Understanding Election: Who Chose Who?
Being picked last for a team is one of the most deflating things you can experience. Many of us have stood in that line of kids being picked just begging in our minds to not be the last one picked. And often, if we take offense to the way things are going, we likely wish that we were the one doing the picking. The doctrine of election essentially describes God picking his team—but he didn’t wait for anyone to line up.
Before diving into this, it is crucial to understand that no one deserves to be picked by God or even stand in the line to be picked. The open rebellion of humanity against God would make it completely fair for God to punish each and every one of us for our sins.
Who Believes What?
When talking about election, there are essentially two camps of belief. The people in the first camp believe that, before any human existed, God laid out his master plan and selected a group of people, but not everyone, to be his Chosen Ones. These people are known as Calvinists, named after John Calvin who is credited with having first espoused this belief. The second camp of people, known as Arminians, generally explain election as God foreseeing those who will respond to the offer of salvation and who will become his Chosen Ones. These beliefs are based on the teachings of Jacobus Arminius, an objector to Calvin’s position.
To be clear, this article seeks to explain the Calvinist view of election, the belief that God elects some individuals for salvation and not others (based on no merit of their own), sometimes called “unconditional election.” While not exhaustive, the following passages of Scripture help to make this idea understandable.
Election According to the New Testament
Paul is the most frequent writer in the New Testament, traditionally being attributed with writing around a dozen of its books. To start, in Romans 8:28-30 Paul writes:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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 among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Paul’s description here is what some call an outline of salvation. Paul starts by saying that God works all things together for good, reinforcing the fact that God is a good god. He then explains how God calls those who he had predestined to become like Christ. And then, when he calls them to be saved (during the life of the believer) they are justified and become innocent in God’s eyes. Lastly, salvation is followed by the believer’s glorification after death.
In the next chapter (Romans 9:11-13), Paul points out that God chose Jacob instead of Esau before either had done anything good or bad. God had decided that Esau would serve Jacob. He loved Jacob but hated Esau.
Another New Testament author, Peter, writes to the many churches during his time as “God’s elect” and “a chosen race,” highlighting the fact that God was the one who chose the believers Peter is writing to. In John’s book of Revelation, he talks about a beast saying, “all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8). John brings the book of life back up in Chapter 17, again in reference to its existence before time began, suggesting that God had already decided who would be given eternal life.
How Does Election Help?
Paul and the other writers of the New Testament often present the idea of election to provide peace to their readers. Because our salvation is not reliant on us, we can do nothing to lose it.
Election is also a reason to praise God for the grace he has shown to us in salvation. And as the designer of this grace, he is the recipient of all the glory. Paul emphasizes this in Ephesians 1:12 when he says, “We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.”
Lastly, Paul sees election as proof that telling others about Jesus will be at least partially successful. While telling others about Jesus can seem like a big step, there is certain hope in the fact that there are people that will hear the gospel and respond to it. We are only responsible for sowing the seed. God will bring the harvest.
Objections to Election
The most obvious objection to election is that it would suggest that we have no choice in the matter. The argument here is that for us to be able to choose God, we must be completely free of his control. However, we know that God is in control of everything which must include our wants and desires. Therefore, it is not out of the question to suggest that God can direct our wants and desires to predestine our decision to accept the gospel call. God is just, but he is also merciful.
Additionally, some might complain that election is unfair. However, we must remember that if God were being fair, no one would be saved. In fact, God choosing to save anyone is actually the “unfair” choice—not because some people didn’t get picked, but because the people who are picked avoid the punishment they deserve. Paul’s answer to this protest can be found in Romans 9:18-24, explaining that we, the created, are unworthy of finding fault in God, the creator. Paul’s answer is reminiscent of God’s response to Job in the last five chapters of the book of Job.
“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 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.”
In conclusion, the doctrine of election is complicated, but rightly understood, it is a source of comfort and peace to the believer. You can find confidence in God’s grace and joy in the undeserved mercy you have received.
Benjamin Murray graduated from Grand Canyon University with a BA in Christian Studies with an emphasis in Biblical Studies. Since high school, Benjamin has had a discipline for learning and passion for God's Word and his Church.