Elect, Election

I. Theocratic election

A. It proceeded from God’s love. The election proceeded from God’s love and this love was not constrained by any eminence in might or righteousness belonging to Israel (Deut 4:37; 7:6-8; 9:4-6). Israel was the fewest of all peoples and they were also a rebellious and stiffnecked people (9:7-13). It was, therefore, of His own sovereign good pleasure that God loved them and took delight in them. Election arose from the free determinations of His loving will.

D. It became specialized. The election became more specialized in reference to certain tribes and persons for distinct functions and prerogatives (Num 16:5; Deut 18:1-5; 1 Sam 10:24; 2 Sam 6:21; 2 Chron 6:6; Ps 78:68).

II. Messianic election

III. Soteric election

Though closely related to the foregoing aspects, election to salvation is distinct. It is distinct from Israel’s ethnic election in that it insures the salvation of its objects and distinct from Christ’s election in that the latter is not to salvation but to office for the accomplishing of salvation. In the OT much emphasis falls on ethnic election. In the NT ethnic election recedes to the background and the terms “elect” and “election,” when the action of God in reference to men is in view, are used with few exceptions (cf. Acts 13:17; Rom 11:28) of the election unto life and salvation. The revelatory data establish its characterizing features.

A. Eternal. Ephesians 1:4 is explicit to this effect. The election in Christ was “before the foundation of the world.” The same is implied when Paul says that God “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (2 Tim 1:9 ASV). Whether the concluding clause refers to the “calling” or to the “grace” (the latter alternative is distinctly to be preferred), we are, in any case, pointed to God’s eternal counsel, and the analogy of Paul’s teaching (Eph 1:4, 9; cf. Rom 9:11) would require that this counsel include election. We cannot think in terms of eternity because we are creatures and are temporally conditioned. But we must think of eternity and it is of faith to believe that the fountain from which salvation emanates is the eternal purpose of God. All the other features of election cannot be properly construed except as they are related to its origin in the mystery of God’s eternal will.

E. In Christ. The only place where this feature is expressly intimated is Ephesians 1:4. Much debate has arisen respecting the import. Since there are no parallel passages to shed light on the precise meaning, we shall have to be content with the unanswered questions which we are disposed to ask. Christian faith is resigned to the unsolved mysteries with which revelation confronts us. Election in Christ is, however, a datum of revelation to be received and obscurity respecting certain implications should not be allowed to eclipse the truths and relationships involved of which we do know.

God the Father is the subject of election; it is His distinguishing action and He who initiates the whole process of salvation. That the ultimate source resides in the Father is the sustained witness of Scripture and faith is greatly impaired if this is not recognized and appreciated. But this action of the Father may not be dissociated from Christ nor conceived of apart from Him. How the action of the Father relates itself to Christ we are not able to define; this belongs to His unsearchable counsel. Nevertheless it is of the essence of our faith in the Father’s electing grace to know that in the fount of salvation the elect were never contemplated apart from Christ, that union with Christ was constituted in the decree of election. The people of God prize the mediation of Christ in all phases of redemption accomplished and applied. They should also prize the relation to Christ constituted in eternal election.

The election in Christ, as shown above, must be construed in messianic terms and as relevant to the economy of salvation. This economy has its source in election and election is unto the salvation of its objects. It would be proper, therefore, to infer that Christ is contemplated in His messianic identity when it is said that the elect were chosen in Him. Election must not be thought of apart from the salvation which it insures, and salvation is inconceivable apart from Christ. One must conclude that election in Christ and the election of Christ are correlative and therefore not only to be conjoined in our thought but intrinsically inseparable by reason of the terms in which Scripture enunciates them.

The pivotal passage (Eph 1:4) has no precise parallel. It may be that Romans 8:29 expresses what is intended by election in Christ. If this is so, then “predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son” defines the import of “in Christ” and the purpose of the latter is to inform us that election had not been conceived of or determined by God the Father except in terms of the end to which it was directed, namely, conformity to the image of the Father’s only begotten. It can be said that this would provide a sufficient reason for the terms of Ephesians 1:4. In any case, Romans 8:29 informs us of what is implied in the election in Christ and, if it is not intended as definition, no other text is comparably rich in setting forth what is involved. For conformity to the image of God’s Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren is the highest conceivable destiny for creatures.

F. Obligations. All of God’s revealed counsel comes to us with demand. The kind of demand is determined by the specific content of what is revealed and by the relation we particularly sustain to God. It might be supposed that only believers should be concerned with election and that to unbelievers this truth of election is sealed. It is true that unbelievers cannot know themselves as elect of God, and it would be presumption for them to entertain the faith of their election or the conviction of their non-election. But the truth of God’s electing grace is revelation given to all to whom the Gospel comes. Unbelievers should be stirred by concern to use the God-appointed means for their salvation to the end that through repentance and faith they may come to know that they are elect of God. Election should be encouragement rather than discouragement to sinners seeking salvation. Election assures them that God does save and that the grace which saves is the same grace that has its fountain in election. Furthermore, the free overture of grace in Christ to all without distinction comes from God’s electing grace. Hence, it is a grave error to maintain that election either as to its truth or in its proclamation has no relevance to unbelievers. No part of God’s counsel may be withheld from men.

The obligations incident to election have special reference to believers.

1. They are to make their election sure (2 Pet 1:10). This does not mean that they are to make it sure by effecting it, by causing it to be. It is God who elects and no agency of man enters into it or contributes to it. To make it sure means to make certain that it is a fact pertaining to ourselves. How this is to be done the Scripture makes plain. It is significant that a certain order is observed: “make your calling and election sure.” Though calling is likewise an act of God and of God alone, it is an act addressed to us and comes within our experience. Calling and election are always conjoined (Rom 8:28-30; 2 Tim 1:9) and from the certainty of our calling we may be assured of our election. Paul also indicates this order of thought (1 Thess 1:3, 4). It was from the “work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope” that he knew of the election of the saints, not by some esoteric or mystical insight into the hidden mysteries of God. The same process applies in the sphere of self-examination. Our thought proceeds upstream. Only from the fruit may we be assured of the ultimate root in divine election. Perplexity and confusion result from neglect of this order of human inquiry and faith.

2. The assurance of election should evoke gratitude and humility. Salvation is all of grace and that this grace takes its origin from the sovereign good pleasure of God the Father in the counsel of His will from eternal ages should fill the believer with adoring amazement that he should have been chosen in love for life everlasting. Election constrains the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Eph 1:6, 12, 14) and to make it the occasion for presumption or pride is to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. “The thought of election should drive ransomed sinners to incessant doxologies and thanksgivings, as it does Paul” (J. I. Packer, “Election,” NBD [1962], p. 360). The fruit of gratitude is not license but constant care to “prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2 ASV), to be “sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10; cf. Col 3:12).

3. The certainty of election imparts to the believer a sense of security. Bound up with election is the immutable purpose of God. In this resides the security of God’s people and nothing will separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 8:33-39). The praise of God’s grace is intensified the more believers rely upon the faithfulness and power of God. His counsel stands fast and is the guarantee that the final issue will correspond with the love that election reveals.

IV. Election to office

In the NT, as in the Old, there is election to specialized functions. It is to be distinguished from election to salvation in two respects.

The latter is specifically the action of God the Father, as has been noted repeatedly. With the exception of Acts 15:7, where Peter, by implication, is represented as chosen to bring the word of the Gospel to the Gentiles, the election to special office appears as that exercised by Christ (Luke 16:13; John 6:70; 15:16, 19; Acts 9:15). Election to office is not necessarily concomitant with election to salvation. The choice of Judas Iscariot shows this. Judas’ loss points up the necessity of observing the distinction because his loss is not to be construed as defeat of the election of grace or as an exception to the security it entails. The case of Judas likewise warns us that endowments for office are not of themselves the guarantee of salvation. The words of our Lord also advise us (John 17:12; 18:9) that the example of Judas is not the rule in the institution of Christ. The rule is what we find in John 15:16, 19 that those chosen to office are not of the world and bear the fruit that abides (cf. also John 17:16).

V. Elect angels

The angels that kept their first estate (cf. Jude 6) are called the elect angels (1 Tim 5:21). Election in their case differs from election as it pertains to men. These angels never sinned and so their election was not to salvation or redemption but to preservation and confirmation. Although they perform manifold functions in connection with the salvation of men, their election was not in Christ nor were they predestinated to the unsurpassable glory designed for the elect of mankind (cf. Rom 8:29; Heb 2:5, 10-16). But the services they perform for the heirs of salvation (Heb 1:14) are bound up with the confirmation they enjoy by reason of election. The elect of mankind in deriving untold blessing from the ministry of angels should know that this ministry the angels perform in gratitude to God for the election of which they are partakers.

See also Foreknow, Foreknowledge.

Bibliography J. Calvin, Institutes, III, xxi-xxiv; J. Zanchius, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination (E. T. 1930); A. Booth, The Reign of Grace (1949), 53-97; H. H. Rowley, The Biblical Doctrine of Election (1950); B. B. Warfield, “Predestination” in Biblical and Theological Studies (1952), 270-333; G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election (1960); J. I. Packer, “Election” in NBD (1962).