The Synod of Dort rejected this doctrine, believing that it contradicted the teaching of Scripture. They taught instead a doctrine of unconditional election. This doctrine is explained in detail in the first main point of doctrine in the Canons of Dort. After explaining the context of the doctrine of election in Articles 1–6, Article 7 explains:
Election [or choosing] is God’s unchangeable purpose by which he did the following:
Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, he chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin. Those chosen were neither better nor more deserving than the others, but lay with them in the common misery. He did this in Christ, whom he also appointed from eternity to be the mediator, the head of all those chosen, and the foundation of their salvation.
And so he decided to give the chosen ones to Christ to be saved, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ’s fellowship through his Word and Spirit. In other words, he decided to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally, after powerfully preserving them in the fellowship of his Son, to glorify them.
God did all this in order to demonstrate his mercy, to the praise of the riches of his glorious grace.
In other words, God did not choose any of us because He saw that we would believe. He chose in order that we would believe, and this was conditioned only upon “the free good pleasure of his will.”
So, how can I know if I am one of these who have been chosen according to “the free good pleasure of his will”? The canons address this question in article 12 on “The Assurance of Election.” This article reads as follows:
Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word — such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.
There are several points in this article worth noting:
- Not every Christian has this assurance to the same degree. Our assurance is sometimes mingled with doubts.
- We cannot know whether we are elect by trying to search the hidden things of God. This is probably the point on which most Christians have become the most confused. They are looking for the equivalent of a divine tattoo behind their ears. We do not have access to the secret things of God, so we cannot gain knowledge of our election by looking at election from a God’s-eye perspective.
- We can know whether we are elect only by observing “the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word—such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.” You shall know them by their fruits, Jesus said (Matt. 7:16), and you can know yourself by your fruits as well, the Synod of Dort said.
So, how can I know if I am elect? By asking myself whether I have the fruits of election. In other words, by honest self-examination. If I have faith in Christ, if I am sorrowful for my sins and repenting of them, if I am cultivating the fruit of the Spirit and putting to death the deeds of the flesh, I am showing the fruits of election. Election is the invisible cause. Spiritual fruit is the visible effect. We can’t see the cause, but we can observe the effect. In short, we can know we are among the elect if we and others observe the fruits of election in our lives.
If I sin, does that mean I am not elect? Because we remain in this body of death at present, we do not reach a state of sinless perfection in this life (Rom. 7), so we will always be racked with doubt if we assume that being elect means sinless perfection. The fruits of election are not sinless perfection in this life. Jesus taught His disciples to pray “forgive us our sins,” something He would not do if He expected them to reach sinless perfection immediately. We are to be mortifying the flesh, but when we sin, the fruit of election is godly sorrow for sin, genuine repentance. If we repent and confess our sins, He will forgive us (1 John 1:9).
If we stop trying to search into the hidden things of God and look at election in the way we are counseled to by the Synod of Dort, we can read Ephesians 1 and understand how this doctrine can be a great encouragement to us as followers of Christ. It reminds us that our salvation is, from beginning to end, all of grace. To God alone, then, be all the glory.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 13, 2019.