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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
God is a loving and merciful God, and in his grace chooses people for purposes that he has planned. This exercise of God’s sovereign will is called election.
In the Old Testament God’s election applied particularly to his choice of Abraham and, through Abraham, to his choice of Israel to be his people (Genesis 12:1-3; Nehemiah 9:7-8; Isaiah 41:8-9). From this people he produced one man, Jesus the Messiah, chosen by him before the foundation of the world to be the Saviour of the world (Luke 9:35; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28; Ephesians 1:9-10; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:6). All who believe in Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, are the true people of God, the true descendants of Abraham (Romans 9:6-9; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:26-29). God has chosen them to receive his salvation, and together they form God’s people, the church (John 6:37; John 6:44; John 15:19; John 17:2; John 17:6; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9). ‘The elect’ is therefore another name for the people of God (Matthew 24:22; Luke 18:7; 2 Timothy 2:10).
God’s activity in determining beforehand what will happen, particularly in relation to people’s destiny, is sometimes called predestination. This predestination originates in God himself, who acts according to his own will and purpose (Psalms 139:16; Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 37:26; Isaiah 46:9-10; Matthew 25:34; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28; Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:28-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; see ).
The gracious work of God
Election has its source in the sovereign love of God. No one deserves to be chosen by God, but in his immeasurable mercy he has chosen to save some (Romans 9:15; Romans 11:5; Ephesians 1:5). God’s choice of people does not depend on anything of merit in them. It depends entirely on his unmerited favour towards them (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 9:6; Romans 11:6; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29; 2 Timothy 1:9; James 2:5).
Neither does God choose people because he foresees their faith or their good intentions (Romans 9:11; Romans 9:16). Salvation is not a reward for faith. Faith is simply the means by which people receive the undeserved salvation that God, in his mercy, gives (Romans 9:16; Romans 9:30; Ephesians 2:8-9; see ). Or, to put it another way, faith is the means by which God’s eternal choice becomes a reality in their earthly experience (Acts 13:48; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-9). By coming to believe in Jesus, they show that God has chosen them. Eternal life is not their achievement, but God’s (John 6:37; John 6:40).
All the merit for a person’s salvation is in Jesus Christ, whose work of atonement is the basis on which God can forgive repentant sinners (Romans 3:23-26; see ). They are chosen only because of their union with Christ, and they are to be changed into the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; cf. Romans 8:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:14).
No one can argue with God concerning his work of election, for the entire human race is guilty before him and in no position to demand mercy from him. God is the sovereign Creator; human beings are but his rebellious creatures. The amazing thing is not that God shows mercy on only some, but that he shows mercy on any at all (Romans 9:14-23).
Election and calling
Sometimes the Bible speaks of God’s choosing as his calling (Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 51:2; Romans 9:11), but other times it makes a distinction (Matthew 22:14; see ). God chose his people from eternity (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9) and determined to save those whom he had chosen (Romans 8:28-29; Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:11). The historical event when each chosen person repented, believed, and accepted God’s salvation is sometimes spoken of as the call of God to that person (Romans 8:30; Romans 9:23-24; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9).
Side by side with the truth of the sovereign and divine will is the truth of human responsibility. The gospel is available to all, and those who refuse it have no one to blame but themselves (Romans 10:13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9).
The knowledge that God has chosen sinners to receive salvation is a great encouragement to those who preach the gospel. It urges them on in their preaching, so that people might hear the message of grace that is God’s means of bringing his chosen to himself (John 10:14-16; John 17:6-8; Acts 13:48; Acts 18:10; Romans 10:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:10). And the salvation of those who respond in faith is eternally secure; for it depends not upon their efforts, but upon the sovereign choice of God (John 6:37-40; John 10:27-29; Romans 8:33-39; Romans 11:29; see ).
Responsibilities of the elect
Although believers may feel secure because their salvation is centred in God, they deceive themselves if they think their behaviour is unimportant (2 Peter 1:9-11). There is nothing mechanical about election. Human beings are not lifeless robots manipulated by some impersonal fate. They are creatures made in God’s image, whose lives reflect their relationship with him. Those who have truly been chosen by God will show it by lives of perseverance in the faith he professes. The Bible often links statements about election with warnings and commands concerning the necessity for steadfastness, watchfulness and perseverance (Mark 13:13; Mark 13:22-23; Mark 13:27; Mark 13:33; Acts 13:48; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; 1 Timothy 6:11-12; see ).
Those whom God has chosen to be his people are, by that fact, chosen to be holy (Deuteronomy 7:6; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:15). Since they belong to God, they are to be separate from sin and uncleanness, bringing praise to him (Isaiah 43:21; Ephesians 1:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; see ). They are to reflect the glory of Christ now, and will one day share in that glory fully (Romans 8:29-30; Romans 9:23; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:14). Part of God’s purpose in choosing them is that their lives might bear fruit for God, as they develop Christian character and do good for others (John 15:16; Ephesians 2:10). God has chosen them to be his channel of blessing to an ever-increasing number of people (1 Peter 2:9-10; cf. Genesis 12:1-3).
Awareness of their election should not lead Christians to complacency. Rather the opposite, for God requires a higher standard of conduct in those who are his chosen people (Amos 3:2; Micah 3:9-12; 1 Peter 4:17). The way people live is the proof or disproof of their election (2 Peter 1:9-11; cf. Titus 1:1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:10).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Election'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bbd/e/election.html. 2004.