Doctrine 101: Election

Edward N. Gross

The biblical teaching of election is part of the larger subject of God’s predestination. Our Confession warns, “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care.” And when thus handled, “so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation” to man (CF, 3:8).

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no better place for this doctrine to be taught than in a worship service. Why? It is here that we bow. In deep humility, we sense our weakness and confess our sins. In this place, no man stands out—only God does. We are all beggars who equally depend on his grace. All hearts lie open and naked before One so much greater and purer than we, that a sense of awe fills us just to have access to him.

In coming to worship, we leave the world behind us. We are in a separated or holy place. This is where God is expected to outshine us. So it is with this subject. Election cannot be rightly taught or learned unless we are bowing. It brings us to truths so high that we feel we ought to take off our shoes and kneel at hearing them. Here it is God’s rights, not man’s rights, that prevail. So, worship humbly and do not ask, “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” Instead, marvel that he saves anyone.

God’s sovereignty establishes the doctrine of election. One who is sovereign has the right of absolute rule over his realm. The Bible depicts God as infinite, eternal, unchangeable, and completely independent in his being. He is uncreated and self-governing. All other beings are created. They are finite, mortal, and changeable, depending totally on him for their life. God plans history; we make history.

God’s plan, according to the Scriptures, is all-embracing. It includes all his creatures and all their actions (Isa. 46:10; Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Dan. 4:34-35). He is a wise God, who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Yet he does this without overriding the agency of his creatures, thus leaving them responsible for their decisions (Luke 22:22; John 19:10-11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

God is sovereign, and we are responsible for our choices. Both ideas are taught in Scripture, and so both are absolutely true (John 17:17), whether or not we can fully explain how this can be. Like children who trust their parents with matters that are beyond their understanding, we believe all that our heavenly Father has revealed in his Word. Those who want to fathom it all, to comprehend everything, are really craving to be God. They refuse to bend and to bow, having claimed for the human intellect an ability and a right that it cannot possess. Some things are too high for us (Ps. 139:6). This is one of them.

If God’s plan includes everything that will ever occur, then it must include a determination of who will and will not be saved. Election is God’s predetermining that certain people will be saved—as well as certain angels (1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).

God has chosen people from every nation, tribe, and language (Rev. 7:9-10). Before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9), their names were written in the Book of Life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). The elect were not chosen because of any good qualities or deeds foreseen in them (Deut. 7:7-9). Rather, they were appointed for eternal life (Acts 13:48) to elicit praise for the glorious grace of God to unworthy sinners (Eph. 1:5-6).

The nonelect, though recipients of much mercy during their lives, are passed over by God’s saving grace and are permitted to live in their chosen element of sin. They all therefore deserve and eventually incur his punishment. As all things do glorify God (Num. 14:21; Isa. 6:3; Rom. 8:28; Rev. 4:11), so their punishment exalts his awesome and exacting justice (Rom. 9:22-24).

The destiny of the lost is not reached in the same way as the destiny of the saved. In one case, God is personally active; in the other case, he is passive. That is, believers are enabled by God, through his regenerating grace, to believe. God himself intervenes to deliver them. The lost, on the other hand, are left to themselves, without God’s special saving grace, to follow their natural course of sinfulness (Prov. 14:12). God does not force them to sin (James 1:13-14). This difference in God’s activity concerning the destiny of people led the Confession’s writers to use different words to depict these awesome acts. Some, they state, are “predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death” (CF, 3:3).

Since no one knows who the elect are without certain evidences, and since assurance of one’s election is a great comfort, Peter encourages all Christians “to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10) by growing in faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-9; see also 1 Thess. 1:4-7).

Since the truth sets us free (John 8:32), knowledge and belief in the doctrine of election help to free us from sinful pride and self-confidence. We rely solely on the grace of a good and sovereign God for all good things.

This first in a series of articles on basic Christian doctrines was written by Dr. Edward N. Gross, pastor of Gwynedd Valley OPC in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 2000. Next.