Election is one of the most controversial topics in biblical studies. What’s at issue is not whether or not God elected some to be saved but what does election mean in the Bible? In this post I’m going to look at God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will, some popular views of election, and finally some misconceptions of the teaching.
Sovereignty of God vs. the free will of man
I’d like to begin by saying I’m not going to resolve the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. I don’t think its possible to do it without diminishing one of the two.
I would like to say that your view of these two concepts will effect your view of election. If you give a lot of weight to our free will then you will likely believe in foresight election. Which is the view that because God foresaw that you would have faith in Him he chose you to be saved.
On the other hand if you lend more weight to God’s sovereignty you will likely believe in pretemporal election. In this view God chose some individuals to be saved based on His own sovereign will.
By the very nature of the concepts it seems to me that God’s sovereignty will trump man’s free will any day. I think this because God knows everything and can do anything. On the other hand man is limited in every capacity.
Though I must admit when I first became a believer I gave more weight to my own free will. This was because no one forced me to believe in Jesus. I did it because all my friends were believing in Christ and they seemed super happy about it (I was in the first grade). Of course my reasons for continuing to follow him have matured over the years but you don’t need to have mature reasons initially to believe in him.
So, your view of election is going to be shaped by your knowledge and interpretation of the Bible and your own personal experiences. Now let’s take a look at the three most popular views of election (the following and much of this post comes from Charles C. Ryrie’s Basic Theology).
The 3 most popular views of election
In this view God foresaw that you would put your faith in Him. Based on that foresight He chose you to be saved.
I think when most people get saved they don’t know anything about election (I didn’t). But after reading the Bible there’s no denying that it’s there (see Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). So then the question becomes, “What does it mean that God elected me to be saved?” You must remember that to elect someone simply means to choose them. But since we don’t remember being chosen to be saved some come to believe that their election by God is based on the fact that they believed in Him and He foresaw before time began that they would.
I actually don’t hear about this view too often. Basically proponents of this view state that individuals where not elected, the Church was elected in Christ. And then when someone believes in Christ they are then placed into the Church (Universal not local) and are then considered part of the elect.
One of my problems with this view is that the Church is not some abstract concept. It is made up of people. So I don’t see how it can be elected and then individual people be placed into it. People are elected and then they in turn form the body of Church.
Individual, Pretemporal Election
Another problem I have with corporate election as well as foresight election is that they really seem to place the basis of a person’s election on their belief in God instead of God choosing them based on His will. It makes the whole teaching and concept of election unnecessary. Why would God need to choose me to be saved if both my salvation and His choosing me to be saved is based on my faith? In that case I wouldn’t need to be chosen by God I would only have to have faith. It makes election an unnecessary part of the order of salvation.
The simplest view, though still difficult to understand, is that God chose me to be saved based on His own sovereign will. It seems to me the other two views leave you with some kind of convoluted mess like the plot line to Terminator Genisys (or any other poorly plotted time traveling movie).
I wasn’t forced to put my faith in Christ. But on the other hand I never chose to be born where I was born, to the parents I was born to, and in the time I was born in. I never chose to have English as my first language (and sadly the only language I know fluently). We all have free will but it is limited to the options we are presented with.
While I do believe that the Holy Spirit plays a major role in conversion, just looking at the context I grew up in (Bible belt, Christian family, and private Christian school) faith in Christ seems like it was inevitable. I could have chosen not to believe but because of the way the options were presented (and the fact all my loved ones believed in Christ) having faith in Christ really seemed like the only viable option both emotionally and intellectually.
Some misconceptions of election
Salvation is not the result of election. Salvation is the result of belief in Christ. But because God elected an individual to be saved this means that He also called them. This call is effectual and irresistible. Because the call is irresistible those who receive this call will come to faith in Christ.
Because God elected some to be saved this does not equate to fatalism. Yes they will believe and be saved but how they live out their salvation is up to them. It must be remembered that while election isn’t optional following Christ faithfully is. We are still able to disobey once we become children of God.
All this also means that God is not responsible nor the author of sin. When we sin we are still the ones choosing to do so and therefore we stand culpable of our actions. But on the other hand God is the author of grace and salvation. So when we do receive grace and when we are saved this is all because of God’s good pleasure.
So what do you think of election? Do you hold to a different view than mine? I think that this subject is very tricky territory on an intellectual level because you’re trying to wrestle with the tension of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. To me it seems that the two must remain in tension otherwise you completely loose one or the other.
On the other hand it is emotionally sensitive territory. Election has to do with our standing with God and whether or not we are forgiven of our sins. However, each of the views I touched on above are all evangelical views and are recognized as such by the major proponents of each. Keeping that in mind I love a good friendly argument, so let me know your thoughts on election and what I’ve written in the comments section below.