"Does God really choose people? (Election)" by Rod Bayley, 3 October 2010, Deut.7:6-8, Eph.1:1-14

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Dec 1, 2010, 8:05:06 PM12/1/10
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
In the introduction to the book ‘Predestination and free will,’ David
and Randall Basinger make the following observation: “The Christian
faith presents us with a dilemma. On the one hand, we believe that
God made us morally responsible beings with the ability to make
meaningful moral decisions. If we were not responsible for freely
choosing our actions, then how could God justly reward or punish us
for them? On the other hand, Christians also believe that God has
sovereign control over all earthly affairs. He is the Lord of history
and the Lord of our lives. We go to bed each night with the assurance
that everything that occurs fits into his all-encompassing,
preordained plan. Nothing can thwart God’s plan; all that occurs is
in keeping with his will ... Can both of these basic Christian beliefs
be true ... If humans are free, how can God be sovereign? On the
other hand, if God is in control, how can human choices be real?”
This dilemma reaches its sharpest point when we consider the related
doctrine of election, the choosing of those who will be saved by God.
This occurs before we exist and have any free will to express, as we
read in Ephesians 1. Of course, it is an emotional issue, because it
doesn’t just address God sovereignly arranging events in our world, it
deals directly with our eternal salvation. Many recoil in horror at
the idea that God might choose who will be saved, exclaiming ‘it’s
just not fair?’ Well, this morning we are going to consider what the
bible says about the doctrine of election, from both the Old Testament
and the New Testament, and then we will return to this objection and
some others at the end.

This brings us to the first point on your outline: ‘The doctrine of
election in the Old Testament.’ God’s selection of people is
explicitly described in numerous passages, but we’ll simply consider a
few. Firstly, Abram is chosen by God and becomes the father of the
nation of Israel, and an agent of blessing to all people. We read in
Genesis 12:1:
“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your
father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

Abram is promised land, offspring and blessing, and in verse 4 he is
obedient to God’s selection and command, and he moves to Canaan with
his wife, his nephew, and every possession they had accumulated. Not
much later in the story, it becomes clear that the line of promise,
the chosen line, would continue to be about God’s election. Despite
Abraham pleading with God to allow His blessing to fall on Ishmael,
his eldest son, God will choose the younger son, the child of promise
Isaac. And so we read in Genesis 17:18-19: “And Abraham said to God,
‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’ 19Then God said to,
‘Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him
Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him ...” The same thing
happens in the next generation, as God overlooks the traditonal
inheritance rights of the eldest son, and chooses the younger son for
the promise (Gen.25:21-23). The apostle Paul takes up this deliberate
choice by God, of Jacob over Esau, as he discusses election in Romans
9. After noting that Isaac was also chosen (v8), he states in verses
10 to 12:

“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father,
our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done
anything good or bad - in order that God’s purpose in election might
stand: 12not by works but by him who calls - she was told, ‘The older
will serve the younger.’
God chooses Jacob before he was born in order to highlight his
election, his choosing of who he has decided to choose. Of course,
God’s line of promise doesn’t stop there - Jacob’s descendants will
become numerous in Egypt, and after God saves them from Egypt, He
forms a covenant with them at Mt Sinai. And so in Exodus 19 and
Deuteronomy 7 we hear how God chooses one nation over every other.
Notice what is stated in Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God
has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be
his people, his treasured possession. 7The 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. 8But it was
because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your
forefathers ...”

Notice that Israel are not more numerous, or therefore more important,
but God chose them out of love and because of His faithfulness to His
promises to Abraham.

The application of all of this, is that the whole O.T. story depends
on God’s election. The whole narrative is about how God chooses
certain individuals and then a certain nation, to be the recipient of
His special blessings, and His saving actions. The whole O.T. is one
big signpost to the doctrine of election - that God chooses some,
though they are to be a blessing to all nations, to all people, by
sharing their knowledge of God’s character and plan of redemption.
Israel was to be a light to the nations, as they were the chosen
people of God, a holy nation.

This brings us to the second point on your outline: ‘Election in the
N.T.’ It is helpful at this point to define the key terms clearly,
which we’ll do by looking at Romans 8:29 and 33:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the
likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many
brothers ... 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has
These verses contain three key terms which we need to differentiate:
“foreknew”, “predestined” and “chosen.” Firstly, ‘foreknew’ means
exactly what it appears to mean in English - to know something
beforehand. It is a term usually used in the bible to refer to divine
knowledge, and it is a passive term simply relating to God knowing
what will happen before it happens. The next two terms are stronger
terms with regards to God’s active arrangement of events.
‘Predestined’ means to mark out or determine something beforehand. In
our passage in Romans 8, not only does God know what will happen, he
predetermines events. The third term, “chosen”, is drawn from a small
group of Greek words which are translated ‘elected’ or ‘chosen’, which
both mean the same thing - to ‘pick out’ or choose. Paul’s reference
here, as in many other places in the N.T., is to Christians, or those
people God has chosen for salvation.

You might ask how the two stronger terms of ‘predestined’ and ‘chosen’
or ‘elected’ relate? Election is God deciding who gets on the plane
bound for heaven. Predestination is his charting the route the plane
will take, the schedule, the accommodations both during and after the
flight, and each passenger’s safety. With God as the pilot of the
plane, and the plane itself, all who board the plane make it to
heaven, and so fulfil God’s electing purpose. God makes sure the
elect actually board the plane. Their response of faith in Christ is
like checking in at the gate with a boarding pass.

Having got our terms straight, we are focusing today on God’s choosing
or electing of those who will be saved. As you read the New
Testament, you soon discover that this language of election is
everywhere. I have listed some of the many references in your
outline. The apostle Paul talks a lot about election, but Jesus does
too, and so does the apostle Peter.

Arguably the most important passage in laying out this pervasive
doctrine is Ephesians chapter one. Notice what Paul states in
Ephesians 1, verses 4-5 and 11:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy
and blameless in his sight. In love, 5he predestined us to be adopted
as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and
will ... 11In him we were also chosen , having been predestined
according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity
with the purpose of his will.”

Here we have the concentrated use of the two stronger terms, and we
have the affirmation that we were chosen or elected before the
creation of the world (v4). Like Jacob we were chosen before we had
been born, before we had done anything good or bad, indeed before our
world was even made by God. This belief brings great assurance to the
Christian that God has acted in their life in fulfilment of His
purposes. And this occurred because of God’s love we are told, and
also because it was in accordance with God’s pleasure and will - it is
part of God’s grand plan. All of this brings praise to God in verse
6, because we are undeserving of such wonderful blessings - it is
simply because of God’s grace, his unmerited kindness. Notice in
verse 11 that God is able to fulfil our election by predestining our
life according to his plans - everything conforms to his plan, to his

But what is God’s grand plan, His sovereign will for our world? Well,
it’s not a mystery, as God has revealed it Paul says in verse 9. And
so in verse 10, Paul states that His plan is “to bring all things in
heaven and on earth together” ... under Christ’s headship or rule.
God saves people and leads them in order that He might gather them,
along with all creation, under the headship or Lordship of Jesus.
Jesus will be recognised as King over all things. The goal of
everything is that God will receive glory by His Son being exalted -
this is the big picture.

Have you ever lost sight of the big picture when building something,
or visiting a place? We can get so caught up with the small detail
that we miss the grand plan. In June 2006 we had a family holiday in
Victoria, and one place that we were determined to visit was Philip
Island, to see the world famous penguins. When we arrived there were
a number of tourist buses there, which mainly seemed to contain
Japanese visitors, and it was fairly full by the time we all walked
down to the seating area. Given the race for seats and the size of
the crowd you had the impression that this was a big event, and that
everyone was clear that the purpose of the night was to sit and watch
the penguins. It was a big surprise to us then, that most people got
up and left after 10 minutes, after having only seen 15 or 20 penguins
waddle up the beach. It actually took about 50 minutes for all 250
penguins to make their way into the dunes, and by the last 15 minutes
we were sitting in the front row with about 20 other people who were
left. I figured that everyone must have been busy and had to rush
home, or the tourist buses had a tight schedule and had to rush off,
so I was astounded when we got back up to the centre where you buy the
tickets, to find the whole crowd in the souvenir store. They had
traveled hours and paid twenty five dollars each to look at soft toy
penguins and penguins on t-shirts, rather than the real deal. I felt
like saying: ‘you came all this way to see real penguins, not toys
made in China!’

Surprisingly, Christians can often have a similar lack of
understanding of God’s plan, what his grand purpose is for the world
and their own lives. We can be so caught up with living day to day
that we miss the goal that should inform and shape our living.
Ephesians 1 lays out God’s grand plan for the whole universe. It is
like a panaromic view, God’s bird’s eye perspective on our world and
where it is heading, and how we as people fit into God’s plan. History
belongs, not to the puny plans of mankind. History is written and
directed by its Creator, who will fulfil His ultimate purpose - to
bring everything under Christ.

The purpose of God’s chosen people in Ephesians 1 is to bring Him
praise for His glory, as we read in verse 12 and 14. It is a common
refrain throughout the N.T., with another example being 1 Peter 2:9,
where the language of Israel’s election is applied deliberately and
dramatically to new covenant Christians, to us, and it issues in
praise. 1 Peter 2:9 states:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who
called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Our election should cause us to praise God - to thank him for his
grace, which is so reassuring.

Many are uncomfortable with God choosing though, and would rather
speak of God’s foreknoweldge as a way of protecting our free will.
And so it is said, ‘Why can’t we say that God knows what people will
choose, rather than stating that he chooses us?’ As we’ve seen, the
bible does use the word ‘foreknew’, but we need to recognise that the
bible uses the far stronger language of election and predestination
even more frequently. Like last week when we considered God’s
punishment, it is simply a question of whether we will take God at his
word, which is quite repetitive on this point. We must revere God’s
word above our own emotions or personal sentiments or ideas. Rather
than reject election, we need to think further about it.

This brings us to the third and final point on your outline:
‘Theological objections to God choosing some people.’ The first
objection that is often raised is: ‘Doesn’t God say he wants everyone
be saved?’ And so people will point to passages like 1 Timothy 2:3-4:
“This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4who wants all men to be
saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
However, it is clear throughout the bible that God does not intend to
save everyone - that is, the bible doesn’t teach universalism. Paul
has already said in verse 16 of the previous chapter that he was
“shown mercy ... as an example for those who would believe on him and
receive eternal life.” And the context of this passage makes it
clear, as most commentators point out, that the phrase “all men” in
verse 4 relates to all categories of people, not every individual on
planet earth. In verse 1 and 2 Paul has encouraged Timothy and the
believers at Ephesus to offer all kinds of prayers for ‘everyone.’ He
is not asking them to pray for every individual, with the term
‘everyone’ being explained in verse 2 as including even their pagan
rulers - ‘kings’ and ‘those in authority.’ The idea is that every
group in society, Gentiles as well as Jews, should be prayed for, as
there is only one mediator, Christ Jesus (v5). There is nothing in
this passage that rules out God choosing or electing people. God’s
love for all ethnic groups and all levels of society is clearly
demonstrated in the pictures of heaven we have in Revelation, where
we’re told of a great multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and
language” (7:9).

A second objection that is often stated, as we mentioned at the start,
is ‘it’s just not fair.’ Even if we are sinners deserving of God’s
punishment, and even if God never promises to save everyone, it’s
another thing altogether to say that God chooses some people and not
others. This is a big question, and is often seen as a defense of our
free will, or God’s character. But God addresses this point in Romans
in 9:14-24. Notice what is stated up to v21:
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says
to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have
compassion on whom I have compassion.’ 16It does not, therefore,
depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy ... 19One of you
will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists
his will?’ 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what
is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’
21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of
clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”
Now we might not like the answer, or feel it answers all our
questions, but it is a humbling answer that we need to submit to.
Paul here is arguing for God the potter’s absolute freedom, and
doesn’t address himself to how much freedom we have, or how our free
will relates to God’s freedom. He neither affirms or denies that we
have free will. His big point here is that the relationship between
God and sinners cannot be thought of simply in terms of justice. We
have no claim on God, no rights before him. We are dependent on his
mercy. Charles Spurgeon, the famous English Baptist pastor of the
19th century once said: “It is a good thing that God chose me before I
was born, because he surely would not have afterwards.” We have to be
careful that we don’t sit in judgment of God and his fairness. We
have finite minds that are marred by sin and therefore struggle to
grasp God’s infinite plans, which we don’t have all the details for.
We need to hold in tension, as the N.T. consistently does, that both
God’s election and our free will coexist, and not deny one or the

A third and final objection that I want to consider this morning is
the question of prayer and evangelism. People say, ‘Why evangelise,
and why pray for non-Christians if God has already determined who will
respond and who won’t?’ There are two short answers to this concern.
Firstly, we don’t know who is elect, only God does, and so it makes no
difference to our sharing of the gospel. We are to spread the seed of
the gospel widely, and only God knows what the results will be -
that’s not our concern. Secondly, God’s word tells us to pray for
others and to share the gospel will all people - so we need to simply
follow God’s word and not be distracted by theological tensions that
are not a problem to God. And so in Matthew 28 Jesus commands us to
make disciples of all nations. In Romans 10:1 Paul says that he prays
for his fellow countrymen, the Jews, as his “heart’s desire and prayer
to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” In Matthew
9:37-39, because the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few,
Jesus instructs his disciples to “ask the Lord of the harvest,
therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God’s
sovereignty and election is not a barrier to evangelism, it’s actually
the basis for our confidence, in spite of the apparent weakness of our

The concern in all this, that raises our emotions, is our fears for
our family members or friends who appear to have rejected the gospel.
We naturally worry that God may not have chosen them. It is the same
fear that we considered last Sunday as we considered God’s
punishment. The apostle Paul expresses this concern wonderfully, when
he states that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his]
heart” (Rom.9:2). He even says that he wishes he could be cut off
from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews that are rejecting Jesus
(v3). But we don’t know who is chosen, that’s God’s business not
ours, and so we are to pray and share urgently with them until our
last day or theirs as God calls us to. Election is actually a spur to
mission, because just like Abraham we have been chosen to bless all
people, to share the gospel which brings life as God draws people to
himself and causes people to respond. Rather than the doctrine of
election making me doubt God’s love, it should make me marvel at his
undeserved love to me a sinner. The whole of the salvation process
testifies to God’s sovereign grace.
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