Question: "What is the doctrine of election?"
Answer: An election is a time when people choose who they want to fill certain positions from President on down. An election is a choice. The biblical doctrine of election teaches that God chooses to save some, and, by necessity, if He does not choose everyone, then there are some who are passed over. Those whom He has chosen to save are referred to as “the elect” (see, e.g., Mark 13:20).
The Bible teaches that God chooses people based on His own purposes and His desire to show grace to underserving sinners. Ephesians 1:4–6 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” He chose in love, in accordance with His pleasure and will, so that He would be glorified. God’s election has nothing to do with what the elect would or would not do.
God did not choose everyone. If He had, then everyone would come to faith in Christ. He chose some, and He left others to their own desires. Left to ourselves, all of us would continue in our rebellion and reject Christ. God chose to pursue some, convict them of their need, and lead them to faith. It is because of God’s choice that anyone comes to faith in Christ. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44).
This is a tough truth to get our minds around. We are tempted to think that we are more just and gracious than God and that He should have chosen everyone. We need to reject that temptation. We are in no place to judge God! It is not as though some are desperately crying out to Him for salvation and He rejects them because He has not chosen them. Those whom God does not choose continue doing exactly what they want—they rebel against God and try to stay as far away from Him as possible. He simply allows them to continue on the path they have freely and willfully chosen. He has, however, chosen to intervene in the lives of some and win them over. He does this so that He might show His love and kindness to people who are undeserving.
Some people think that God “chooses” based on the choices that He knows that the elect will make: He knows who will and who will not receive Christ, and He makes His choice based on that. But that would make people the ultimate choosers, with God simply following our choice. Biblically, it is the other way around. God chooses some based on His own purposes, and then, in response to His work in their lives, they choose Him. His choice is first and foundational. Without God’s election, no one would ever turn to Him.
Many Christians recoil at the doctrine of election the first time they hear it. But, upon further reflection, most believers will admit that God was at work in their lives, drawing them to Himself long before they were even aware of it. They will recognize that, if He had not intervened, they would have continued in unbelief. The hand of God, working in big ways and little ways, becomes more evident in hindsight.
Some object to the doctrine of election on the grounds that it stifles missionary and evangelistic activity. After all, if God has chosen to save some, then they will be saved whether or not anyone takes them the gospel—so why bother? This objection overlooks the truth that hearing and believing the gospel is the means that God uses to save those He has chosen to save. Paul believed and taught election (it is a New Testament doctrine), yet he was zealous like no other in his missionary endeavors. Because he knew that God had chosen to save people through the gospel, Paul proclaimed it boldly and was persecuted for it. He explains, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul endured persecution so that the elect will be saved, because the elect cannot be saved without hearing and believing the gospel. Through evangelism, God allows people to participate in His great plan of drawing a people unto Himself from every nation and language on earth. The doctrine of election frees us to share the gospel without pressure or fear of failure. When we share the gospel clearly, we have been obedient, and that is a success. The results are left to God.