Election is a tough subject to grasp and I wouldn't doubt that it is one of those topics that we either don't know enough about, or we would rather not make a decision as to what we believe because it's difficult and has the potential to cause disagreements among believers and who wants that?
For me, I have always believed in predestination, but I had kind of a different view of it, I've come to realize after studying Ephesians and other passages a little more. The common struggle is how does free will fit in with election, or predestination? Does God give us free will? If so, does that also mean the free will to accept/reject Him?
To start, I always knew that people were "predestined" to be saved, but I only considered that in the sense that God knew who would be saved. He knew which people would make up their minds to follow Him. I didn't really grasp the concept of election. The challenge for me and for anyone who believes that the Bible is the inerrant, clear Word of God, is to make a decision on whether or not we believe what Ephesians says about election. The reason why this is important is because if we can't decide if we believe one part of the Bible, then where do we start really believing it? Fair enough? Besides, this kind of struggle, study and realization is precisely what the Lord uses to make us more mature in Him and will actually help us in understanding the rest of Scripture, better.
Epesians 1:4-6, 11 says "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves...In 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.."
Romans 8:29,30: "For those God forknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."
The best way to approach this, I think, is to start with what we know about man, namely his depravity. Left to himself, men (generally used, also referring to women) will not and cannot EVER have a desire to know the Lord.
Remember Romans 3:10,11 "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."
This is an inclusive statement that is referring to all mankind. Not one person can understand God; not one person seeks God on his own initiative; there is not one person who is considered righteous before God. This is solely because Adam, when he was in the Garden of Eden, ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that God told him not to. This original sin from the first man ever created has been passed on to every single person in history to where we are all born sinners. Man=Sinner. That's where we start. It may seem unfair, but we are born with an innate desire to do anything and everything contrary to what God may want from us.
Parents, of all people, should see this in action. From the get-go it doesn't take long to see that our cute little ones have a will. Granted, they are dependant on us and the only way of communicating to us is through crying. However, with no parental intervention, guidance and discipline, this child will continue to become more and more selfish, self-centered, greedy, and sinful, and will continue screaming. That's the way we are. We can't write off bad behavior to the notion that "kids will be kids". No... kids will be terrible, left to themselves to raise themselves. Adults are no different. The more time we practice our own selfishness, the better we become at it. We are born this way. No one ever grows up to be spiritually mature and morally acceptable before God, without God intervening in our life to change our very spirit and nature.
Granted, many people grow up better than others and turn out to be very good people because of their experiences in life, with or without parent's help. Although this may look and feel good on the outside and doesn't go unappreciated by the people they affect, it does not solve the internal sin problem that is separating them from God. That is the real issue at hand. That is always the real issue.
So, understanding that man is completely incapable of turning to God without His initiation, where does that leave us in light of the doctrine of election.
"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world" to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adpoted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."
Believing Christians were chosen before the creation of the world! God didn't just
know who was going to come around, he chose the people who would be saved. This has to happen if anything is going to happen.
Jesus said that "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him".
And Genesis 6:5 "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the Earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil at the time".
How is it that someone could possibly want to decide to follow Jesus Christ when God had not moved in their heart first? It's impossible. Hence, the doctrine of election is very much based on his grace and mercy, that we should be called sons and daughters of God.
Here's the problem with not believing in election and God predetermining who is going to come to a saving faith in Him. If man could decide on his own free will to follow Jesus and turn from their sin, then that says that man has taken the first step in salvation and essentially worked for it. Man did something to get it. It can cause us to boast, even. God did not freely give it. You see, it eliminates God's purpose, God's sovreignty, and God's glory when it was not God who graciously brings people to salvation. Yes, it requires that someone respond to the Lord and repent of sins and confess Him as Lord, but only after God has moved that person to do so.
I've been reading a commentary written by James Montgomery Boice on Ephesians and he listed four blessings of election: election eliminates boasting; election gives assurance of salvation; election leads to holiness; election promotes evangelism.
We already looked at how election can eliminate boasting. When it is only merited by God's grace, there is nothing that you or I can say that we did to gain salvation.
I was in a bookstore the other day and found a book that played with the concepts of "religion". It jokingly lists on the back cover on how to learn the ways of each religion, learn the pros and cons before deciding which one you want to join. I couldn't help but look up Protestantism (Christianity was not listed). It said that you only had to do a couple sacraments which was easier than most other religions. It also had a star rating for the level of difficulty in converting to Protestantism. Out of five stars, it only filled in two. Wouldn't that be great! Being a Christian would be so easy. Say and do the right thing and you're in! No wonder God can be so unappreciated, even by some in the church. If you think that you made the choice to be a Christian and that God just took you because you wanted to, think again. Don't question your salvation, but question whether or not you believe that you were inspired to respond to his grace rather than decide on your own to join a club. There is a big difference and it will change your whole view of God and yourself. It's a right and appropriate view. It's not about measuring the pros and cons of different religions to make an educational decision to choose Christianity because it looks better.
So the million dollar question is: Does man then have free will?
The answer: Yes and No
Ephesians 4:18,19 says "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more."
Yes, God allows sinners to make their choices and keep on sinning. As we can see here, when men are left alone to themselves, they continue to lust for more sin. They choose to. The second part of the answer to the million dollar question is "no". Mainly, man does not have the ability to choose God and must be prompted by God to do so.
Free will is not a blanket answer to all of life and I think that's where we need to make the distinction. God still knows everything that is going to happen and he knows every sin that every single person will ever commit, but he has to initiate the desire to know Him, not us, because we can't.
I think it's fair to reconcile other verses like Romans 10:9,13: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved … for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’".
How do you reconcile these verses with the doctrine of election? A little further in Romans, Chapter 9, it says that God told Moses "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy; I will have compassion on whom I have compassion". There is no mathematical rhyme or reason as to how God decides. Who are we to question him anyway? We need to accept the fact that we won't always understand the way God does things...and that's ok.
The Bible does not contradict itself so these verses are not saying two different things. If God has prompted someone to call on him, then whoever does call on His name, confesses Christ as Lord, and believe He was raised from the dead, then he will be saved.
Some of this takes faith to believe. Not every little thing about God is explainable and many things we won't understand until we are with Him, face to face in Heaven. We walk by faith and not by sight. Faith can be hard sometimes, but if it was easy and explainable, then it wouldn't be faith. We wouldn't be trusting God.
He has made clear His way to salvation and if you know that what you hear about Jesus is true and you feel the moving from God to pray to him for salvation by confessing your sins, believing Jesus died on the cross for your sins and was raised from the dead, then he will finish that work in you and seal you with his promised Holy Spirit guaranteeing your inheritance in God's glory, forever and ever.
Election is a gracious blessing. Without it, we would be utterly lost and hopeless forever. This isn't something that should scare us, but prompt us to praise Him! It should prompt us to evangelize even more! Election doesn't nullify evangelism, rather it makes it possible. We mature and draw closer to God when we evangelize anyway, so it's not only for the benefit of thr listeneres. If God didn't prompt people to believe in Him, THEN evangelism would be worthless, for as Boice put it, "if God cannot call effectively, it is certain that you and I cannot".
Beleving in election is something that we must do. It gives us the right understanding of God and his grace and mercy to save us. It gives us the appropriate view of ourselves and need for a savior, a redeemer. I hope this post helps a little in breaking that ice down. Look these passages up yourself and do some research on it as well. It will only benefit you and benefit those who learn from you. The Word is living and ready to make you grow.