This world can be a very difficult place to live for anyone. Even for Christians, sin and the sadness it causes brings with it guilt, worry, doubt, and fear. Knowing that his people battle their sinful natures everyday, God has given them assurance with the teaching of election. God’s election is his act of choosing his people from before the creation of the world. Since some Christian groups over the years have misused and misunderstood Scripture’s teaching of election, it is best for anyone who is interested in a proper understanding of election first to understand the teaching of justification, which is explained in Justified by Grace through Faith. It is also good to have an understanding of the use of Law and Gospel in Scripture, as it will help you properly apply the teaching of election.
A Doctrine of Comfort
Election is a doctrine (teaching) of the gospel. It is meant to bring comfort and joy to the believer. To any Christian who might feel as if God doesn’t love them and doesn’t care for them, who might think that God has abandoned them in this life, who is worried that they might not go to heaven, God says that he loves and cares for them so much that he has chosen him or her to be his child from before time began, from before the creation of the world. That is the doctrine of election. God has given it to us so each believer in Christ can be sure that our salvation is in God’s all-powerful and all-loving hands.
Because of His Grace
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
2 Timothy 1:9
Why did God choose each individual Christian to be his child? Simply because of his grace. It has nothing to do with the individual except that God loves them. It is an undeserved love and a one-way love from God to the believer. The believer has done nothing to earn this election. God chose that person; that person did not choose God (2 Timothy 1:9-10). God in his love and unsearchable counsel has decided to make that person his own. He chose that person from before time began, has brought about their salvation in time by giving them faith through his gospel message, and continues to preserve and protect them in this life (Romans 8:28-30).
For this reason, we say that election is unto faith, not in view of faith. God did not choose a person to be his child because he saw that they were going to have faith in time. Mankind by nature is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-2), hostile to God (Romans 8:7), and sees God as an enemy (Colossians 1:21; Romans 5:10). God has graciously brought a Christian to faith in time because he chose them and he brought them to faith (2 Timothy 1:9). If election were in view of the faith someone was going to have, then it would be attributing some sort of merit to the Christian instead of giving 100% of the credit to God and our Savior Jesus (see Romans 11:6). Salvation is purely from God’s grace and is a result of God’s work alone, which Scripture clearly teaches (Ephesians 2:8-10). This is extremely important to remember for anyone studying the doctrine of election. It is gospel, the assurance of God’s grace through Christ.
If God has chosen some to believe, then does that means he has chosen everyone else not to believe? No. Although that is taught by some Christians, that is never taught in God’s Word. It is our human reason that tries to conclude that if God elected some to salvation he must have elected everyone else to damnation. Some Christians even claim that Jesus’ death on the cross only paid for the sins of the elect. This only leads a Christian to wonder, “What if God didn’t choose me? Does that mean there is no hope for me?” or “How do I know if Jesus died for my sins?” But God tells us that he “wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-6). He also assures us that Jesus paid for the sins of all people (John 3:16; Romans 3:23-24; see also Forgiveness of Sins for All People). To attempt to use our human reason to analyze God’s hidden counsel or limit Jesus’ work empties the doctrine of election of its comfort and therefore misuses and misunderstands it. The doctrine of election is only meant to be a doctrine of comfort for the believer.
Abusing the Doctrine of Election
However, Christians will be careful not to abuse this comfort, such as developing sinful overconfidence. Any Christian who abuses the teaching of election by thinking, “It’s OK if I commit this sin because I’m a Christian and God has already chosen me to have eternal life,” is misusing its comfort. We never want to use the teaching of election as an excuse for sinning. That is an abuse of God’s grace. The doctrine of election is never meant to make us comfortable in our sin. Such a Christian would need to hear not the gospel but instead the law from God’s Word (see Law and Gospel). The apostle Paul says to such a Christian, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We would never want to proclaim the doctrine of election to someone who is only going to use it as a license to sin. It is only meant to calm our fears, dispel our guilt, and assure us of the forgiveness we have in Christ.
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
2 Thessalonians 2:13
If God has elected every Christian to eternal life, does this mean we do not have to preach the gospel? If God promises to bring about the salvation of the elect and preserve them in their faith, then does it really matter what we do? God brings about the salvation and preservation of the elect, but he is doing so through the Word we preach. As Paul says, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). And so God has told us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). God has graciously given us the honor of having this ministry (1 Corinthians 5:14-6:2). The doctrine of election gives us comfort in knowing that other people’s salvation ultimately doesn’t depend on us, yet we also have the joy of knowing that God has given us the privilege of joining in his wonderful plan of salvation.
Election Points to God’s Love
Since the doctrine of election has been misunderstood and misused over the years, it is important always to remember that when thinking of the doctrine of election we must never look inward but upward to God and his gracious love. Looking inward will only lead someone to rob themselves of the comfort and joy the doctrine of election is meant to give. When thinking of and applying the doctrine of election, then, it is good practice is to follow the order in which Paul addresses it in his letter to the Romans: recognize your sin (Romans 1-3), recognize God’s grace (Romans 3:23-5:19), in knowledge of those things work to fight your sin in your Christian lives (Romans 6:1-8:17), and then, if you fall into doubt or suffering remind yourself of the fact that God has chosen you and will never stop working to preserve you until the Last Day (Romans 8:18-39).
Yes, the doctrine of election is certainly beautiful gospel. Knowing that God has chosen you individually and has known you by name (Isaiah 43:1,7) since far before he ever created you in time shows you how much God truly loves you. It shows the glorious plan he has worked through his Son. It gives you a taste of the comfort and joy you will have with him someday in the eternal life you know is yours.