God has chosen, not only whom he will save, but also the method by which he will save them – faith in Christ. ‘Hence his way of bringing about the salvation of his elect is to send someone to tell them the gospel.’
Second, the grounds on which Scripture teaches us to offer Christ have nothing to do with election. We are to call on everyone to turn and trust him, because everyone is guilty, because he is a sufficient Saviour for all who trust him, because he graciously invites everyone to come to him, and because God commands all to repent and believe the gospel. We are to evangelise in obedience to Christ’s command, and under the constraint of his love. We are not to speculate on whether our friends are elect or not: we are to look simply at their need of Christ and to do all we can to meet that need.
An Einstein may make himself truly known to a two-year-old child as the child’s kind friend, and yet there is so much about the adult that remains unknown – partly because the adult did not choose to reveal it, and partly because the child would not have understood it anyway. So it is with God, and it could not be otherwise.
Third, election, far from undermining evangelism, undergirds it, for it provides the only hope of its succeeding in its aim. The natural man will never come to faith, unless divinely enabled.
4. Election and the Christian life
Election is known by its fruits in a person’s life, 2 Pet 1:10; 1 Thess 1:3-6. The more that Christian virtues appear in our lives, the more sure of our election we can be.
Far from leading to complacency, election awakens awe, deepens humility, engenders joy.
Based on J.I. Packer, God’s Words, 156-168.