by Peter Ditzel
This is part 1 of a two-part series on the doctrine of grace called Unconditional Election.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without defect before him in love; having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely gave us favour in the Beloved, in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
In the above passage, found in Ephesians 1:3–7, the apostle Paul declares that God the Father has “predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself.” As we will see, the implications of this passage answer the question that so many people have, “What must I do to be saved?” Since Paul and the Christian Ephesians were faithful saints—that is, true Christians (see Ephesians 1:1)—the “us” in the passage refers to true Christians. So, what Paul appears to be saying is that God has predestinated Christians (pre-chosen their destiny) to be His children through Jesus Christ. In other words, Christians (who are the children of God by Jesus Christ) are Christians because God predestinated them to be so, not by any choice of their own.
But can this be so? Don’t we have a choice whether or not we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and become Christians?
Frankly, no. The Bible does not support the popular but erroneous view that we can choose for ourselves whether or not we will be saved Christians. Jesus said to His disciples, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you…. I chose you out of the world” (John 15:16, 19). Paul wrote of God having chosen people for salvation (1 Corinthians 1:26–28; Ephesians 1:4; and 2 Thessalonians 2:13). In fact, it was these chosen people that Jesus referred to when He said, “For many are called [hear the call of the Gospel], but few chosen” (Matthew 22:14). As we will see, the Bible sometimes uses the words “the elect” or “the election” in reference to those predestinated to be the children of God, and the predestinating itself is called “election.”
The Ultimate Purpose of Election
In examining election, a good place to start is its purpose. The ultimate purpose of election (and everything else, for that matter) is God’s glory: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen” (Romans 11:36). More specifically as concerns God’s purpose in choosing people to be His children, election is to the praise of the glory of His grace in which is shown the love of the infinitely holy and just God toward sinners: “having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely bestowed favor on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6; see also verses 11–12; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 7:9–12).
Secondary Purposes of Election
Romans 8:29–30 lists five other purposes of election: “For whom he foreknew, he also predestined  to be conformed to the image of his Son,  that he [Jesus Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers. Whom he predestined,  those he also called. Whom he called,  those he also justified [see also verse 33 and Romans 5:8–9]. Whom he justified,  those he also glorified.” Other Scriptures indicate additional purposes, such as that the elect (those who have been “appointed to eternal life”) exercise the gift of belief or faith and obtain eternal life (Acts 13:48), be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10), be adopted as God’s children (Ephesians 1:5), and perform the good works that God has prepared before (or foreordained) for them (Ephesians 2:10). Put briefly, the elect are predestinated to obtain salvation and to live as saved people.
In support of this, notice 1 Thessalonians 5:9: “For God didn’t appoint us to wrath, but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Also, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “But we are bound to always give thanks to God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Romans 5:9–10 and 1 Peter 1:2–5 also teach the elect’s destiny to be saved.
God chooses the elect for salvation, but is that election alone enough to bring about their salvation? Or must the elect, or God, do more? I once lived near a meeting place for a church that claims to believe the five doctrines of grace. But in fact this church so wrests unconditional election out of its Scriptural context that it destroys the meaning of the doctrines of grace. In fact, it introduces heresy. This church, and there are others across North America that believe as it does, says that election to salvation is what saves. Therefore, this church believes that many people—perhaps the majority of people in the world—are saved because they are elect even if they never believe that Jesus Christ is their Savior. This church believes that God has elect people throughout the world who live and die without ever coming into contact with the Gospel. And they believe that these people, because they are elect, are saved. Now if you are not a member of this church, you may think I’m wasting your time telling you this. But if you will continue reading, I think you will see lessons we can all learn from this.
The members of this church have apparently not considered that if a driver in Nashville sets his destination as Los Angeles, he doesn’t just immediately appear in Los Angeles. Among other things, he must leave his house, get into his car, start his car, drive out of Nashville, and drive through Memphis, Little Rock, and even Albuquerque before reaching Los Angeles. He must also have gas in his car.
God has set the final destination of His elect, but He gets them there by specific means that He has also predetermined, or foreordained, will happen. The Scriptures we have examined point out some of those means: God calls His elect, they hear the Gospel (is God so weak that He cannot make sure His elect hear the Gospel?), He gives them the faith to believe the Gospel (they are born again), they are justified, they are reconciled, they are adopted as God’s children, they live sanctified lives performing the good works God has foreordained for them, they are glorified.
The elect are saved because Jesus died for them on the Cross. They are elect because they are the ones God in eternity chose that Jesus would die for. As we will see, nothing in them caused God to choose them over others. Thus, their election is unconditional. The way to salvation—the only way—is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). He also said,
“Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn’t enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out….” Jesus therefore said to them again, “Most certainly, I tell you, I am the sheep’s door…. I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture…. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and I’m known by my own…. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. They will become one flock with one shepherd.”
John 10:1–3, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16
Notice in the above verses that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep. This is because they are His elect. It is these sheep for whom He gives His life (the fact that this is limited to His sheep and not extended to goats, pigs, cows, and horses is called limited atonement). The Good Shepherd also calls His sheep by name and they hear His voice and are led by Him. This is a reference to God’s calling of the elect through the Gospel, and the elect’s supernatural recognition of and response to that Gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The members of the church I mentioned earlier say that people in far off lands never have a chance to hear the Gospel and are saved apart from it and apart, therefore, from exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. Notice, however, that Jesus said he has “other sheep…not of this fold.” Since He was talking to Jews, we must understand that these “other sheep” are the Gentiles. At the time Jesus spoke, far flung regions of the world were even more difficult to get to than today. Yet Jesus was able to say of these Gentile sheep, “I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice.” From His emphasis on “one flock with one shepherd” we should get the message that there is only one way to salvation, and that way is Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:10–12). There is no difference in the way of salvation between one people and another. And Jesus clearly says of these Gentile sheep, “they will hear my voice.” No matter how remote someone may be, if that person is elect, God will make sure the Gospel gets to him or her. And if the Gospel never gets to a person, that person is not elect.
But, counter the people of this apostatized church, so many people in the world who do not call themselves Christians are kind, gentle, considerate, often dedicating their lives to help others. Surely their good works show these people to be elect and, therefore, saved. But Jesus says, even of people who know His name but have not trusted Him as Savior, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
In other words, although the elect do the good works God has ordained for them, not all who do good works are elect. In fact, from the point of view of the righteous God, the good works of those who are not elect are iniquity (see also Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10–12). We have examined Scriptures, and there are many others, that show that Jesus is the way, and the only way, to salvation. These Scriptures should, along with this passage in Matthew, be sufficient to show that however many good works people may do, if they have not heard and believed the Gospel, they are not saved. And if they never hear the Gospel, then they are not elect.
To teach that Jesus Christ can be circumvented, that people can be saved without believing in Jesus Christ as Savior because they are elect, is biblical heresy. The truth is, all who believe the Gospel, exercising saving faith to trust in Jesus Christ alone as Savior, are elect; anyone who never comes to believe the Gospel and believe that Jesus Christ alone is his or her Savior—even if it is because that person has not heard the Gospel—is not elect.
This information helps us formulate a biblical view of spreading the Gospel, or evangelizing the world. Those who say that most of the world is saved apart from believing the Gospel tend not to evangelize. Why bother? But this view is contradicted by the Bible (particularly Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; all of Acts; and Romans 10:14–15), and, while sometimes wrongly associated with Sovereign Grace or Calvinism, it has nothing to do with a true understanding of the doctrines of grace.
Even people who understand election and the need to believe the Gospel sometimes believe evangelization is unnecessary. They say that since God will make sure the Gospel will get to His elect, Christians need not make an effort to spread the Gospel. God will make sure it gets done. These people are neglecting to realize that if, for example, God wants the Gospel to reach an elect person in Mongolia, He will most likely use someone to evangelize the area in Mongolia where that person lives. The thinking that leads to this neglect toward evangelization is also nonbiblical and a distortion of Sovereign Grace/Calvinism. (These views and other distortions of Calvinism that lead to not evangelizing or trying to limit evangelizing to the impossible task of preaching the Gospel only to the elect—the elect do not walk around with halos over their heads!—are sometimes called hyper-Calvinism.)
On the other end of the spectrum in this regard are those who are in anguish because they believe people are continually being lost who could have been saved but for a lack of funds and people for missionary work. These people understand neither election nor the omnipotence of God.
The God of the Bible loses none of His elect. The biblical view of evangelization is that we must do what we can to evangelize as God leads us, makes opportunity, and provides the resources. But we can be assured as we do this that it is sufficient for God to save all He intends to save (this attitude can be seen in Acts).
Getting back to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”, we have so far seen that the works of those who are not elect will not save them. But what about the elect? We have seen that the elect must believe the Gospel. But is this belief a work that is a condition to becoming elect? Does election have conditions? Are there good works we must do to remain one of the elect? Is Jesus’ testimony in Matthew 7:21 that “he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” will “enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” a reference to such works?
“How Does Election Occur?”—which is part 2 of this Unconditional Election series—will answer these questions.
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