top of page

The Doctrine of Election | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this equipping time lesson, we learn about the comfort and beauty of the doctrine of election.

The Doctrine of Election

Order of Salvation Introduction and Overview

Before time

 1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)

Being saved

 2. The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)

 3. Regeneration (being born again)

 4. Conversion (faith and repentance)

 5. Justification (right legal standing)

 6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)

Worked out in this life

 7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)

 8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)

 9. Death (going to be with the Lord)

The End

 10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)

Considering the Doctrine of Election

We are going to begin our teaching through this order of salvation today by focusing on the doctrine of election and the gospel call. This is a controversial doctrine in some circles, and I want to start by simply laying out my goals for our time. 

There are two big movements to our time today. 

We are going to consider the doctrine, then we’ll consider how we should respond to the doctrine. 

First, I hope to show that election is a biblical doctrine by looking at a definition of election, then we’ll look at some of the biblical basis for the doctrine, and then we’ll discuss a few important dynamics surrounding this doctrine.

Then after that, we’ll take a few minutes to consider how the Bible uses the doctrine of election. This teaching doesn’t usually come up in a vacuum. It’s almost always mentioned as a reason for something that is happening or that should happen. And we’ll see that the doctrine of election should result in comfort, praise, and evangelism.  

So, before we get into the biblical basis for this doctrine, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. 

A Definition of Election

What is election? 

Wayne Grudem gives a good definition for our time today. 

“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”

A couple of quick notes on this definition. 

First, it’s before creation. God isn’t surprised when someone comes to faith. It might surprise us, but it doesn’t surprise God. God chose people before the foundations of the world. A word that we often see in Scripture is the word “Predestined.” Destined beforehand. 

Second, we need to be super clear about this: Why does God choose people? It’s at the end of Grudem’s definition. “Because of his sovereign good pleasure.” What does that mean? It means that God is gracious simply because he wants to be. We don’t understand the full purposes of God, but we do know that he is acting for his good pleasure. It’s not because he looked down through the ages and saw that some of us were worthwhile while others weren’t. It’s grace. The more we dwell on this, the more this will become clear. We are saved by grace. 

Now, this might make some of us uncomfortable. The idea that God would choose people to be saved can be difficult to swallow. And we’ll try to talk through some of those dynamics later today, but let’s start by looking at some of the places where this shows up in Scripture. 

I want it to be abundantly clear that we are simply trying to deal with what the Bible actually says. 

The Biblical Basis for Election

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel, and people respond. And this is how it describes it. 

Acts 13:48, “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.”

The author of Acts doesn’t make a big deal about this. He just mentions it and keeps moving as if this is an assumed reality. “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” 

In John 17:6, Jesus says this, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. . .  [then down in verse 20 he says] I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” 

In these verses it’s clear that there is a defined group of people that the Father has for himself, and they were given to Jesus. Then Jesus doesn’t only pray for the people who had already believed. He prays, knowing that God already knows everyone who will believe in Jesus through the word of the disciples. 

And everyone who believes the Bible will be on the same page on this. God knows all of the people who will be saved. He isn’t in heaven wondering what will happen. 

But I think that if we read the scriptures in the most natural sense, we can’t say that he merely knows. We need to recognize that he chose these people. 

Think of Romans 8:28–30, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” 

This is such an encouraging passage. Isn’t it? Verse 28 is probably one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, and we don’t usually point this out, but it’s appropriate here. The depth which we can feel the truth in this verse is correlated to how we understand God’s sovereignty. 

This is Paul’s entire line of reasoning in Romans 8. It’s because we have been predestined from before the dawn of time that we have confidence in suffering. It’s because we are God’s elect that we can face suffering and know that God’s love for us is unshakeable.

How do we know this? Verse 29. “For those whom he foreknew he predestined. Those whom he predestined he called. Those home he called he justified. Those whom he justified he glorified." 

Everything in this passage is about the same group of people. 

The entire logic of this passage is that you were chosen beforehand and that God has been bending the narrative of the universe for your good and His glory from the beginning of time to the end of time. 

Let’s look at another passage. 

2 Timothy 1:8b-9, “But share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 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”

Paul is leaning into the fact this is intimately connected to the fact that we have been saved by grace. God didn’t look down through the ages and see that we were good people and then save us. He didn’t see an inclination to believe and then throw us a bone. 

While we were enemies, Christ died for us. And before the ages began, he chose us in grace according to his own sovereign pleasure. 

One more scripture, but this is a big one. 

Eph. 1:3–12, “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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. . . 11 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, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”

It pains me not to read more of this passage in Ephesians 1 because it is such a gospel passage. There is so much here, but I want to illustrate this point. 

It’s so difficult to read these passages in the New Testament without granting this reality.

I wanted to end on this Ephesians 1 passage so that we could plant here for a minute.  

Take a moment to read that and dwell on it. 

Look at verse 4: God chose us in him before the foundation of the world. 

Why did he do this? “So that we should be holy and blameless before him.” If he hadn’t done this, we wouldn’t be holy. If he hadn’t chosen us, we wouldn’t be blameless. 

Verse 5, he predestined us to adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.

With what manner did he do this? In love. He predestines his people in love. Don’t let that slide past you. If you are trusting in Jesus, don’t miss this. God chose you in eternity past because even then, he loved you. 

But why else did he do this? Verse 6, “To the praise of this glorious grace.” He did this so that it would result in his praise. 

And look again down at verse 11. What is the connection Paul makes here? Why do we obtain and inheritance in Jesus? Because we have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”

God has a will. He has a purpose that he is working out in the world. And part of him working that out is that the elect would be saved and that they would have an inheritance. You have hope because you were predestined by God who accomplished his purposes in Jesus Christ so that you would be blameless before the Father.

There are other places that we could look in the Bible, but we need to keep moving. Let’s take a minute to chew on this together. 

Some Important Dynamics

Maybe you hear all of this, and you feel a bit unsettled. Let me share a couple of things that I have found helpful in my own heart. 

First, we need to let Scripture say what it says. 

Let Scripture say what it says. 

We say things like this a lot, but I have found it particularly helpful as it regards to this doctrine and its implications. 

The most straightforward reading of these passages points to the exact realities that we are discussing today. 

People have tried to find ways around this teaching because in our sinfulness, it’s uncomfortable. 

We want to accuse God. Why wouldn’t you save everyone? 

Romans 9 actually addresses this: “You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?' 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”

Paul likens us to pots. Pots don’t get to choose what they are used for. And if the maker graciously decides to have gracious intentions for you, then your only response should be gratitude. 

What if there was a man who was being carried off of a battle field. He was mortally wounded and without medical attention. He would have been dead in minutes. And as he is carried off the field, he looks to his rescuer in anger and starts to scream. “Why didn’t you save everyone!” It’s the height of ingratitude. 

So, wherever you land on this, you need to be able to deal with what the Bible actually says. And regardless of exactly where you land on this, you should be filled with surpassing gratitude for the grace of our God who has chosen us to be in himself. 

A second important dynamic here is:

Unity in Particularism Over Universalism

Even in the midst of controversy that can surround this doctrine, there is more agreement on this than you would think. 

I know that these are some big words here, but they cover some big ideas. 

Particularism and Universalism. 

What do these mean? 

Particularism holds that only particular people will be saved. And other people won’t be saved. This is crystal clear in the New Testament. There are sheep, and there are goats. There is one path that leads to life and another that leads to destruction. Think of the parable of the sower. Only one of the 3 soils actually respond to the gospel.

Universalism holds something totally different. Universalism holds that everyone will be saved and no one will be lost. Let’s be clear. To hold this position, you have to simply ignore what the Bible says.

Bible believing Christians are Particularlists. 

Why does this matter? 

It matters because depending on who you are talking to, someone might have different opinions on the issue of Election, but as we have conversations, it’s helpful to go back to where we know we agree so that we can work out from there. 

Let me show you some of what I mean. 

On this issue of election, there are two big groups. It’s more complicated that this, but for our purposes, we can lump them into two groups:

Calvinists and Arminians.

I’m not even going to attempt to talk through these systems today, but let’s sum them up.

Calvinists tend to emphasize the sovereignty of God, and Arminimians tend to emphasize the free will of man. And that gets worked out in how they address our topic today.

The difference is that the Calvinist will say that the elect are predestined by God, where Arminians will say that these elect are foreknown by God but not predestined in the same sense that a Calvinist means it. Because Arminians tend to place a heavy emphasis on free will.

If they use the language of God choosing, it is usually in reference to God looking down through the tunnel of time. He foresaw all people who would ever believe, and in some sense, he wasn’t able to predestine them until after he had foreknown them.

They want to hold onto the dynamic that when you hear the gospel, you have a choice. Do you believe? Or do you reject it?

In my opinion, the Arminian view falls short for several reasons, and again, I’m not going to try and address the entire system today. 

But here are a few things: 

3 Problems with the Arminian System

First, in all of those passages that we read earlier, you have to do lexical gymnastics to try and make sense of what it says. The Calvinist reading of those texts is a very straightforward reading. 

A second reason that the Arminian view falls short is that it undermines the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. 

Let me be clear. There are a lot of Bible believing Arminians who we should call brothers and sisters, and they would profess with us that Jesus is the only sufficient path to salvation. 

My point is that their system presents a problem to what they readily affirm. 

The system is trying so desperately to hold to free will. I have free will. I know I have free will, so I have to find a way to say that God isn’t sovereign over my salvation.

Here’s the issue: If God looked down through the tunnel of time and saw all of those who would believe totally independent of his interaction, then what did he see? He saw merit. He saw people who believed of their own volition. 

If we earn it, it isn’t grace. If God saw merit, then it isn’t grace. The system so desperately holds to indiscriminate free will that it causes issues with essential biblical doctrines.

A third reason that the Arminian view falls short is that both Calvinists and Arminians believe that there is a group of people who are identified as the elect. They just disagree on how exactly they are chosen. 

So, you have this group of people that God knew from eternity past, and both Calvinists and Arminians will say that God knows who they are.

And if God is really sovereign over everything, then he is sovereign over every moment in a person’s life. Even if you grant that someone has free will, God is so sovereign over every other molecule in the universe that it seems like he would still be functionally sovereign over a person’s decisions. And apart from that, if God is sovereign over literally every molecule in the universe, what makes us think that he wouldn’t exercise control over us? 

Our next dynamic actually interacts with this: 

Objective Reality Vs. Subjective Experience

We have to make a distinction between what is objective reality and what is our experience of that reality. 

This has been really helpful for me as I have pondered this over the years. 

Last night, we tried to go to the bowling alley. We packed up all of our kids, and we went to meet Andrew and Alix and their kiddos at Jack and Jill bowling. We had been given a pass with some prepayment on it so that we could play. 

When we got there, they informed us that this particular pass we have isn't allowed to be used on weekends. This was Saturday night. 

Disappointing. But my immediate thought was bread sticks. We should go home and talk and eat breadsticks. And that’s what we did. Totally unplanned and still a really good time. 

Before the dawn of time, God predestined that we would show up to Jack and Jill bowling with a pass that we couldn’t use, and we would be disappointed, but then we would go home and have a blast just hanging out because it’s been too long since we did that. 

We weren’t robots. We were making each decision. We made the decision to go. We made the decision to still hang out even though we couldn’t bowl. I made the decision to eat too many bread sticks. 

And God sovereignly predestined all of this to take place. 

In an objective sense, and a very real sense, everything that happened last night was predetermined. But in a subjective sense, we had no idea what was going to happen. 

We experienced it like an unfolding narrative where you have to turn the next page to see what happens. 

I think that this is an essential distinction to make as we ponder election. God chose us in him before the foundation of the world. True. Very clearly taught in the Bible. 

But when the gospel is preached to you, you have a decision to make. Will you accept it or reject it? And that decision is yours to make. 

It feels like free will, and the decision is totally yours. 

But here is the great problem. We are all doing what we want to do. It feels like we have free will because we are making the choices that we want to make. 

You have a will, it just isn’t free. It’s in bondage. 

Romans 6 says that we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to righteousness. 

We aren’t forced to sin, and yet all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God doesn’t send people to hell. People go to hell because they sin. And sin earns death. And in ourselves all of us are slaves to Sin. In ourselves, we freely give ourselves over to “impurity and lawlessness” (Rom 6:19).

We do what we want. 

Think of the Exodus. Pharaoh wanted to keep the Israelites in Egypt, and he hardened his heart. And simultaneously, we can say that God hardened his heart. Actually Scripture says both.

If you want to think about this more, you should look into the doctrine of concurrence. We don’t have time to talk about it, but I have found it tremendously helpful when it comes to this. It’s similar to this idea that we have talked about with Pharoah or like what Peter talks about when he says that the biblical authors were “carried along by the Spirit.” They were acting totally in line with what God wanted them to write, but they were still men who were wrote as informed by their own culture and experiences. Both God and man were acting and working through same pen–Concurrently. 

The doctrine of Concurrence. You should look it up.  

I want to end by spending a few minutes thinking about how we should respond to this. 

Responding to Election: How does the Bible talk about election?

I know that this doctrine can stir up controversy, but a big part of what I want to emphasize today is that when Scripture makes reference to this, it is always used as a means of encouragement. 

There are probably more things we could say here, but here are three ways that Grudem outlines about how the New Testament encourages us with the doctrine of Election. 

How does the Bible talk about election?

As a Comfort

We could go back to almost all of our passages that we read earlier on this but think about Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

We already said how election is essential to this earlier, so I won’t belabor that. But think on this. Since the beginning of time, God has been working everything together for your good because in eternity past, he set his affection on you, and “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

If we have time, read Romans 8:31-38, it illustrates the comfort of election so well!

Romans 8:31-38, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, 

                  'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; 

      we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

As a Reason to Praise God

Earlier in Ephesians 1, we read that “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace”

2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “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.

If we believe this doctrine of election, then it’s plain that our salvation is solely the work of God, and it should cause us to well up with gratitude and praise for the one who chose us and bought us for his good pleasure. 

As an Encouragement to Evangelism

One of the chief arguments that people bring up against the doctrine of election is that if people were chosen before time, then what is the point of evangelism? They would say that if you believe that God has predestined some for heaven, then there is no point in sharing the gospel because the elect will believe no matter what.

People who actually believe this are called hyper-calvinists. And some people will try to make the case that this is the logical conclusion of a doctrine like the doctrine of election. 

But there is an absolutely massive problem with this logic. And it’s this: 

It’s wrong. 

It is entirely contrary to the Bible. 

In fact, the Bible uses the doctrine of election in exactly the opposite way. 

Look at 2 Timothy 2:8-10. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

Paul is suffering. He is literally in prison. This is the last letter that we have from him before he goes to his death. It’s a letter of encouragement to a young pastor who he had discipled. And what is the thing that the Lord used to hold onto Paul through all of the suffering and injustice? What keeps him writing this letter as he stares down the barrel into death? 

Verse 10. “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 

The elect! The people whom God has chosen for himself. That’s why Paul endured suffering so that he could be the means of people responding in faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Paul persevered in his ministry because he knew that through his preaching, God would call people to himself, and he knew that God would hold onto people. 

Paul was just a tool in the master’s hand. God uses means. He uses people to proclaim his gospel. 

The doctrine of election should motivate us to share the gospel because it guarantees that when the Lord is pleased to draw one of his own to himself, he’ll do it. 

Even if you are bad at sharing the gospel, the Lord may use your fumbling to draw one of his own to himself. 

And beyond that, we have to recognize that we simply do not know who the elect are. Once they have believed, we can recognize fruit, but we cannot predetermine who they are. We must plead with people, knowing that God can change anyone, and that God has predetermined who will respond. The response isn’t in our hands, but the message is, and so God compels us to speak. 


bottom of page