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The election of grace

August 2018 | by John Thornbury

‘Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace’ (Romans 11:5).

Although many preachers are allergic to the matter of ‘election’, it was obviously deemed important by the prophets and apostles. The word ‘election’ appears five times in the New Testament, not to mention all the times the words ‘chosen’ and ‘elect’ occur. It greets us on the threshold of several books of the New Testament (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9;1 Peter 1:22; 2 John 1).

The fifth article of the Southern Baptist confession of faith says that election is the ‘gracious purpose of God’ and a ‘glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness’. If this is the case, then those who believe it should teach it for the edification of God’s people.

Two erroneous views are often taught, which we need to be aware of. One is that election is a mere act of arbitrary sovereignty, which implies evidently that God wants to see some people suffer in hell, so he passed them by.

This cannot be, for the Bible explicitly says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) and wishes all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4 — see Spurgeon’s sermon on this text in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Banner of Truth, Volume 26, p.49).

God commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30). Would he tell them to do something he did not want them to do? Of course, we must distinguish between God’s desires and his decrees.

Another erroneous view is that election is based on foresight of human behaviour. Some believe that God ‘foresaw’ that some would repent and believe and thus chose them, because of what he saw they would do. If this is so, then election is just God rewarding people for their own actions.

God’s plan

This view leads to salvation by works, for it bases God’s saving mercy on human decisions. It would give the credit to men for their salvation. Yes, men must repent and believe to be saved, but in God’s plan the elect will repent and believe.

The biblical view, in my opinion — as implied in the text above — is that God in wonderful, amazing grace chose to save his people. Gracious election means that those who are redeemed owe nothing to their own merit or action, but solely to the grace shown to them in Christ.

Paul says, in 2 Timothy 1: 9, God ‘has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our own works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began’.

Election means that God is a God of purpose. Would any real Christian want it to be otherwise? Have you ever been involved in the erection of a new building of some kind? I have. Our church in Pennsylvania outgrew two buildings and we had to design and implement building programmes.

In each case, we hired people to design our buildings. It is the job of an architect to lay out a plan on paper before a brick is laid or a wall put up. God is the architect of our salvation. What would you think if you were a member of a church and you saw a bulldozer moving ground for a new church when there had been no previous drawings? Now, rest assured, God is a God of purpose and he does not go about his redemption plans without definite design.

Yes, God planned our salvation. It is all of grace. The Father thought it, the Son bought it and the Spirit wrought it. To God be the glory!

John F. Thornbury served for many years as a pastor in Baptist churches in Pennsylvania and Kentucky (USA).