Jeremy Sarber

Is the doctrine of election biblical?

God sovereignly chose his people for salvation.

Throughout Scripture, we see God choosing people for various reasons. He once chose Israel to be his sanctified people under the old covenant. He chose prophets and apostles to serve as special messengers on his behalf. But the Bible also speaks about a choice, an election that results in eternal salvation. If anyone can be saved, it must begin with a sovereign decree of God.

Not everyone likes the sound of that. They say, No, no, you’re wrong. Christ invites us to come to him, and when we do, he saves us.” You’re not entirely wrong. We do go to him for salvation, and he does save those who trust in him for salvation. In John 6, he said, For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).

But there’s more to the story. Just a few verses later, Jesus said, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:44). The Father draws us. He creates an irresistible force. That word was used by ancient Greeks to describe a starving man being drawn to food. How appropriate since Jesus referred to himself as the bread of life in John 6 (Jn 6:35).

Yes, we turn to Christ for salvation, but the Bible is abundantly clear that we would never have the will or desire to do so apart from God’s drawing power and sovereign choice. According to Romans 8, God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Ro 8:29). In 1 Thessalonians, Paul said, For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you (1Th 1:4). Going back to John 6, Jesus said, All that the Father gives me will come to me” (Jn 6:37).

Once again, we are faced with the two-sided coin of salvation. Some call it a paradox that can’t be reconciled, but I disagree. There is no conflict between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Frankly, man’s only responsibility in salvation is to admit that he cannot save himself. He must reach a desperate state where he finally says, Lord, save me.” Even then, he has come to that point only because God’s sovereign will has led him there. No one can come to me unless the Father draws him” (Jn 6:44).

Should it surprise anyone that God Almighty is sovereign even in our salvation? Consider Psalm 115:3: Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Or Proverbs 16:9: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Or 2 Chronicles 20:6: O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

What does Paul say? He chose us (Eph 1:4). Let’s not complicate what the Bible says so plainly. Does that undermine what the Bible says elsewhere about us essentially choosing him, coming to him, or believing in him? No, it doesn’t. Before we chose him, however, he chose us. As John said, We love him because he first loved us (1Jn 4:19).

If you’re still inclined to argue against the sovereignty of God, I refer you to Romans 9:

Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:14-16)

Consider Paul’s ministry. Paul preached the gospel indiscriminately to everyone he could. Even so, he understood the doctrine of election. He told Timothy, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2Ti 2:10). That’s an interesting way to phrase it. Paul acknowledged that God chose a people for salvation while simultaneously expressing his desire to reach them so that they could obtain salvation.

Salvation is a two-sided coin. Let’s not mistake election for justification. In the realm of time at least, there is an order to things. Long before a sinner is justified by faith in Christ, he is chosen by God.