In any discussion of the biblical doctrine of election, we must remember that God’s choice of His people was not a passionless selection made in an arbitrary manner with no goal in view. Those who misunderstand the Bible’s teaching on predestination as summarized in Reformed theology often portray our understanding of the Father’s election as a cold, even spiteful choice to include people in the kingdom who do not want to be there and bar the door to those eager to follow Jesus.
There are many reasons for this misunderstanding, but one of them may lie in how some Reformed folk present the doctrine of election to their non-Reformed brothers and sisters. If we are careful to hear the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:5–6, however, we can avoid this problem. As the apostle tells us, God the Father predestined His people “in love” (v. 5; see actually the end of verse 4). It was our Creator’s great love for His people that moved Him to call us out of the passion we had for Satan and the kingdom of darkness. With great affection He “predestined us for adoption as sons,” taking us, who had no legal claim to being a part of God’s family, as His very children, with all the privileges that status entails. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
It is all too easy for us to forget this remarkable truth — that the One who is too holy to look upon sin (Hab. 1:13) set His loving gaze upon us in the misery of our impurity and willful profaning of all that is good and right in order to make us new. He adopted us unto holiness even though we were unholy, for as many commentators note, the fact that God chose us to be holy and blameless presupposes that we are, in and of ourselves, no different from the rest of the fallen human race (Eph. 1:4). What motivated Him to love only some in this way and not every man, woman, and child who will ever live? This is a great mystery indeed, but we know that it is certainly not because we are inherently better than those who have not been chosen in love for holiness and adoption. Scripture says only that His choice to love His people is according to the purpose of His will (v. 5). John Calvin comments that in adoption “God does not inquire what we are, and is not reconciled to us by any personal worth. His single motive is the eternal good pleasure, by which he predestinated us.”