Most “evangelical Christians” would very enthusiastically subscribe to the words which Jonah uttered in the fish’s belly: “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). For they tell us that salvation is totally the gift of God. It can not be earned by man’s works, but is the work of God’s grace alone. And yet, very few actually consider the cause of salvation to be the sovereign and unchangeable election of God. Even though there is much talk of God’s grace, most people today make man’s choice, rather than God’s election, the determining factor in salvation. We are told that man, with his free will, must either accept or reject Christ. He has to make the choice himself, for God will not force him against his will. Even though God wants all to be saved and holds out the free gift to all, it is up to each individual to decide whether or not he will receive what God offers. According to many, therefore, it is man’s will that is sovereign in salvation, rather than God’s will.
But that is not what we find in the Scriptures. “Salvation is of the Lord.” Surely these words mean that the sovereign, irresistible cause of salvation is God’s eternal election and not man’s will. Can it possibly be that the Great God Who created the heavens and earth is dependent upon the will of finite man? Of course not, for “He (God) doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. . .” (Dan. 4:35). The will that is sovereign, the will that determines who will be saved and who will not be saved is God’s will. Jesus Christ Himself said, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you. . .” (John 15:16). We have not chosen Christ; not first of all. For man by nature is incapable of choosing Christ. We are corrupt sinners who choose only sin, Satan, and hell. If our salvation were dependent upon our choice, then there would be no salvation at all. Our eternal salvation is sure and secure only because it is the fruit of divine election. Our only comfort in life and death is that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. And we belong to Him, first of all, because God chose us to be His beloved people in Christ Jesus and eternally committed us into Christ’s care for salvation.
The Scriptures are very clear. If we are to understand our salvation, then we must look to the eternal counsel of God. For God is the decreeing God, the God Who has predetermined and appointed absolutely everything that ever comes to pass. He is said to be the God Who “worketh all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11) because all things, down to the most minute details, are willed and planned by Him. Even before they ever became a part of history, they are a part of His eternal decree. This world, and all that belongs to it, runs its course according to God’s predetermined plan, unto God’s predetermined end. And thus God Himself declares to us, “I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:9-10).
Divine election is a part of that eternal decree and will of God. It is the sovereign decree of God by which He has chosen, from before the foundation of the world, a certain number of persons to be His own precious possession, whom He loves and saves through Jesus Christ unto His glory forever. The apostle speaks of this blessed purpose of God in Ephesians 1:4-6: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Notice that the apostle clearly declares that God in His eternal counsel made a choice. According to His good pleasure He has selected only certain ones to be His children. It pleased God, already in eternity, to make distinction between men. All are not equal, for some He elected to eternal life and others He did not. That is the basic truth of election which we must recognize. God’s people are a select people, a special people, a people that belong to God by His own choice. For God chose us for Himself, to be His possession and inheritance. His people are His treasure, the apple of His eye, and very precious in His sight. Thus the Psalmist says, “For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself and Israel for His peculiar treasure” (Ps. 135:4). One of the clearest statements was made by Moses at Mt. Sinai: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6).
It is not strange, therefore, that this special people is the object of God’s love. For He said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13). While others know only the hatred and wrath of God, His elect people have always been His “beloved” people. He says to us, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love. . .” (Jer. 31:3). And that everlasting love of God is an electing love. We can not speak of election without speaking of love. God’s choice in election is the choice of love. To be chosen of God is to be loved of God. Before we were born, before we even knew God, we were in His heart as the objects of His blessed love. In fact, He has loved His people with the very same love with which He has always loved Christ. For Jesus prayed to His Father, “and (Thou) hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me” (John 17:23). Just as surely as God’s people have been chosen in Christ, we have been loved in Christ. That is election.
If we have been loved in Christ, then that divine election can only be an election to salvation. For those whom God loves, He saves (I John 4: 10). In that blessed decree of God, we were not only chosen by God, but we were committed into the hands of Christ for salvation (John 17:9). We were elected to be made “holy and without blame” through the death and resurrection of Christ. God selected His people to be a people redeemed from sin, death, and hell. He chose us to be His righteous covenant people through the way of sin and grace. Therefore the apostle tells us, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thess. 2:13). We as God’s people are not only the people He loves, but the people whom He saves.
When we consider this truth of God’s word (that God has chosen only a select group of people whom He loves and saves) it is easy to see why so many refuse to believe it. To the flesh, it is a “hard saying.” Many are excluded. There have always been those, therefore, who try to find some way to get around this truth. And while many dare not be so bold as to deny openly divine election, they effectively destroy this truth by making it conditional. They can speak of God’s election and still make salvation dependent upon man. They do this by insisting that election is based upon God’s foreknowledge. They tell us that God looked down through the corridors of time and saw those who would believe, who would obey the gospel, and who would persevere in a life of holiness. Upon the basis of that knowledge, God then made His choice. He chose those whom He knew would be saved by their own will or works.
But that can not possibly be true. For God’s foreknowledge is not simply a knowing of certain facts before they take place. Yes, it is true that the Scriptures refer to foreknowledge. ‘We have Romans 8:29where we read, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.” But this knowledge is much more than mere intellectual knowledge. For the Lord said to His people, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. . .” (Amos 3:2). Surely God knows all the families of the earth intellectually. But He knows, in love, only His special people. Foreknowledge is God’s eternal love for His people.
Beside that, the Scriptures make it clear that election is not based upon either man’s will or his works. There is a very beautiful statement found in Deuteronomy 7:7: “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people.” Here both the election of God and the love of God are mentioned. And it is specifically stated that they are not based upon what God saw in man. If that were true, then God would have chosen others instead of Israel, for they were much greater than Israel.
The same emphasis can be found in the New Testament. Notice Romans 9:10-13: “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that called;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Surely this passage is the death blow to conditional election. For here the apostle says that election is “not of works but of Him that calleth.” He proves that, by referring to Jacob and Esau. Before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, God loved the one and hated the other. No, it can not be that God chose according to something He found in man. Salvation “is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
The basic fact that many do not understand is that election includes not only the end, eternal glory, but also the way to that end. Election is the fountain and cause of every good work. Rather than being the basis for election, faith and good works are the result of election. If it were not for God’s choice no one could even have faith and perform good works. Thus we read in Acts 13:48: “. . .and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Those elected to eternal life were also elected to have faith. Of good works we read, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Even our good works were ordained by God in His eternal counsel. How is it possible, then, that election can be conditional? All that God’s people are and will be has been appointed in eternity.
The Scriptures make it very plain that election is not based upon man, but upon God’s good pleasure alone. Election is sovereign. God chose to Himself a people simply because that is what He wanted to do. God’s will is not subject to man. He does not ask for our advice. We do not give to Him first in order that He might then give to us. For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: To Whom be glory forever” (Rom. 11:36). Man, therefore, has absolutely nothing in which to boast. It is all of God and therefore all for His glory. God in His eternal counsel chose to Himself a people whom He loves and saves in Christ Jesus. He did that in order that He might receive praise and honor and glory forever. Rather than replying against God, as so many do, we ought to bow down before Him in thanksgiving and praise. Rather than seeking to lift up man, we ought to exalt the Lord. For He alone is worthy. To Him be the glory forever.