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One of the oldest objections against the Biblical doctrine of election (whereby God sovereignly chooses some persons to salvation, while bypassing others) is that, if true, it would engender spiritual pride, if not deadness in those who believe they are elect. A similar sort of objection is sometimes raised against assurance of salvation: If one could be certain he were saved, then he would quit trying to please God.

But a simple, humble, and honest answer to such objections must be this: Read your Bible, and you will discover that this is not how it works! God never removes His hand from the lives and development of His chosen ones. He knows just how to mingle sorrow and joy, trial and triumph in their experience so that they are increasingly shaped into the image of that Elect One.

And that precisely is the grand vision with which the apostle Paul comforts and strengthens us in Romans 8:28—that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” “All things” includes such experiences in the lives of the elect as “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword” (Rom. 8:35). But it is worth it all, for by these means we are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29).

Being elect is no guarantee of being carried to heaven “on flowery beds of ease!” Generally, it is the precise opposite. As Paul said elsewhere, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “Time would fail to tell” of how this operated in the lives of such elect as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and Daniel in the Old Testament, and Peter, John, Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ above all in the New! Being elect usually includes being elected to suffer, for “every branch [in Me] that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2 KJV).

This process of divinely guided shaping and pruning is what we see going on in the last years of King David’s reign, as reported in 2 Samuel 19 through 24. Yes, his election guaranteed that he would without fail accomplish what God had in store for him in this earthly life, and safely make it to heaven. “The sure mercies of David” really were sure, for they were secured by everlasting covenant (Isa. 55:3). Neither Saul, Absalom, nor Satan himself could finally frustrate the divine designs for David. That is part of what David celebrates in his “swan song” in chapters 22 and 23 of 2 Samuel: “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire” (23:5).

But far from election into an everlasting covenant leaving David “scot-free” of worldly cares, God keeps taking him down into the testing places of the soul, places where he is continually made humble rather than proud. And that is God’s normal way with all of His saints. Within days of his deliverance from the hand of Absalom, David had to face another fierce rebellion, this time from the 10 tribes, led by one Sheba (2 Sam. 20). Then the land faced a famine, because of the late King Saul’s mistreatment of the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21). This was atoned for with severe medicine (the killing of seven of Saul’s sons), and the land was restored.

In another war with the Philistines, elderly David failed in physical strength, and but for valiant action of his troops, would have lost his life (2 Sam. 21:15–17). Still, the Lord brought him through once again. In perhaps the last major test of his life (at least, the last one recorded in 2 Samuel), we see how God uses evil to bring about greater good. David (maybe out of presumption or pride) told Joab to number the people of Israel (chapter 24). As a due chastening, God asked him to choose one out of three possible punishments: seven years of famine, three months of devastation by enemies, or three days of pestilence from the hand of the Lord. David, having recognized his sin (2 Sam. 24:10), showed the depth of his true spirituality when—unlike worldly wisdom—he replied, “let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for His mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man” (v. 14).

Yes, the elect can and do sin—sometimes terribly. But God sees to it that they come back to Him in penitence and trust. In that dire situation, David became an intercessor for his people (v. 17), and the Lord heard him, and mercifully held back the angel from destroying Jerusalem. The very place where David saw the angel turned back from his grim work was the threshing floor of Araunah (v. 16). The prophet Gad instructed the penitent king to construct an altar in that place. And that became the location of the temple, which prefigured the one whose infinitely worthy sacrifice would atone for the sins of all God’s people. And thus how appropriately David could sing in Psalm 76: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (v. 11 KJV).

David’s election was for service to others, suffering for both honorable and dishonorable causes, sacrifice, character development, and ultimate bliss. Out of it the way was prepared for the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. The way of election is God’s appointed way with all of His people, and that way leads us, like David, homeward.

Sacrifices God Respects

Living Sacrifices

Keep Reading Prophet, Priest, and King: The Offices of Christ

From the December 2003 Issue
Dec 2003 Issue