Election: Unconditional, Eternal, and Loving
To understand election is to see it as the act of a sovereign, gracious, eternally loving God. It is a demonstration of His desire to be in a faithful covenantal relationship with a people. Though knowing these people to be disobedient, sinful, and wayward, He chooses to set His affection on them so as to show and exalt His love and mercy throughout eternity. Consequently, divine election has three important elements:
Election is unconditional. God did not choose His people based on who we are or what we can do, on any potential we have or that He saw in us. Rather, He chose us when we had met no prior condition or obligation. To illustrate this incomparable truth, the Bible uses the story of twins Jacob and Esau:
When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom. 9:10–13)
We elect presidents based on what we hear and see. We choose spouses based on the impression they make upon us. But God’s choice of His beloved was not based on any goodness in them. He made His choice without respect of person. As one Puritan writer put it, “Moreover, as God respects no persons, so He respects no condition upon which He gives salvation to us.
Election is eternal. God’s choices are as old as He is. When did God choose you? When you were born? When you believed? No. He chose you from all eternity. The electing purpose of God is from before the beginning and will be true throughout all eternity. A lady once told John Newton, “If God had not chosen me before I was born, he would have never chosen me afterwards.” The Bible speaks of God as the One “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
Election is loving. Some people think the biblical doctrine of election is unloving. They suggest that because God has not chosen everyone for salvation, only some, then He is not loving. Yet, the very opposite is true. Because God loves, He chooses. Love by nature must be particular, specifically designed for a beloved. To love all the same without discrimination or distinction is to not love at all.
Practically speaking, we understand this. Would my wife think me more loving if I loved all women the same way I love her? Or would she desire my love for her to be distinguished from the love I have for others? Would she consider me unloving if I told her I loved only her? The answers are obvious. God’s love is an electing love, and His election is a loving election. Love is the key! In choosing or electing the Israelites to be His people from among all the other people in the world, God declared:
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut. 7:6–8)
“Elect” is a term of loving endearment. In the Bible, particularly the New Testament, God’s people are consistently referred to as the “elect” or the “chosen” (Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9). In fact, this is one of the favorite ways in which the New Testament writers are moved to refer to God’s people.
Peter specifically reminds us that election is the loving purpose of God. He writes his epistle more to console than to correct, comforting his readers in their distresses by first reminding them that they are chosen by God.
He also tells them how and why they have been chosen. It is the work of a triune God. They are elect according to the Father’s foreknowledge, in the Spirit’s sanctification, and for obedience to the Son, Jesus Christ. All this is realized through the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:1–2).