Friday, 5 June 2015

Thinking about Election

The Christian Faith has some doctrines that we find hard to understand. One of them is the doctrine of election. It is important to note that election is not a barrier to getting converted. We should not look at this doctrine when thinking about trusting in Jesus for the first time. Instead we should look at the promises that God makes to everyone about forgiveness if they trust in Jesus. But after trusting in Jesus it is essential that we think about this doctrine because God has told us about it. So here are seven things to think about when considering this doctrine.

The first detail to observe is that election is an expression of the love of the Father. Before time began, it had been agreed within the Trinity that each of the divine Persons would perform specific tasks in the outworking of the plan of salvation. The Son would become the Redeemer and the Spirit would become the Renewer of sinners. As far as the Father was concerned, his role involved selecting those who would be redeemed. And he selected them because he always loved them. This selection does not mean that prior to it he did not love his people. Instead it means an eternal selection, that he had always loved each of his people in this unique and special way. As far back as we want to imagine, when we think about that moment we should realise that then, and long before, the Father loved his people. It is a love without beginning.

The second detail to note is that it is a love that is undeserved. This is a very important aspect of this doctrine that we should remember at all times. Often those who criticise this doctrine do so by saying that God the Father was unjust when he made his choice. He would only be unjust or unfair if we deserved his love. But the fact is that no-one deserved it because those God chose came from a race of rebels against his law.

Third, we will see that the act of election was connected to Jesus. Paul reminds his readers in Ephesus that they were chosen in Christ. What does this mean? From the rest of the Bible we can say that it means they were given to the Son by the Father. Jesus refers to this donation by the Father and reception by the Son in John 17. In verse 6, he refers to his apostles and says about them: ‘I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.’ And in verse 24, he mentions all of his people: ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ 

This gift of the Father to the Son was an expression of his love for his Son as well as his love for his people. A lover will want to give what he knows his beloved would appreciate, would enjoy and would want to keep. The Father knew what was suitable for his Son and gave him a people that he would delight in and would want to keep for ever. The process of salvation began with love that was connected to the Son and all that he would do for them would reveal it.

Fourth, the details of the act of election reveals the unexpected. Paul writes this surprising description in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: ‘For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.’ Whatever else this set of verses teaches, it makes clear that God did not choose the best. 

I recall reading the story of a very intelligent man who was glad the letter ‘m’ was in this verse, found in the word ‘many’. It would have been disastrous for him if it had been left out and instead of ‘not many’ wise it said ‘not any’ wise. But he was an intelligent man who found a greater wisdom. And there have been wealthy people and powerful people who have discovered that God had loved them eternally.

Yet we have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and that often, if not usually, he reveals his mercy to the poor, the despised and the needy. Of course, the world describes their experience as having a crutch to lean on whereas the reality is that God has enabled them to lean on his grace. 

Fifth, the reality of election is a wonderful encouragement for evangelism. Paul found this to be the case in Corinth. Despite having converts there he became discouraged and afraid because Luke tells us that ‘the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them’ (Acts 18:9-11). Without election, the fact is that there would be no converts. But realising that God sends his gospel with a purpose of saving those he has chosen, we should be encouraged to evangelise because that is the way that God has planned to gather in his people.

Sixth, the doctrine of election provides us with a strong basis for assurance. Did God choose us in the past in order to reject us in the future? Of course not, for as Paul reminded the Philippians: ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). The fact that he chose his people should be an immense encouragement as they face the daily struggles of life.

Seventh, the doctrine of election should result in verbal praise of the Father. This is what Paul does in Ephesians 1:3ff when he praises the Father for the great salvation provided for undeserving sinners by the Trinity. Is his electing grace a feature of our prayers of gratitude to him, the God of all grace?