The doctrine of election and predestination is profoundly comforting in the light of Christ’s finished work on our behalf. He did not die to make life possible for us. Christ died and rose again to secure for each of us whom His Spirit unites to Himself immortality and everlasting blessedness in the presence of His Father. His saving work is as effectual and unchangeable as the invincible decree upon which it rests.
In our theological lexicon, two words in particular stand out as notoriously confusing, potentially offensive, critically important, and profoundly comforting all at the same time. The terms ‘election’ and ‘predestination’ – which have nothing to do with political decision-making and very little to do with popular cultural notions of destiny – refer to God’s eternal decree to claim and to save a people for His own glory.
Any controversy surrounding these terms concerns the specificity and particularity of God’s decree. As the Westminster Confession of Faith expresses this feature of the doctrine, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death” (WCF 3.3; emphasis added). It is precisely this some/others feature of election and predestination that provoked one dear Christian lady to say to me, “I don’t believe in predestination!”
But this protest against the doctrine of predestination directly contradicts plain statements such as those found in Ephesians 1:4-5, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (emphasis added). If we limited our understanding of God’s electing and predestinating decree to His purposing to save people in general, there would be considerable less potential for confusion or offense. But as Scripture makes clear, God chooses particular people (e.g., Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 135:4; Is. 43:10), and even individuals (e.g., Mal. 1:2f; Rom. 9:13), by divine decree. In other words, the Bible reveals to us a God who wields the prerogative not only to save men, but to choose those particular men whom He saves.