Election is ‘God’s decision to choose us to be saved before the foundation of the world.’ Or, more fully, ‘election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.’
The term ‘predestination’ is a broader term, including as it does God’s leaving of the non-elect to the consequences of their own sins. The term ‘double predestination’ is not helpful as it implies that election and reprobation are similar divine actions.
Several NT passages affirm that God fore-ordained those who would be saved. See Acts 13:48; Rom 8:28-30; 9:11-13; 11:7; Eph 1:4-6,12; 1 Th 1:4-5; 2 Th 2:13; 2 Ti 1:9; 1 Pe 1:1; 2:9; Rev 13:7-8; 17:8.
How we should view the doctrine of election
1. As a comfort. The doctrine of election assures us that ‘in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose, FOR…’, Rom 8:28-29.
2. As a reason to praise God. See Eph 1:5-6 (‘…to the praise of his glory’); 1 Thess 1:2,4; 2 Thess 2:13. We have no claim to salvation: it is entirely of God’s grace. The only appropriate response is praise.
3. As an encouragement to evangelism. See 2 Tim 2:10: Paul knows that God has chosen some people to be saved, and he views this as a spur to evangelism, even at the cost of great suffering. ‘Election is Paul’s guarantee that there will be some success for his evangelism, for he knows that some of the people he speaks to will be the elect, and they will believe the gospel and be saved. It is as if someone invited us to come fishing as said, “I guarantee that you will catch some fish – they are hungry and waiting.”
Misunderstandings of the doctrine of election
1. Election is not fatalistic or mechanistic. ‘Fatalistic’ means that human choices and decisions make no difference. It means that what has been pre-ordained will happen, regardless of anything we do or fail to do. ‘Mechanistic’ means inflexibly determined by an impersonal force that treats us like machines or robots. Both approaches would rob us of our humanity.
In contrast, the NT presents the entire picture of salvation as brought about by a personal God in relationship with personal creatures. He destined us ‘in love’, Eph 1:5. Scriptures continually views us as genuine persons who make and willing choices to accept or reject the gospel, Mt 11:28; Rev 22:17; Jn 5:40; Mt 23:37. These choice are not only willing, but real, having eternal consequences, Jn 3:18.
The implication is people’s destiny hinges on whether we preach the gospel or not. See Acts 18:9-11 – when Paul learned that God had ‘many people’ in Corinth, he stayed and preached the gospel there for 18 months. See also Rom 10:14,17.
2. Election is not based on God’s foreknowledge of our faith. Rom 8:29 is often quoted in favour of this view. But God’s foreknowledge is of persons, not facts. ‘Those whom God foreknew’ means ‘those whom he thought of in a saving relationship to himself.’
Nor should we understand election to be merely of groups of people, as distinct from the individuals within that group. Rom 8:29 talks of ‘those whom God foreknew’, and Eph 1:4 says that ‘he chose us’.
Again, Scripture never speaks of our faith as the reason God chose us. Paul explicitly excludes consideration of what people would do in life from his understanding of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau, Rom 9:11-13. In Eph 1:5-6 there is no mention of anything that God foresaw in us that would be a basis for election. The basis is God’s love, the purpose of his will, and the grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Once again, an election based on something good in us would be the beginning of a merit-based salvation.
Even if election were based on God’s foresight of faith on our part, this does not rescue election from the supposed determinism that the objectors seek to avoid. If God foresees that person A will believe, but person B will not believe, their destinies are still immutably fixed. We have then replaced divine election by impersonal determinism.
Election, accordingly, is unconditional in that it is not conditioned upon anything that God sees in us that makes us worthy of his choosing us.
Objections to the doctrine of election
Some object that election means that we do not have a choice, or that we do not have a real choice, or that we are made puppets or robots. But it is clear that the gospel addresses us as responsible beings and invites a voluntary choice. We are real people, able to make real choices.
Some object that election means that unbelievers do not have a chance to believe, and so God is unfair. But unbelievers, like believers, are addressed by God as responsible beings. When people rejected Jesus, he always held them responsible, Jn 8:43-44; Mt 23:37. All people are confronted with a revelation from God so clear that they are without excuse, Rom 1:20. Further than this, we must answer with Paul, “Who are you, a man, to answer back to God?’ Rom 9:20.
Then, it is objected that God’s will is for everyone to be saved, whereas election would appear to teach that God’s will is to save only some. The premise is supported by 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9. In answer, reformed writers often appeal to God’s ‘revealed’ will (telling us what we should do) and his ‘secret’ will (his eternal and undisclosed plans).
See Grudem, Systematic Theology, 669-687.