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The Essential: Election

This is the tenth installment in an occasional series on theological terms. See previous posts on the terms theology, Trinity, creation, man, Fall, common grace, sin, righteousness, faith, and pride.

Election is the term the Bible uses to refer to God’s act of choosing people to salvation. Paul unpacks this meaning most clearly in Romans 9:10-13, where he sees God announcing and then carrying out his plans in the lives of Jacob and Esau. He writes,

When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Election is a demonstration of the sovereign love of God in knowing, choosing, saving, and safeguarding particular people to be members of his family forever, apart from any merit or credentials on the part of those chosen (see Romans 8:29-30, where “predestination” is used as a synonym for election). People who are loved and chosen by God in this way, like Jacob was, are fittingly called “the elect” (cf. Matthew 24:22; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).

There is a great deal to be said about what election means and what it does not mean, and church history has certainly seen more than its fair share of writing and interpretation on this matter. The main purpose and effect of the doctrine is not to confuse or to divide, but to generate worship. Wayne Grudem captures this well in his Systematic Theology:

The doctrine of election tells us that I am a Christian simply because God in eternity past decided to set his love on me. But why did he decide to set his love on me? Not for anything good in me, but simply because he decided to love me. There is no more ultimate reason than that.

It humbles us before God to think in this way. It makes us realize that we have no claim on God’s grace whatsoever. Our salvation is totally due to grace alone. Our only appropriate response is to give God eternal praise. (687)