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Everyone who believes the Bible knows that the doctrine of sovereign election is taught there. Unfortunately, this does not mean that we have universal agreement on the doctrine. There are two main approaches to the subject, the first being that God elects His own on the basis of foreseen faith. The second approach, which I am setting before you here as the teaching of Scripture, is that God elects His own on the basis of His good pleasure alone. The usual name for this understanding is unconditional election, which may cause some confusion. Unconditional election can sound like arbitrary election, or capricious election, which it is not at all. There are conditions involved in our election, just not any conditions to be met by us.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:28–33).
Summary of the Text
When Scripture says that “all things work together for good,” this does not mean that every episode in your life has a happy ending. It does not mean that if you wreck your old automobeater that God will bequeath to you a new BMW. The blessing is for those who are the called according to His purpose (v. 28), and then he outlines that purpose. For those upon whom He set His electing love beforehand (i.e. foreknew), He predestined to a final glorification, that of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (v. 29). This is so Christ could be the firstborn among many brothers. And the whole thing is put together in a tight weave. Here it is: foreknown > predestined > called > justified > glorified (v. 30). The glorification is what we are predestined to, and the calling and justification are God’s intervention in our lives to bring this about. And the headwaters of all of it is the election of the Father. What is the application? It is to not care what the enemies of your soul might want to say about it (v. 31). If God gave up His Son to accomplish this salvation of yours, why would He be reluctant to give you anything else (v. 32)? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect when God is the one who justifies? If God justifies in the middle of this unbreakable golden chain, we may reason—in fact, so invited, we must reason—from that middle to both the beginning and end of it, which means election and glorification. And the headwaters of all it is sovereign election.
We must begin with the understanding that election cannot be understood apart from Christ. Christ is the Elect One, and all those whom God choose to give to Him are therefore elect in Him. Our election can no more be separated from Christ than any other aspect of our salvation. We are elect because He is elect.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:1).
The New Testament contains this same truth.
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded” (1 Peter 2:6). “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,” (1 Peter 1:20).
Our election and Christ’s election are also seen together.
“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
In short, God loves you from forever because He loves His Son from forever.
The biblical answer to the question of when is unambiguous. Before the world was created, before eternal times, God picked out a people for Himself. For those who honor Scripture, there can be no real debate about when God’s election of His people occurred.
“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
Two more should suffice. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
And of course: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
For those who believe the Bible, this is really the heart of the debate. There is really no honest way to evade the force of the Bible’s teaching on when election occurs. Therefore, those who want to dispute the force of this truth do it by seeking to modify the nature of this election.
The biblical position is that God made this choice according to His good pleasure. The more popular view is that He made His choice on account of foreseen faith.
First, the Bible excludes human choice as the basis of God’s choice:
“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) . . . “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy . . . Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” (Romans 9:11, 16, 18).
But what about the “foreknowledge” argument . . .?
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2).
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
There are two important things to note in the Romans passage. One is the object of the verb, and the second is the nature of the verb. The object consists of persons, not actions. The verb refers to love, not cognition.
When this doctrine is understood and affirmed, there are practical consequences.
Real confidence: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33).
True tenderness: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering . . .” (Col. 3:12).
And the only way such triumph and tenderness can live in peace together is when you are clothed in the election of Christ.