Your salvation was no accident.

You didn’t just wander into Christianity. You were part of the plan.

Elect /ə'lɛkt/ v. Choose for a purpose or position.
2. n. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “the elect.”]
[Elector /ə'lɛk.tər/ n., election /ə'lɛk.ʃən/ n.]

Some of us realize we didn’t entirely choose to become Christian. I grew up with a Christian mother, Christian upbringing, lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian, lots of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian.

Other Christians didn’t grow up in that environment, but at one point or another they were obviously nudged in Christ’s direction. They were at a rough point in their lives, and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Or a miracle happened. Or Jesus straight-up appeared to them. Stuff like that.

Now, not every Christian notices God’s intervention in their lives. Either he’s been subtle, or they’ve been dense. So it’s understandable they don’t see how God’s been edging them, if not outright shoving them, all their lives in his direction. They figure the universe is meaningless and random, and if one or two little things in their lives happened another way, they wouldn’t be Christian.

I get that. But here’s the thing: Those one or two little things didn’t happen another way. And weren’t random. God wants to save everybody, 2Pe 3.9 and in your case he came and got you. He deliberately chose you. Or as theologians like to put it he elected you.

I know; in a democracy “election” usually has to do with how voters choose people. Back when nations weren’t run by democracy, leaders like the Holy Roman Empire’s emperor were chosen by “electors,” kings and dukes who were granted the power to do so. In the Roman Catholic Church, cardinals are electors who choose the pope. And in God’s kingdom, God’s the elector who chooses us to be his kings and priests. Rv 1.6 He decides who’s getting in, and getting saved. Nobody else.

Ephesians 1.4-6 KWL
4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy—
spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation!
In love, 5 though Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself—
according to the goodwill of his will,
6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love.

Yeah, he decided all this stuff “before the world’s foundation”—before creating the earth. That’s how far back we were part of his plan. It’s what he always wanted. It’s why he created us humans in the first place.

Election and foreknowledge.

God is omnipresent, meaning he exists at every point in space and time. Actually, spacetime is not two things but one—and God’s not outside it looking in, but inside it, at every point in it. He’s not limited by it; he’s here with us in the present, but at the same time (so to speak) he’s here with us in the past. And the future. And way back before he created the universe. I know; it’s a tricky concept for us humans, who are completely limited by spacetime, and struggle to fathom a God who’s not. That’s why we sometimes try to interpret God by our limitations… and get him so very wrong.

Gotta teach you two Christianese words that are meant to help describe our unlimited God, but of course Christians have a bad habit of getting all confused by them.

Foreknow /fɔr'noʊ/ v. Be aware of an event before it happens.
[Foreknowledge /'fɔr.nɑl.ədʒ/ n.]
Predestine /pri'dɛs.tɪn/ v. Determine an outcome, purpose, or effect, before it happens.
[Predestination /pri.dɛs.tə'neɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Okay. We know things because they happened in the past, or because we saw or were informed about them in our own past. So knowledge is always about past events. Unless you’re God. In his case, knowledge comes from every point in every time, including the future. He knows the future. He’s not guessing what it might consist of, ’cause he’s really smart like that. He sees it happen. It’s as certain as anything we saw firsthand. So when we say God foreknows things, or has foreknowledge, it’s just our way of saying God knows things and has knowledge… but of the future.

So when we pray for stuff, but really we should’ve started praying for it long before (“God, I need a tow truck; have one appear… right now!”), it’s no problem for God. He foreknew what we needed. Mt 6.8 He can effortlessly step into the past and start laying that groundwork. When you pray, “Lord, I wish my sister were Christian,” he can just as effortlessly step back to creation and start arranging the world so that she, too, would be pointed towards Christ Jesus. Because:

Romans 8.29-30 KWL
29 Those whom God foreknew,
whom he already decided would share the image, the likeness, of his Son
—him being the firstborn of many sisters and brothers—
30 those whom God already decided, he also invited.
Those invited, he also justified. Those justified, he also glorified.

“Already decided” also tends to be translated “did predestinate” (KJV). If you call out to God, and God decides he’ll say yes to that prayer, he’ll arrange the entire history of the universe to get you that answer.

God foreknew us, decided he wants us to be Christian, and invited us into his kingdom; as Jesus put it, “Follow me.” That’s election. He chose us. We didn’t choose him. Jn 15.16 But either we responded to his choice and answered his call, or we didn’t. Either we embraced his grace or resisted it.

Election, if we’re gonna compare it to an American political election, is as if you weren’t even running, but you got written in, and you won—surprise!—and the office is yours if you’ll have it. Of course you’ll feel completely unqualified (and you are), and worry you’ll botch the job (and you will), but it is still yours. You can still turn it down, and your electors will be mighty disappointed. But you do have free will, y’know.

And no, it’s not an entirely one-sided relationship:

  • “Those invited, he also justified”: God invites us to salvation, and our proper response is to trust in him. Based on that faith, God justifies us.
  • “Those justified, he also glorified”: Now in right standing with God, our proper response is to do the good works he prearranged for us to do. Ep 2.10 Based on that obedience, God glorifies us.

We don’t just passively sit there and get chosen, predestined, invited, justified, and glorified. God isn’t programming robots. He’s adopting children, Jn 1.12 and raising us as royalty.

But we gotta remember: God comes first in time. He started the ball rolling long before we were ever on the scene. He’s already foreseen our relationship. He didn’t have to wait for us to be created before he started interacting with us. He’ll hold off on some things, of course; like putting his Holy Spirit in us until we commit. Love is patient, y’know. 1Co 13.4 But God doesn’t wait on everything.

Also bear in mind: God foresees us in heaven, after we’ve been resurrected, after we’ve lived with him for several trillion years, saved and healed and perfect and in unity and in love with him. Yep. That’s why he never gives up on us: That’s who we are to him. We’re that way longer than we are this.

Since God comes first in time, and since all the salvation and predestination and adoption stuff only happens because God makes it happen (kids don’t adopt their parents, y’know), it might feel like God’s the only one making choices here. He’s really not. Think of it like a baby crying ’cause its diaper is full. Baby can’t change its own diaper. Daddy can change it—and knew the baby was gonna cry any second now, and already has the diaper bag in hand. But he wasn’t gonna act till the baby cried. You can kinda guess who’s who in that parable.

Election and determinism.

I realize this whole idea weirds out many Christians. Not only do they struggle to imagine a God unlimited by time, they find it impossible to imagine he shares this particular character trait with Jesus:

Mark 10.42-45 KWL
42 Summoning them, Jesus told them,
“You know those considered ‘princes’ of nations became masters over them;
their ‘great ones’ hold power over them.
43 This way is not for you. Instead, if one of you wants to become ‘great,’ you’ll be their servant.
44 If one of you wants to become a ‘prince,’ you’ll be everyone’s slave.
45 For the Son of Man didn’t come to be waited upon.
He came to wait upon you—to give his soul to bail out many people.”

Oh, they’ll quote verse 45; mainly to point out how bailing out “many people” means Jesus can’t have died for everyone. But they’ll miss the relevant part of the verse: The Son of Man didn’t come to be waited upon. And his Father wishes to give good gifts to his children, Mt 7.11 and for everybody to be saved and learn the truth. 1Ti 2.4

To their minds, this feels way too subservient of our sovereign God. It’s not majestic. It’s not great and glorious. God’s our prince, not our slave; our boss, not our gofer. Jesus went through all that servant rigamarole temporarily, while he was visiting earth for his first coming, but in his second coming he’s gonna kick ass and take names, and every knee will bow, and it’ll be established once and for all he’s in charge.

In the same way, God’s wholly in charge of election. Yeah he has foreknowledge, but to their minds God ignores any foreknowledge of what we do and don’t do, lest he base any of his decision-making process on what we merit. He chooses people entirely for his own secret reasons, as part of his own secret plan. They’ve nothing to do with his relationship with us. So remember Romans 8.29? Scratch the “those whom God foreknew” bit. He only predestines. In fact most of ’em claim foreknowledge and predestination are one and the same thing: If he knows what’s gonna happen, it’s only because he decided it’s gonna happen. Same as he decides everything that’ll happen, so much so there are no random, meaningless events in the universe. It’s all determinism.

So yeah, predestination isn’t simply arranging for people to meet and follow the Son of Man. For these folks it’s predetermination. God’s will isn’t merely what he wants to see happen: It’s what will happen. If he elected us, we’re in the kingdom. Doesn’t matter what we want. (In fact he’ll program us so we’d never want anything else. You thought coming to Jesus was your idea? Who do you think you are? Ha ha ha; bless your soul. You really think you’re in control?)

According to John Calvin, and those Calvinists who still adhere to his teachings, predestination isn’t only about choosing people for the kingdom. It’s also about choosing people for the fire. Say what now? Yeah; this tends to be called double predestination, ’cause if we weren’t destined for the one, we’re destined for the other. God never provided a third option. Calvin called it “the predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death.” Institutes 3.21.5 Various Calvinists will insist no; predestination is only about getting chosen for heaven. God only “passes over” everybody else, and their own depravity, left untreated by God, dooms them. He doesn’t choose, elect, or predestine people for hell. And yeah, that’s how they phrase it; but it’s definitely not the way Calvin put it. He spent a few chapters in his Institutes of the Christian Religion insisting it is so predestination.

Why on earth do these people transform God from a compassionate adoptive Father to an evil despot? Well, to some degree you gotta realize what sort of fathers and kings John Calvin grew up with. A lot of absolute monarchs whose will was law, so that’s how Calvin imagined his Lord to behave. His almightiness and sovereignty determine all. Our actions, our choices, heck our relationships, make no difference. God does as he chooses. He’s our creator, and we’re like inanimate objects in comparison. Like a potter and pots. Ro 9.20-21 One to drink from; one to whiz into.

And the basis of our salvation is all secret-will stuff. In fact certain determinists are fond of teaching there’s always a chance—a little tiny itty-bitty chance—God doesn’t want us like we want him. That God actually didn’t elect us. That really, we’re doing all this Christianity stuff for nothing. (But they sure hope not.) Yeah, it’s messed up, but determinism won’t really let ’em teach otherwise. If it’s all God, not us, they feel they gotta remove us from the equation altogether. Or at least make us pure zeroes.

The basic problem with determinism is that if God controls all, it includes evil. And it’s really hard to explain how a God, who includes so much evil in his plan, isn’t deep down some evil monster. Determinists surely do try though; I gotta give them that.

Unconditional election?

Thanks to the determinists, other Christians get a little leery of this election and predestination talk. They assume, like the determinists do, that if God made any advance decisions to save us, he’s sucked away all our free will. Not true. Because we have bible passages like this one—

John 3.36 KWL
“One who believes in the Son has life in the next age.
One who disobeys the Son won’t see life. God’s wrath stays on them.”

—and invitations throughout the bible for people to turn to God their Savior. It doesn’t matter whether God determines our salvation in the distant past or the present day: If he makes that determination without any interaction from us—if we’re already saved—why on earth does he tell us to turn to him to be saved?

Isaiah 45.22 KWL
“Turn to me and be rescued, all the ends of the earth!
I’m God. There’s no one else.”

Why does he command everyone to repent? Ac 17.30 Why does he invite us to come? Rv 22.17 Why does he give us commandments, and warn us of the consequences of disobedience? Why does he keep telling us to choose him, choose life, choose salvation, choose rightness? Why do the scriptures, why do Jesus’s direct teachings, consistently assume we have some sort of free will?

If the reality is we have no real say in the matter, that it’s all a façade meant to make our predetermined, fatalistic lives look like they have meaning, then it’s a lie just like the Matrix in those Matrix movies, and God’s a liar. So I don’t buy that. Determinists try to make it sound better than that, but they invariably stumble back into the façade idea, and I believe God has more integrity than that.

The fact is, God thought enough of self-determination to put that trait into humans. Yeah, we choose sin; yeah we’re horribly corrupt; but God shone enough of his grace upon us for us to see our corruption by it, and repent of it, and turn to him. And he accepts and saves everyone who calls out to him. Ac 2.21, Ro 10.13 Not just the elect.

Although you realize, since God knows the future, if we call out to him, he foreknew we were gonna do that. And he foreknew he’d accept and save everyone who called out to him. And if we’re accepted, if we’re saved, if we’re in his kingdom, you know what that makes us? Elect.

No, that doesn’t mean we elected ourselves. Or saved ourselves. Remember? Baby with poopy diaper? Can’t change itself? All righty then.

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