The Bible Doctrine of Election
By: C.D. Cole Condensed Version (with editing and clarification) by: Cindy Lynne Allen
Election! – what a blessed word! Who does not rejoice to know that he has been chosen to some great blessing? Election unto salvation is the greatest of all blessings, but a neglected truth even by many who profess to believe it. Spurgeon said, “There seems to be an inveterate prejudice in the human mind against this doctrine, and although most other doctrines will be received by professing Christians, some with caution, others with pleasure, yet this one seems to be most frequently disregarded and discarded.”
Election is the foundation for the other doctrines of human redemption to rest upon. It takes the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to cause a man to love the doctrine of election. To this we must acknowledge the superior wisdom of God whose thoughts are not as our thoughts. The Bible was given to correct our thinking. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of thinking. We are not to come to the Bible as critics; the Bible is to criticize us (meaning to correct). The surest evidence of a saved state is to have the right attitude toward the Word of God. We must beware against any “poking fun” at any doctrine of the Bible.
The doctrines of grace have found expression in two systems of theology commonly known as Calvinism and Arminianism. These two systems were not named for their founders, but for the men who popularized them. The system known as Calvinism was preached by Augustine at an earlier date, and before Augustus by Christ and the Apostles, being especially emphasized by the Apostle Paul. The system known as Arminianism was proclaimed by Pelagius in the fifth century. The truth system is based upon the truth of man’s inherent and total depravity; the false system is based upon the Romish dogma of free-will.
Some people are thinking that this is some new type of ideology or even heresy that is recently being propagated when in actuality, Arminianism is the new heresy that is being propagated. The London Confession (1689) states: By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace; others being left to act in their sins to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice.
There is no doctrine so grossly misrepresented. The doctrine of election is clothed in an ugly garb and held up to ridicule and sport. Let us strip this glorious truth of its false and vicious garment with which enemy hands have robed it, and put upon it the garments of holiness and wisdom.
Election is not salvation but it is unto salvation. “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,” (Romans 11:7). “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13b). According to this, election precedes salvation. People are actually saved when they believe on Christ, not when they are elected. Presidents are not presidents when they are elected, but when they are inaugurated. God’s elect are inducted into the position of “new creatures in Christ” by the effectual call, (the quickening work of the Holy Spirit) through which they become believers in the Gospel.
Election is not the cause of anybody’s going to hell; election is unto salvation. Neither is non-election responsible for the condemnation of sinners. Sin is what sends people to hell. Election does not change this.
In the first century, there was a remnant among the Jews who were saved according to the election of grace. “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). Those who oppose election cannot consistently claim to believe in salvation by grace. Those denominations that believe in salvation by works have no place for the doctrine of election in their confessions of faith; those that believe in salvation by grace, apart from human merit, have not failed to included election in their written creed. One group is headed by the Roman Catholics, the other group is headed by the Baptists.
Election does not prevent the salvation of anybody who wants to be saved, but a distinction needs to be made between a mere desire to escape hell and the desire to be saved from sin. The desire to be saved from hell is a natural desire. The desire to be saved from sin is a spiritual desire resulting from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
Election means that the destiny of men is in the hands of God. Many have regarded as an axiom the statement that everyone’s destiny is in his own hands. This is to deny the whole tenor of Scripture. At no time is the destiny of anyone in his own hands. If so, when one is saved, he or she has no one to thank and glorify but himself. Perish such a thought! “But all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). “God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:8c-9). Read also Ephesians 2:1-10.
If anyone’s destiny is in his own hands, he will either keep himself saved or he will lose his salvation. But, the Bible says that we are kept by the power of God through faith. We have this promise from John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Philippians 1:6 also says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What comfort! What security! What trust we can place in Him!
This theory that the destiny of anyone is or ever has been in his own hands reverses the very laws of nature. What man can lift himself into the attic by his own bootstraps? Can the Ethiopian change his color or the leopard remove his spots? By this we know that death cannot beget life. The theory that one’s destiny is in his own hands begets self-righteousness; the belief that destiny is in the hands of God begets self-renunciation and faith in God. How the reputation of the visible church would change before the eyes of the world if we began to act on the scripture in this way!
Election stands or falls with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and man’s depravity. Election is not a plan to save a mere handful of people. Matthew 20:28 says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for ‘many.’” The word “many” here is important. If all were intended to be saved, as some believe, all would be saved because God is powerful enough to perform His will. John 5:21 states, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” Again – the implication is no that all people on earth would be saved. Scripture goes even further with this truth in Romans 9:18. “So then he has mercy on whomever he will, and he hardens whomever he wills.
God’s elect are manifested in repentance, faith, and good works; they are not the cause but the evidence of salvation/election. The one who doesn’t pray, who has not repented of sins and trusted Christ as Lord and Ruler of his life, and who does not engage in good works has no right to claim that he is a saved person.
Some issues that are important to understand when talking about election include that people are automatically elected only when they make the decision to be saved. Election took place in eternity before the foundation of the earth; salvation takes place at the time the sinner believes. Some believe that discussion about election pertain only to the Jews. The mystery Christ spoke often about was that the gentiles were also chosen for salvation. Paul, the Apostle to the gentiles, states, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
Some say that election took place in eternity only as a result of God’s ability to look down through time and see who would choose to come to Him. It puts the act of salvation back into the range of the sinner’s innate capacity to save himself. We are reminded in Ephesians 1:4-6 that it is nothing of us, but it is all according to His will and purposes. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” The Bible does not describe the natural man as having faith. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Not able means unable! Without the understanding originating with God according to His own choice, no one would believe, as is evidenced by most of the world today. This is how Christians ought to view the lost. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Salvation is up to God, not up to us. If we truly believed this and acted according to this scripture, how much better would be our tarnished reputation as Christians.
Many argue against election because they say it robs the Christian of the incentive to preach the word to the lost. This causes missions to be based on sympathy for the lost rather than upon obedience to God’s command. The inspiration of missions is made to rest upon the practical results of missionary endeavor rather than upon the delight of doing God’s will. It is the principle of doing a thing because the results are satisfactory to the one doing them. If we are faithful, God is as pleased with our efforts when we see no tangible results as He is when we do see them. The elect, prior to their conversion, are known only to God. We are to preach the gospel to every creature because He has commanded it. Not because we feel sorry for lost people. He will take care of the results and cause us to be more effective than any who does it from simply humanistic motivation could ever think possible. “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). I fear that much work done in the name of Christ will be burned up because of this wrong motivation.
If election is based on the ground of something good that is found in the sinner then nobody would have been elected, for there is none good. Election is not in view of foreseen repentance and faith. Election is the cause of repentance and faith and not the effect of these graces. To say that God chose men to salvation because He foresaw that they would repent and believe is to attribute foolishness to the infinitely wise God. It can be compared to the President of the United States stating that the sun would rise tomorrow because he foresees that it will rise.
Some claim that the doctrine of election limits God’s mercy, yet at the same time, they say that God’s mercy is limited to the believer. They believe that God doesn’t have the power to bring those He has elected to Himself without doing violence to those people’s will. God has the power to give a sound mind and cause one to be willing. If God is trying to save every member of Adam’s fallen race, and does not succeed, then His power is limited and His is not the Lord God Almighty. Whether we like it or not, who are we to talk back to God? He tells us in Romans 9:15-16 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” All sinners are dead until God makes them alive. He can take away the heart of stone. No one is too great a sinner that God cannot save him. Thus we can pray for everyone with confidence knowing that our merciful Lord will accomplish His will at all times.
What do we do with the doctrine of “whosoever will?” Without election the invitation to “whosoever will” would go unheeded. This does not imply that the freedom or ability of the human will is able to do good. The human will is free, but its freedom is within the limits of fallen human nature. It is free like the vulture who will eat only meat but its nature but would starve to death in a wheat field. So sinners starve to death in the presence of the bread of life. It is not natural for a sinner to trust in Christ. Jesus spoke to a group of very religious people, the Pharisees, when he said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:29-40). Even though the very religious sought and sought, they were not given the ability to come to Him unless He first gave them that ability.
Some object to the doctrine of election by saying that it makes God unjust. This objection betrays an unrighteous heart by believing that the creator is obligated to the creature. It elevates man to the position of God and says that man is more merciful that God. It denies the right of the potter over the clay. By the same parity of reasoning, it makes the governor of a sovereign nation unjust when he pardons one or more unless he empties out the prison and turns all the prisoners loose. By pardoning some, he does no harm to the others who are serving their just punishment. Salvation, like a pardon, is not deserved. If it were deserved, then God would be unjust if He did not bestow it upon all men. Salvation is not of justice, but of mercy. Those who go to hell will have no one to blame but themselves, while those who go to heaven will have no one to praise but God. This is best explained in Romans 9:22-24. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” All things in the universe have an opposite. The absence of light is dark. The absence of salvation is condemnation. One only becomes clear when compared to the other. Oh – the wisdom of God! How unsearchable are His ways!
(All scriptures are from the English Standard Version)