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15 August 2018

Election: God did choose you, y’know.

Because you didn’t just wander into Christianity. God wants you.

ELECT /ə'lɛkt/ v. Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job.
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.]

I grew up with a Christian mom, a Christian upbringing, and lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian. Whole lot of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s kinda like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian.

Other Christians didn’t grow up the same way, of course. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan—or they grew up with another religion altogether. But at one point in their lives they were obviously nudged in Christ Jesus’s direction. Maybe they had a rough patch and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s here, but that Jesus defines him best. In some cases Jesus even personally showed up and told them to follow him—’cause he does that.

The fact is, God wants to save everybody. Jesus died to make it possible, and everybody’s been given the invitation to come to Jesus, be adopted by God, and enter his kingdom. Everybody, without exception, is invited. He’s not turning anyone away. (Unless they clearly don’t want him, or don’t mean it; but those are other discussions.)

But. Even though God’s invitation is for anyone and everyone, there are lots of individuals whom he makes a particular effort to save. Like me, ’cause he set me up to become Christian. Like you, more than likely: When you look back on your life, chances are you can think of many situations where God was getting your attention, moving you into place, coming after you. Some of them were really obvious moves on his part. Some were more subtle. Hey, whatever got you into the kingdom. But God definitely, specifically, wanted you.

And when that’s the case we Christians call it election.

Does God elect individuals or groups?

The idea of election has been abused and distorted by a lot of Christians. Mostly because they got it in their heads if God doesn’t elect someone, he doesn’t want them. Worse: They imagine God wants to put ’em in hell. The non-elect are reprobate, destined for destruction. Created because God wants to show off how great he is by demonstrating how he could, if he wished, do absolutely nothing… and leave you to get creamed, then spend eternity in burning torment. Your destiny could be that too, if God didn’t love you so much. (But seriously: How sick would God be if that’s the only reason he created most people?)

As a result of this effed-up thinking, a number of Christians ditch the idea that God elects individual people. They prefer the idea God only elects groups. Like whole nations at a time—like when he chose to save the entire Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery. He chose all the Hebrews; not just favorites like Moses and Aaron and Joshua. He even chose guys who later turned out to be rebels, like Dathan and Abiram. (Much like Jesus later chose Judas Iscariot.)

We theologians call the idea of God electing groups corporate election. And, as demonstrated in the bible, yeah God totally does this. The Hebrews, who later became the nation of Israel, are “God’s chosen people” because God did indeed choose them. All of them; not just the devout, or the non-rebels.

But God also chooses individuals. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t single out individuals, would he? Like he did Cornelius of Rome.

Acts 10.1-8 KWL
1 A certain man in Caesarea Maritima named Cornelius, a centurion from the soldiers called “Italics,”
2 was devout and respected God, along with everyone in his house,
doing a lot of charity for people, and praying to God all the time.
3 Cornelius clearly saw, in a vision he had round the ninth hour of the day, [3:30 p.m.]
God’s angel coming to him and telling him, “Cornelius.”
4 Staring intensely at it, becoming frightened, Cornelius said, “What is it, master?”
The angel told him, “Your prayers and your charity go up as an offering before God.
5 Now send men to Haifa and send for Simon, someone who’s also called Peter.
6 Peter stays with another Simon, a leatherworker who’s living near the sea.”
7 Once the angel who spoke with him left, Cornelius called two household slaves
and a devout soldier—one who personally served him.
8 Explaining everything to them, Cornelius sent them to Haifa.

It’s not that God didn’t want to save everyone in the Roman Empire; of course he did. But y’notice he sent his angel to specifically get Cornelius to go find Simon Peter and hear the gospel from him. Because God didn’t just want to introduce to Peter the idea he also wants to save gentiles: He specifically wanted Cornelius.

And y’notice Cornelius wanted God too. If you’ve ever wondered, “Well, I want God; does he want me back?”—absolutely he does. It’s not a one-sided desire. It’s definitely not an unrequited love. God loved you first, 1Jn 4.19 long before you ever thought to follow him. And like I mentioned before, after you turned to God, you probably realized all sorts of ways he was trying to bring you to Jesus before you even knew he was coming for you. We don’t actually get God to elect us: Turns out he already did.

So to answer the question in the header: Yes God elects individuals. And groups. Some would argue he elected the entire world, ’cause he chose the Hebrews and he chose the gentiles, and between the two of them that’s everybody. But God is a lot more intentional and personal than that. Don’t get the wrong idea. Election—even corporate election!—is very personal to God. He doesn’t generally, generically want you. He specifically wants you. And, y’know, everybody else.

Election and God’s foreknowledge.

Because God’s everywhere—every point in space and time—God foreknows stuff: He knows things before they happen. To him they’ve already happened. To us they haven’t happened yet, so when God acts on the stuff he foreknows, it tends to weird us out a little.

Fr’instance when did God elect us? Turns out he did it at the beginning of time.

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.

Now if God made all these decisions before we were ever born, before we had any say in anything, does this mean we had no say in anything? Nah. Just because God knows the future and acts on this knowledge, doesn’t mean our decisions don’t matter. Our decisions are why God knows they happened. You’ve seen science fiction movies and TV shows; you know cause and effect get all jumbled up whenever time travelers know the future and act on it in the past. The very same deal’s going on with God.

But not everybody realizes this. Determinists in particular. They believe everything in the universe happens because God determined it’ll happen that way. To them, foreknowledge isn’t really God pre-knowing stuff: It’s God pre-deciding stuff. He knows the future not merely because he’s in the future, but because he made the future. (Basically they take the idea of God’s sovereignty and go completely overboard.)

For determinists, election isn’t just God wanting to save us. Predestination isn’t just God offering us a wonderful destiny. To them these things are determined. God turns them into fixed, inevitable absolutes. When he elects you, they imagine you will be saved; it’s inevitable. When he predestines you, they insist you will go into the kingdom; you’ve no choice in the matter.

But if you have no choice in the matter… then what about all the people who eventually go to hell? Ah, that’s determinism’s nasty little problem: If God choosing us means we absolutely will be saved, it also means God is fully aware not choosing us means we absolutely will be destroyed—and he’s okay with that. ’Cause in order for God to be sovereign the way determinists imagine sovereignty, God also has to be kinda apathetic about the sins and sufferings of many. If not downright evil, ’cause if God makes the future, he therefore makes all its sin and suffering.

Relax; none of this is how God works. He’s not deterministic; he’s not evil. He knows the future, but not because he makes it. He makes some things in the future happen—like our glorious destiny in his kingdom—but God absolutely doesn’t do sin.

And he doesn’t make us choose him. Oh, he totally stacks the deck. He makes himself ridiculously obvious; he makes it so we’d have to be absolutely bonkers to reject him. Usually if God wants us he gets us—’cause why on earth would we reject someone who loves us that much? But sad to say, some people are just that bonkers. The devil knows God personally, y’know—but still chooses to resist and fight him, because it’s just that twisted. Humans can be just as twisted.

Love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 and if we ultimately refuse God, he loves us enough to let us live with our choice. It’s a really stupid choice, but still. Hell will be full of people who chose hell. Not people God decided to destroy for demented fun.

So because of the way God fills time, when you pray, “Lord, I wish my sister were Christian,” he can hear that prayer, then effortlessly step back into the beginning of time and start laying that groundwork so she, too, would be directed 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” 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. Hey, did you forget you were praying to the Almighty?

God foreknew us, decided he wants us to be Christian, and invited us into his kingdom. Or as Jesus put it, “Follow me.” That’s election. He chose us. We didn’t choose him. Jn 15.16 But either we respond to his choice and answer his call, or we don’t. Either we embrace his grace or resist it. (But don’t resist 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—he makes things right so we can have a relationship with him.
  • “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 happened in time before we did. He started the salvation ball rolling long before we were ever on the scene. He already foresaw our relationship. He didn’t have to wait for us to be created before he got started. He’ll hold off on some things, like putting his Holy Spirit in us till we commit. Love is patient, y’know. 1Co 13.4 But God doesn’t have to 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 unilaterally 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.

We don’t save ourselves. Can’t. But we can make our election certain. 2Pe 1.10 We can respond to God choosing us by accepting his grace. By loving him back. By following Jesus. By tapping the Holy Spirit’s power and exhibiting his fruit. By being the Christians he wants us to be, instead of taking his salvation for granted… or worse, by sinning worse than any pagan and presuming he’ll save us anyway ’cause we said the sinner’s prayer, so we have a deal. Don’t be that way. Be like God calls us to be: Be like Jesus. Be his elect.