Election

Preaching and Worship Resources about Election

Election is the sovereign choice of God by which God chooses, from out of the whole of fallen humankind, those who are to be grafted into Christ and so saved by grace alone through the blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

In Scripture

God gathers "And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:31).

Predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies" (Rom. 8:29 - 33).

For the sake of the elect "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" (2 Tim. 2:10).

God chose us in Christ "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:3 - 6).

A way of life "Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble" (2 Pet. 1:10).

Points to Ponder

The Chosen In biblical-theological parlance, "election" refers to God's choice of who will be saved. In the Old Testament it began with the call/election of Abram to be the founder of God's elect people, Israel. Election was never to begin and end only in Israel but was predicted to one day include people drawn from all the nations of the earth. Israel, then, was the elect forerunner to all those who are finally elected to salvation in Christ. In the New Testament Jesus frequently refers to "the elect" in his Olivet Discourse about the last days. As an example, Matthew 24:31 has Jesus promising, "And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." To be "elect" is to be chosen by God, and the choosing is then God's "election" of those who will be saved. Although the words "elect" and "election" occur only fifteen times in the New Testament, the idea of being chosen or predestined is more widely on display even without use of specific election language, as in Ephesians 1:4 - 5: ". . . just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will." Similar ideas are described in the well-known lines from Romans 8:29: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified."

Divine and Human Choice That God would have ultimate and final say as to those who would be saved is disputed by few Christians. But the more precise contours of the doctrines of election and predestination have long been a flashpoint among various groups of believers. Mostly the questions that divide people have to do with the intersections of divine choice and human choice and whether as sinful human beings we have any true freedom to choose God or not to choose God. The position of John Calvin on such matters represents the broad Augustinian-Catholic tradition that posits a complete human inability ever to decide to believe in Jesus Christ unless that choice is pre-activated by God's sovereign prior election. Without God's first choosing a given person, that person would never on one's own be able to make a decision to believe in God. Those who on the human level become Christians do so only because God had long ago pre-ordained that this would happen — God's choice precedes and supersedes human choice such that, without God's sovereign decision, no one since humanity's fall into sin could ever choose anything other than sin and death. Those in the Arminian tradition (represented by many Baptists, Pentecostals, and other groups) posit that even sinful people can find it within themselves to make a decision for God. The choice really is up to us. In that case, election is explained as God's having chosen in advance only those whom God knew in advance would one day choose God. The "elect" are those God knew would make the right decision one day. The difference may seem subtle, but many see it as significant: Either salvation is one hundred percent the work of God's grace alone, or humans make a contribution to their own salvation by making the first move (a move God did not pre-ordain but did foresee). Once that move is made, it is ever and only and completely the work of Jesus that saves anyone (on this point all Christians agree). The questions have more to do who makes the first move in the direction of that salvation by grace.

Election and Reprobation A question that often arises in theological discussions is whether or not election and reprobation are equally ultimate. If election is God's active choosing of someone to be saved, then reprobation would be seen as God's actively choosing someone not to be saved. The question becomes: Does God actually choose to damn anyone? In some of the more scholastic Reformed documents such as the Canons of Dort, the claim is made that all of humanity fell into sin of its own accord. Sin was humanity's choice, not God's. All are self-condemned. What God does in election is actively choosing — by grace and out of an abundance of love — to save some (or many, or most), but not all. God is under no compulsion to choose any; even so, out of lovingkindness God chooses many to be saved. However, God does not actively choose to condemn anyone. Rather, God simply leaves some alone in the course humanity had chosen for itself. God is active to choose those who are saved but is passive in allowing others to continue on the trajectory humanity chose on its own. Many theologians are not satisfied with this answer, however, claiming that when you are dealing with an omnipotent God, even the lack of a choice is still a choice, so can we really keep God clear of the charge of actively condemning people?


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.