How are we to understand the doctrine of election? Does God look down the corridor of time to see who will receive Christ as Lord and Savior, and then choose those individuals for salvation (as many Christians believe)? Or does God know and predestine certain individuals before they’re born?
In the first case, if that’s the way election works, then it’s not a true election — except by the unregenerate sinner. If God chooses those whom He knows will choose His Son, then in reality, it’s actually the sinner who does the choosing — not God.
On the other hand, a true election of sinners to salvation is where God does the actual choosing, by actually choosing particular individuals (particular redemption). Those are His elect, those whom He knew and chose “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4-5,11; Ro 8:29-30).
The doctrine of election is really not so mysterious or difficult to interpret. Election should be understood exactly the way the Bible states it and describes it, that sinners are elected or chosen for salvation before they come into the world.
The Apostle Paul serves as an example of how election works in the lives of sinners:
(Galatians 1:14-16) — 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles….. (ESV)
Paul is the New Testament counterpart of Jeremiah:
(Jeremiah 1:4-5) — 4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (ESV)
Both Paul and Jeremiah were chosen for salvation and set apart as prophets before they were born. (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15-16). Here’s an example where Christ miraculously and visually and personally intervened in Paul’s life by revealing Himself to him and calling him to Himself for salvation and to ministry (Acts 9:1-8; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). I believe what we have with Paul is an outward revelation of how election works inwardly in people’s lives:
At some point, God intervenes in a person’s life and regenerates them and gives them the gift of faith that is required for salvation. It’s totally God’s initiative. Being dead in sins (Eph 2:1,5), while going through life in blindness and rebellion to God (Acts 26:18), Christ intervenes in our lives. Through the transforming and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, we’re made alive spiritually (regeneration – Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; Jn 3:3-8;), where we’re able to see and comprehend the gospel message (Jn 6:44-45), and given the gift of faith to receive Christ as Lord and Savior (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation is a total work of God’s grace – from start to finish – which includes our election to salvation.
Other Examples: Unconditional sovereign election is supported by many other examples: We have Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were chosen to be the corporate head of Israel, the chosen people of God of the Old Covenant (Ge 12:1-7; 17:1-8,21; 22:17-18; 26:1-4; 28:13-14); We have Melchizedek, who was a type of Christ as high priest and king (Ge 14:17-18; Ps 110:4; He 5-7); Moses who was also a type of Christ as deliverer and prophet (De 18:15-18); David and the Davidic Covenant (2 Sa 7:12-16; 1 Chr 17:11-14; 2 Chr 6:16), which refers to Christ and His kingdom; John the Baptist, who was prophesied about in both the OT and NT as the forerunner of Christ (Is 40:3; Mal 3:1; Mal 4:5-6; Ma 3:3: Mk 1:2-3; Lu 1:11-17,76); Mary and Elizabeth, who were the chosen vehicles to bring Jesus and John the Baptist into the world; the Apostles, who were chosen to establish the Church. All of these were obviously chosen for more than just service or types or vehicles. The election to salvation was most certainly involved in each of those callings. There’s an undeniable association between the two.
The calling of all these people are examples of unconditional sovereign election. These people and the role they had in regard to Christ, was no accident. They didn’t just happen to fit into God’s plan. They were obviously preordained by God as part of His sovereign plan regarding Christ and His people. They serve as examples of how election works in the plan of God. Their election serves as a revelation of the true nature of election.
Most noteworthy example: Finally, we have Christ Himself as an example of the providence of God. While Jesus did not need salvation, He was chosen to be our salvation. The certainty of His coming into the world was certain. His provision of salvation was certain. Therefore, our election to receive salvation as individuals was just as certain as His election to be our Savior. He was elected to be the Savior of His Church (Acts 20:28; Eph 5:23-25), which includes every member of His Church (Ro 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12-14,27; Eph 4:15-16).
We’re talking about actual and specific people – who make up the complete Church – and not just hopefuls, who just happen to receive Christ. God’s choosing of Christ as Savior was specific. Therefore, it’s reasonable that the choosing of those for salvation in Him is also specific. The specific choosing of the One is the specific choosing of all those in Him. The certainty of the one, ensures the certainty of the other. Just as His birth and election to save was certain, so was the birth and election of those to be saved certain. Jesus and His redeemed were chosen together. When God chose a people (group) out of this world for Himself, it was not a mere idea or mere possibilities that He chose. No, it was actual individuals that He chose, who make up the corporate people. Without the individuals, there is no Church. Without chosen individuals, there is no chosen corporate Body. God’s sovereign choosing of the One specific individual to provide salvation, is the sovereign choosing of specific individuals to receive salvation.
The accounts of individual sovereign election that we see in both OT and NT should be accepted as the norm and not as the exception. These accounts of unconditional election of individuals should be viewed as examples of how individual election operates in the plan of God regarding salvation. To view them as merely exceptions to the norm is presumptuous. We should accept it as a sovereign revelation of the nature of election. The pattern is there, and should be allowed to serve as our guide of understanding. Whenever such clear insight is given to us, it should not be relegated to the realm of least importance, but be given the highest place of consideration when studying the doctrines of the Bible. Examples in the Bible always serve as a reliable guide.