The salvation doctrine of “election”, has been, is, and will continue to be a controversial topic. Since it appears to be all over the bible, it’s important that you review and understand this issue.
In a question and answer format, here’s what the Bible has to say about “Election”.
Keep an open mind and see what you believe.
What is “election”?
As Christians, we have a fundamental problem. Our name is written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life“. In fact, in discussing the New Heaven and New Earth, Revelation 21:27 states that “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will “enter it”.
Conversely, Revelations 20:15 states “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the Lake of Fire”.
So, here we have the only three possible destinations after the Millenium – New Heaven, New Earth, and the Lake of Fire.
The problem in both Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 is that the believer’s names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before and from the foundation of the world.
It can certainly be said that the Lamb of God was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20) and that he was “delivered up [to die] by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This same predetermined plan included the names of those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
So, how are the names of believers, written before the foundation of the world when their actual salvation experiences come later in history?
Either one of two events happen:
One, believers are predestined or elected, and their names are written in the Book of Life before the creation of the world, or
Two, God looks ahead in time and ratifies the actions of those who ultimately believe through their own free will, and writes their names in the Book of Life.
What is the history of this controversy?
If God commands us to “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved… (Acts 16:31,) but we are not able, by our very nature (free will), to respond to His command, is this just?
This was exactly the position of an Irish/British ascetic known as Pelagius (360-418.) Pelagius believed a man could be saved through his own free will.
The Christian theologian Augustine (354 – 430,) posited that God’s law, which condemns a man, is righteous as Romans 7:12 states “…the law is holy…and just and good.” That before the sin of Adam, humanity could obey God’s commands. Genesis 1:31 says “…God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” However, sin so affected the very nature of Adam and Eve, and all those who are in Adam (mankind,) that man was rendered unable to carry out the commands of God.
Finally, had not God intervened, all men were destined to eternal damnation.
In 418, the church met at the Council of Carthage and condemned Pelagius’ position as heresy.
One century later, two more players enter into this controversy.
One position, known as Arminianism, after Jacob Arminius (1560-1609,) states essentially that God looks into the future, and through his power of omniscience, sees who, through their own free will, makes a decision of salvation, and then ratifies that decision by writing that person’s name in the Lamb’s Book of LIfe.
Another position, known as Calvinism, after John Calvin (1509-1564,) states that God the Father, sovereignly chooses those who would be saved before time began and that the Holy Spirit prompts those chosen unto salvation – this is known as predestination or election.
So this free will vs. election controversy has existed throughout church history.
Does the Bible talk of this controversy?
In fact, it does and you can read about this in Romans chapter 9. In 9:18 Paul states “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” and further in 21 “does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”
Remember, because of the sin of Adam, we all were destined for hell, God, however, in his love and mercy, has saved those He determined to save.
What other controversies exist in Christianity?
There are a number of controversies throughout history.
Some believe in pre, mid, and even post-tribulation raptures. Some don’t believe in the rapture at all.
Some believe that certain gifts of the Holy Spirit – especially tongues and healings, were only present to authenticate the original apostles. Others believe they still continue.
Some believe in the millennium or thousand-year reign after the tribulation, others don’t.
Of course, there exists this controversy over Election.
What is important is that we believe the truth of the Gospel – Jesus Christ, who is God, died for our sins and that and that alone is what saves us. Any other gospel is a false gospel and is to be condemned.
So, do we not have free will?
Yes, man has free will.
What we are talking about here is “what initiates salvation”? Man’s free will or God’s election.
Certainly, once initiated, man’s assent or free will kicks in, but who is it that starts the process of salvation – man, or God?
Who gets the glory – man or God?
Since man is dead in his trespasses (Ephesians 2:1) it is hard to rationalize that man’s internal powers, his free will is responsible for initiating his or her salvation.
Does the Bible clarify whether free will is or isn’t involved in salvation?
Yes, the Bible specifically states that free will is not a part of salvation.
Romans 9:16 states “it does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” John 1:13 further states “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.“
Does the Bible need to be any clearer?
Salvation is not by free will.
What does the Bible say about election?
Over and over the Bible refers to believers as “chosen” and “elect” and a number of verses speak of our election before the beginning of time.
It is interesting that the Bible states that “many are called but few are chosen” Matthew 22:14 and even Acts 13:48 which states that “those who were appointed unto salvation, believed.”
None-the-less this continues to be a hard topic for some.
The question you need to ask yourself is this – who gets the glory for your salvation – God or You?
If you feel bad because you don’t get the glory, either for your salvation or for someone else’s – isn’t that an issue of the sin of pride?
So, if someone doesn’t believe in Election, are they not truly saved?
It’s important to understand that, at the time of our salvation, we know very little about election per se.
We know that God alone saves through Jesus Christ and that our salvation is by Grace with both Faith and Repentance as gifts to us.
I doubt anyone knows anything about Election as new believers.
But, later on, what we believe about election taints how we respond in our Christian walk.
If we believe free will is responsible for salvation we have a completely different attitude about the salvation of others.
For example, I’ve heard pastors lament the murder of someone because they lost their chance at salvation. Really, what does “all that the Father gives me, I will lose none” John 6:37 mean then? Was salvation the providence of God or man?
If you don’t go to the hospital to visit a friend and he or she happens to die. Did they go to hell because you were remiss or failed to share with them? Again, who gets the glory – you or God.
Of course, we still have to be obedient to the Great Commission, since we don’t know who is chosen prior to salvation, but God is not going to lose someone because we messed up. He’s in control, not us.
So belief either way is not a different gospel, it’s really a matter of whose glory is salvation – yours, or God’s.
Salvation is all of God.
Can you live with that?
You need to understand and accept this truth. Without it, you’re subject to a slippery slope in how you approach the truth of salvation.
As John MacArthur states “(salvation) wasn’t a potential atonement actuated by the sinner, it was an actual atonement initiated by the savior.”