Election: God did choose you, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 November
ELECT ə'lɛkt verb. Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job.
2. noun. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “the elect.”]
[Elector ə'lɛk.tər noun, election ə'lɛk.ʃən noun.]

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. As if stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian.

Obviously other Christians haven’t grown up the same way. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan—or they grew up in 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 redirect ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s real and here, but that Jesus defines him best. In some cases Jesus even personally showed up and told them to follow him. 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, become adopted by God, and enter his kingdom. Everybody. Without exception. He’s not turning anyone away. (Unless they clearly don’t want him—as proven by their defiant, godless behavior. But that’s another discussion.)

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 clearly set me up to become Christian. Like most people who grow up in a Christian family, or in a predominantly Christian country or community.

Like you, more than likely: When you look back on your life, chances are you can think of many situations where God got your attention, moved you into place, and came after you. Some of them were subtle, and some of them were outrageously obvious. Hey, whatever got you into his kingdom! But God definitely, specifically, wanted you.

Christians call this idea of God choosing us 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 God’s election is limited—he actually doesn’t want to save everyone, but only some people. He clearly wants to save Christians, ’cause we’re following him; and the bible tells of when he saved the Hebrews from Egypt, so he clearly wants them too. Everybody else, they’re not so sure about.

For these folks, there’s the elect (which they obviously presume includes them), and the non-elect, whom they call reprobate. And way too many of ’em teach God created the reprobate, not to save them, but deliberately for destruction. God wants to show off how great he is by demonstrating how he could, if he wished, do nothing to save us. ’Cause he’s gonna do nothing to save them. Now let’s watch ’em get creamed, then spend eternity in burning torment. That could’ve been you, if God didn’t love you so much! Aren’t you glad he loves you? You’d better be.

Seriously though: How twisted and sick would God be if that were true? You can’t call such a God “good.” Or love. And plenty of antichrists have heard Christians make these claims about God, and think we all believe this way—that we believe in a murderous, evil God, and are only calling him good because he’s good to us. They want nothing to do with such a being. I don’t blame them whatsoever.

Anyway, thanks to this seriously f---ed-up theology, a number of Christians have ditched the idea God elects individual people. They figure God only elects groups. Whole nations at a time, like Israel. 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 Egyptian 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 at the same time, it’s kinda obvious from the scriptures God also chooses individuals. ’Cause sometimes he singles out individuals. Like Cornelius of Rome.

Acts 10.1-8 NKJV
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”
So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

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 particularly to Cornelius, and told Cornelius to find Simon Peter and hear the gospel from him. Because God didn’t just want to teach Peter the fact he also wants to save gentiles: God 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 pursuing you. We don’t have to make God elect us: Turns out he already has.

So to answer the question in the header: Yes God elects individuals. And groups. Some would argue he elected the entire world, ’cause between choosing the Hebrews and the gentiles, that’s basically everyone on earth. But don’t get the wrong idea: God isn’t impersonally, unintentionally choosing people. 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.

God already knew you’d respond to his election.

God’s everywhere. He exists at every point in space and time. It’s a hard concept for us humans to fathom, ’cause we’re limited to this place and this time, but God has no such limitations.

The time part of it is especially hard for us to fathom. Again, we’re limited to this time, and we’re limited to the way in which we experience it: It moves forward, and we know what’s past, and don’t know what’s future. And again, God has no such limitations. He not only knows what’s future; he’s there. In the future. Simultaneously he’s also here in the present, and way back in the past. Like I said, every point in space and time.

The scriptures describe it thisaway: God foreknows stuff. He knows things which have yet—for us—to happen. To God they’re happening. And when he acts upon the future stuff he experiences… it weirds us out. For some of us, it weirds ’em out a lot.

Here’s an example: When did God elect us? Well, according to Paul, he did it at the beginning of time. “Before the foundation of the world,” as the NKJV puts it.

Ephesians 1.4-6 NKJV
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

Now if God did all these things before we existed—before we had any say in anything—does this mean we have no say in anything? Determinists certainly think so. That’s their takeaway whenever the apostles start talking about foreknowledge and predestination: God decided it, which to them means he decreed it. It’s a done deal. After all he’s almighty; we’re not.

But nope, that’s not how God’s everywhere-in-time perspective works. God is in the future, sees it happening, acts on this knowledge… and because he acts on it in our past, we get all confused. ’Cause in our experience, effects happen after the cause, not millions of years before! But you’ve seen science fiction movies and TV shows; you know cause and effect get all jumbled up whenever time travelers learn the future, then do stuff about it in the past. The very same deal’s going on with God—who doesn’t need a time machine.

Determinists not only don’t realize this: Whenever we explain this to them, they’ll actually get angry. Because they love the idea of God determining everything in the universe. They love to imagine God pre-deciding everything, and micromanaging everything in history because he’s sovereign over all. For them, election isn’t at all about God wanting to save us: It’s about God deciding once and for all, “You’re saved. Done deal. You’ve no choice in the matter; it’s entirely my will.” So you will go into his kingdom. That’s that.

Okay. So… what about all the people who end up in hell?

Ah, that’s determinism’s nasty little problem. If election means we’re absolutely gonna be saved, it also means when God chooses not to elect someone, they’ll 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. (For that matter God has to be kinda evil, ’cause he determined all the sin and suffering.)

Relax; none of this is how God works. He’s not deterministic. Not evil. He knows the future, but not because he decrees the future and makes it happen. He makes some events 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 so much? But sad to say, some people don’t care God loves us that much. The devil knows God personally, y’know—yet still chooses to resist and fight him, because it’s just that twisted. Humans can be equally 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 tragic, stupid choice. Hell will only be filled with people who chose it. Not people God chooses to destroy for demented fun.

So because of the way God fills time, when you pray, “Lord, I wish my sister were Christian,” he hears that prayer… then effortlessly steps back into the beginning of time and start laying the groundwork so she, too, would be directed towards Christ Jesus. Because:

Romans 8.29-30 NKJV
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Προώρισεν/pro-órisen, which the NKJV translates as “predestined,” means “decided beforehand”: If you call out to God, and God decides he’ll say yes to that prayer, he’ll answer that prayer beforehand. 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:

  • “Whom he called, these he also justified”: God invites us to salvation, and our proper response is to trust in him. Based on this faith, God justifies us—he makes things right so we can have a relationship with him.
  • “Whom he justified, these 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.