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Election vs. Free Will


The Doctrine of Election is a theological truth that threads throughout God’s Word.  Note the following remarks by C. Fred Dickason, Th.D., Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois, as recorded in the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary (Hendrickson Publishers).


ELECT.  “Chosen” or “selected.”  The main OT verb for this is “bahar” a deliberate selecting of something or someone with attendant preference or pleasure.  The NT verb “eklegomai” means to choose or select out of a larger group something or someone for oneself.  The related adjectives “hahir” and “eklektos” are translated “elect” or “chosen” and are the result of an act of selection.  The words are used of choices human (Gen 6:2; Deut 30:19; Lk 10:42; 14:7) and divine for salvation (Eph 1:4), and for service (Jn 15:16).


Various objects are termed “elect” or “chosen” by God:  the nation Israel for special favor and purpose (Isa 44:1; 45:4); several individuals, such as Abraham (Neh 9:7), Aaron (Ps 105:26), David (1 Sam 16:8 ff.); Jerusalem (2 Chr 6:6); a remnant of Jews near the second coming of Christ (Mt 24:22; Isa 65:9); the Church, the body of Christ

(1 Pet 2:9; 5:13; Col 3:12; Tit 1:1); Christ Himself (Isa 42:1; 1 Pet 2:6); the “lady”

(2 Jn 1); and angels (1 Tim 5:21).  Elect men are chosen by God’s grace (Rom 11:5) and love (Rom 8:33-39; 11:28; Eph 1:4-5) and according to His foreknowledge (1 Pet 1:2); it is never on the basis of human merit (Rom 9:11; cf. 2 Tim 1:9).


Election, as it applies to the salvation of a person, encompasses several steps, e.g., foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification (Romans 8:29, 30).  The difficulty in Election in the matter of salvation, for man anyway, lies in reconciling the sovereignty of God with the freedom of man to choose.  God chose every person who would be saved before the foundation of the world, i.e., before creation (Ephesians 1:4, 5).  Man’s merit or his works have nothing to do with the election process or the act of salvation, since man has no merit and could not generate any merit from the time of his fall in the Garden of Eden onward.  Even though man is capable of producing “human good,” this commodity is as “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6) and is totally insufficient for the purpose of achieving eternal salvation.  Only faith alone in Christ alone brings eternal salvation to the recipient.  God chose those who are to be saved strictly in accordance with His purpose, pleasure and will (Acts 4:28; Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:5; 3:11).


Therefore God, in accordance with His purpose and before time, selected every single person who was to be saved through Jesus Christ.  On the “other side of the coin” the Bible clearly spells out that salvation is for everyone and is a function of man’s will.  Note the following passages of Scripture.


For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)


But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)


And it shall come to pass that whosoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)


To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whosoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43)


Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (Romans 5:18)


For whosoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)


For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3, 4)


For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . . . (Titus 2:11)


The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)


Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. (1 John 5:1)


And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whosoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17)


Therefore it is just as clear in the Word of God that the love and grace of God is provided for every single man and woman within the realm of time through the sacrifice of His Son.  What’s more, any person may obtain this love and grace, this gift of eternal life, by exercising his will (choice) to receive by faith (trusting in) Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for his personal salvation.


How does a believer reconcile “election” with “free agency?”  It is fact that the Bible supports both doctrines.  To the rational mind they conflict with each other, but it is not totally unreasonable to believe that God has allowed man sufficient mental capacity to understand each doctrine and how they fit together in God’s purpose and plan.  Of course the simplistic approach could be to simply deny man’s ability to reconcile these doctrines, relegating the entire matter to the arena of faith.


There is of course merit in the simplistic approach.  Reason can never be elevated over supernatural revelation.  If every aspect of God’s plan could be reduced to the level of human reason, there would be no need for faith.  The reconciliation of these two doctrines may very well fall within the purview of the following two passages of Scripture.


For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:8, 9)


The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)


Nevertheless, the number of words penned in commentary regarding the relationship of these two doctrines over the centuries is legion.  On the one hand you have the strictly Calvinistic approach stating that man essentially has no say in his salvation, that even his ability to choose must be activated—maybe even controlled— by God.  Then there is the strictly Arminian view that has God’s plan teetering on man’s will.  There is truth in both views and maybe even some error.  So what is the solution?  The following is offered as a possibility and not as a concrete (dogmatic) fact—based on the following:


  1. God has elected everyone that is to be saved prior to time and creation.
  2. God has offered the possibility of salvation to everyone.
  3. Christ paid for the sins of everyone on the cross.
  4. Man was created in the image of God, i.e. with a mind, soul and spirit and with the ability to chose (free agency).
  5. God has stipulated to man that he must exercise his will and receive (trusting in) His Son for salvation.
  6. Although God chose before time in accordance with His purpose, He made His selection in conjunction within an orderly process—a  prescribed set of steps  (Romans 8:29, 30), which are foreknowledge, predestination, calling (otherwise known as the convicting power of the Holy Spirit), justification (by faith alone in Christ alone) and glorification (sanctification from time and into eternity).
  7. Foreknowledge appears to be the foundational or commencement step in the election process (Romans 8:29, 30; 1 Peter 1:2)
  8. God’s election was not made in a vacuum.  The election process cannot be divorced from all of God’s attributes, such as His sovereignty (Lord over all), His immutability (unchanging), His omnipotence (all-powerful), His omniscience (all-knowing), His omnipresence (present everywhere all at once) His holiness and His justice—all such attributes coming to focus and to appliance at the moment of selection.


The conclusion is this.  Since both doctrines are true and since God transcends all dimensions, to include time and eternity past and present, simultaneously, they (election and man’s choice) must transpire in the mind of God at the same instant.  God’s election does not precede man’s choice and man’s choice does not precede God’s election.  One does not depend on the other; rather, they materialize hand-in-hand and are co-dependent on each other in the mind of God.  This concept is impossible to understand by the human mind if it thinks only in the realm of “linear time.”  Mankind normally thinks in terms of linear time—the fact that everything has a beginning and an end.  Eternity to man is a place of a lot of time, and God is a Person who has lots of time.


The fact is that God transcends time.  He is not subject to it.  A study of the physics of time reveals that it is a physical property dependent upon mass, gravity and velocity.  An understanding of this scientific reality may be achieved by studying various commentary treatments offered by Chuck Missler of  Once this is understood, it is also important to note that God exists outside the dimension of time.  Whereas man views a parade in various increments from a set position along the parade route, God sees both the beginning and the end of it from a position far above it.  God exists everywhere, all at the same time.  This understanding is necessary when considering what is meant by the “mind of God.”


This may be something akin to the “chicken and the egg first” riddle or an accusation of “fence-riding,” unless of course one takes into account the nature of God.  Multiple transactions that are separated by both time and eternity transpiring simultaneously may be impossible with man, who is confined to four dimensions (width, length, height and time), but it presents no difficulty with God who is not confined to any dimension.  In fact science now believes there may be upwards to ten or eleven dimensions.  God is not only present in each of them, and probably many more, but He also exists everywhere throughout eternity before and after time.  In other words He is everywhere (in every dimension) simultaneously.  He is at the beginning, at the end and at all in between simultaneously.  This then appears to clarify the meaning of “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God . . .” (1 Peter 1:2) and “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined . . .” (Romans 8:29).


Election therefore does not cancel out free agency, and free agency does not cancel out election.  Neither doctrine invalidates the other.  They compliment each other.  God does in fact elect a person to be saved, but He does it in conjunction (partnership) with the person who exercises his God-given capability to accept His Son once the person has been awakened to his sin and need of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  This process—both the act of electing and the person’s exercise of will to receive—happens at the same exact moment in the mind of God who exists before time and creation and at the moment of a person’s salvation, all simultaneously.  Both acts—one by God and one by man—are executed together in the mind of God “before the foundation of the world.”


This concept does not invalidate man’s God-given ability and responsibility to choose.  Furthermore it does not violate God’s sovereignty or any other of His attributes.  In fact, it may very well clarify the concept of foreknowledge and its commencement relationship to the election process.  As a person, in time, is faced with the decision to either by faith accept or to reject God’s offer of salvation, God by means of His foreknowledge and attendance fully comprehends the decision the person will make and correspondingly elects or rejects the person in the matter of eternal life.  One may argue that this subjugates God to man, but this writer differs with that assessment.  Since the ability and obligation for man to make a choice comes from God in the first place, God is therefore supreme in the entire process.  The process is totally in accordance with God’s purpose and plan.  It is true that God being sovereign could have brought man to eternal life—kicking and screaming—in any manner He would choose.  The fact is that He has opted to do it within the parameters of mercy and grace—and the will of man.


Regardless of what position a believer may take regarding these two doctrines, there is one way a person may know if someone is one of the “elect.”  He need only apply the test of  John 3:18, which is “He who believes in Him [Jesus Christ] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he had not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 


Furthermore even if a believer is an adherent to the strict Calvinist viewpoint, he is still under the obligation to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone in accordance with the commission given to him by Christ.  In the words of J. Vernon McGee in his Thru the Bible commentary, “If God would somehow reveal to me who are the elect ones, I would give the gospel only to them.  But God does not do this.  He has said that whosoever will may come.  That is a legitimate offer to every person.”