Unconditional Election: The Glory of Electing Grace
The doctrine of election should be a most humbling doctrine. It means that God chooses for salvation before the foundations of the world a people unto Himself to receive that salvation. The basis for election is “unconditional”. In other words, God does not look ahead and take into account what people will do or how they will respond. Indeed, if God left us to ourselves, we would remain dead in our sins. So even before creation, God chose a people unto himself. He chose for reasons known only to Himself. It is nothing more than His goodness and his free determination to have mercy on whom He wills to have mercy.
But does this doctrine make us more humble? If we are honest, sometimes us ‘Calvinists’ and ‘Reformed,’ can see it as a point of privilege that not only are we, as believers, ’the chosen’ but we also are the ones who hold to the truth and understand this doctrine. If not careful, this can form a foundation for pride.
However, when we think of the doctrine of election, it should make us humble. I have no reason to stand before God except for the grace of God. There is no basis in myself as to why I should experience that grace. Even my response to God in faith is something He worked in me. As Ephesians 1 reminds us, the working of God in redemption, especially in election and predestination is “according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace”. You cannot truly praise the glorious grace of God and retain pride in your heart. The more I understand grace, the more pride should be cut down and put to death.
So as we return to Ephesians 1, we see that Paul’s reflecting on the working of God’s grace begins by pouring out blessing to the Father. God is our Father through adoption (1:5), but specifically Paul reflects on the Trinity—that God is the Father “of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The whole hymn on the plan and purposes of God is Trinitarian here. “To the praise of his glorious grace” is grace to which we were predestined by the work of the Father, grace that was accomplished by the work of the Son, and grace that is applied by the work of the Holy Spirit.
With respect to election, God “chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world”. First, notice that the object of God’s choice is “us”. The believing Christian is a believing Christian precisely because God chose us. Second, the timing of God’s choice is “before the foundations of the world.” God’s purpose in election is “not because of works but because of him who calls” (9:11). God’s choice is just that: God’s choice based on the sovereignty of His will. It is He who calls us and this call is not on the basis of anything we have done, will do, or potential that we have. Third, we are chosen ‘in Christ’. We are chosen to be in Christ so that Christ’s work will apply to us. In life the believer will make progress in grace. This is why all people need to hear the preaching of the gospel, it is the means by which God will effect His call. The internal call of the Spirit comes on the basis of God’s election. But an eternally elect person still moves from wrath to grace as redemption is applied to them. God’s plan is eternal but God effects His plan in the work of the Father and the Son.
So the question is this: does the electing power of God lead you to humility? We are to see our sins and understand that only God can deliver us from them. It was God’s plan from start to finish and I contributed nothing of merit to the plan. I am unworthy of the grace of God—even my response to God’s grace is the result of His work.
Second, does the grace of God especially in election and predestination to adoption lead me to worship? Do I praise God? Do I sing: “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all my sin”? I cannot manipulate God’s grace, woo it to come to me, or pay God back for what He has given. If thinking about God’s election of us does not lead you to thanksgiving and worship, you need to take a step back and ask the Lord to soften your heart.
Third, the doctrine of election should make us humble and that humility should lead to evangelism. The plan of God’s grace is still working out in space and time. In humble confidence, we can announce to people “God is saving sinners, of which I am the worst”—‘come and receive the forgiveness of sins.’ In this outward call, God will work. I know that I do not have God’s grace because I’m special. I don’t think I’m worthy of the election of God. Therefore, I call and say to others, “look at the majesty of God’s grace; look at what He has done.” As God’s grace is laid out in its beauty, God brings those dead in sin alive in Christ.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.