DOCTRINES OF GRACE
2. Unconditional Election
First of all, we shall look at Ephesians 1:4, in which we read, “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.” The words “hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” highlight the design of God’s salvation plan. That is, when we look at salvation from God’s point of view, we learn that before creation, before anyone existed, God chose people to salvation. This is a statement that God has sovereignly and unconditionally elected people to salvation.
This is an uncomfortable and even hateful idea to many people. Some people may pretend that the idea of God’s election is not there. Some people ignore it, hoping that the idea will go away. Some people try to explain or define it so that it will conform to their own perspective or view of what is right. However, the plain fact is that God chooses people to salvation, just as it is stated right here in these verses. Because there are so many wrong and confusing things said about the doctrine of election, we must say a few things in order to set our thinking straight and in order to dismiss one common misconception.
We can begin by asking the following questions. When does a person’s salvation begin? Does it begin the moment he begins to trust in Jesus as his Savior? Does it begin the moment he repents and cries out for mercy? Does it begin when Jesus went the cross and actually died in history? No. We must go much further back in time than that. A person’s salvation began in eternity past, before the beginning of time. To repeat, Ephesians 1:4 states that God “hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” This is not a fact that is taught only in Ephesians. Support for this is found in other places, such as John 15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” or Acts 13:48, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed,” or II Timothy 1:9, “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” (I Peter 1:1,2).
Many people who teach the Bible do not agree with the idea of unconditional election which we have presented. Let us compare their view with what we have presented in order to clarify the difference and in order to better understand what the Bible teaches. Many teach that God does elect people to salvation but that He looks down the corridors of time into the future and sees who will believe in Him, so He chooses those. In contrast to that, we say that God does not own a crystal ball. In other words, God does not look down the avenues of time and choose those whom He sees will eventually believe in Him. His choosing is a decision that takes place before creation and is unchangeable. He chooses people to salvation before anyone is alive to consult or observe. Many people teach that the people who decide to believe are the people whom God chooses. In contrast to that, we say that whom God chose, He caused to believe (John 6:29, Phil. 1:29). Many people say that a man’s believing comes before God’s choosing. In contrast to that, we say that God’s choosing comes before a man’s believing. Many people teach that salvation depends upon a man placing his faith in God. In contrast to that, we say that salvation depends upon nothing, for it is the sovereign choice of God. This view of Ephesians 1:4 is supported by verse 5, with the words “Having predestinated us,” and verse 11, with the words “being predestinated according to the purpose of him.”
At this point we could ask, “Is salvation based totally upon God’s election fair?” Actually, no, it is not fair. If God were to be fair, every person who ever lived ought to go to Hell. As we learn in chapter 2, everyone is a terrible sinner, dead in sin, and deserves condemnation and eternal wrath in Hell. But God is gracious and elects some sinners to salvation anyway. No one deserves salvation. All deserve Hell. Many will receive the punishment that they deserve. But totally out of grace God saves some. He does not have to. But He does, and at great personal effort and cost, namely the death of His Son in payment for the sins of His people. So we could say that God is more that fair.
Perhaps someone will say, “How can God blame anyone if it is totally up to Him? What if I want to believe, and cannot because I am not chosen?” First of all, if we say “yes” to the gospel, then we show that we are chosen. If we say “no”, then we show that we do not want it. Anybody who forsakes the gospel call and says he cannot go to heaven because he is not chosen of God is just giving a rebellious excuse to continue in his sinful ways, and shows that he really does not want God’s salvation.
We must remember that men have wicked hearts which lead them into all kinds of sin for which they are condemned. If a person refuses to believe the gospel command, he commits just one more sin which reveals what kind of person he is. So when a person says that he wants to believe but cannot he is rationalizing. Such a statement is what an unsaved person uses as an excuse to continue in his sinful ways. Such a person does not really want God’s salvation. If a man honestly seeks the Lord, it is certain that he will find Him (John 6:37, Heb. 11:6).
Someone might say “If God chooses, I can live like I want now since He will choose if He wants.” However, such a person shows his rebellious heart, and is continuing on the road to Hell. For true Christians want to serve God faithfully out of gratitude for His grace in Jesus. Also, they have a new heart that loves God and desires to obey Him.
Someone might fearfully say, “How can I know if I am chosen?” However, the right question is “Do I trust in Jesus as my Savior and Lord? Am I willing to turn from my sin? Do I want to obey God?” Election is God’s business. We must leave it all in God’s hands and trust Him to do all things well. For our part, we must keep in mind Hell is a terrible destiny. Sinners should not be busy questioning God ways but rather should earnestly seek the Lord’s salvation and avoid His wrath. The message of the Bible is that if a man honestly seeks the Lord, it is certain that he will find Him, as we read in Jeremiah 29:13, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
Well then, someone could ask, “Doesn’t this doctrine make evangelism obsolete? Why bring the gospel if God chooses whom He wills to save?” No, it is God’s will that evangelism be the method by which He brings His elect into the fold. Evangelism is one of God’s commands which believers must obey. But perhaps most telling is the fact that it is a believer’s desire to bring the gospel. Someone who is truly saved brings the gospel because of the joy which he has knowing he has escaped the wrath of God and is the heir of spiritual blessings promised in God’s word. Someone who is truly saved brings the gospel because he wants the world to know how wonderful his Savior is. Someone who is truly saved brings the gospel because he has a heart felt hope to see others saved too. A believer’s attitude toward others is the same as toward himself. A believer does not know God’s plans for a particular individual. A believer just knows the threat of Hell and the joy of salvation. And a believer has a God created concern for the eternal soul of whomever he meets.
The teaching of election is extremely valuable. It results in glory to God, since salvation is totally in His control. And it results in a great comfort for believers. Their salvation is secure since it is not dependent, in part, upon their own efforts but is in the hands of Almighty God.
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