What is the doctrine of election?

The doctrine of election has been a source of debate among Christians for many centuries. One Bible teacher, Millard Erickson, who wrote a 1,000 page book about all the major doctrines of the Bible, said this doctrine is, “Certainly one of the most puzzling and least understood.” The Biblical doctrine of election has nothing to do with who is going to be the next President of the United States. The doctrine of election is about how God determines who will be saved.

Election is defined in many different ways. One view of election is typically associated with the group of teachings known as Calvinism, and is also closely related to the Lutheran view of election. This view teaches that God unconditionally chose to save certain, specific people. He chose these people before He created anything. He chose them only because of His grace, not because He saw they would believe in Jesus or because of some other good He foresaw would be in them. The ones God chose to save will be saved because He Sovereignly works in them to bring them to salvation.

The position that is often seen as the opposite of Calvinism is the Arminian view of election. This view teaches that God chose to save those who would believe in Him. In this teaching, God chose to save but He did not chose specific individuals who would be saved. Some variations of Arminianism teach that God chose to save individuals based upon foreknowledge of who would believe. That is, God saw who would believe Him and He elected to salvation those He foreknew would believe.

Others believe that election is of a means of salvation. God did not choose who would be saved, but He chose to save through the death of Jesus. All those who believe Jesus are joined to the chosen Savior and become part of the elect.

Others believe God chose to call out a group of people to Himsel, but He did not select the individuals of that group. He chose the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and He chose the church in the New Testament. In the New Testament era, all who are saved become part of the body of Christ. The individual members of this elect group are then known as the elect.

The question of election is challenging because it struggles with ideas that seem to be competing and contradictory. If God Sovereignly chooses those who will be saved and if only those He chooses can be saved, then how can He righteously punish any who do not believe what He has not given them the ability to believe? On the other hand, if man has the ability to believe or reject salvation then God cannot be fully Sovereign. If people have the full freedom to chose or reject God, then they have the ability to do things that God has no control over. The question of election wrestles with this seeming paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability.

Despite the challenges surrounding the doctrine of election, several key truths about God must be upheld. These truths cannot be denied and remain true to Biblical teaching. God knows everything. God knows the past, the present and the future. His knowledge includes everything that was, is and will be. He knows what men will believe and what men will not believe.

God is good and infinitely loving. He always acts for the benefit of His creation. He is not cruel or malicious. He is just. He does not play favorites with humanity based upon color, language, wealth, education, employment or power. God does not prefer those who have the most to offer Him. He deals with all men in goodness and justice.

Though many Christians have reached different conclusions on this subject, election should not divide sincere believers. In the end, each Christian will have to reach his own conclusions on the doctrine of election.