The Glorious Doctrine of Election

by Lauren Dyck

The apostle Peter addresses his audience in his first epistle as “elect exiles… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:1-2) We come here to an oft contested and much despised word for many in the Christian church, yet a word that finds its very basis in the sovereignty of God as revealed clearly in the Word of God. This word, ‘elect’- or ‘chosen’ – means to be chosen out, selected; recipient of special privilege, and in our current context, chosen as inheritors of God’s promises.

John MacArthur notes that bible teacher and scholar, A.W. Pink, once began a sermon by saying this, “I am going to speak tonight on one of the most hated doctrines of the Bible, namely that of God’s sovereign election.” Pink goes on a little later and says, “God’s sovereign election is the truth most loathed and reviled by the majority of those claiming to be believers. Let it be plainly announced that salvation originated not in the will of man, but in the will of God, that were it not so, none would or could be saved. For, as the result of the fall, man has lost all desire and will unto that which is good, and that even the elect themselves have to be made willing.” This coincides well with our Lord’s own words in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

It is hard for man to acknowledge that our salvation is solely an act of God. We want so desperately, in our fallenness, to receive some credit.

We struggle with this doctrine because, by our human standard, it seems unfair. Is God unfair? No, God is never measured by human standard, especially by our human standard of fairness which is marked by our sinfulness. We should not be so foolish as to assume that we, as fallen, sinful, creatures have a higher standard of fairness than our perfectly Holy, righteous creator!

The apostle Paul addresses this mindset in his letter to the Romans, when in one of his most controversial teachings (chapters 9-11). He begins by challenging our human thinking on the “fairness” or “injustice” of God in 9:13-23,

13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[a] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

and sums up this section in chapter 11:33-36,

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

God’s fairness is not measured by our ability to comprehend His ways but based on His character as revealed in His Word. We dare not hold God to our standard, but God measures us against His perfect standard.

The idea of being ‘elect’ or ‘chosen’ is not foreign to the student of God’s Word. It is the same term used multiple times for Israel as seen here:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has CHOSEN you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Deut. 7:6. God was not sitting in heaven hoping that some nation, somewhere, will believe me and choose me, no, He is saying that out of all the people on the earth,

He chose them as clarified in Deut. 14:2, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

This teaching fills the old testament, God chose a people for himself, even though they rebelled and turned from His ways time and time again, God remained faithful on the basis of His choice and His promises to them.

But you may ask, is this true of the church also, or does this refer only to Israel? First, let’s make sure we don’t change the meaning of the word ‘elect’ or ‘chosen’ and strive to be consistent in its application and look at a few new testament passages addressing the church, the believers.

Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” We are chosen to be His beloved to be holy. He set His love on us.

2 Timothy 2:10, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul is striving in his ministry to bring the gospel to the elect and makes this point all the more clear in chapter 1 and verse 1 of Titus, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of truth,” Paul’s mission statement is to bring the gospel to God’s elect, those whom God has set his affections on in eternity past.

So, when Peter is writing to the ‘elect’, he is writing to believers. ‘Elect’ or ‘chosen’ is synonymous with Christian, with being saved.

I know and understand that this doctrine can be hard to grasp or create turmoil within our minds, but rather than go on and look at the many more passages, I just want to encourage you to understand the comfort it would have brought to the suffering believers that Peter is addressing, to know that they were chosen of God and recipients of His eternal promises no matter their temporal situation.

As MacArthur notes in his sermon on the same text, “The reason God gave us the doctrine of election was to tell us two things. One, he’s in charge. Two, he is so gracious to those of us who could never have earned it that we ought to spend our eternity praising his glorious name. The doctrine of election is not given to us to confuse us. It is given to us to devastate our pride and to elicit our praise.”

With that, let’s dig into the doctrine of election a little deeper.

Its basis: the foreknowledge of God

We are “elect… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” We have established our election, now let’s look at the basis, or origin, of this election. According to Peter’s introduction, our election is based on and finds its origin in the “foreknowledge of God.”

Let’s clarify, God’s foreknowledge does not speak of Him looking through the tunnel of time to see what decisions we make in order for Him to react to us. This, in fact, would make us sovereign as we are then the determinate cause of all God’s actions, even before we existed. Surely you can see the immense trouble this kind of theology creates, for it makes God our puppet, even in our state of non-existence.

So what is meant by the term ‘foreknowledge’ (prognosis). It means previous determination, purpose (qualified in our text as the foreknowledge of God the Father) of God. This noun relates not just to divine foreknowledge, but also to divine decision, and is best understood as further defining the basis of the elect status of the recipients. It speaks not of an awareness of what is going to happen, but it clearly means a predetermined relationship in the knowledge of God.

Foreknowledge means that God planned before, not that God observed before, and in this way, God has predetermined our salvation in His foreknowledge.

According to Peter, we owe our full identity as ‘elect exiles’ to the mysterious plan of God, by which we are separated for salvation, that we may not perish. Gods foreknowledge is then the first cause of salvation, He knew before the world was created who would make up the elect.

In this way, our salvation is then set on the wisdom and knowledge of God revealed in His grace, and not by our works or merits (Eph. 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”)

God’s election according to His foreknowledge destroys our pride in thinking that we somehow deserve his favor based on our merit, for His foreknowledge excludes every ounce worthiness on the part of man. Our election is found in the unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor of God.

Its effecting: the sanctifying work of the Spirit

In our election, Peter attributes the cause to God’s grace in His foreknowledge, he would have us know it, as Calvin says, “by the effects, for there is nothing more dangerous or more preposterous than to overlook our calling and to seek for the certainty of our election in the hidden prescience of God, which is the deepest labyrinth. Therefore to obviate this danger, Peter supplies the best correction; for though in the first place he would have us to consider the counsel of God, the cause of which is alone in himself; yet he invites us to notice the effect, by which he sets forth and bears witness to our election. That effect is the sanctification of the Spirit, even effectual calling, when faith is added to the outward preaching of the gospel, which faith is begotten by the inward operation of the Spirit.”

The Spirit carries out the role of consecration or setting apart, which is the means by which election is actualized. Election, the plan of God, becomes reality in our life by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

This sanctifying work (hagiasmos) is from the same word from which we get holy, and means to be separate, set apart, consecrated, and we see here that it is the Holy Spirit that produces this sanctification. It is the Spirit that comes along and sets you apart, makes you holy, and consecrates you to God through the work of salvation. The Christian life begins by the Spirit, and continues by the Spirit working through us (Rom. 8:11, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”)

The Holy Spirit does the marvelous work of setting you apart and producing the fruit of the Spirit in your life as a believer.

Its purpose: obedience

The source of our election is the predeterminate foreknowledge of God. It was, as MacArthur says, “in His mind, He knew it into reality, He knew it into existence.”

What then is the purpose of our election? It is quite simple, “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood!”

Eph 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Salvation is, by definition, a life of obedience. We have been set apart by the Holy Spirit that we may obey Christ, and though we do so imperfectly, we strive towards this obedience in a desire to imitate Him and to pattern our lives, thoughts, actions, after His example set forth in the Word.

Titus 1:11-13 teaches us that “The grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” The apostle John makes this point in 1 John 2:3, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” We are called to obey Jesus Christ, and our love for Him is evidenced in our keeping His commandments. This is the purpose of our election, to train us into a life of obedience to Jesus Christ, and for “sprinkling with His blood.”

This phrase, “sprinkling with His blood”, is a metaphor drawn from the covenant ratification in Exodus 24, where, following a pledge of obedience, the people were sprinkled with sacrificial blood. This event is referenced twice in the book of Hebrews (9:19 and 12:24),

19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,

24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The sprinkling of blood on the alter is seen as the sacrifice of Christ on the cross where Christ offered His blood for the sake of man, satisfying God as He dies as a perfect atonement for sin, and brings men into a covenant of obedience sealed in His blood.

So, in reality, we see this glorious doctrine of election as God’s way of humbling us and glorifying Himself by revealing His compassion, grace, and kindness to a fallen, sinful creation. He has called us to a life of obedience to Christ as a result if this gracious gift of salvation.

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