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The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to our understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election.

In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence.

The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the act of Creation, God made precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Gen. 1:31). And ever since Creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan that He previously had designed (cf. Isa. 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Rom. 9:17; Eph. 3:8–11).

In the Old Testament, He chose a nation for Himself. Out of all the nations in the world, He selected Israel (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 105:43; 135:4). He chose the Israelites not because they were better or more desirable than any other people, but simply because He decided to choose them. In the words of Richard Wolf, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” It might not have rhymed as well, but the same would have been true of any other people God might have selected. God chooses whomever He chooses for reasons that are wholly His.

The nation of Israel was not the only recipient in Scripture of God’s electing choice. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is called “‘My Chosen One’” (Luke 9:35). The holy angels also are referred to as “elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21). And New Testament believers are called “God’s chosen ones” (Col. 3:12; cf. 1 Cor. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9; 5:13; Rev. 17:14), meaning that the church is a community of those who were chosen, or “elect” (Eph. 1:4).

When Jesus told His disciples, “‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’” (John 15:16), He was underscoring this truth. And the New Testament reiterates it in passage after passage. Acts 13:48b describes salvation in these words: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Ephesians 1:4–6 notes that God “chose us in [Christ] 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, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul reminds his readers that he knew God’s choice of them (1 Thess. 1:4) and that he was thankful for them “because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:13). The Word of God is clear: believers are those whom God chose for salvation from before the beginning.

The foreknowledge to which Peter refers (1 Peter 1:2) should not be confused with simple foresight. Some teach this view, contending that God, in eternity past, looked down the halls of history to see who would respond to His call and then elected the redeemed on the basis of their response. Such an explanation makes God’s decision subject to man’s decision, and gives man a level of sovereignty that belongs only to God. It makes God the One who is passively chosen rather than the One who actively chooses. And it misunderstands the way in which Peter uses the term foreknowledge. In 1 Peter 1:20, the apostle uses the verb form of that word, prognosis in the Greek, to refer to Christ. In that case, the concept of “foreknowledge” certainly includes the idea of a deliberate choice. It is reasonable, then, to conclude that the same is true when Peter applies prognosis to believers in other places (cf. 1 Peter 1:2).

The ninth chapter of Romans also reiterates the elective purposes of God. There, God’s electing prerogative is clearly displayed in reference to His saving love for Jacob (and Jacob’s descendants) as opposed to Esau (and Esau’s lineage). God chose Jacob over Esau, not on the basis of anything Jacob or Esau had done, but according to His own free and uninfluenced sovereign purpose. To those who might protest, “That is unfair!” Paul simply asks, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (v. 20).

Many more Scripture passages could be added to this survey. Yet as straightforward as the Word of God is, people continually have difficulty accepting the doctrine of election. The reason, again, is that they allow their preconceived notions of how God should act (based on a human definition of fairness) to override the truth of His sovereignty as laid out in the Scriptures.

Frankly, the only reason to believe in election is because it is found explicitly in God’s Word. No man and no committee of men originated this doctrine. It is like the doctrine of eternal punishment in that it conflicts with the dictates of the carnal mind. It is repugnant to the sentiments of the unregenerate heart. Like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the miraculous birth of our Savior, the truth of election, because it has been revealed by God, must be embraced with simple and unquestioning faith. If you have a Bible and you believe it, you have no option but to accept what it teaches.

The Word of God presents God as the controller and disposer of all creatures (Dan. 4:35; Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:38), the Most High (Pss. 47:2; 83:18), the ruler of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19; Isa. 37:16), and the One against whom none can stand (2 Chron. 20:6; Job 41:10; Isa. 43:13). He is the Almighty who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11; cf. Isa. 14:27; Rev. 19:6) and the heavenly Potter who shapes men according to His own good pleasure (Rom. 9:18–22). In short, He is the decider and determiner of every man’s destiny, and the controller of every detail in each individual’s life (Prov. 16:9; 19:21; 21:1; cf. Ex. 3:21–22; 14:8; Ezra 1:1; Dan. 1:9; James 4:15)—which is really just another way of saying, “He is God.”

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and he is author of The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards.  

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Wilson Lim

commented on Oct 23, 2017

I have to differ from this point of view. I think it unfortunate that many of these discussions make it an either or. Does God's consideration of man's choices necessarily mean God is less than sovereign or that man has any sovereignty? God can remain absolutely sovereign and make his choices about an individual's salvation based on the person's choices. NOT because He has to but because He wants to. As a father, when my children ask me to buy them an ice-cream, I have absolute authority to deny, agree, delay, etc. It is my choice. If I chose to agree it does not mean my choices are determined by my children. I believe that God has chosen to value man's choices and has given considerable weight to granting man salvation according to his genuine repentance. God who is sovereign chooses how much conviction he brings upon individuals to lead them to repentance. It is absolutely God's prerogative how He chooses. Yet I believe in line with God's character it will be just, gracious and merciful. I believe this better weighs up the sum of Scriptures faithfully. Which speaks of God who is absolutely sovereign in His choices. And which continually encourages man to make choices in line with God's. And at times, God intervenes to demand that man makes choices. We don't have to limit ourselves to classic Calvinism or Arminianism.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Oct 24, 2017

Hi Steven. The vast majority of us, if not all, believe in God's sovereignty. We stumble when it comes to reading His word and understanding it alike. It seems like you believe God is not influenced by us, but Jesus teaches in Luke 11:9-13 that God is influenced by us. " much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" The promise is--if we ask, we will receive. The inescapable conclusion is--if we don't ask, we won't receive. Yes, this is a general truth and yes the rain does fall on evil who don't ask for it. But that doesn't negate the fact that God sometimes acts, because of our prayers. Therefore we influence Him. Certainly not against His will, but we do influence Him. James 4:2 "...You do not have because you do not ask. " Another area of disagreement is how the two of us understand election. I don't disagree with you because of feeling, but because of what the Word says. Your idea of election, as I see it, mandates the doctrine of "once saved, always saved." Believe me, in my moments of failure and sin--and there are many--I wish it were impossible to fall from God. But there are clear scriptures telling us that a Christian can be cut off from Christ. Galations 5 Paul is writing Christians, the saved, the elect, and he says to them vs 4" You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." A person cannot be severed from someone he was never connected to. Example my hand cannot be severed from your body, because it is not connected to your body. A person cannot fall from grace if he never had grace. But Paul tells the saved people in Galatia, that they have been severed (cut off) from Christ. Paul is not writing to non-Christians but to Christians who are in jeopardy of losing their souls. The letter would be meaningless, if they couldn't lose their salvation, but that is exactly what Paul is concerned about. You state: "If you have a Bible and you believe it, you have no option but to accept what it teaches." True! It is your conclusions I can't accept. Perhaps your understanding (or mine) about predestination in Eph 1 is flawed. It will be difficult for you and I to become "one mind" after a brief exchange. So it is my goal to at least share a couple of scriptures that challenge your understanding. I do thank-you for your article, since it should motivate us to listen to alternative ideas. Blessings to you.

Jun Ang

commented on Oct 25, 2017

my 2 cents brother with regards to Luke 11:9-13. verse 9 (ask, seek, knock) is not a suggestion or option, it's a command - the verse begins with: "So I say, ask...". I think it would be more accurate to conclude that WHEN, not IF, we ask, seek, and knock, then we will receive. verse 13 - the conclusion to the illustration made by Jesus (11-12) simply shows the greatness, generosity, and graciousness of God, which is why we ought to be praying (v2), not the ability of man to influence the decisions of God. God's answers to our prayers is not because we influence Him but because He is gracious, He is faithful to His person and His promises, and that our prayers are in line with His will. blessings to you.

Jun Ang

commented on Oct 25, 2017

very good article. the difficulty people have with the doctrine of election has nothing to do with its truth but (in the article in many words) with the value placed upon man's preference and perception over Scriptures. it is because we believe in man's ability rather than his depravity; because we believe we deserve God's favor, God's attention, God's interventions... - we believe, even though we might not admit it and even would say it's repugnant, that God owes us. yet if we just would simplify the equation - that we are sinners and therefore deserves nothing but God's wrath reason why everything we have, not just salvation, we have received ONLY because God is gracious - election would not only make sense but would even be much appreciated and thanked for.

Jesse Smith

commented on Oct 28, 2017

Thanks for the article. The discussion pushes us more into an in-depth studying of the Scriptures. I've learned and continuing to learn that there are the essentials and nonessential, both are important, both not essential. In other words, I do not agree with your interpretation of the scripture on the doctrine of election, it make it useless to have any kind of relationship with a fatalistic God, in which you teach!

Arthur Sharpe

commented on Dec 6, 2017

““I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭12:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬ “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:21‬ ‭KJV‬‬ “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Arthur Sharpe

commented on Dec 6, 2017

I am glad I am a whosoever. Not a whatsoever. Your interpretation is SEVERELY FLAWED. but you were obviously predetermined and predestined to be flawed. ““I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭12:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬ “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:21‬ ‭KJV‬‬ “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭KJV‬‬

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