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ELECTION — the gracious and free act of God by which He calls those who become part of His kingdom and special beneficiaries of His love and blessings. The Bible describes the concept of election in three distinct ways. Election sometimes refers to the choice of Israel and the church as a people for special service and privileges. Election may also refer to the choice of a specific individual to some office or to perform some special service. Still other passages of the Bible refer to the election of individuals to be children of God and heirs of eternal life.
Throughout the history of redemption, election has characterized God’s saving activity. He chose and called Abraham from Ur to Canaan, making an everlasting covenant with him and his offspring (Gen. 11:31–12:7; Neh. 9:7; Is. 41:8). God also called Moses to lead His people out of bondage (Ex. 2:24–3:10; Deut. 6:21–23; Ps. 105). He chose Israel from among the nations of the world to be His special covenant people (Deut. 4:37; 7:6–7; Is. 44:1–2).
Election to salvation takes place “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4; 2:10) as a part of God’s purpose for the human race. As part of His eternal plan, God allows us to use our freedom to rebel against Him. Thus it is gracious of God to save those who find salvation through Jesus Christ. It is not unjust of Him not to save everyone, since no one deserves to be saved (Matt. 20:14; Rom. 1:18; 9:15). Election is gracious; it is also unconditional and unmerited (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:11; 1 Pet. 1:2). It is an expression of the eternal, sovereign will of God who cannot change (Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 2:13). Therefore the salvation of the elect is certain (Rom. 8:28, 33).
Election is a necessary condition for salvation; faith is the sufficient condition. The elect inevitably believe, but they do not believe against their will. They have a God-given desire and ability to trust in Christ for salvation (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 1:29; 2:13). The elect choose God because He effectively calls them through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ; they choose Him because He first chose and called them to Himself (Rom. 8:28). That initiating love of God is reflected in Jesus’ statement, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).
A careful study of the Bible’s doctrine of man cures any romantic notion of a human will that is free to choose for or against God. Those who are slaves to sin and its power (Rom. 6:6) neither understand nor seek after God in and of themselves (Rom. 3:11; John 14:17; 1 Cor. 2:14). Outside of Christ, people are spiritually dead rebels who neither desire to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ nor are able to. Apart from God’s gracious, free, eternal, and sovereign choice of sinners to become His children, none would be saved but would remain forever under His wrath (Rom. 1:18).
Election is not to be a source of complacency (2 Pet. 1:12) or presumption (Rom. 11:19–22) on the part of Christians. They are to make their calling and election certain by growing in godliness (2 Pet. 1:2–11) as they respond with gratitude to God’s electing love (Col. 3:12–17).
God has chosen Christians to bear the image and glory of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 2:14). They have been elected to be holy in conduct, like Christ (Eph. 1:4). Like Him, they are also to be glorified in their whole being in the life to come (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21). The ultimate goal of our election is that we might bring praise and glory to God (Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:33; 2 Thess. 2:13).
Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary. Rev. ed. of: Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.; Includes index. Nashville: T. Nelson.
election Divine choice determining salvation. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin all held a doctrine of unconditional election, in which the divine choice is a function of God’s sovereignty in no way dependent on the person chosen or not chosen. Arminius and Wesley held that election was conditional upon the individual’s faith. In New Testament theology, believers are chosen in Christ and all those who believe in him are saved. But even here there is an element of divine foreknowledge determining those who will believe in him and thus become candidates for salvation. The six main features of election are:
1. Election is a sovereign, eternal decree of God.
2. The human race is fallen, and election is God’s gracious rescue plan.
3. Election is in Christ and through Christ.
4. Election involves both the elect’s salvation and the means to that end. The means include faith and sanctification.
5. Election is individual and personal.
6. The ultimate goal of election is the glory of God.
Kurian, G. T. (2001). Nelson's new Christian dictionary : The authoritative resource on the Christian world. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs.
This is not mine but might shed some light on this discussion.
Your Election By God
Our election by God is generally thought of in reference to salvation. But either our concept of election is too narrow, or our concept of salvation is. Our election by God has implications which go far beyond the gift of forgiveness—as great as that is. Our election has consequences which go beyond a point in time when we came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It relates to our entire life and walk in the Spirit, and to our growth in the truth.
Chosen for Salvation
The key verse for studying this topic in the Thessalonian epistles is 2 Thessalonians 2:13:
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”
This verse must be carefully studied to ensure that we understand what Paul is saying. Paul is obviously saying that we are chosen for salvation, but we need to determine how the ideas of “salvation,” “sanctification,” “by the Spirit,” “belief,” and “in the truth” all relate to one another.
What does the phrase “by the Spirit” describe?
What does the phrase “in the truth” describe?
How do the two phrases above relate to the root idea of “salvation”?
What are we saved through?
The manner in which I formerly understood this verse was that God chose us for salvation through sanctification, and He chose us through the Spirit and because of our belief in the truth. Another way one could understand the relationship of these ideas would be that God chose us for salvation, which comes through sanctification and which comes through the Spirit. However, both of these understandings are wrong.
This verse tells us that God chose us for salvation. Salvation comes, or is affected in our lives, in two ways: first, through sanctification by the Spirit, second, by belief in the truth. Having now understood the relationship between these terms, let us look more closely at the meanings of the terms.
Salvation, sotera: Compare “soteriology.” Deliverance, preservation, soundness, prosperity, happiness, rescue, general well-being. The word is used both in a material, temporal sense and in a spiritual, eternal sense. The New Testament especially uses the word for spiritual well-being. Salvation is a present possession (Luke 1:77; 2 Cor. 1:6; 7:10) with a fuller realization in the future (Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8, 9).1
Here we see that salvation is far broader than forgiveness. The forgiveness of our sin is the initiation of salvation, but it is only the beginning of the blessings of salvation. Salvation includes the ongoing working of wholeness in one’s spirit, soul, and body. As such, it is a continuing process as well as a completed work. The completed portion of the work is our standing in Christ: we are totally forgiven and justified in Him. The process is the work of the Spirit making us more like Christ.
This process is sometimes called sanctification, yet that usage is only partially correct. Let us examine the verb form, “sanctified,” to get a grasp on this word.
Sanctified, hagiadzo: Compare “hagiography” and “Hagiographa.” To hallow, set apart, dedicate, consecrate, separate, sanctify, make holy. Hagiadzo as a state of holiness is opposite of koinon, common or unclean. In the Old Testament things, places, and ceremonies were named hagiadzo. In the New Testament the word describes a manifestation of life produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit.2
In the New Testament there are passages which speak of our sanctification as an accomplished fact (1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 10:10). There are other passages which speak of a process of sanctification (John 17:17–19; 2 Tim. 2:21). So we see that sanctification, like salvation, is a process which is accomplished in one sense, yet it is also ongoing and not yet completely realized.
This ongoing process is a work of the Spirit in one’s life, thus we see that the entire Trinity is involved in the work of our salvation. The Father has chosen us. The work of Jesus Christ is the means of salvation, and the ongoing process of sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our election by God means that one of the great works of God is going on in us!
The Scripture tells us of other works wherein the Trinity is involved, and these works are always great works in God’s plan. In creation we see the work of the Trinity as God spoke and brought creation into existence by the power of the Word. The Spirit of God brooded over the waters (Gen. 1:1, 2; John 1:1–3; Col. 1:16). In the Incarnation the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Highest overshadowed her as Christ was incarnated within her (Luke 1:35).
Here in Thessalonians the Trinity is again at work, and you are that work! You are a new creation in Christ Jesus. Jesus has come into you, and He is growing within you. And this hoIy work which is ongoing in your life is not your work; it is not by your effort, and it is not because you did anything to deserve it. It is because God chose YOU!
This is why the foundation of election by God is the basis for all the others. It is because we have confidence in God and His work that we can look forward in hope to the completion of His work at the day of Jesus Christ. Because God has chosen us we have a reason to work in faith and love: we know His work will be accomplished, so we know that our work also has a purpose. In fact, this element of our working together with God is shown in the final statement Paul makes in 2 Thessalonians 2:13: We are chosen for salvation through belief in the truth.
There are two things we must note about our belief in the truth. First, this statement in verse 13 needs to be understood as a direct contrast to those “who did not believe the truth” in verse 12. Those who do not believe the truth are condemned, while we who believe the truth experience salvation. Second, lest we think our election is our choice, we must recall that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
The words translated “belief” in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and “faith” in Ephesians 2:8 are the same word. So both of these verses are speaking of our salvation by means of believing (or faith in) the gospel. Yet both of these verses also make it clear that the source of salvation lies wholly in God. We are saved by His grace, and we are saved by faith which is His gift. In this study we cannot delve into the many questions regarding the roles of God and the believer in choosing to be saved. But we must see that this text is emphasizing God’s side of the work because God’s work forms the foundation for all that we do.
Cooperation with God
Having established these key ideas in Paul’s discussion of election by God, we may now see what else he tells the Thessalonians about election. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13–17.
To what did God call the Thessalonians (verse 14)? For what purpose was this call made?
What are the Thessalonians commanded to do?
To what epistle does verse 15 refer?
What is the work of Christ in verses 16 and 17?
How do verses 16 and 17 relate to what Paul said earlier?
God chose and called the Thessalonians unto salvation. And as we have already seen, this salvation begins with redemption, but goes far beyond that into every area of our lives. This salvation makes demands upon us as well. This foundation of election calls for us to establish those other foundations we have been discussing. As Paul says in verse 15, our stand in the truth is founded on the call of God.
In verses 16 and 17 we again see Paul turning to consider the action initiated by God. It is God who has given us consolation and hope, and it is Christ who establishes us. In our consideration of this topic of election we see Paul constantly turning back and forth between God’s activity and our activity. This is because, with this concept of election, we are broaching a great mystery which has been the cause of years of theological debate: to what extent do we choose God and to what extent does He choose us? The Bible teaches that both choices are involved, but how they relate or interact is beyond the wisdom of man to discern.
In this study we have focused on the fact of God’s election and what that means for us rather than dwelling on the questions which surround the topic. And we see that we are chosen for salvation, yet salvation is a process as well as an event. In this process we cooperate with God’s work. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:1–8.
What are we called in this passage?
How did we achieve that title?
In light of these facts, how should we act?
What specific contrasts in behavior does Paul appeal to?
It is because we are chosen that we have come into the light and are now sons of the light. Our own works did not achieve that position for us; it was God’s call which brought us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). As sons of the light, we are called to a different lifestyle. Rather than slothfulness and drunkenness, we are called to be watchful and sober. This all belongs to our cooperation with God, and it is all for a purpose.
Appointed to Salvation—Saved from Wrath
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:8–11.
Why do we behave as sons of the light?
To what does the wrath of God refer?
What is the basis of our salvation?
How are we to treat one another? Why?
On the face of it, behaving as children of the light in order to avoid the wrath of God may seem an unworthy response to God’s love. However, we need to see that verse 9 is better seen as a purpose than a result. God does not keep us out of His wrath because we behave correctly—that is slipping back into the concept of salvation by works. Rather, God has appointed us to salvation and not to wrath; therefore, we respond in love and gratitude.
But even that modification does not give us the full picture. We also need to keep going back to the broader concept of salvation which we discussed earlier. This salvation is grounded in Christ’s work as verse 10 says. But the ongoing process of salvation calls us and requires us to live like children of the day. So we see that we behave as we do, not to avoid wrath, or even in gratitude for salvation. But we behave as we do because we are children of the light—we are children of the Father of lights. His light and His salvation are working in us, and if it is working in us, it will eventually work its way out and be manifest in our lives.
Our election by God needs to be understood against the background of a broad view of all that salvation means. How has your perspective on salvation been expanded by this study?
In addition to seeing a broader view of salvation, we have also seen that the Trinity is working in each of us to accomplish that salvation. With this in mind, comment on Philippians 1:6.
Our election by God is a great truth. Elements of it may be shrouded in mystery, but what has been revealed causes us to glory in our salvation and say with Paul,
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:33–36).
1 Spirit-Filled Life Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), 1553, “Word Wealth: Luke 19:9, salvation.”
2 Ibid., 1594, “Word Wealth: John 10:36, sanctified.”
Hayford, J. W., & Hayford, J. W. I. (1997, c1996). Fearless Faith : Standing firm in the Freedom and Hope: A study of Galatians, 1&2 Thessalonians. Spirit-Filled Life Bible Discovery Guides. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Ephesians 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (KJV)
3. Blessed. This doxology is composed of three stanzas, each of which closes with a similar refrain (vss. 6, 12, 14). This word blessed is always used of God in the New Testament, and it means praised or eulogized. Who hath blessed us. God is the great giver, and the blessings are already ours. With all spiritual blessings. With every kind of spiritual blessing. They are spiritual in nature as opposed to temporal and material, and they are the products of the Holy Spirit. In heavenly places. In the realm and sphere of heavenly things as contrasted with earthly things. The adjective expresses quality rather than place. This expression is found several times in this epistle and refers to that exalted sphere of activities to which the believer has been lifted in Christ. In Christ. In vital union with Him. Note how often these words are found in this epistle. In Christ is the key to this wonderful passage. Since the saints are in Him, nothing is too good or too great for God to bestow upon them.
4. He hath chosen us. This word (Gr eklegomai) means to pick out, to choose. This is a definite statement of God’s elective grace concerning believers in Christ. In him. In union with Christ. Apart from Christ, there would have been no election and no salvation. God always deals with man in Christ, who is the one and only Mediator between God and men (I Tim 2:5). Paul traces man’s salvation back to the plan of God’s will. Before the foundation of the world. Before the projection of the world order. God’s choice was eternal; His plan is timeless. The fall of man was no surprise to God, and redemption was no afterthought. God provided for our salvation before one star glittered in infinite expanse. We must be careful not to draw false conclusions from this sublime truth. God is not stating a fatalistic doctrine in which He arbitrarily elects some to heaven and consigns all others to hell. There is no scriptural doctrine of election to damnation. God’s election provides for the means as well as the ends. God’s infallible Word plainly states, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13). Man either receives or disbelieves God’s provisions in Christ. “So far as the human race is concerned, every man may not only accept Christ as Saviour but is urged and invited to do so. The ground of this invitation is the work of the incarnate Son … Divine foreordination and human freedom are humanly irreconcilable, but like two parallel lines that meet in infinity, they have their solution in God” (Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Handbook, pp. 672–674). “To explain an apparent difficulty by denying one or the other of these tenets is to explain away the truth” (W. Curtis Vaughn, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 13). That we should be holy and without blame before him in love. This is the purpose of God’s election. The real purpose of God’s elective grace is not “pie in the sky by and by,” but has to do with a separated life here and now (cf. Rom 8:29). Holiness is the positive side of a Christlike life (Heb 12:14), separated from all evil courses and connections. Blamelessness in character is the negative side of the Christlike life: not sinless, but stainless, without blemish and without defect. God’s expectation is for His saints to live on a high spiritual plane.
5. Having predestinated us. Having decided beforehand by marking off the boundaries of His possession in His saints. Unto the adoption of children. With a view to our being placed as adult sons (Gal 4:5; Rom 8:15; 9:4). The purpose of His predestination was that we should experience sonship. By Jesus Christ to himself. By means of Christ’s mediation and for His very own to serve Him and glorify Him. According to the good pleasure of his will. It was right for Him to do this.
KJV Bible commentary. 1997, c1994 (2405). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:3-5) KJV
1:3 Following his brief salutation, the apostle lifts his voice in a magnificent hymn of praise, soaring into some of the sublimest heights of NT worship. Here we have the overflow of a heart that adores God for the blessings of grace. In these verses (3–14) Paul traces God’s activity in salvation from eternity past through time and on into eternity future. And this necessarily involves a discussion of the mystery of God’s will—believing Jews and Gentiles as co-sharers of the glorious inheritance.
He begins by calling on all who know God to bless Him, that is, to bring joy to His heart by praise and worshiping love. The blessed One is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. At certain times Jesus addressed God as God (Matt. 27:46). At other times He spoke of Him as Father (John 10:30). The blessed One is also the Blesser. We bless Him by praising Him. He blesses us and makes us glad by showering us with the riches of His grace.
He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Here is a pyramid of grace:
every spiritual blessing
every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
Notice first how unstinted are His heart and hand—every spiritual blessing. Notice, too, that these are spiritual blessings. The simplest way to explain this is to contrast them with the blessings of Israel under the law. In the OT, a faithful, obedient Jew was rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops, and protection from his enemies (Deut. 28:2–8). The blessings of Christianity, in contrast, are spiritual, that is, they deal with treasures that are nonmaterial, invisible, and imperishable. It is true that the OT saints also enjoyed some spiritual blessings, but as we shall s...
Our blessings are in the heavenly places, literally “in the heavenlies.” Instead of being material blessings in earthly places, they are spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. The expression, in the heavenly places, is used five times in Ephesians:
1:3 The sphere of our spiritual blessing
1:20 The scene of Christ’s present enthronement
2:6 The scene of our present enthronement in Christ
3:10 The locale from which angels witness God’s wisdom exhibited in the church
6:12 The region which is the source of our present conflict with evil spirits
When we put these passages together, we have a truly scriptural definition of the heavenly places. As Unger put it, they are “the realm of the believer’s position and experience as a result of his being united to Christ by the baptism of the Spirit.” All spiritual blessings are in Christ. It was He who procured them for us through His finished work at Calvary. Now they are available through Him. Everything that God has for the believer is in the Lord Jesus. In order to receive the blessings, we must be united to Christ by faith. The moment a man is in Christ, he becomes the possessor of them all. Chafer writes, “To be in Christ, which is the portion of all who are saved, is to partake of all that Christ has done, all that He is, and all that He ever will be.” 2
In Christ is one of the key expressions of Ephesians. There are two closely related lines of truth in the NT—the truth of the believer’s position and the truth of his practice.
First, the believer’s position. Everyone in the world is either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Those who are “in Adam” are in their sins and therefore condemned before God. There is nothing they can do in themselves to please God or gain His favor. They have no claim on God, and if they were to receive what they deserve, they would perish eternally.
When a person is converted, God no longer looks upon him as a condemned child of Adam. Rather He sees him as being in Christ, and He accepts him on that basis. It is important to see this. The believing sinner is not accepted because of what he is in himself, but because he is in Christ. When he is in Christ, he stands before God clothed in all the acceptability of Christ Himself. And he will enjoy God’s favor and acceptance as long as Christ does, namely, forever.
The believer’s position, then, is what he is in Christ. But there is another side to the picture—the believer’s practice. This is what he is in himself. His position is perfect, but his practice is imperfect. Now God’s will is that his practice should increasingly correspond to his position. It never will do so perfectly until he is in heaven. But the process of sanctification, growth, and increasing Christlikeness should be going on continually while he is here on earth.
Believers are perfect (Heb 10:14)
Believers should be perfect (Matt. 5:48)
Believers are dead to sin (Rom. 6:2)
Believers should reckon themselves dead to sin (Rom. 6:11)
Believers are a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9)
Believers should be holy (1 Pet. 1:15)
The first column deals with position, the second with practice.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians itself is divided into two halves that parallel this truth: (Chaps. 1–3): Our position—what we are in Christ; (Chaps. 4–6): Our practice—what we should be in ourselves. The first half has to do with doctrine, the second half with duty. In the first three chapters our position is often described by such phrases as “in Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in Him,” “in whom.” In the last three chapters the phrase, “in the Lord,” is often used to express the believer’s responsibility to Christ as Lord. Someone has well said that the first part of the letter pictures the believer in the heavenlies in Christ, whereas the last part views him in the kitchen.
Now we are ready to consider some of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places which are ours in Christ.
1:4 The first is what is commonly known as election. Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.
Notice first the positive fact of election in the words, He chose us. Then there is the positional aspect of the truth, in Him: it is in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus that all God’s purposes for His people are brought to pass. The time of God’s election is indicated by the expression, before the foundation of the world. And the purpose is that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. This purpose will not be completely realized until we are with Him in heaven (1 John 3:2), but the process should be going on continually in our lives down here.
Prayer: “Lord, make me holy now, since this is Your eventual purpose for me. Amen.”