When we hear or see the word "election", we are so accustomed to thinking of dirty politics, mudslinging, and voting corrupt people out of office . But I want to talk to you about an election that is completely perfect in every way and free of politics. It's the most important election ever and it has eternal outcomes, which impact you and me in a very personal way.
Let’s take a look at the topic of election and predestination and see what God’s Word has to say about it.
Election is based on God’s gracious choice
The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened." (Rom 11:5-7)
When Paul wrote here about those who were chosen, he used the Greek word εκλογή - ekloge - ek-log-ay', meaning (divine) selection (abstractly or concretely): - chosen, election. When we elect someone, we have a choice. Otherwise, it would not be considered an election if we only had one option. Likewise, God had a choice, and he chose a remnant.
A remnant is a small portion of the whole. When we have a remnant of a piece of carpet, it’s a small piece. Likewise, there is a remnant chosen by God’s grace. Not all Jews and not all who call themselves Christians are chosen. Some people who seek God’s righteousness are seeking it by works, and they don’t obtain it. Then there are those who were not seeking it, and they obtain it. Those who obtained it without seeking it are the chosen ones.
Paul also wrote: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Rom 9:10-13)
Normally in Jewish tradition, the younger children serve the one who was born first. This is even true of twins, since one is born before the other. It’s amazing how God made His choice of Jacob while he was still in the womb, before either he or his twin brother had ever done anything good or bad. God had already decided that even though Jacob would be born second, his older brother Esau would serve him.
It’s difficult for us to fathom this with our finite minds. Maybe to us it seems like God is unfair to do this. But Paul anticipated this when he wrote: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Rom 9:14-16)
God’s choice is always perfect. It’s always wise. It’s always just.
It’s extremely important to understand that when God chose the elect, it was based entirely on His grace. Grace is unmerited favor, which means you cannot earn it.
Paul wrote to Timothy saying that God "has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." (2Ti 1:9). He taught that God did not save us because He knew in advance the good works we would do. Do you see that? God did not choose us based on our works. He saved us and chose us from all eternity, before the beginning of time, according to His grace. This way we cannot get the glory. All the glory belongs to the Lord.
The elect were known beforehand
The apostle Paul said, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom 8:29-30)
This word “foreknew” comes from the Greek word προγινώσκω – proginosko- prog-in-oce'-ko - to know beforehand, that is, foresee: - foreknow (ordain), know (before).
The Lord knew the elect beforehand. This is an amazing aspect about our relationship with the Lord that He actually knew us beforehand. Even our own parents didn’t know us until we were born. So we often think that God only began to know us once we were born. But as He said to Jeremiah the prophet: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1:5)
According to God’s Word, this is true of all those who are chosen. The apostle Peter puts it like this: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.” (1Pe 1:1-2)
That word foreknowledge comes from the Greek word πρόγνωσις – prognosis - prog'-no-sis, which means forethought or foreknowledge. This is where we get our English word prognosis, which is a forecast or prediction. We say, “There is a gloomy prognosis for economic recovery.” Or we may ask the doctor, “What is your prognosis for this patient?” Yet even our human predictions about the economy or about a patient’s health are only educated guesses. That’s all we can offer, since we as humans don’t know the future. But God actually knows in advance. This is His foreknowledge.
The psalmist said, "Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all." (Psa 139:4). The Lord is so amazingly wonderful that He even knows what we are going to say before we say it.
Another example of something that happened according to God’s foreknowledge was the death of His own Son on the cross. The apostle Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost: "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Act 2:22-23)
So the point here is as the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary states: “The Church existed in the mind of God eternally, before it existed in creation.” That’s right. Before there was even one Christian alive on earth, God had already made His choice. He already had in mind those whom He had chosen.
The elect were destined beforehand
Now that we understand that God foreknew the elect, let’s see what else he did beforehand. The apostle Paul stated: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Rom 8:29-30)
Again, as with Jeremiah, the Lord not only knows the elect beforehand, but He predestines us. The word predestined comes from the Greek word προορίζω – proorizo - pro-or-id'-zo - to limit in advance, that is, (figuratively) predetermine: - determine before, ordain, predestinate. That means the Lord has already ordained or determined the purpose for our lives before we are born.
The psalmist speaks of the Lord's plan for his life while he was still in the womb. He says, "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them." (Psa 139:16). The prophet Jeremiah is another example. In his case, the Lord told him that He appointed him a prophet to the nations before he was even conceived in His mother’s womb. That was his destiny!
God had a purpose in choosing the elect
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” (Eph 1:11)
We have clearly been predestined according to God’s purpose. When God predestined the elect, He had a definite goal or intention. So what was God’s purpose? We’ll look at that next.
God’s purpose was that the elect go and bear fruit that would remain
Jesus said to the disciples, "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (Joh 15:16)
As the disciples saw it, Jesus had approached them one day and said, "Come follow Me." From their limited, human perspective, they chose Jesus. But He made it clear to them that it was He who chose them before they ever met Him.
Jesus explained that the reason He chose the disciples was that they would go and bear fruit that would remain. His purpose was that the Father would give them whatever they ask in Jesus’ Name. And this is His purpose for all those He has chosen.
God’s purpose was that the elect be conformed to the image of His Son
If you have ever seen a professional sculptor at work, it’s amazing to watch. While looking at his subject, he conforms the clay material with his hands into something that closely resembles his subject. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Rom 8:29-30)
The Lord has a definite purpose in His calling us to Himself, and that means we were predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. The word conformed comes from the Greek word συμμορφός - summorphos - soom-mor-fos'. It means conformed to, or fashioned like unto. This means God’s plan and purpose has always been that we be fashioned like unto Jesus Christ. God is fashioning the heart and character of His chosen ones to be like His Son Jesus, similar to the way a sculptor fashions the clay to resemble his subject.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (Eph 1:5). So again, when the Lord predestined the elect, the kind intention of His will was to adopt us as sons through Jesus Christ.
Conversely the vessels of wrath were not chosen
When we consider the election of God, we also need to understand that just as He chose beforehand those on whom He would have mercy, those who were not chosen were created for a specific purpose also.
If God made His choice before creating us, then when He created people who were not chosen, for what purpose did He create them?
Pharaoh is a great example to help us understand this. As Paul wrote: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raise you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that My Name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Rom 9:17-18)
You see what this is saying? It’s saying that God raised up Pharaoh to demonstrate His divine power in him. How did God demonstrate His divine power in Pharaoh? He did it by giving Pharaoh over to the hardness of his own heart, by enduring him with much patience, and by eventually pouring out wrath and judgment on him.
Paul goes on to write about this further, saying: “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” (Rom 9:22-24)
So we can see God had at least a two-fold purpose for those whom He did not choose – Paul calls them vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Another term would be objects of wrath. He created these objects of wrath to make His divine power known, and also to make known the riches of His glory upon the objects of His mercy.
Few are chosen
Jesus taught about God’s choice in election also. In order to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, He told a parable about a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. The king called for everyone to attend the wedding. But very few came. In the end, when he did hold the wedding feast, he spotted someone who was not wearing the wedding garment, and that person was thrown out.
He said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mat 22:14). There are two key words we need to pay attention to here. The first one is “called”. It comes from the Greek word κλητός - kletos - klay-tos', meaning invited, that is, appointed, or (specifically) called. The second word is “chosen”. It comes from the Greek word εκλεκτός – eklektos - ek-lek-tos', meaning select; by implication favorite: - chosen, elect.
If you've ever planned a wedding reception, you know that you cannot invite everyone, unless you have an unlimited budget. Usually the size of the room where the wedding reception is held and the cost of food and beverages is a limiting factor that determines how many people you can invite.
Of course, the king who held a wedding feast in this parable had vast riches and gave a large feast. So he invited many people, but most did not come. This represents how many people hear the gospel and receive an invitation to give their lives to Jesus. But most do not accept the invitation. And in the parable, even those who came to the wedding feast needed to be dressed in the proper wedding garment. Being dressed in the proper wedding garment represents wearing the robe of God's righteousness, which we receive as a gift when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. When the king discovered one person at the feast without the wedding garment, he was thrown out. So Jesus was saying, many are invited or called, but few are selected or chosen.
Savior to All
Maybe someone might think that all of this means that Jesus only died for some people. There are actually people who teach this kind of limited atonement doctrine. Yet we understand from God’s Word that it is not God's will that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Ti 2:4). And Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1Ti 4:10; 1Jo 2:2).
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Joh 3:16). So God gave His only son, because He loved the world, and the good news is for whoever believes. He is the Savior to all who believe. So let me ask you a very important and personal question: Do you believe in Jesus? This is perhaps one of the most important questions you will ever answer. This is the key to having eternal life.
Here's another question that's less personal, but still very important: will all believe and be saved, since this is God’s will?
The Scripture does teach us that we must make our calling and election sure though (2 Pet 1:10). Not ALL will be saved, but only the remnant. So we do have a part. God treats us as responsible, capable of will and choice. We must put our faith in Jesus. We need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). I've covered this in my post Salvation with Fear and Trembling.
We can drift away and shrink back, and we can treat as an unholy thing the blood of Jesus that once sanctified us (Heb 10:29). Those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, can and do fall away to the point where they can no longer be brought back to repentance (Heb 6:4-6; 1 Tim 4:1; 6:10). I've covered this more fully in my post called "Drifting Away."
No One Can Snatch Us from Jesus’ Hand
So does this mean that believers need to go through life always worrying that they are going to fall away from the Lord? Not necessarily. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” (Joh 10:27-30). So we don’t need to worry about anyone snatching us out of the Lord’s hand.
But we do need to remember that God’s chosen people have been broken off before because of unbelief. Paul wrote to the Romans about the Jews being cut off like branches from the olive tree, and Gentiles being grafted into the olive tree like wild branches. He went on to warn them: "You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.” (Rom 11:19-21) The message here is that you must not relax into an attitude of conceit, false security and complacency. This is why Jesus told The Apostasy Parables, in order to warn us against falling away.
Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He removes; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (Joh 15:1-2). This should leave no question in our minds that the Father removes branches that don’t bear fruit.
In this same passage, Jesus laid great emphasis on maintaining intimacy in our relationship to Him. He said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” (Joh 15:4) If it were impossible for a believer to do anything else besides abide in Jesus, there would have been no need for Jesus to say this. But it is an act of our will. We must do our part to abide in Him. This means continuing in our relationship with the Lord, trusting Him daily is key.
We need to trust not in ourselves, but in Jesus to keep us to the end. Jude wrote: "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jud 1:24-25) Jesus Christ is able to keep you, and make you stand before God blameless!
Putting it All Together
So we need to understand very clearly that election is based on God’s gracious choice. The elect were known beforehand and destined beforehand, which is called predestination. God’s purpose in choosing the elect was that they go and bear fruit that would remain, that the Father would give them whatever they ask in Jesus’ Name, that the elect be conformed to the image of His Son, and to make his glory known upon the vessels of His mercy.
Conversely the vessels of wrath were not chosen. We cannot accuse God of being unjust or unwise in His choice. God’s purpose in creating the vessels of wrath was to make His divine power known.
God does not want any to perish. Jesus is the Savior to all who believe, and the gospel is for everyone who will listen. But while many are called, few are chosen.
And we cannot forget that God has given man a free will. He did not create a bunch of robots that do exactly what has been programmed into them. The eternal security doctrine of "once saved always saved" is a doctrine of demons, and is not found in the Bible. We can drift away and shrink back. The partakers of the Holy Spirit can and sometimes do fall away beyond repentance. The Father does remove branches from the vine. This means we must put our faith in Jesus, we must make our calling and election sure, we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We need to maintain our close relationship with the Lord on a daily basis, trusting Him, abiding in Him and bearing fruit for His glory. We need to completely and continually trust Him to keep us to the end, and to make us stand before God blameless.
I hope that this study has helped you better understand the healthy tension between election, predestination, and free will. Who can truly understand and adequately explain how these three things can be true simultaneously? It should cause you to stand in awe of the Lord's wisdom and knowledge. And it should also help instill a humility and healthy fear of the Lord, regarding the matter of election and predestination.
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:33-36)
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this article, I also recommend Drifting Away, Salvation with Fear and Trembling, God's Sovereign Plans and Purposes, Keeping Power of God, Michael Thomas Sambo's Revelation of Heaven and Hell, Few will be saved, The Apostasy Parables, and Angelica Zambrano Hell and Heaven. You may access my complete blog director at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.