Scripture quotations are from the English Majority Text Version (EMTV) unless noted otherwise. (Bold mine)
The doctrine of election causes a lot of confusion for a lot of Christians. So much so, that we have two major opposing positions on what election is and how it works. Calvinism represents one position, and Arminianism represents the other. Calvinists believe that God chooses certain individuals to believe unto salvation, while purposely choosing to leave everyone else without hope. Arminians believe that Christ died for all, and that salvation is available to all who hear the gospel message. The Arminian position on election reflects that belief.
Within Arminianism, there are two different viewpoints on the doctrine of election. The classical view is the idea that God elects according to His foreknowledge. In other words, God elects those whom He foreknows will come to faith in Christ:
1 Peter 1:2
“elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” (NKJV)
The other view is known as corporate election. I believe corporate election is what’s presented in the Bible. I think we’ve made the doctrine of election more difficult than what it really is, especially Calvinists. I believe God has given us certain keys to understanding this doctrine, and I believe one of those keys is Abraham.
Corporate Election Basics
At some point in eternity God chose to save sinners. God chose to save a people group out of this world for Himself – a people who would represent Him and glorify Him. He chose one plan to save sinners. He chose Christ, His Son (“My Chosen One” Lu 9:35) to be that one plan of salvation. He chose not to save mankind through any other religion or through any other means. Those who try to come to God through any other way, He rejects. They are the non-chosen or non-elect. The chosen are those who come to God via the plan that God chose to save us through. God chose to save anyone who comes to Him through His Son. When we do, we become a part of the people of God, referred to as “the elect.” Our election is in Christ, in our union with Him.
We are not the elect as individuals before we come to faith in Christ. It’s only at the point of salvation that we become a part of the elect people of God. We are the elect as individuals only in the sense that God chose to save us as individuals upon our faith in Christ. We are saved as individuals not because we are “one of the elect,” but because we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior. At that point we become an individual part of the corporate people of God, the Church, of whom Christ is the Corporate Head. We are saved as individuals not because we are the elect, rather, we are the elect because we are saved.
As for Christ being the Corporate Head of the Church, the Father referred to His Son as “My Chosen One.” He is the One whom God chose to pay the price for the sins of mankind. He is the One through whom God calls out of the world a people for Himself. Christ is the “Elect One.” He is the Head of the body, the Elect Church (Col 1:18), who came through the line of Abraham. The Elect Church, is in the Elect Christ (Eph 1:4). Individually, we become a part of the Elect Church upon our faith in the Elect Christ.
Abraham, the Father of All Believers
2 and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: 3 and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (ASV)
17 And Jehovah said, Shall I hide from Abraham that which I do; 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (ASV)
16 Therefore it is of faith that it may be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those of the law, but also to those of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (just as it is written, “I have appointed you a father of many nations”) before God, whom he believed, the One who gives life to the dead and calls those things which are not as though they were; 18 who, contrary to hope, on hope believed, so that he should become a father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”
We as Christians have our roots in Abraham. God chose a nation out of this world for Himself, and that nation was Israel. God chose Abraham to be the father of that nation. They were the elect nation, and Abraham was the father of that nation. Those who were born into Abraham’s line (through Isaac and Jacob), were born into this elect nation. Individuals were elect only in the sense that they were among the corporate people of God. It was the corporate, elect nation that was in view, not the individual.
God told Abraham that in him all the nations/families of the earth would be blessed. This blessing refers directly to Christ, who would come through the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All the nations/families of the earth have their blessing in Christ, who provided salvation for the world.
While the nation of Israel is in view, it’s not the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh who are the true Israel of God. It’s those who are of the faith of Abraham who are the true offspring of Abraham, who make up true Israel. Those of Israel who don’t share the same faith of Abraham, are not true children of Abraham:
Please read the following scriptures carefully:
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [he had while] in uncircumcision, so that he should be the father of all those that believe, although uncircumcised, so that righteousness should also be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those not only of circumcision, but also to those following in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham [had while] in uncircumcision. 13 For the promise that he should be heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through [the] law, but through [the] righteousness of faith.
16 Therefore it is of faith that it may be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those of the law, but also to those of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (just as it is written, “I have appointed you a father of many nations“) before God, whom he believed, the One who gives life to the dead and calls those things which are not as though they were;
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all those of Israel [are of] Israel, 7 nor [are they] all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.”
8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh are not the children of God; but [it is] the children of the promise that are regarded as descendants.
6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Know therefore that those who are of faith, these are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, [saying] that, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” 9 Therefore those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
Galatians 3:14-16, 26-29
14 that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void, or addeth thereto. 16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 26 For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. 28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one [man] in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise. (ASV)
39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw [it] and was glad.”
The true offspring (seed) of Abraham are not the offspring according to the flesh (the nation), but according to the faith of Abraham. His call to be the father of Israel extended beyond the nation. It pointed to everyone who would share his faith in Christ, the Messiah. As a people of faith, we are one, we are a spiritual nation of God’s people. It’s this spiritual nation that God has elected and called out of the world, and the Church is that nation (1 Pet. 2:9). Abraham was called to be the father of this spiritual nation. This line of the corporate people of God that began with Abraham, extends all the way to Christ. The election of the “nation” of God’s people never ceased. Whatever made us think that it did?
Furthermore, that’s how the Jewish Christians of Paul’s day would have viewed election. That’s evident by the fact that the Jews believed they were eternally secure just because they were the physical descendants of Abraham, as members of the nation of Israel. The idea of individualistic election would have been foreign to their thinking. It’s important that we remove ourselves from our individualistic mindset, and place ourselves in the Jewish culture of Paul’s day. Only then can we understand the doctrine of election.
As the father of the corporate people of God, Abraham represents all people who share his faith in Christ. All who come to faith in Christ are born (again) into this corporate body of believers. Just as individual Jews were born into the elect nation of Israel, so individuals of faith are born (again) into this elect nation, called the Church. We are not elected as individuals to join the Church, rather, we become a part of the elect Church when we place our faith in Christ.
As the father of God’s people of faith, Abraham represents that whole, called out, group of people. God told Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” He is the father of all people who join him with like-faith.
If you’re not yet convinced that our election is corporate, continue reading. Our discussion to this point provides the background for the next section.
A Clear Picture of Corporate Election
Abrahan’s Family Tree:
11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? By no means! But by their transgression, salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. 12 But if their transgression is riches for the world, and their defeat is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness be! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am indeed an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I may provoke to jealousy my fellow Jews, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their casting away means reconciliation [for the] world, what will their acceptance be, if not life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, [so] also the lump; and if the root is holy, so also the branches. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in [among] them, and became a partaker of the root and of the fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant towards the branches. But if you are arrogant, [remember] that it is not you that supports the root, but the root [supports] you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. By unbelief they were broken off, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps He may not spare you either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God: upon those that fell, severity; but upon you, kindness, if you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you also shall be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not remain in unbelief, shall be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these, the natural ones, be grafted into their own olive tree?
This is a picture of corporate election. The tree described here as a “cultivated olive tree,” is a tree of life or a tree of salvation, which has its roots in Abraham. We can call this Abraham’s family tree. This tree is true Israel, the people of faith, of whom Abraham is the father.
The “natural branches” are individual Jews who were broken off from their own cultivated olive tree because of unbelief. The branches that were “cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature,” are Gentiles who are grafted into this cultivated olive tree through faith in Christ.
Since both believing Jews and believing Gentiles are branches of the same tree, this tree must be viewed as the Church. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that this is a tree that has Abrahamic roots, for it is through Abraham that the world is blessed.
It’s important to see that both Jew and Gentile are among the elect of God only as they remain in this tree of faith. To “continue in His kindness” reveals a genuine faith, for true faith endures throughout one’s life.
Symbolism of The Cultivated Olive Tree
As with everything else, God always has a purpose for doing what He does. In Romans 11:5-7, Paul refers to election:
5 So too then, at this present time, there is also a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, [it is] no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if [it is] of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. 7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained [it], and the rest were blinded.
A few verses later, he gives us a picture of our election in Christ, in this cultivated olive tree. We might ask, why a tree? Consider this:
A tree has a body, roots, and branches. The tree body represents the whole, the branches are all individual and can be broken off and grafted in, and the roots are what gives life and stability to the tree.
So what is Paul trying to teach us here?
I believe the roots refer to Abraham (ultimately Christ), through whom all the families of the earth are blessed. It’s through the line of Abraham that Christ came, providing life for all. He is our root of stability.
The body refers to the elect body of Christ, the called out corporate people of God. This is a picture of true Israel, which is the Church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, for we are all one in Christ. All believers are the offspring of Abraham (Gal 3:26-29).
The branches refer to individual believers within the elect body. As with an actual tree, branches can be broken off and they can be grafted in. Our election depends on remaining firm in our faith, or rather, we will remain firm in our faith. Those who profess Christ, but drift in their faith, reveal that they had a false faith and a false salvation to start with.
I believe that Abraham and God’s choosing of a tree – with all its implications – is a significant key to understanding the doctrine of election. It’s evident that corporate election is what’s presented in the Word of God. From the viewpoint of Christian Jews of Paul’s day, individual election is not how they would have seen it.
Not An Empty Set
Some have accused corporate election as being an empty set. That is, it starts with the choosing of an empty Church. Thus if it starts with an empty Church, how can this idea be valid? What if no one becomes a member of it? Or so goes the argument. That argument reveals a lack of understanding regarding corporate election. To begin with, it doesn’t start with an empty Church, it starts with Christ, who is the Corporate Head. The Father chose His Son to be the Head of the Church. Thus with Jesus as the Corporate Head, it’s never been an empty Church.
Furthermore, God is not limited to the present, but can see all things future. Thus He’s always seen His people within the elect Church. Revelation 7:9-14 makes this clear:
9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, out of every nation, and [from] tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, having been clothed in long white robes, with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation [belongs] to our God, to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne, and the elders and the four living beings, and they fell down on their faces before His throne and they worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, [be] to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in long white robes, and where did they come from?” 14 And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” So he said to me, “These are those who come out of the Great Tribulation, and have washed their robes and they made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
This is a future scene of the Saints of God in Heaven. God, who knows all and all things future, has always known His people. Therefore, the idea that corporate election is an empty set is unfounded.
That corporate election is not an empty set can be seen in the following analogy:
Imagine a new basketball team, called The Conquerors, with a new coach putting the team together. This may be considered to be an “elect” team, chosen to join the league. In the beginning the team doesn’t have any players at all, but it does have a coach (Son). Even though it doesn’t have any players yet, it’s still a team – chosen and recognized as a team by the league (Father).
The coach works hard to put the team together. He talks to a lot of basketball players, and does his best to show them the benefits and rewards of being a part of his team. At one point he has about half of the players needed to complete the team. It’s now all about the remaining players yet to come. That’s his focus, completing the team. He does whatever is needed to acquire the remaining players. He endures everything for the sake of the players yet to join.
Those basketball players still to come were not Conquerors yet, but the coach is committed to signing them up, whoever they turned out to be. Once they did sign, they would become a part of the “elect” team, and could then be called Conquerors. They weren’t signed to the team because they already had the label of “Conqueror” pinned to their shirt, but because they were drawn to the team by the offer made by the coach. The players were signed not because they were already Conquerors (elect), but because they accepted the offer. It may also be noted that the coach made the offer to many other players, but was turned down.
From the very start, when it had no players at all, it was still a team. It was chosen and recognized by the league as a team, and it had a coach. How much more will the Father, with His Son, recognize His own people?
The River of Election
Election is like a river that flows from Abraham to Christ, and must, therefore, be entered into to become one of the elect. This river of election does not flow outside of Christ. That’s why Paul said that “he has chosen us in him” (Eph 1:4).
In other words, the river of election flows in the Elect Christ, and flows from the Elect Christ, and must be entered into in order to become a part of this river of election that contains God’s people.
Election is not a tag that’s been pinned on us as individuals, and thus, something that we carry outside of Christ. Election is only “in Christ,” and flows “from Christ” and is something that can only be entered into. We do that through faith in Him.
God chose to allow man into His presence only through faith in His Son. Those who approach Him according to that one way, are allowed, and are therefore, the chosen or the elect. Those who attempt to approach Him any other way, are rejected, and are therefore, the non-chosen or non-elect.
When it comes to the doctrine of election, it’s all about that one plan, that one way of salvation that God has chosen for mankind. It’s all about His Son, Jesus, His Chosen One. Those who come to God through faith in His Chosen One, become elect through their identification with the Elect Son.
Just as Adam was chosen to give birth to the human race, and just as Abraham was chosen to give birth to a nation, so was Jesus chosen to give birth to the people of God. Through faith in Christ, we are born into God’s Chosen family. It’s through this new-birth that we as individuals become the elect. We are the elect as individuals because of our birth into the elect people of God, which was brought forth through His Elect Son.
Individuals are elect human beings through birth. Individuals are elect Jews through birth. Individual Christians are elect through birth (the new-birth). We are not members of the elect people of God because we are “the elect.” We are elect as individuals only in the sense that we join ourselves to the elect people of God through the new-birth. It’s a people group that God has chosen, not individuals….except in the sense that He has chosen to save anyone who comes to Him via His Son in faith.