Many people have negative thoughts and feelings regarding the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election can be controversial and divisive. Some feel expending time and energy to understand this doctrine lacks value. They believe the doctrine of election is not irrelevant.
So you are still reading, you are in the minority. I believe that understanding the doctrine of election is immensely profitable, and so did Jerry Bridges.
“The sudden understanding of the doctrine of election was a watershed event for me that significantly affected my entire Christian life. For example, it was the realization of God’s sovereignty in election that led me to study further the sovereignty of God in all of life. It also produced a deep sense of gratitude and, I trust, humility, of realizing salvation was entirely of Him.”1
In this article, I summarize the classical view of election in Reformed theology. My goal is not to present all the biblical evidence to support this doctrine. Other articles better accomplish that.
Definition of Election
In this article, election refers to God’s “salvific election,” that is his selection of those he would save from the penalty and power of sin. The elect are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.
God’s Election Is Unconditional
God’s unconditional election means:
- Election is determined in eternity past.
- Election is based solely on God’s pleasure and will.
- Election is not based on man’s character quality or merit.
- Election is not based on man’s choices or actions.
- Election is not based on God’s advanced knowledge of man’s decision to receive Christ.
- Election assures believers that salvation is completely God’s work.
God’s unconditional election shows:
- There is effectual calling.2
- There is regeneration3 before saving faith.
- God is sovereign.
- Election is substantive.
God’s Election Is Individual
God’s individual election specifies the individual persons whom he would save. His election is not just to save a people, church, or bride. Based on His good pleasure, God chooses each individual person for salvation.
- Effectual calling depends on individual election.
- Unconditional election depends on individual election.
- God’s foreknowledge depends on individual election.
God’s Election Is Infralapsarian
God’s election is infralapsarian. His election is a selection of lost, fallen and condemned people. Infralapsarian refers to the target group. God elects from a pool of fallen sinners. When God purposed to elect individuals for salvation, God viewed the human race as those who lived after (“infra”) the fall (“lapse”).
Biblical Passages That Speak to God’s Election of Salvation
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:37,39 ESV)
“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29–30)
“And not only so, but also 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.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:10–16)
“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,” (Romans 11:5–7)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In lovehe predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insightmaking known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christas a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:3–11)
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” (2 Timothy 1:8–9)
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 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: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:1–2)
- Jerry Bridges, God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God's Unusual Providence (NavPress, 2014), Kindle Locations 1378-1381. ↩︎
- “Effectual calling” refers to God’s call to salvation that is directed only to some. This call always succeeds in bringing people to saving faith in Christ. This concept is also called “irresistible grace.” ↩︎
- Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. ↩︎