When properly understood, election teaches us not just about how great God is, but how good he is: “God’s love is the fountainhead of the gospel. God’s Son did not come into the world to persuade the Father to love or to win His love for us; He came as the gift of the Father’s love to us.” He is a sovereign God, and yet also a saving God. Some people might tend to pit John’s “God is love” (1 John 4:16) against Paul’s predestination. But they go hand in hand. If God were not love, we would be lost. Yet while we were still sinners, God loved us—God chose us.
A hurdle many Christians cannot seem to get over is accepting and embracing the doctrine of election, or predestination. By nature, we don’t like the fact that God is the one who does the choosing. We want to be the masters of our fate and the captains of our soul. Yet Paul seems to make the case very clearly in Ephesians 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in himbefore the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In lovehe predestined usfor adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 1:3–5; emphasis added)
What brings Paul to doxology is distasteful to many. R.C. Sproul accurately describes the feeling of most people towards the concept:
The very word predestination has an ominous ring to it. It is linked to the despairing notion of fatalism and somehow suggests that within its pale we are reduced to meaningless puppets. The word conjures up visions of a diabolical deity who plays capricious games with our lives.
Yes, this is a hard truth to come to terms with, but such a fatalistic view tragically eclipses the beauty of God’s work for undeserving and incapable sinners like you and me. To help us grapple with and grow to love this essential aspect of the gospel, consider the following three points about election.
1. Election is a biblical doctrine.
First, the doctrine is biblical. This should seem evident enough, as it is clearly spelled out in the section of Ephesians 1 quoted earlier. Nor is this the only place we run up against the concept in Scripture. Just a few verses later on Paul will say—even more bluntly—that we have been “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). In Romans 8:29-30 we read,
For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he predestined, these he also called; whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified.”
These are places in which these theological terms are used explicitly, but if we broaden our radar to also pick up allusions to and themes of choosing, predetermining, and electing, the list gets longer.
There are some out there who have a false notion of predestination and election, namely, that it was the invention of some ancient French madman named John Calvin. No doubt, Calvin would mourn the fact that history has dubbed this doctrine “Calvinism,” as though it somehow belonged more to him than to God.
Others who are more informed would recognize that the idea of election is not strictly Calvinist and is in fact a scriptural concept. Indeed, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and so-called Calvinists all hold to different nuances of predestination.