Biblical Election Works Much Like a Political Election
The word election, as it pertains to salvation carries much controversy and confusion. Many are unsure of how it is used and what it means in the theology of salvation. But this confusion is not necessary.
The word election isn’t used in Scripture in some confusing way. It’s used in exactly the way we understand it today. Americans should be especially familiar with the meaning of the word as we have an election, seemingly, every year. And when someone is elected to public office, do we then say that he was elected by himself, of his own will? Do we say, “He was elected mayor because he really wanted to be mayor, and because he really wanted to be mayor and chose to be mayor we all decided to choose him as well”?
Of course we don’t say that, it’s silly. No one chooses his position first and then is elected by people because he first chose himself. The only way to secure a political office is for the people to choose a person first by an act of their own will. In any election it is not the person seeking election that does the electing, but the people that decide whom they will elect. We understand this concept very well.
Knowing that we understand the concept of election well makes it curious that so many Christians struggle with understanding the biblical concept. The biblical concept is not different than our American political election. The biblical concept of election maintains the plan definition of the word and means simply that God chose us before we chose Him through an act of His own sovereign will.
Horatius Bonar, a Scottish born author and pastor from the 19th century is helpful here:
“But let us take an instance from the Bible. What does God’s choosing of Abraham mean? He is a specimen of a sinner saved by grace; a sinner called out of the world by God. Well, how did this choosing take place? Did not God think of him long before he ever thought of God? Did not God choose him long before he ever thought of choosing God? Were there not thousands more in Chaldea that God might have chosen, and called, and saved, had he pleased? Yet he chose Abraham alone. And what does the Bible call this procedure on the part of God? It calls it election.”
The fact that God chose Abraham out of the many He could have chosen makes the concept of biblical election clear. This example also shows us that election is an act of God’s sovereign will, having nothing to do with the person being chosen (elected). Abraham didn’t petition God to be elected, God chose Abraham before Abraham chose God. But, and this is important, once God chose Abraham, Abraham then chose God. When God called Abraham to leave his country, Abraham obeyed. This is the perfect picture of election because God chose Abraham, then Abraham chose God, just as the American people choose their president and then the “president-elect” chooses the American people by accepting the position.
So we must understand election in the plan sense of the word because that is how it is used. God, by an act of His sovereign will, choses us. Then we, in obedience to His choosing (election) choose Him.
A common objection, or counter to this concept of biblical election is that God only chose Abraham because He knew (foreknew) that Abraham would choose Him. The argument is that God only chooses those whom He knows will choose Him. But this is not a biblical thought and does not keep with the proper understanding of election. Again, Horatius Bonar is helpful here:
“Does any one say, Oh, but God chose Abraham, because he foresaw that Abraham would choose him. I answer, the case is precisely the reverse of this. He chose Abraham just because he saw that otherwise Abraham would not choose him. It was God’s foreseeing that Abraham would not choose him, that made election necessary. And so it is with every sinner. So it is with us. God chooses us, not because he foresees that we would choose him, or that we would believe, but for the very opposite reason. He chooses us just because he foresees that we would neither choose him nor believe of ourselves at all. Election proceeds not upon foreseen faith in us, but upon foreseen unbelief.”
If God’s election were based on foreseen faith (also called the prescient view of election) then we would have to admit that it was because of something in us, some good, and some merit in us that God chose us. But this would violate the clear truth of Scripture. Consider the following verses:
Romans 5:6-11 – While we were enemies of God, Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 3:10-12 – There is none that seeks after God.
There is no reason to believe that God chose us based on any foreseen faith or anything of merit in us. In fact, there was no reason for Him to choose us at all. That is what makes grace so amazing; it is entirely unmerited. So the election of God is based entirely on God’s sovereign will and His good pleasure. Just as we understand the word election in our context today, the word election was used in the Bible.
The final conclusion is simply that before the foundation of the world, of His own sovereign will and for His own good pleasure, God elected some to salvation. It was an act of His own will without any merit in us. It wasn’t based on our foreseen faith but was purely absent any merit or good in us. And with this proper understanding of the word election we have a proper understanding of the theology of salvation.