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The Elect of God

Chosen!

by Dennis Pollock

The concept of election is rarely preached in most of the more popular evangelical churches these days. Indeed it would be fair to say that of most Christians who have been converted in the last couple of decades, a significant number, if not the majority, would have little idea just what election entails, or would be able to articulate the two historically predominant views of this doctrine. This might seem strange to those who read the Bible regularly and recognize that this concept is quite prominent in the New Testament Scriptures. But, of course, most Christians are not regular Bible readers and their knowledge of Christian doctrine is pretty much limited to what they hear coming from the pulpits of their churches and occasional Christian television programs they may watch.

In past generations churches and even entire denominations have split asunder over the proper understanding of what it means to be chosen by God. Sadly, in today’s church, few Christians have enough knowledge or Biblical insight to even argue about the matter. Not that I would want Christians arguing, but it might be nice if we at least understood the issues involved,

In this short devotional study we are certainly not going to settle questions with which theologians have wrestled over the centuries, but we will attempt to get a handle on what the Bible means when it refers to Christians as the elect of God, and why this is a matter for our consideration and reflection.

Christians are Elect

Before beginning, we need to establish one very fundamental truth: any doctrine that is found in the Bible is worthy of consideration. Some people like to divide Biblical truth into two categories: practical/useful vs. impractical/not-worth-our-time. Some lump the prophetic books into the “not-worth-our-time” category. Some lump the Book of Revelation in that category. Some throw the entire Old Testament into the impractical / not-worth-considering, thinking about, talking about, or ever studying category. And many believe that any discussion of election, predestination, or the concept of being chosen by God should be summarily dismissed by practical, sincere, evangelical Christians who are so busy praying, winning souls, and working in the church that they have no time to give thought to such philosophical, esoteric concepts.

Anyone with the slightest respect for God’s word can see a major problem with this. If we truly believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and breathed into the minds and hearts of men by the Holy Spirit, we must necessarily conclude that there are no extraneous, superfluous, impractical teachings or concepts to be found in the Bible. Every doctrine, every book, every concept, every thought, every passage, every adjective, every story, every illustration, every rebuke, every encouragement, and everything else we find between the “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” and “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” must be of practical value to men and women. And that includes the concept of election.

With that said, let’s look at some of the Biblical passages relevant to this topic. It is significant that Jesus Himself was not afraid to use the term “elect.” As He spoke about the last days, He declared: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). The simple definition of elect is found in the word chosen. God’s elect are people God has chosen, fore-ordained if you will, to be His. In saying that these charlatans would deceive the elect, it seems a contradiction in terms. How can God’s chosen ones be led astray? But notice that Jesus says “if possible” inferring that it really would not be possible.

From the Foundation…

When Jesus taught about prayer, He used the idea of a woman continually badgering a judge to give her a judgment in her favor, and then asked, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” (Luke 18:7). According to Jesus, God has “His own elect,” a people who have been selected to be His, and this didn’t just happen yesterday! Paul writes, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4,5).

Precisely what this means and how far we should push it is certainly up for discussion and debate, but the reality of the election of God is beyond dispute. One thing is for sure: when you were born again, when the Holy Spirit so touched your heart that you found yourself surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus and putting your faith in Him as your Savior, God was not in the least bit surprised! He was no doubt pleased, but He was not surprised. Just as the father of the prodigal son saw his son returning home from a long distance, so God the Father has seen you slowly making your way to Christ from afar, in fact from eternity. What God said to Jeremiah could just as easily be applied to every born-again Christian: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you…” (Jeremiah 1:5). When Jeremiah was born, God had seen that day coming a long way off. And when the young man surrendered to the prophetic calling and began to exhort his fellow Israelites to turn back to God, he was simply following a plan and a destiny that had been mapped out before Adam and Eve first walked in the Garden of Eden. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of all that has ever been, knows what we call the future with the exact same certainty as He knows what we refer to as the past. It is all one with Him.

RepentanceNot only does He know the future; He knows down to the very last man, woman, and child who will come to Christ and will make up His people with whom He will live throughout eternity. Peter begins his first letter to the believers with these words: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1,2). Foreknowledge is advance knowledge – it is like knowing the final score of the baseball game before the first pitch is ever thrown, like having perfect knowledge of how many years you will have together as husband and wife before you ever say “I do” to the preacher at your wedding. The elect don’t get to be the elect once they give their lives to Jesus. They are the elect while still in their sins. While they are drinking, carousing, lying, stealing, and cursing they are still the elect. God, who knows the end from the beginning, sees them as His chosen ones, “predestined to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” Of course they will need to repent and receive Jesus as Savior, but God knows that they will, just as surely as He knows that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that winter will always give way to spring.

A Strange and Perplexing Chapter

Perhaps nowhere in the Bible is the concept of election pushed any harder than in the ninth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. In this chapter Paul takes it to such lengths that it is almost painful for many people to get through it. He begins with sharing how sad he is that the Israelites are by and large rejecting the gospel. Then he goes back to the day of the patriarchs, emphasizing God’s choosing Jacob over Esau, acknowledging that this choice was made when these boys were not yet born. He tells us that this was done “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls” (Romans 9:11). Then for good measure he brings up Moses and Pharaoh, declaring that Moses was pre-ordained to serve God as Israel’s liberator, and that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God, for God’s own purposes. Paul quotes God’s words to Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Paul sums up this mystery with the words: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Romans 9:18).

After such heavy and perplexing theology, Paul anticipates the objections many will have over this, and writes:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Romans 9:19-21)

Trying to figure this out, and to balance it with Paul’s declaration to Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and Peter’s statement that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” is enough to keep us in a state of bewilderment all of our days. No wonder wise and good men and women have debated and disagreed over these things throughout the history of the church!

We Don’t Need All the Answers

It is not necessary that we arrive at a final and decisive conclusion on all these things, hammer out our theology carefully, and possess every answer to every question anyone could ever ask about election and predestination. It is enough for us to recognize that these things do exist and that in some mysterious way God holds even the decisions and destinies of men and women wrapped in His own sovereign foreknowledge and choice. Someone has said that when we enter the kingdom of God we see at the front gate the words, “Whosoever wills, let him drink freely of the water of life,” and that once we have entered and look back at those gates we see the words, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.”

The doctrine of election is really a message primarily for the church. The evangelist does not go around preaching, “Come to Jesus – if you think you might be one of the elect.” No, he announces, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” He trumpets the words of Jesus, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” The evangelist freely offers the salvation of Jesus to one and all. But once we are Christians, we start reading the Bible and we come across passages such as the one in the ninth chapter of Romans, and we shake our heads at the majesty and glory and omniscience and foreknowledge of the great God under whose wings we have placed our lives.

We recognize that we didn’t just stumble across Jesus in some random, accidental fashion. The great I AM, who knew us before we were born, sovereignly wooed us and drew us to Himself, orchestrating many events, people, and circumstances in complex and perfect arrangement, that we might ultimately arrive at that place where we said, “Lord Jesus, I put my trust in you.” Truly our God is an awesome God!

For the Sake of the Elect

It is for the purpose of the elect that we pursue Christ’s calling once we are His. Paul writes, “Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10). Why do we fast and pray and memorize Scripture and diligently pursue the opportunity to minister to and bless others? Why do we go to classes on soul-winning, and share our testimony with others, stammering and sometimes in a tremendous state of trepidation? Why do we pray over and over for God to use us and touch people through us? It is for the sake of the elect – those chosen ones whom God has seen coming to Christ from the foundation of the world.

I know this may be a little frustrating for some of you. You were hoping I would definitively resolve the issue and, of course, I didn’t. You may even wonder, why bring this up at all, if you’re still going to leave us with questions. As far as me not solving the issue, that was deliberate, and I don’t really see that as problematic. I’m not at all sure that Paul solved this issue. Nor that the Bible solves it. The Bible gives us enough material to see foreknowledge as a part of the concept, but we also have those passages which seem to take things a bit further, such as the statement that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him.

It seems to me that even though it might be more satisfying to draw a definite solution to all this, it is still healthy to bring up the subject, even without the solution. After all, that is pretty much what we find in the Scriptures. The concept is hinted at, brought up here and there, and there are passages which seem to strongly suggest both sides of the coin. In the end most of us are left a bit confused and not so sure about it all. (I am a little skeptical of those who are 100 percent certain about their particular position!)

What we take away from this, even without a solution, is that God is a whole lot bigger, wiser, and more in control than most of us give Him credit for. And that humbling realization is a very healthy thing.

Yes, these things are puzzling and present some difficulties for most of us. But the Scriptures say what they say and there is no getting around it. Whether through foreknowledge or simple decree, or some middle ground of which we have never even guessed, the election of God is a reality. There is one thing we can say for sure: “God is not willing that any should perish.” And that is a very comforting thought.

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