January 7, 2016

Why Does the Doctrine of Election Matter Anyway?

Politics is a costly business. The run for President in the USA costs billions of dollars, and the world waits with baited-breath to see if Donald Trump is going to go the distance. Not long ago in Scotland, there was a massive momentum shift to the SNP, despite the country’s rejection for independence from the rest of the UK. It hasn’t taken long, however, for the dirt to begin flying, as tales of in-house fighting and muck-raking run rife in the media. Jeremy Corbyn is another politician who rose to power on the wave of left-wing euphoria and is now struggling to keep the reins in a divided Labour opposition. But, despite all of the hype and the rhetoric, we do well to remember that any power our elected representatives have is only temporary. Nothing is certain in this life. Not one thing. Politicians may have a certain amount of control over many things, but they do not control the future. That is in altogether different hands.

This is what Paul teaches the church in Ephesians 1:3–14.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Paul, here, is talking about a very different kind of election than that of our politicians. It is an election where the results are already in long before time is called. It is an election that has eternal significance for every member of the human race, and it is important for every believer to know that God himself has elected us to our current spiritual position before him. God chose us—in Christ—before the beginning of time. It is God who has given us eternal life; nobody else. Only God had the power to save us from eternal damnation. And not one of his elected children can be lost. Verse 4 is clear about this.

In the original Greek, for those interested, these 12 verses actually constituted just a single sentence. These verses teach us about the doctrine of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are verses steeped in the Lord Jesus, and he is mentioned no less than fifteen times in these fourteen verses. I don’t have time to take you through everything here, but I want us to focus on the doctrine of election, because that is the central point of what Paul is trying to teach us in this text.

Now this is a difficult doctrine for many people to understand. A lot of people, particularly believers, deliberately misunderstand and misrepresent this doctrine. We get a lot of people who misunderstand the concept of ‘free will’ and think that somehow, in some little way, they have made a contribution to their own salvation. Many Christians hate the whole idea of election. A lot of people are afraid of the doctrine because it can appear to be quite complicated. In fact, if I took a straw poll of UK Christians, many probably wouldn’t be too sure what I was talking about. Many more would prefer not to discuss the subject at great length because of the confusion they feel concerning the issue.

But, I think the whole topic is quite simple, and this text in particular is very clear on the whole subject of election. There can be no doubt that in the book of Ephesians, the doctrine of the election plays a large part. We can’t escape that, and we shouldn’t try to avoid it. And we have no reason to fear it, because once we understand it then we soon come to realise that this doctrine has a very real application for our lives. Paul wants us to understand this in this letter. He is constantly urging the church on to serve God in more practical ways, and the doctrine of election can help us to do this. It is certainly not only for Bible college students and theologians. God has predestined us for a reason. And Paul here in these verses wants us to understand that the doctrine of election impacts our lives in two immediate ways.

A Holy Life

This doctrine should encourage us in our pursuit of holiness. God has chosen us. Why? To live a holy and blameless life. Jesus wants to present us before God the Father as holy, perfect, and blameless. A heavy weight to bear, and also a fantastic privilege. God has predestined us to live different lives in front of the watching world—a life full of joy, hope, and complete integrity. Election leads to holiness.

A Life of Gratitude

Election also makes us thankful. Thankful for the fact that our eternal destiny is safe and secure in his hands. Thankful for his wonderful grace toward us as undeserving sinners. Thankful for the supreme sacrifice of Christ and his shed blood.

Let’s return to the subject of electing politicians and leaders. What do we look for in a political candidate? What characteristics do we expect to see in them? Honesty? Integrity? Morality? These are the types of people that we want to represent us in government. We want those who will serve us in the best way possible and look out for our interests and concerns. We want them to serve our town, our city, and our country justly and fairly. Would you vote for a dodgy candidate? Would you choose a liar? Would you choose a person without morals? Would you choose someone you know to be dishonest in his dealings with people? I don’t think we would. But wasn’t this exactly our state when God found us and chose us—rebels, liars, and living in wanton disobedience to him and his perfect standards? Were we perfect? Were we moral? Were we honest? No, we were not. When he elected us to eternal life, we were sinners, liars, adulterers, fornicators, without honesty and integrity. Yet, in love, he still chose to die for us. That’s how different God is from us. That’s how great his love for us is.

This is God’s grace. We should remember that the doctrine of election is God’s present to us. We deserve nothing. In fact, that’s not true—we deserve to be justly punished for eternity for our sins and rebellion, but yet he chose us in Christ before the creation of the world. Notice where the emphasis is placed in these verses. All of it is on God. His love, his grace, his mercy, his choice, his plan. That is what should drive us to a life of gratitude. That should be our reaction to the doctrine of election as taught in the Bible. Are we thankful because of it? Are we thankful that God has chosen us to be saved? Do we express it to him enough?

A few thoughts.

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