Few doctrines, if any, spark as much debate and stir up as much rancor among Christians as the doctrine of election. It is one of those doctrines that divide people so sharply that some would call a perpetual moratorium on discussion about it. Election is also a doctrine about which few are indifferent. The passions are inflamed on both sides of the divide. Those who oppose it see it as demeaning the significance of human freedom and casting a dark shadow on the goodness of God. Those who embrace it love the assurance and comfort it provides and the triumph of divine grace it reveals.
Well, if it is so divisive, why should we bother about it? As one who has a passion for the doctrine, I am frequently asked, “What difference does it make?” I’m sure Martin Luther was asked the same question repeatedly. Perhaps that’s why he declared that the doctrine of election was the “heart of the church.” It is interesting that Luther’s body was hardly cold in the grave before his followers radically altered and softened his view for future generations of Lutherans, thereby putting a stake in the heart of their church.
Election matters first of all because it concerns the issue of God’s truth. If the Augustinian view of election is the Biblical view and if the Bible is true, then that doctrine of election is the truth of God and all who are “of the truth” have the duty to embrace it and proclaim it. On the other hand, if the Augustinian/Reformed view of election is not Biblical and/or not true, then it distorts the truth of God and should be repudiated and abandoned.
Second, the doctrine of election is linked to our assurance of salvation and by it to our sanctification. When Peter set forth the virtues that mark our progress in sanctification, a list strikingly similar to Paul’s fruit of the Spirit, he added:
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:10–12).
This is a strong and sober apostolic call to due diligence. It is diligence with respect to election. When a Christian understands election, embraces election, and gains assurance of being numbered among the elect, he becomes firmly grounded in the truth of God—so established in this truth as to be freed from the propensity for stumbling. Assurance and spiritual growth in godliness go hand in hand.
Peter strengthens this call later when he declares that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). “Any” refers back to the word “us” as its antecedent, and the “us,” in turn, to those addressed in the Petrine Epistles, namely the elect. This verse, so far from disrupting or refuting election as the enemies of election claim, actually confirms it.
Third, the doctrine of election affirms the full sovereignty of God and puts to rest any pagan or humanistic notion that God’s sovereignty is limited by human freedom. Such a blasphemous view turns the Bible upside down and makes man sovereign instead of God. The Biblical view is that human freedom is real as far as it goes but is always limited by God’s sovereignty.
Fourth, the doctrine of election dashes to pieces any foundation for human pride and merit. In this doctrine, the graciousness of grace is fully manifested as the creature realizes that he has nothing of which to boast, because his salvation is a gift of grace alone, with no admixture of human merit or determinative action.
Finally, because of the above reasons and others not here explored, the majesty and excellency of God are so exalted that the creature, by the Holy Spirit, is awakened to true worship. Now we honor God as God and declare our utmost gratitude to Him.