Question

Is salvation in Christ Jesus the result of God’s election before we are born?

Answer

The short answer is “Yes.” As the Bible teaches, "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Notice that it is only those that are appointed by God that can actually believe. Let’s briefly examine why this is biblical.

Election [1] is a major doctrine within Scripture. We find it in the Old as well as in the New Testament. We also find it throughout the various Confessions (WSC 20; WLC 66-68; WCF 3; BCF 3, et. al.). This is from the Canons of Dort, Article 7 on Election:

Election is God’s unchangeable purpose by which he did the following:

Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, God chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin. Those chosen were neither better nor more deserving than the others, but lay with them in the common misery. God did this in Christ, whom he also appointed from eternity to be the mediator, the head of all those chosen, and the foundation of their salvation.

And so God decreed to give to Christ those chosen for salvation, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ’s fellowship through the Word and Spirit. In other words, God decreed to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally, after powerfully preserving them in the fellowship of the Son, to glorify them. ...

In the Old Testament we observe that God chose Israel from all the nations in the world to display his love, grace, and mercy upon. Deuteronomy 7:6 states, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Jer. 31:3; cf. Rom. 1:28-29). This was all grace and grace alone. Israel didn’t do anything to earn this grace. Likewise, in the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (cf. Rom. 9). This magnificent verse is in the New Testament but employs Old Testament imagery. It describes the elect—“a chosen people”—in every age.

God’s election is a matter of his decretive will, or will of decree. This will is God’s sovereign, efficacious will by which he divinely brings to pass whatsoever he pleases (cf. Isa. 55:11). Scripture tells us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psa. 115:3). And God’s ways are holy, fair, just, and always in accordance with his perfect moral loving character (cf. Deut. 32:4).

All mankind (except Jesus, who is God in the flesh) fell in Adam (Rom. 5:18). However, before the foundation of the world, God chose a certain people out of all the condemned as his own special possession (Eph. 1:4). He has chosen a fixed number of people to dwell with him for eternity. He did this before time came into being. (For how election was initially implemented in the world, please see “The Doctrine of Predestination in Twelve Bullet Points” below.)

Prior to being born again all of us are dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1, 5). [2] We’ve all been rebellious toward God and his ways; all of us are sinners. Whether for only one sin or for a thousand sins, we all deserve judgment. The judgment of sin is death, an eternal death in an everlasting hell (Rom. 3:23).

So, if we are so absolutely powerless, how can any be saved?

As seen above, God first elected his children in eternity past. Then he calls us. God summons his elect out of the old life of sin and into union with Jesus Christ (effectual calling). This results in spiritual birth, a new creation, or regeneration. The regenerate heart enables the redeemed person to believe (have faith) in Christ Jesus and to repent of their sins. Like opposite sides of the same coin, faith is turning to Christ and repentance is turning away from sin. Then follows justification wherein God's imputes to us Christ's righteousness (by faith). Whom God justifies he also adopts into his own family. After adoption, two types of sanctification are wrought in us: (1) definitive sanctification wherein the believer is separated from the world of sin and into God’s eternal kingdom, and (2) progressive sanctification wherein the saint progressively becomes more and more holy by the Spirit who now indwells us. The continued working of God in us and this new life that has been freely given to us enables the believer to persevere in the faith once delivered to the saints. At the last day all the elect will be glorified to the glory of God alone. [3]

Footnotes

[1] As to the word "election" among its uses in the NT (Acts 9:15; Rom. 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Pet. 1:10), it can refer to God's choice: (1) of Israel as his people (cf. Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Psa. 105:43; 135:4; Rom. 11:5, 7); (2) his church as his people (Eph. 1:4); (3) angels (1 Tim. 5:21); or (4) of certain individuals for salvation (Col. 3:12; cf. 1 Cor. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:10; Tit. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9; 5:13; Rev. 17:14, etc.).

As to "predestination" (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29, 30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11) it is a broader term referring to anything that God ordains to take place, such as the cross (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). Both terms speak of the absolute sovereignty of God.

Note: Election is not God looking down the corridors of time and him selecting by his omniscience/foreknowledge those he knew would choose him.

[2] Being spiritually "dead" (Eph 2:1-3) is a huge limitation—like a dead person who can’t with his own will cross a street, a sinner is powerless to save himself (as his will towards God is spiritually dead). But, it gets even worse. Besides being dead, we are spiritually blind (Matt 15:14) and cannot truly see God's will. We are deaf (Matt 13:15; 2 Tim 4:4) and cannot hear his Word or Spirit. Like mere idols we are mute (Psa 115:4-6; 1 Cor 12:2) and can't confess Christ, and even if we could we wouldn't and couldn't do it from a true pure heart (Rom 8:7-8). We have withered hands (Mark 3:1) and cannot accept the gifts of God—including faith and repentance (Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 2:24-25). We are lame (Acts 3:2) and cannot walk in the ways of the Lord. Like lepers (Luke 17:12), we are total outcasts.

In this horrible condition, we cannot choose to make ourselves righteous (Jer 13:23; 17:9; cf. Prov 27:22; Isa 1:5; Jer 2:22; 4:22). We don't even desire too (Rom 8:7-8). We might try to do some good things from time to time, but that is not the same as true righteousness, as without Christ all our works are tainted with sin (Isa 64:6). We may attempt to cover our sins like Adam and Eve did in the garden, but mere fig leaves (Gen 3:7) will not undo what each of us has done (Rom 3:23). God will only accept a blood sacrifice; and it isn't yours, but his (Gen 3:21; John 1:29; 1 Pet 1:18-20; Isa 53:1-12).

[3] The complete ordis salutis or order of salvation is election, effectual calling, regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification (see Romans 8:29-30).

Related Notes

The Doctrine of Predestination in Twelve Bullet Points
Calvinism in Genesis 1-3?
Calvinism and Matthew 13?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).