The great preacher Herschel Hobbs, known among Southern Baptists as “Mr. Baptist,” preached a famous sermon based on that tract on The Baptist Hour in October 1967. His sermon was “God’s Election Day,” and its main point was: “The devil and God held an election to determine whether or not you would be saved or lost. The devil voted against you and God voted for you. So the vote was a tie. It is up to you to cast the deciding vote.” D. L. Moody thought that election meant this: “God chose me for himself, but the devil chose me for himself. My choice is the tie-breaker.”

Is this really how your salvation (and mine) are determined? Most Christians will say, “I hope not”, and some will say “Definitely not!” How then is one saved?

Sovereignty of God

Throughout the Bible, we see that God does everything in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts he does so willfully and independent of any pressure or outside influence. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires.

In the very act of creation, God created precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Genesis 1:31). And since then, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that the redemptive plan which He had conceived from the foundation of the world might be accomplished (cf. Isaiah 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Romans 9:17; Ephesians 3:8–11).

In the Old Testament, He chose a nation for Himself. Out of all the nations in the world, He selected Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; Psalm 105:43; 135:4). He chose them, not because they were better or more desirable than any other people, but simply because He decided to choose them. In the words of Richard Wolf, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” It may not have rhymed as well, but the same would have been true of any other people God might have selected. God chooses whomever He chooses, for reasons that are wholly His.

It was essential for Israel to know that they were chosen by God not just to be beneficiaries of God’s love and favor, but for a mission: to be his witnesses that before him no god was formed, nor will there be one after him (Isa 43:10). Jesus reminded them of this fact later when he told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16).

God’s electing prerogative is clearly displayed again in his choosing of Jacob over Esau. God’s choice was not on the basis of anything Jacob or Esau had done, but according to His own free and uninfluenced sovereign purpose. To those who might protest, “That is unfair!” Paul simply responds by asking, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (v. 20).

In the New Testament, election seems to be linked to the salvation of souls. Acts 13:48 tells us that those who believed in the gospel “have been appointed to eternal life.” Paul reminds the believers in Ephesus that God “chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and the Thessalonians that he knew God’s choice of them (1 Thessalonians 1:4), and that he was thankful for them “because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Foreknowledge of God

If God chose those who will be saved before the foundation of the world, he must have already known them then. Romans 8:29-30 speaks of the foreknowledge of God.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

On what basis did God, who foreknew you, choose you for salvation? Did he foreknow that you would respond positively to him? Charles Spurgeon tells us why this could not have been the case.

There shall be twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a shilling; but will any one say that I determined to give that one a shilling, that I elected him to have the shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense. In like manner to say that God elected men because he foresaw they would have faith, which is salvation in the germ, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is the gift of God. Every virtue comes from him. Therefore it cannot have caused him to elect men, because it is his gift. (Sermon: Election (No. 41-42) Delivered on Sabbath Morning, September 2, 1855, by the REV. C. H. Spurgeon at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.)

On a slightly comical note, Spurgeon said,

“I’m so glad that God chose me before the foundation of the world, because he never would have chosen me after I was born!”

If that is the case, then what is the meaning of the FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD?

Warren Wiersbe says that:

Foreknowledge does not suggest that God merely knew ahead of time that we would believe, and therefore He chose us. This would raise the question, “Who or what made us decide for Christ?” and would take our salvation completely out of God’s hands. In the Bible, to foreknow means “to set one’s love on a person or persons in a personal way (see Jer 1:5).” (Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor or Logos comments on Luke 22:14 24)

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that

God’s foreknowledge is much more than foresight. God does not know future events and human actions because He foresees them; He knows them because He wills them to happen. Thus God’s foreknowledge is an act of His will. (Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

And according to A. W. Pink,

God’s “foreknowledge” is based upon His “purpose” or decree (see Ps. 2:7). God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be. God did not elect any sinner because He foresaw that he would believe, for the simple but sufficient reason that no sinner ever does believe until God gives him faith; just as no man sees until God gives him sight. Sight is God’s gift, seeing is the consequence of my using His gift. So faith is God’s gift (Eph. 2:8, 9), believing is the consequence of my using His gift. If it were true that God had elected certain ones to be saved because in due time they would believe, then that would make believing a meritorious act, and in that event the saved sinner would have ground for “boasting,” which Scripture emphatically denies: Eph. 2:9.

Depravity of Man

According to Calvinism, election is necessary because we are totally depraved sinners. In other words, we would not choose God unless he first chose us.

In the Westminster Confession the doctrine of Total Inability (another name for the Depravity of Man) is stated as follows: — “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.” Based on this condition of Man, it would have been impossible for God to foresee that any one would receive the gospel when it was preached to him. If anything, God would have foreseen that all would reject His gift of salvation, as precious as it is.

The total depravity of man is a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6) causing every part of him—his mind, will, emotions and flesh—to be corrupted by sin. Consequently, since everything is tainted by sin, “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). According to Paul, no one is excluded since no one is without sin, no one seeks after God, there is no one who is good, their speech is full of deceit, cursing and bitterness, their actions are evil, and, above all, they have no fear of God (Rom 3:10-18). “Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (verse 9) and therefore depraved.

So, when one considers even these few verses, it becomes abundantly clear the Bible does indeed teach that fallen man is “totally depraved,” because sin affects all of him.

Total depravity does not mean that man is as wicked or sinful as he could be, nor does it mean that man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong. Neither does it mean that man does not or cannot do things that seem to be good when viewed from a human perspective or measured against a human standard. It does not even mean that man cannot do things that seem to conform outwardly to the law of God. What the Bible does teach and what total depravity does recognize is that even the “good” things man does are tainted by sin because they are not done for the glory of God and out of faith in Him (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6).

If election is unconditional, will there be people in heaven who do not want to be there, or will there be people in hell who wanted to be saved but could not be because they were not elect?

Limited Atonement

If only certain ones have been chosen for salvation, then it follows that Christ’s atoning death was a limited one: it atoned only for the sins of the chosen ones.

Limited atonement is the teaching within Calvinism which states that Jesus only bore the sins of the elect (those chosen for salvation by God) and that he did not bear the sins of every individual who has ever lived. This teaching is also called “particular redemption” and “definite atonement”. This doctrine is known within Reformed theology and is also considered one of the five points of Calvinism.

According to Calvin, “eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others” (Institutes of the Christian Religion III.XXI.5). Many people refer to this as “double predestination.” Calvin based it on Romans 9 and other passages that emphasize God’s sovereignty in everything, including each individual’s eternal destiny.

While limited atonement broadens the power of the atonement but limits its scope: the atoning work of Christ is so powerful that all for whom the atonement has been made, will be saved, universal atonement, broadens its scope but limits its power because not everyone it includes will be saved.

The controversy seems to be answered by John 3:16 and 17, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (italics added). God did not just love those he elected. He loves everyone and therefore gave his son as a propitiation for sins; not only for a few but for the whole world (1 John 2:2).

If Christ’s sacrificial atonement is for everyone, why are some saved and others not? This is due to the exercise of man’s free will.

Free Will of Man

Those who object to the doctrine of election say that it is “fatalism” or that it presents a “mechanistic system” for the universe.

By “fatalism” is meant a system in which human choices and human decisions really do not make any difference. In fatalism, no matter what we do, things are going to turn out as they have been previously ordained. Therefore, it is futile to attempt to influence the outcome of events or the outcome of our lives by putting forth any effort or making any significant choices, because these will not make any difference any way. In a true fatalistic system, of course, our humanity is destroyed for our choices really mean nothing, and the motivation for moral accountability is removed.

In a mechanistic system the picture is one of an impersonal universe in which all things that happen have been inflexibly determined by an impersonal force long ago, and the universe functions in a mechanical way so that human beings are more like machines or robots than genuine persons. Here also genuine human personality would be reduced to the level of a machine that simply functions in accordance with predetermined plans and in response to predetermined causes and influences. (Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem)

Arminianism is a system of belief that attempts to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free will, especially in relation to salvation. Arminianism is named after Jacob Arminius (1560—1609), a Dutch theologian. While Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God, Arminianism emphasizes the responsibility of man.

The fundamental principle in Arminianism is the rejection of predestination, and a corresponding affirmation of the freedom of the human will. Shortly after his death, the followers of Arminius (later called Arminians) presented a statement to the governing authorities of Holland in which they set forth five articles of doctrine. These were: (1) that the divine decree of predestination is conditional, not absolute; (2) that the Atonement is in intention universal; (3) that man cannot of himself exercise a saving faith, but requires God’s help to attain this faith; (4) that though the grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort it does not act irresistibly in man; (5) that believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace. In essence, the Arminians maintained that God gives indispensible help in salvation, but that ultimately it is the free will of man which decides the issue. (Michael Marlowe, Bible Researcher)

Based on this, it is therefore possible that “there are unsaved people alive today, who, though elect, are now lost and will not be saved until they believe” (Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine)

Wesley affirmed free will, enabled by grace, because otherwise, “[I]f man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, words, or actions.”

Now, let’s compare the two camps of Calvinism and Arminianism:

Calvinism Arminianism
Total Depravity Partial Depravity
Unconditional Election Conditional Election
Limited Atonement Universal Atonement
Irresistable Grace Resistable Grace
Preseverance of the Saints Falling from Grace


Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that human beings take the initiative in their salvation and service to God. We decide whether to be saved or enter into God’s service completely by ourselves, without prevenient (or necessary) grace. (Prevenient grace is grace that convicts, calls, illumines, and enables. Christian theologians disagree about whether it is resistible or irresistible, but all evangelical theologians agree it is necessary for the first exercise of a good will toward God.) Some years ago, a popular television series featured angels in human disguise helping people in distress turn to God. In one episode, a beautiful young angel with a Scottish accent counseled a man to “reach up to God as far as you can, and then he’ll reach down and take you the rest of the way.” I call that “Touched by an Angel theology.” By itself, without careful biblical and theological clarification, it expresses semi-Pelagianism.

Purpose of Election

Having now understood HOW God foreknew and elected us, we must go on to ask WHY has God elected us.

“What are you talking about? God elected us to be saved, right?” Well, yes but that’s not all. To understand that God chose us only to be saved – meaning to go to heaven – is to have a very shallow and narrow understanding of God’s wonderful plan for you. As far as God is concerned, there is something more important than for us to go to heaven. Surprised? Read Romans 8:29 and you will see. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

Did you see the word ‘predestinate’ there? Well, don’t be intimidated by it. It simply means to determine in advance or foreordain. (Don’t be intimidated by that too.) Basically, what it means is that at the same time God chose you, He also decided on an objective, a goal for you. So that there will be no confusion, I need to say that this is a goal God has set for Himself. This is what He wants to accomplish in you so that in the end, when it has been all said and done, God alone will get the glory.

How will God accomplish what He has predestinated? By His Grace, of course. Sadly, we have only begun to scratch the surface in our understanding of God’s grace. That “(God’s) grace is unmerited favor” is about all we know about the Grace of God; but there’s more…much more. According to Paul, it was the grace of God that he was who he was: an apostle, a teacher, and a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And not only that; Paul also acknowledges that it was the grace of God in him that has enabled him to do all that he has done (1 Cor 15:10).

You can also call what God has predestinated a ‘destination’. A destination denotes there is a journey to be embarked on and completed. The writer of the book of Hebrews describes this journey in terms of a “race”, which we are to “run with endurance…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1). While speed and stamina are essential in a physical race, faith is what will keep a Christian in this spiritual race. And to those who finish the race, the Lord will say: “Well done, good and FAITH-ful one. Enter into the joy of your Lord”.

So what is it that God wants to accomplish in us? He wants us to be conformed to the image of His Son.

Spurgeon writes,

“Man was originally made in the image of God, but by sin he has defaced that image, and now we who are born into this world are fashioned, not in the heavenly image of God, but in the earthy image of the fallen Adam. The Lord in boundless grace has resolved that a company whom no man can number, called here “many brethren,” shall be restored to his image, in the particular form in which his Eternal Son displays it. To this end Jesus Christ came into the world and bore our image, that we, through his grace, might bear his image. He became a partaker of our infirmities and sicknesses that we might be partakers of the divine nature in all its excellence and purity.”

As you can see, God did not choose us just so that we might receive salvation and go to heaven. That, if you will, is one of the fringe benefits and not the main thing. But because many Christians have missed this, they remain mostly unchanged, untransformed, and un-renewed throughout their lives. On the one hand, they talk about growing in Christ-likeness but, on the other hand, they resign themselves to the lie that no one will be perfect in this lifetime. If they were right, that no one will be perfect in this lifetime, why then did Jesus say, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Is He telling us to do something that is impossible to acheive? “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom 3:4). The truth is: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be (like His Son) holy and blameless in his presence” (Eph 1:4).

Our conformity to the image of Christ takes place at a number of ways. First, we are conformed to His image in terms of our nature. Christ’s nature was divine. What that means we will not pry into here, suffice to say that Christ was not made divine but was “begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). We too, the Bible says, have been begotten “unto a lively hope” (1 Pet 1:3). To be begotten is something more than to be made: this is a more personal work of God; and that which is begotten is in closer affinity to Himself than that which is only created. Our first birth gave us humanity; our second birth allies us with Deity.

If we stopped here in talking about being begotten of God, then we have missed the most significant implication and application of this truth. Why is it important to God that we be like Christ in His nature? Is it just so that we could be called sons of God? Or is there something more? Indeed, there is a lot more than just being called sons of God. In his epistle, John wrote many things about those who are born of God. He said that they do not keep on sinning (3:9); they have love for others (4:7); they believe that Jesus is the Christ and loves the Father (5:1); they overcome the world (5:4); and are not touched by the devil (5:18). That is a tall order, and I am sure no man, as carnal as it comes, will be able to come close to fulfilling it. That’s why we need the Grace of God.

Importance of Election

Assurance of God’s Providence

Loraine Boettner, in her book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, wrote:

The Christian who has this doctrine in his heart knows that he is following a heaven-directed course; that his course has been foreordained for him personally; and that it is a good course. He does not yet understand all of the details, but even amid adversities he can look forward confident of the future, knowing that his eternal destiny is fixed and forever blessed, and that nothing can possibly rob him of this priceless treasure. He realizes that after he has finished the course here he shall look back over it and see that every single event in it was designed of God for a particular purpose, and that he will be thankful for having been led through those particular experiences. Once convinced of these truths, he knows that the day is surely coming when to all those who grieve or persecute him he shall be able to say, as did Joseph to his brothers, “As for you, ye meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

It is a source of security and courage

Loraine continues to write, saying,

“It is the doctrine of a particular providence,” says Rice, “that gives to the righteous a feeling of security in the midst of danger; that gives them assurance that the path of duty is the path of safety and of prosperity; and that encourages them to the practice of virtue, even when it exposes them to the greatest reproach and persecution. How often, when clouds and darkness seem to gather over them, do they rejoice in the assurance given by their Saviour, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'” (God Sovereign and Man Free, p. 46). The sense of security which this doctrine gives to the struggling saint results from the assurance that he is not committed to his own power, or rather weakness, but into the sure hands of the Almighty Father,—that over him is the banner of love and underneath are the everlasting arms. He realizes that even the Devil and wicked men, regardless of whatever tumults they may cause, are not only restrained of God but are compelled to do His pleasure. Elisha, lonely and forgotten, counted those who were with him more than those who were against him, because he saw the chariots and horsemen of the Lord moving in the clouds. The disciples, knowing that their names were written in heaven, were prepared to endure persecutions, and on one occasion we read that after being beaten and reviled “they departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name,” Acts 5:41

Protection against pride

It is so important for every Christian to properly understand the doctrine of Election because it stresses the fact that we have been saved by grace through faith, and not the other way around. It is easy for Christians to slip into the belief that it was they who believed and made the decision to receive Christ. Yes, they believed and made a decision. But could they have done it if God had not called them or the Spirit sanctified them? No way. Ephesians 2:8 and 9 categorically states that “IT IS NOT YOUR OWN DOING, IT IS A GIFT OF GOD; NOT A RESULT OF WORKS, SO THAT NO ONE MAY BOAST.” Even the faith that is needed to believe came from Christ who is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). There is nothing in us that can make us believe. Everything in us, on the other hand, will cause us to go away from God. Before we knew Christ, we were not merely sinners; we were “enemies of God” (Rom 5:10). A proper understanding of the doctrine of Election will prevent us from becoming proud. It will keep us from saying things like: “Why can’t they believe like I did?” And it will make us mindful that a person’s salvation totally depends on God’s election, and not how good or bad he has been. Not one, no matter how good he has lived his life, merits salvation from God. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).


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