Biblical Soteriology, part 5

BIBLICAL SOTERIOLOGY:
An Overview and Defense of the
Reformed Doctrines of Salvation

by Ra McLaughlin

Unconditional Election, part 1

INTRODUCTION TO THE DOCTRINE OF
UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

The doctrine of unconditional election (predestination) states that before the foundation of the world and in consideration of Christ’s atonement, God sovereignly chose (elected) and appointed certain individuals on whom to place his love and bestow eternal life. God chose these people to be special recipients of his electing love, to be his gifts to Christ, and to be united to Christ. Through the foreordination of their union with Christ, God also ordained that the elect would receive all the blessings of the covenant he was to make with man, including such blessings as justification, forgiveness, holiness, and eternal life.

God intimately and personally foreknew the elect before he created the world. This foreknowledge was not of history or of actions the elect would perform (though God also knew and ordained everything that ever would come to pass). Rather, this foreknowledge was personal acquaintance with and love for the elect themselves.

Moreover, God was not obligated to elect anyone to salvation in Christ. It would have been perfectly righteous for him to have left all people to the condemnation they deserved because of their sin. According to his own good pleasure, however, God elected certain members of humanity unto salvation. He did not base this decision on his foreknowledge of the faith the elect would exercise, on his foreknowledge of their good works, or on any other condition dependent upon the elect themselves. Because God’s choice was not contingent upon the merit of the elect themselves, election is rightly called “unconditional.”

Because God has predestined the elect to salvation in Christ, all the elect must necessarily be saved in Christ and receive their appointed blessings. To accomplish this, God acts upon the elect in time and creation by regenerating, calling, justifying, sanctifying, and ultimately glorifying them. God’s predestination cannot be thwarted, but God sovereignly brings to pass all that he has ordained.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ARGUMENT SUPPORTING THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

The argument supporting the doctrine of unconditional election is based on the benefits and basis of election, and on the sovereignty and certainty of God’s eternal decrees. With regard to the benefits of election, the Bible teaches that the elect are God’s special possession and people. They are his children and inheritance, and he predestines them to be holy and blameless before him. These benefits accrue to the elect as a necessary result of their election.

The basis for election is the point more seriously at issue. The doctrine of unconditional election asserts the fact that the elect were not chosen because of their personal goodness, merit, works, faith, or acceptance of the gospel, foreseen or otherwise. Rather, God chose them simply because he wanted to choose them, and because he loved them in a special way. This happened only in accordance with Christ’s atoning work on their behalf. Because the basis of election lies in God himself, including Christ’s work, and not in man, it is rightly called “unconditional.”

Lastly, because election took place before the foundation of the world and is one of God’s eternal decrees, it is certain to be fulfilled. God’s sovereignty cannot be thwarted, just as his electing love cannot be turned. All whom he elects to salvation will come to salvation because God will actively bring his sovereign decree to pass.

OUTLINE OF THE ARGUMENT SUPPORTING THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

I. BENEFITS AND RESULTS OF ELECTION — God chose the elect to be his own people, his children, his inheritance, to be holy and blameless before him, and therefore to receive multitudes of blessings from him. These blessings include eternal life, justification, and fellowship with the living God. The theme of election is illustrated to a great extent in the Old Testament in the vast number of passages which refer to Israel as God’s chosen people.

II. BASIS FOR ELECTION — The elect were not chosen because of their personal goodness, merit, works, faith, or acceptance of the gospel, foreseen or otherwise. They were chosen simply because God wanted to choose them, and because he loved them in a special way. This happened only in accordance with Christ’s atoning work on their behalf.

A. Election based on God’s love and good pleasure — The reason God elects some and not others is that he loves the elect in a special, and does not love the non-elect in that special way. God chooses whom to love simply on the basis of his own good pleasure. The Old Testament frequently illustrates this theme through God’s election of Israel as his covenant people.

  1. In the Patriarchal period, God was pleased to choose Abraham and his descendants as his people. This election brought Israel into covenant with God, and this covenant election extends to the church because the church contains Abraham’s spiritual descendants.

  2. The New Testament uses the same language of election, divine choice and divine prerogative to describe God’s election of individuals unto salvation as the Old Testament uses to describe God’s choice of Israel unto a covenant relationship. It uses this language without qualification, indicating that God’s choices are as effective and sovereign in election unto salvation as they are in election unto covenant. God elects people according to his own gracious choice, not in reward for foreseen belief or merit.

B. Election based on Christ’s atonement — God elects his chosen ones only in light of the atonement of Christ. Apart from the atonement, God could never set his love on any fallen creature, only his wrath.

III. ELECTION PART OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN, ETERNAL PLAN AND DECREE — Election took place before the foundation of the world, and is certain to be fulfilled.

A. Election took place before the foundation of the world.

B. Certainty of election’s results — Election is based entirely on God’s will. It does not depend upon man’s will, belief, obedience, or any other meritorious component attributable to man. God’s immutability and omnipotence guarantee that he will bring this will to pass.

ARGUMENTS SUPPORTING THE DOCTRINE OF
UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

I. BENEFITS AND RESULTS OF ELECTION — God chose the elect to be his own people, his children, his inheritance, to be holy and blameless before him, and therefore to receive multitudes of blessings from him. These blessings include eternal life, justification, and fellowship with the living God. The theme of election is illustrated to a great extent in the Old Testament in the vast number of passages which refer to Israel as God’s chosen people (only a few of those are listed here).

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6).

God chose Israel to become his special people. This choice resulted in Israel actually becoming God’s people and possession, in their becoming holy. That God chose Israel “out of all the peoples” of the earth demonstrates that they were once part of that generic whole, and thereby suggests that they were no different from the other peoples until after God chose them. God’s choice resulted in Israel becoming God’s own possession.

“For the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession” (Ps. 135:4).

God’s choice made Israel his possession.

“‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the Lord; and there is no savior besides Me’” (Isa. 43:10-11).

God chose Israel in order that Israel would know and believe him, not because Israel did or would know or believe him. God’s foresight of belief did not influence his choice, rather, his choice caused belief.

In the context of Isaiah, God’s insistence that Israel belongs to him by his own choice and not by their own decision or merit is meant to do two things: 1) calm their fears by demonstrating his ultimate dedication to them; and 2) inspire them to give all the glory for their salvation to God.

These verses establish not only that God thinks it is right for him to choose people in order to cause them to believe in him, but also that he has done this in the past.

“‘But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’’” (Matt. 25:31-34).

The kingdom was prepared before the foundation of the world for specific individuals (“you”). Thus, before the foundation of the world God planned to give the kingdom to specific people whom he would create. His selection of these specific people as recipients of his blessings constitutes election. Thus, inheritance of the kingdom is one of the benefits of election.

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that every one who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day’” (John 6:35-40).

Election results in the elect being given from the Father to the Son, being put into the Son’s protection and made the Son’s possession. It also necessarily results in the elect coming to Christ and being preserved by him in eternal life. All these who are given will behold and believe Christ, and will be raised up on the last day

In this context, Jesus is very concerned to emphasize the Father’s will and choice, even above his own, not man’s will and choice. In fact, he does not even mention man’s will or choice. Though he does not state the source of man’s belief, he strongly implies that this belief also results from the Father’s will.

“These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent’” (John 17:1-3).

The elect, those given to Christ by the Father, will receive eternal life.

Eternal life includes knowing God and Jesus Christ. Since eternal life depends upon being given to Christ (election), knowing Jesus and the Father depends upon election, and election therefore does not depend upon knowing Jesus and the Father.

“‘For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:47-48).

The only ones who believed were those whom God had previously appointed (predestined) to eternal life, and no one who had been appointed failed to believe. These verses strongly suggests that belief depends upon prior appointment, not vice-versa. Election is unto (among other things) belief.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

Those who are predestined are those God intimately knew before creation (foreknew). Predestination (election) is to conformity to Christ’s image, not just to initial belief, and to justification and glorification. Because God will certainly bring this conformity, justification and glorification to pass by working all things to that end (including by effectually calling them), it is impossible that any of the elect will ever perish. God so certainly determined these things when he predestined the elect that Paul is comfortable referring to them in the past tense, reckoning them as having been done already. In short, election results in new life and conformity to Christ, and is inseparably linked to effectual calling, justification and glorification.

“That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened” (Rom. 11:7).

The elect obtain the promises and salvation of God as a result of God’s choice. God prevents the non-elect from receiving the same blessings by hardening them.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:3-5).

The elect are predestined to be made holy and blameless, and to be adopted by God.

“Also 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).

Predestination results in receiving the inheritance of Christ.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Election results in the salvation of the elect, their creation in Christ, as well as in the necessary performance of good works which have also been predestined.

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:13-14).

The elect are predestined to sanctification and secure salvation, not just to an initial response to the gospel. They are also chosen to be sanctified and secured through specific means: the Spirit and faith. Thus, even faith is something to which the elect are predestined. Election results from God’s choice, not from man’s faith.

II. BASIS FOR ELECTION — The elect were not chosen because of their personal goodness, merit, works, faith, or acceptance of the gospel, foreseen or otherwise. They were chosen simply because God wanted to choose them, and because he loved them in a special way. This happened only in accordance with Christ’s atoning work on their behalf.

A. Election based on God’s love and good pleasure — The reason God elects some and not others is that he loves the elect in a special, and does not love the non-elect in that special way. God chooses whom to love simply on the basis of his own good pleasure. The Old Testament frequently illustrates this theme through God’s election of Israel as his covenant people.

1. In the Patriarchal period, God was pleased to choose Abraham and his descendants as his people. This election brought Israel into covenant with God, and this covenant election extends to the church because the church contains Abraham’s spiritual descendants.

“Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them . . .” (Deut. 4:37).

God chose the fathers because he loved them, and by this love God also chose the fathers’ descendants. The love spoken of is not universal, or else everyone would have been chosen, not just Israel. God chose the descendants on the basis of his love for the fathers, not on the basis of the merits of the descendants.

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:68).

God chose Israel as his possession because he loved Israel. He did not choose them because they chose him, obeyed him, or even because he knew they eventually would chose him. Quite to the contrary, the generation of people who actually were redeemed from Egypt (the “house of slavery”) eventually disobeyed God and died in the wilderness (Num. 23:13).

“Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day” (Deut. 10:15).

God’s choice of Israel as his holy people was based on his own love, not on the merits of the nation.

“And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And you must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself’” (1 Sam. 12:20-22).

The Lord’s choice of the people was based on his own pleasure, not on the people’s merit or faith. In fact, the people explicitly had exhibited not only lack of faith, but rebellion against God at the time this assurance was given.

“The beasts of the field will glorify Me; The jackals and the ostriches; Because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise” (Isa. 43:20-21).

God made Israel to be his own people. He formed them to worship him — worship was not something they independently determined to offer to God. Rather, at this point in time Israel did not honor God, but sinned against him terribly. In response to this, God declared not only that they were rebellious, but also that he had forgiven them for his own name’s sake, in spite of themselves:

Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; But you have become weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought to Me the sheep of your burnt offerings; Nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, Nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, Neither have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices; Rather you have burdened Me with your sins, You have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (Isa. 43:22-25).

The basis for God making Israel his people was “for Myself.” He did it for himself, just as he forgave them for his own name’s sake. He did not do it to reward them for their merit, for in fact they would have merited punishment, not forgiveness.

2. The New Testament uses the same language of election, divine choice and divine prerogative to describe God’s election of individuals unto salvation as the Old Testament uses to describe God’s choice of Israel unto a covenant relationship. It uses this language without qualification, indicating that God’s choices are as effective and sovereign in election unto salvation as they are in election unto covenant. God elects people according to his own gracious choice, not in reward for foreseen belief or merit.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

Calling is based on God’s purpose, not on man’s willingness or desire to be saved. The predestined are the called, and vice-versa, which strongly indicates that God predestined the elect according to his own purposes rather than according to man’s merit.

Paul also said that God predestined the elect on the basis of his foreknowledge of them — not on his foreknowledge of things about those people. Paul did not refer to foreknowledge of events of faith, or of any other fact. He did not write, “whom He foreknew would believe.” Rather, he wrote, “whom He foreknew.” In the Bible, to “know someone” frequently means to be intimately acquainted with or to love — this is the meaning of “foreknew” in this text. God knew and loved the elect before he created the world.

Compare for example Matthew 7:22-23 where Jesus the Judge will tell the reprobate that he “never knew” them. It would not be true that God did not know about them, or that he did not know what they would will or choose. On the contrary, God knows everything about every person ever, but he does not “know” every person ever, that is, he does not have an intimate, fatherly, loving care for every person ever. While there is no one whom God does not “know about,” there are those with whom God does not have a loving, intimate acquaintance.

Further, in this logical ordering of predestination, election precedes consideration of one’s calling. Also, this “golden chain” of salvation makes no reference to any response to the gospel, but only to calling. This indicates that election is inseparably tied not to man’s response to the call, but only to God’s decision to call. Since all who are called are saved, and since not all who hear the gospel are saved, this calling is not the mere proclamation of the gospel. Rather, it is God’s effectual call of the elect.

“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, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might 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.’ 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. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised 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. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have the right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 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, in order that in the ages to come He might 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. 9:10-24).

God chose whom he would love and save on the basis of his purpose. He specifically did not consider the works or will of man in making this decision, but chose whom he chose simply because it pleased him to do so.

In Paul’s mind, the fact that God’s decision took place before the twin’s births proved that it was not based on the merit of either child. This contradicts the reasoning of the modern argument that God chooses people based on foreseen faith or merit.

In referencing Pharaoh and Moses, Paul again insisted that God chooses the recipients of his mercy based solely on his own desire, not on the choices, wills, works or assent of those on whom he has mercy. While some might argue that these choices of God did not result in the salvation or damnation of individuals, it is clear from the context that Paul did not see such a dichotomy between such divine decisions. Specifically, Paul used the examples of Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh to prove that God can choose and do whatever he wants in any circumstance, and he applied this teaching specifically to salvation (“vessels of mercy . . .”) and damnation (“vessels of wrath . . .”).

Knowing human nature, Paul anticipated an objection similar to the modern argument that such an exercise of divine sovereignty would be unfair. In response, he cautioned that man is in no position to call God unjust, or to question God’s decisions. He asserted God’s right to do whatever he wants with creation and people, and explained that God, on the basis of his own desires, has chosen some people to be saved and others to be damned. In accordance with justice, God damns reprobate sinners, and in his mercy he graciously grants forgiveness, life and glory to those he chooses to elect.

“I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have torn down thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking My life.’ But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ 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? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened” (Rom. 11:1-7).

As God chose and preserved 7,000 Old Testament Israelites, “in the same way” he continues to choose and preserve a remnant: the elect. The remnant is chosen on the basis of God’s choice, not on a basis creditable to man. If God’s choice were based on his foresight of man’s willingness or desire to be saved, then man would earn the right to be chosen, making the choice a matter of justice rather than of mercy. This follows because it would be unjust for God not to choose the man who did will, or would have willed, to be saved according to God’s command.

God’s choice, however, is not a matter of justice, but one of mercy: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Neither is it a matter of works, “otherwise grace is no longer grace.” If God chooses people because he foresees their faith or works, then man earns God’s choice of him. Since God chooses graciously, then it cannot be that he chooses based on foreseen merit (whether of faith or of other works).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:3-12).

Predestination is God’s choice, and God chooses according to the intention of his will as a free act of kindness and graciousness. If it were true that God were compelled to predestine all those who would come to choose him of their own accord, then this predestination could not be voluntary and free on God’s part. Instead, God would be obligated to predestine all those who met the requirement of willing to be saved. Also, any act of predestination in response to a human will or desire to be saved would constitute a just reward for that godly inclination/choice. This would preclude the possibility that God’s election constitutes a bestowal of grace. Instead, it would be a bestowal of justice. Moreover, a totally depraved person could not satisfy the hypothetical meritorious requirement.

Election is meant to cause praise to be given to the “glory of His grace,” and is an act of love which flows from God’s kind intention. An expression of love and kindness by God toward fallen, totally depraved sinners can only result from God’s grace. Therefore, election cannot depend on a logically preceding and meritorious choice or action of man. In fact, this passage goes on to emphasize by reiteration the cause or motivation behind God’s choice. It specifically repeats that God predestines according to his own purpose.

Not only this, but the passage adds that God works all things after the counsel of his will. The will of man falls under the heading “all things.” Since this is true, even the will of man cannot choose God apart from God’s activity in man’s will. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:2-5).

It would make little sense for Paul to thank God for choosing these believers if God only chose them because they first chose him. Much more sense can be made of the reading that Paul thanked God for choosing these believers even before they chose God, and that God secured their salvation by his choice.

Paul explained that the faith of these Christians proved that God had chosen them. That is, belief is evidence of election. This strongly suggests that election logically precedes faith, and even that election ensures faith.

If God elected only those in whom he foresaw faith or other merit, then Paul put the proverbial cart before the horse when he said that these people believed because God chose them. If God only elected because he foresaw belief, then belief caused election. If this were true, then Paul’s argument that salvation proves prior election would be ridiculous. In this case, Paul would merely have been saying that the fact that these people believed proved that God foresaw their belief. Such a position reduces Paul high praise of God to nonsense. Paul, however, rightly attributed the original choice in election to God, and rightly subordinated belief to that election.

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who 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” (2 Tim. 1:8-9).

There can be no doubt that salvation is not of man, but is entirely of God, according to his purpose and grace. Election enters the argument because, according to God’s purpose, grace was granted to believers from all eternity. This statement refers to predestination, which Paul attributes specifically to God, and which he denies is creditable man. God’s election from all eternity flowed from God’s grace, and therefore did not reward foreseen merit or faith.

“Peter, . . . to those . . . who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: may grace and peace be yours in fullest measure” (1 Pet. 1:1-2).

God chose believers according to his foreknowledge. These verses do not explicitly state whether God foreknew people or things about those people (such as faith or other works). Some have insisted that the verses refer to God’s foreknowledge of who would choose him.

However, it is better argued that this foreknowledge is the same as the intimate personal knowledge and love spoken of by Paul in Romans 8:28-30, and not a knowledge of actions, decisions or will. Peter said that believers are chosen in order that they might obey Jesus. Having faith in Jesus for salvation falls into the category of obedience to Jesus (God commands belief in Jesus [1 John 3:23]). In this passage, election is unto obedience, not dependent upon it. Thus, the logically consistent interpretation is that election is not based on God’s foreknowledge of future belief or actions, but upon God’s prior intimate knowledge and love.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9)

This passage directly applies Old Testament statements about Israel to New Testament era believers. It affirms that God chose the elect in the New Testament era in the same way that he chose Israel as his covenant people. That is, God elected believers according to his own good pleasure, according to his purpose, and not in response to foreseen faith, obedience, or merit.

B. Election based on Christ’s atonement — God elects his chosen ones only in light of the atonement of Christ. Apart from the atonement, God could never set his love on any fallen creature, only his wrath.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:3-12)

God chose believers “in Him,” that is, in Christ, and he predestined “through Jesus Christ.” The grace by which God elected is also “in the Beloved.” God’s kind intention toward the elect was purposed in Christ, to the end that all things, including believers, would be summed up in Christ. Further, believers are predestined to an inheritance in Christ, to the end that Christ should be glorified. Quite simply, predestination can in no way be separated from the work of Christ, which in this context specifically includes the shedding of his blood (a reference to the atonement).

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who 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, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8-10).

God’s purpose and grace, manifested in election, was granted from all eternity in Christ Jesus. This same grace was revealed in Jesus’ work on earth, including of course his atonement.

“Peter, . . . to those . . . who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: may grace and peace be yours in fullest measure” (1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Peter said that one of predestination’s goal is the cleansing of believers by Christ’s blood, a clear reference to the atonement. There is no salvation outside Christ’s blood, therefore there is no predestination of anyone to salvation without reference to the atonement.

“And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8).

This passage about the worshipers of the beast mentions the elect as having been registered in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain, and that this registration occurred before the foundation of the world. For a book of life of the slain Lamb to have existed before the foundation of the world, and for the elect to be written therein before the foundation of the world, these elect must have been predestined to salvation with direct reference to the slaying of the Lamb, that is, with direct reference to the atonement of Christ.

III. ELECTION PART OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN, ETERNAL PLAN AND DECREE — Election took place before the foundation of the world, and is certain to be fulfilled.

A. Election took place before the foundation of the world.

“‘But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’’” (Matt. 25:31-34).

From the foundation of the world, the kingdom was prepared with a specific group of people in mind. It was prepared for “you,” not for “those who would believe.” Thus, the elect must have been chosen before the kingdom could have been prepared for them.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:3-4).

This passage directly states that God chose the elect prior to the foundation of the world.

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).

This passage states that God chose the elect “from the beginning.” This phrase relies for its interpretation on the biblical understanding of “the beginning” as a time prior to or at the inauguration of creation, that is, from eternity or from the foundation of the world (cf. compare Gen. 1:1; John 1:1). In light of other biblical statements placing the time of election explicitly before creation (cf. Eph. 1:3-4), it is best to understand this verse as stating that election occurred prior to creation rather than at the time of creation’s beginning.

“And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8; see also Rev. 17:8).

For names to have been written in the book from the foundation of the world, election also had to occur from the foundation of the world. God had to choose the elect in order to record their names.

B. Certainty of Election’s ResultsElection is based entirely on God’s will. It does not depend upon man’s will, belief, obedience, or any other meritorious component attributable to man. God’s immutability and omnipotence guarantee that he will bring this will to pass.

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).

This rhetorical question expects an emphatic negative answer. God is able to accomplish anything.

“O Lord, the God of our fathers, art Thou not God in the heavens? And art Thou not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Thy hand so that no one can stand against Thee” (2 Chron. 20:6).

No on can thwart God’s power to save, man’s will notwithstanding. This does not mean that God drags men into heaven who are unwilling to be saved, but that, in the process of saving man who is unwilling, God changes man’s heart so that man wills to be saved.

“Then Job answered the Lord, and said ‘I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted’” (Job 42:1-2).

God can to anything at all, and no one has the power to stop him. Not even an unwilling recipient of grace can stop God from saving him if it is God’s purpose to do so.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance” (Ps. 33:6-12).

No one can thwart God’s plan, or keep him from blessing the people he has chosen for his inheritance. His awesome power overcomes all obstacles, and his counsel and eternal decrees stand forever. God will not change his decree of election, but will sovereignly bring it to fulfillment.

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3; see also Ps. 135:6).

God can and does do whatever he wants. He cannot be thwarted, and will not fail to fulfill his own desires. If God is pleased to save a person, he will.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand” (Prov. 19:21).

A man may plan to hate and reject God, but God will have the final say in each man’s feelings toward God and in that man’s salvation.

“The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, ‘Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand . . . For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isa. 14:24,27).

God will successfully save all those he intends to save; he will fulfill all his plans. No sinner can turn back the stretched-out hand that would pluck him from the fire of Hell.

“O Lord, Thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will give thanks to Thy name; for Thou hast worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness” (Isa. 25:1).

God is faithful perfectly to fulfill everything he has planned, including the salvation of everyone he planned to save when he elected them long ago.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8).

God performs many of his works by the power of his word. As his word cannot be hindered, neither can his plans or power be hindered, even when he plans to save sinners who would refuse his grace if given the option.

“Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa. 46:8-11).

Part of this purpose, part of what God has planned, and part of what God has declared from the beginning is the salvation of the elect. This plan cannot be thwarted. Further, since God will accomplish all his good pleasure, there will be nothing that he is pleased to do that will not be done — no one will perish whom God would have been pleased to save.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it’” (Isa. 55:8-11).

The gospel will not fail to save everyone whom it was intended to save. God will save the elect. This may be hard to fathom, but God’s ways and thoughts are not man’s ways and thoughts — God’s are higher.

“Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee” (Jer. 32:17).

Nothing can thwart God’s ability to save whom he wills to save. Since nothing is too difficult for God, it is not too difficult for God to save a person that does not want to be saved, or to change that person’s heart and desires.

“And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’” (Dan. 4:35).

Whatever God wants to do, he can do. Further, God has the right to do anything he wants. Moreover, God actually does whatever he wills, including both electing without reference to human will or merit, and saving all the elect.