As I have studied the doctrine of election, and as I have read Romans 9, and as I have heard God say, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” the same objections to the doctrine of election keep coming to my mind. First, doesn’t the doctrine of election seem unfair and unjust? Second, what about free will? And third, what about evangelism and missions and the free offer of salvation to all? I take some comfort in knowing that these questions about election are not unique to me. In fact, Paul must have either heard them before or anticipated the church in Rome reacting the same way because he addressed each one of my objections in Romans 9-10.
To the question of fairness, Paul wrote Romans 9.14-18. To the question of free will, Paul wrote Romans 9.19-29. And to the question of evangelism and missions, Paul wrote Romans 9.30-10.17. But before we take up the matter of the objections to the doctrine of election, we need to wrestle with the powerful statement of Romans 9.11 where Paul describes God’s purpose in election.
The Scriptures speak of the elect (for example, see 2 Timothy 2.10). Jesus said that the elect are those the Father has given to the Son (for example, see John 10.25-30). The Scriptures speak about those appointed to eternal life (see Acts 13.48) or predestined (Romans 8.29-30) or chosen by God before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1.3-6). Scripture speaks of salvation being the work of God by grace not by works (see 2 Timothy 1.9) and that even faith is a gift from God (see Ephesians 2.8-9). But if the doctrine of election is a biblical idea, then why would God choose to work this way? What would be the purpose? The answer, according to Paul, is
in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call (Romans 9.11 ESV)
in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls (Romans 9.11-12 NIV)
so that God’s purpose according to election might stand, not from works but from the One who calls (Romans 9.11-12 HCSB)
so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call (Romans 9.11-12 NRSV)
so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, (Romans 9.11 NASB)
In other words, God chose to love Jacob before he had done anything good or bad so that His purpose of election (“the act of picking out”) might remain which is that the chosen ones are chosen not because of works but by the call of God.
In other words, salvation is God’s work from beginning to end so that no one can boast in any form of works but only in the grace of God. The children of God are born again not by the will of man but by the will of God (see John 1.12). No one can boast because even faith is a gift of God (see Ephesians 2.8-9). And the reason all of this is so is so that God gets the glory for the salvation of mankind from first to last. The doctrine of election is to the praise of God’s glory and grace.
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, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1.11-12)
While we may not be comfortable using the terms “doctrine of election,” those who have been reborn and redeemed can admit nothing other than the fact that salvation is the work of God on their life from beginning to end, to the praise of His glory.
For instance, if you have repented of your sins, how did that happen? What makes a person who is happy gratifying the cravings of their sin nature (see Ephesians 2.3) suddenly feel sorrow about their sinfulness and want to repent and change life directions? Is it because our parents make us feel guilty? Is it because we suddenly realize that the pain of sin is too great? Or is it because the Holy Spirit of God convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see John 16.8)? There would be no repentance if the Spirit of God had not convicted us of sin. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.
And if you are a believer, who do you believe in the Son of God? Is it because you are such a wise person that you figured out the gospel? Is it because you researched the incarnation and found it to be credible? Not according to the Bible. The Bible says that the god of this world has put blinders on the eyes of the unbelievers, which you were before you became a believer. The only way those blinders were removed is because God spoke His light into your darkness (see 2 Corinthians 4.3-6). We believe because God opened our eyes to see the truth.
And if you have been reborn and have become a new creation in Christ, how did that happen? Did you rebirth yourself? Of course not. In Christ, we have been born again and have become a new creation. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end, to the praise of His glorious grace.
Once we come to realize that God has worked salvation in our souls, and that the only reason we have repented and believed and have been reborn is because God chose us and picked us out and poured out His grace upon us, the end result is worship. Hear again the words of the apostle Paul,
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 love he predestined us for adoption 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. (Ephesians 1.3-6 ESV)
Praise God for His glorious grace given to me, a sinner!