The Bible is very clear that God’s election of particular sinners is based upon God’s good pleasure and purpose, that election is “in Christ” (which means that all those who presently trust in Christ were chosen in Christ before time), and that God provides the merits of Jesus Christ (through his suffering and obedience) to save those whom God has chosen, from both the guilt and power of sin.
As Americans raised in a democratic republic, we cling tenaciously to the principle “one person, one vote.” It is very easy (and almost natural) to carry over this principle to our understanding of redemption from the guilt of our sin. We mistakenly assume that God should give everyone a chance to go to heaven, and if people refuse God’s gracious offer, then people, in effect, send themselves to hell by refusing God’s gracious gift. This makes perfect sense on democratic presuppositions because in the civil kingdom (the political sphere) each individual is assumed to be entitled and empowered to determine their own course in life. And if this is true in American political life, then it should be true when it comes to the salvation of sinners. Right? Well, no. The Bible does not allow us to understand humanity’s redemption from sin in such rosy terms.
Because of Adam’s sin, we are all sinners by nature and by choice. As his biological children and heirs, we are born guilty for Adam’s act of rebellion in Eden. The Bible speaks of this as being dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). This simply means that we are unwilling and unable to do anything to save ourselves. Because we are dead in sin, we cannot even take those first steps toward God that some Christians mistakenly think we should be able to make (cf. John 6:44, which tells us that on one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father). It is common to hear Christians describe God’s grace in generic, medicinal terms, or as a rescue from peril such as, “grace is like a medicine which, if we are willing to take it, enables us to come to Christ,” or that “grace is a life-ring which we must grab and cling to, or we will drown in our sins.”
Our problem is not that we are spiritually sick, weakened and impaired by our sin, or that we are morally corrupt. It is much worse than that. The Bible says we are dead in sin. Dead people do not, and indeed cannot, come to God. God must act upon us while we are dead in sin or else we stay dead! He alone can make us alive with Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10). As Paul recounts here, God does everything necessary to save us from our sins when we are unworthy of such salvation, and unable to do anything about our predicament. Democratic presuppositions simply don’t apply to matters of sin and grace. Humanity’s plight (the curse and death) and God’s sovereign grace are the proper categories here. From beginning to end God must save us because we are unable to do anything to save ourselves. This is where we find the very heart of God’s saving grace—the doctrine of election.