Even for those who acknowledge election as a biblical doctrine, the concept might conjure up pictures of a capricious or biased God. But rightly understood, election refers to an act of God in eternity, according to the good pleasure of His sovereign freedom, and on account of no foreseen merit in sinful people, whereby He chooses, in mercy, to save some individuals on the basis of the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The doctrine of election does underscore that some people are saved and some people will not be saved, and it has been a troubling and confusing teaching for some people.
The narrative of God bringing redemption to the world through Christ is a story about God’s choices to bring certain people into the line of promise. He selected Abraham from a family of idol worshipers; He chose Isaac rather than Ishmael; He loved Jacob and not Esau (see Gen. 21:12–13; Josh. 24:2; Mal. 1:2–3). Abraham experienced salvation because of God’s choice, while many in Abraham’s family did not experience salvation. Ishmael received blessing in this life in keeping with God’s promise to his mother, Hagar, to preserve his life, but he did not experience the salvation and gift of inheritance promised to Isaac. God’s love for Jacob placed Jacob in the line of promise, but Esau was not included in the promise of salvation.
From Jacob, God called out the twelve tribes of Israel, of whom He says: “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7–8). The Lord’s choice to redeem Israel for salvation out of all other nations is an intentional choice of God’s great love alone.
The apostle Paul draws on the Old Testament story of Israel in order to acquit God of accusations of injustice for choosing to save some in Israel rather than all in Israel (see Rom. 9:6–18). First, Paul indicates that God’s distinction of the children of promise from children of the flesh shows that His word has not failed toward Israel. God’s purpose in election is demonstrated because the “older” Esau serves the “younger” Jacob. Jacob will continue the line of promise of the covenant blessings given to Abraham and Isaac.
Second, Paul reveals that God’s freedom to give mercy as He wills, as in the case of Pharaoh, acquits Him of injustice in election. God owes no one mercy, for all people are sinners before Him; all are deserving of the wrath Pharaoh experienced. The gift of mercy is God’s free choice to withhold judgment from some rather than others. Without such mercy, not one person would experience salvation. Mercy is not a matter of justice or injustice.
God’s choice to save people in mercy invites rather than limits our prayers for unsaved people. Paul exhorted the church to pray for governing authorities: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3–4). We pray for the hope of salvation of lost persons through Christ the Redeemer.
by Today in the Word
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