When it comes to the doctrine of election, it’s clear that it’s controversial. We debate it. We write books about it. We talk about it. We preach sermons on it. We sometimes divide over it. Do you find it odd that Paul began his letter to the church in Rome by pointing to the doctrine of election? In fact, if you look closely, you will see the doctrine at the beginning of several letters in the New Testament—including Ephesians and 1 Peter. Paul began his letter to the church at Ephesus (and churches in surrounding cities) by pointing out the fact that God “chose” them in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Peter began his letter to the scattered believers in his day with these words: “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1).
If we find the doctrine of election used in the opening lines of important letters to local churches in the New Testament intended to encourage believers in their walk with Christ—why do we have so much division, debate, and mud slinging over the doctrine? Charles Spurgeon, once said the following, “No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God.” Why do so many people hate the precious doctrine of election? Could it be that people have an issue with authority, and they want to possess control over their own soul? Could it be that people have learned a wrong view of election and view God as unfair in his treatment?
When rightly understood, the doctrine of election kills pride in two specific areas — anger and arrogance.
The Doctrine of Election Kills Angry Pride
When was the last time you talked about the doctrine of election with someone who differed with you on the subject and that conversation was calm, respectful, and ended in joy? It’s extremely common to have people who want to throw stones at you if you claim to embrace the absolute sovereignty of God over the entire universe—including the work of salvation. People would rather God be fair until they consider mercy. People would rather be in control of their salvation until they consider depravity. God is not fair. God is God. God is merciful, and we should be thankful.
There is no escaping the doctrine of election in the Bible (Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 5:21; Tit. 1:1; Eph. 1:3-14; Deut. 7; Rom. 9; Mal. 1:2-3; John 15:16; John 6:44). The more you read, the more you see it. Paul began his letter to the church in Rome with these words:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 1:1-7).
Notice several places where God makes a distinction between the church in Rome and the city of Rome. We find it in Romans 1:6 with the language of God’s “call” to salvation. It resurfaces in the next verse as Paul makes a distinction between the love of God for the city of Rome and the church in the city of Rome. What does election mean? To be the “elect” of God is to be chosen by God. The word often translated “chosen” or “elect” is from the Greek term ἐκλεκτός, meaning to be selected or chosen. According to Paul elsewhere in Ephesians, this choice was carried out in a very specific way, that when rightly understood, kills the pride of anger.
- Chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).
- This choice resulted in the predestination and adoption through Jesus Christ—based on God’s will and for his glory—apart from any good deed or action on our part (Eph. 1:4-10; Titus 3:5; Rom. 9).
Pride causes anger in our hearts because we have a natural tendency to despise authority and sovereignty. We want to be the captain of our own soul, and the doctrine of election removes any means of boasting in the flesh.
The Doctrine of Election Kills Prideful Arrogance
We’ve all seen the man who escaped his cage and is running around like a lose cannon shooting election bombs at anyone who will give him a hearing. Such people do harm to themselves and it’s likely that many have yet to truly grasp the doctrine of election. If someone boasts about election as if they are one of the “chosen” ones to salvation and “chosen ones” to understand the doctrine—they fool themselves. The doctrine of election, when rightly understood, brings us low to the ground and causes us to see that on our very best day we could not save ourselves. From start to finish, salvation is a work of God’s mercy and grace. The entirety of God’s saving grace depends on God. From our election before the foundation of the world to our glorification at the culmination of God’s redemptive timeline—all of it is designed by God and performed by God.
When Paul writes to the church at Philippi, he writes these words, “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” (Philippians 1:6). When God desired to provide Israel a reality check, he spoke these words to them through Malachi, “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert'” (Mal. 1:2-3). It was a reminder that by outward appearances, Esau was the choice, but instead, God chose Jacob. It was a look back to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, as God declared his choice of Israel to be based on his choice to love a weak people.
If you know the doctrine of election, you will not walk around with a swagger. Instead, you will be humble. It will cause you to boast in the cross of Jesus—not the flesh of mankind. Listen to what Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous nineteenth-century English preacher, eloquently said regarding the doctrine of election:
Before Salvation came into this world, Election marched in the very forefront, and it had for its work the billeting [lodging] of Salvation. Election went through the world and marked the houses to which Salvation should come and the hearts in which the treasure should be deposited. Election looked through all the race of man, from Adam down to the last, and marked with sacred stamp those for whom Salvation was designed. ‘He must needs go through Samaria,’ said Election; and Salvation must go there. Then came Predestination. Predestination did not merely mark the house, but it mapped the road in which Salvation should travel to that house; Predestination ordained every step of the great army of Salvation; it ordained the time when the sinner should be brought to Christ, the manner how he should be saved, the means that should be employed; it marked the exact hour and moment, when God the Spirit should quicken the dead in sin, and when peace and pardon should be spoken through the blood of Jesus. Predestination marked the way so completely that Salvation doth never overstep the bounds, and it is never at a loss for the road. In the everlasting decree of the Sovereign God, the footsteps of Mercy were every one of them ordained.
The doctrine of election removes anger and arrogance when the pure doctrine is gleaned from the pages of Scripture. Do you know this truth? Have you struggled with it? Has it become a burden rather than a blessing? Allow this grand doctrine which runs through the entirety of the Bible be a source of encouragement to your soul.
John 15:16 – You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
- Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Bible: New Testament, vol. 4, “Things That Accompany Salvation” (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1963), 77.