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I have finally come to think the election debate is de facto rather esoteric. First, I have heard prominent Christian figures say belief in election is not necessary for salvation. But even more so, because even electionists acknowledge the saved will do certain things that bring about their salvation. Therefore, one way to summarize it is that we are debating whether God decides that the sinner decides to come to Christ and accept Him as Lord and Savior and repent, or whether the sinner decides that the sinner decides to... So what difference does that make?

Does anyone know of any standard arguments or theology about why it matters so much? Or some theology that might say the above is not quite right? I don’t want to debate election or even cull standard or Biblical reasons for believing or not believing it; the purpose is only about how meaningful the election question is.

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  • Oh that was a typo. Yes certainly not papal election. Why isnt religious practice appropriate? Does this doctrine have practical implications? Seems “election” should be a tag, unconditional election was selected to to its absence
    – Al Brown
    Aug 3 at 15:19
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    The question doesn't limit itself to asking only for the impact the doctrine has on daily living, but also allows for why it's theological important, so the religious practice tag doesn't really fit. Unconditional election is a specific doctrine of Reformed Theology, but this asks generally, so the presdestination tag fits best (election is a tag synonym). There are differences between election and presdestination, but this question isn't asking at that level of detail.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 3 at 15:26
  • @AlBrown it matters in a philosophical sense because people don't like the idea that they were created to go to hell (for those that believe in hell - I know not all Christians do) -- or at the very least, created to be in some lesser form of an afterlife. Being created to fail is seen as ethically problematic.
    – TKoL
    Aug 3 at 16:24
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    Whether election matters or not is clear by its frequency in scripture : over 25 times (election and elect) mentioned across twelve different books in the New Testament writings. Jesus speaks of it, reported by three different authors, Paul speaks of it in six different epistles, Peter speaks of it in both his epistles. John also mentions it. And if these all speak of it and teach it - I want to know about it.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 3 at 19:26
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    This is a very interesting question. I hope you don't mind that I've added the 'unconditional election' tag. Delete it if you think that's not appropriate to your question.
    – Lesley
    Aug 7 at 15:32
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The pastoral reason this debate matters so much is because of the related doctrine of assurance (which itself is intimately related to justification by faith alone). To put it bluntly, if our salvation depends on the eternal decree of God, then our assurance is based not on our own performance but entirely on the grace of God. If salvation depends even partially on us - e.g. on our choosing somehow, or on our ability to keep God's commands - then our assurance rests on our own performance. And if that is the case, then it leads to questions such as "How can I ever know I've done enough to be saved?"

This was a key and live debate at the time of the Reformation. So, the Church of England's 39 Articles includes this as part of Article XVII (On Predestination and Election):

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God...Source

Contrast this with the Council of Trent, session on Justification, 38:

No one, moreover, so long as he exists in this mortal state, ought so far to presume concerning the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinated; as if it were true, that he who is justified, either cannot sin any more, or if he do sin, that he ought to promise himself a certain repentance; for except by a special revelation, it cannot be known whom God hath chosen unto Himself. Source

This is the reason why the debate on election is not esoteric. It may seem to be like trying to calculate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it actually has ramifications for the Christian life.

Further reading on the Doctrine of Assurance:
Wikipedia
Gospel Coalition

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    Great that makes a lot of sense. There is a distinction between believing in election and being able to know, or not being able to know, whether we are so included. (I heard RC Sproul say he asks 3 questions: 1. Do you love Christ perfectly? 2. Love Him as you should? 3. Love Him at all? Answer to 1 should be no. If answer to 1 is no then 2 is no. But no person in his fallen condition would ever have any love for Christ. So theres your test, in his opinion.) Somehow i missed that having that assurance was also dependent upon believing election. Thanks again
    – Al Brown
    Aug 3 at 17:28
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    Having been raised Catholic but now being a Baptist with Calvinist leanings, I have to say that there is merit to both sides. Formal assent to the doctrine without evidence that said doctrine has been written on your heart can't produce any sort of security. I believe that you need a special revelation of that grace as the Catholics teach, but that said special revelation is bound up in the teaching of its truthfulness and is more commonly available than the RCC teaches. Aug 3 at 18:55
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    @PaulChernoch Sure, it's more complicated, I just wanted to point out that election does have pastoral implications (however you work that out). It's not an entirely academic issue! Aug 3 at 19:05
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    @AlBrown Excellent point distinguishing belief in election and ability to know whether we are elect. In fact, even Reformed believers cannot be sure whether they are elect, which is the source of anxiety for them. There is a good article about Assurance from Reformed perspective balancing our not knowing 100% whether we are elect and verification through fruits: How Can I Know if I Am Elect? Aug 4 at 14:07
  • Good answer. +1. A verse that "seals it" for me in the sovereignty-of-God-and-the-free-will-of-man debate is 2 Timothy 2:19 - [Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”] This verse allows for local churches & denominations to exercise discipline in the church for blatant sin. The verse "proves" that no one on earth can know if a person is truly God's or not. It also proves that Christians CAN sin, but they can also turn away from sin. Don Aug 7 at 17:34
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For a Calvinist, belief in the doctrine of election:-

  1. Plays a major part in whether you believe in the God of the Bible, or not.

About the True God His Word says: All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35, NIV).

It was this sovereign power of God that drew out the awe and worship from that proud king: At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; (Dan 4:34. ESV).

Do we have any awe of our God? Belief in election should help us to be in awe: "he does as he pleases".

  1. Helps us to see that God has not left anything to chance when it comes to the salvation of souls. If he really had left our salvation dependant on our choice of him what uncertainty would hang in the air until we had made that choice! And even after choosing Christ we would still be in tredipation fearing that we might revoke our choice. No, he has made sure of the salvation of a vast number which no man can number, of all his people.

The doctrine of election should therefore lead us to love him better: he has had me in mind for salvation from the very beginning, even before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).

  1. Glorifies the grace of God in those who are saved. If my salvation is even slightly dependant on me then (to the extent it depends on me) I can boast that I did it. But if my salvation is entirely dependant on God choosing me then "where is boasting? It is excluded" (Rom 3:27). Did I respond with faith? But faith is the gift of God to his elect (Eph 2:8,9). Or with repentance? It, too, is a gift (Acts 11:18).

If my salvation is all from God then how I ought to praise and glorify the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And how I ought to walk humbly before God and men. It is God who has made me to differ from the lost.. how I should thank him, and not rather secretly congratulate myself on my own wise choice of Christ. The doctrine of election is pre-eminently suitable for killing that great enemy of our souls... pride.

  1. It is a necessary consequence of how fallen the human race is: we all by nature have lost all ability to return to God, we are all dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). We all have either a secret or outwardly expressed animosity against God. How then shall any of us be saved? If God were to wait for us to choose him then none would be saved. God in his love will not wait for us to choose him, but he chose us (1 John 4:19, John 15:16, 1 Cor 1:23-31).

  2. God is sovereign in all things; all men he concludes in unbelief at first so that they might require his mercy at the last through faith in Jesus (Romans 11:31-32). And He does all these things in his own wisdom and knowledge.

  3. Last, but perhaps most important if all, if our salvation is God's electing and God's choosing then it tells me to have all eyes on Him for mercy and salvation and to look in no other place. If I think that the reason why one is saved and not another is because of some attribute within then I will waste time looking within for what I imagine is the needed attribute. But if I suppose that there is no distinguishing attribute within but that God has mercy on whom he wills (Romans 9:15-18) then I will happily quit that useless soul-searching and look unto him alone for mercy (through the shed blood of Christ).

Belief in the doctrine of election should help us to get saved, it takes our eyes off the wrong place and puts them in the right place, on Christ crucified for free forgiveness to us while we were dead in trespasses and sins.

  1. If we do not believe in the doctrine of election it is hard for me to see how we can share in Paul's doxology:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

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    Does point 2 assume that God cannot foreknow the choices that free agents will make? Aug 4 at 20:01
  • Another profound helpful answer start to end. Esp liked pt 1 being first and just 10 or 20 words. I wasnt quite getting that fully, although i agree, and knew, and others said it. Yet.. Anyway, one would think thatd matter huh? Ha. I also thought like Mike when reading 2, the wording there. “Depend on our choice” can have two meanings. If it is a ness mechanism that God predestined? or if we imagine we could not choose that and be saved anyway. But im in the esoteric i talked about, w a hypothetical world.
    – Al Brown
    Aug 5 at 0:29
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First, let's address the premise of your question:

one way to summarize it is that we are debating whether God decides that the sinner decides to come to Christ and accept Him as Lord and Savior and repent, or whether the sinner decides that the sinner decides to... So what difference does that make?

This is a false dilemma. Regardless of which model of God's action vs. free will dynamic one believes, subjectively we are conscious when we make the decision to follow Jesus. (Of course, we are leaving to God's graciousness on how He will deal with those who don't receive a good gospel presentation.) Therefore, the debate itself does not make a difference practically.

HOWEVER, the Doctrine of Election itself matters a lot since NT talks about it a lot, even though the content of the doctrine itself differs depending on the denomination. Why does it matter? One answer by Jonathan Landry Cruse is given in an article adapted from his recent 2019 book: 3 Points about the Doctrine of Election Every Christian Needs to Know:

  • Election is a big doctrine since it shows the sovereignty of God. Even if human free will has a role, God still has foreknowledge of it and God's freedom is greater than our own freedom since He created our freedom.

  • Election is a beautiful doctrine since it shows the goodness of God. Even if human free will has a role, God loved us and chose us first, then He gave us the grace to support our own choice for Christ.

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  • That was great. Appreciate the parsimony and uber clarity a lot. (Who was it that ended a letter once with, “PS: I would have written a shorter letter if Id have had more time.”?) “subjectively we are conscious when we make the decision to follow Jesus” 👍🏻🙏🏻 Anyway thats the false dilemma I meant, not bringing my own one up? Or, did you mean i did too? But yeah the importance and value is obvious now. Every answer been helpful and enjoyable, great experience. Dunno if it’s my interest in the topic and struggle to date or if they are all that good.
    – Al Brown
    Aug 5 at 0:36
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I’m going to give the simplest answer I know. After I became a Christian in my mid-20s, it only began to slowly dawn on me, after the event, the wonder of why God would save a sinner like me, and how he did it. I had left a group that denied mainstream views of election/predestination, claiming knowledge about God and Christ was the essential factor in individuals deciding to become Christians. But there could be no assurance of salvation because you had to keep doing all the right things till the end of a future millennium, and then you should get to live forever. That was a religious system – man-made – a heavy burden.

That burden fell off when I repented of my sin while looking only to the finished work of Christ on the cross, not my own level of Bible knowledge or what I did. I had no idea about any doctrines of election and predestination. Now I do, decades later. So, it’s simple to agree that such doctrinal understanding is not necessary for salvation. I don’t know any believer in that who even thinks it might be. The doctrines of justification and sanctification are also involved, so the matter is truly deep, and some people love to go into the depths of such theology, but for those who know they are chosen and loved of God, that appreciation can only come after the event – the miraculous event of God bringing one to newness of spiritual life.

Conversely, there are those who argue about doctrines, trying to justify their religious stance, and because the doctrines of election, predestination, justification and sanctification are presented so differently by so many Christian (and non-Christian) groups, debates rage. This is so dishonouring to God! Once God does his work of grace in justifying a contrite sinner, then let that person study God’s word and hear sound gospel teaching, to discover the wonder of it all. Of course nobody is ever going to be able to explain it all entirely to everybody’s satisfaction. That’s because nobody can fully explain God; only God can explain God, and he has chosen to reveal so much of himself to redeemed sinners, but not everything. Even in the glory, when our myriad questions have been answered, God will still remain over and above us. Eternity won’t exhaust the quest to know God more, because he is God and we are his creatures.

So, my answer boils down to what might be a simplistic statement: After the event of one being brought to spiritual life, we can agree with Romans 3:4 – “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar”. (Linked to Psalm 51.) We collate all that God has revealed to us in his word about the matter, and wonder in amazement with doxologies of praise, continually seeking to understand more. But for those who view the matter as a spiritual boxing ring, taking on all-comers, pity help them.

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Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. - Psalm 29:1-2

The theological "election debate" as it is usually played out dances all around and actually misses the point. One side argues to defend the absolute and complete sovereignty of God (which appears to be clear in Scripture) and the other side argues to defend a responsibility of human choice (which also appears to be clear in Scripture). Divine election actually incorporates and defends both. He foreknew and then He created: Therein lies election.

Election is declared in Scripture to be according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Peter 1:2). If it can be apprehended that God is "big" enough to have foreknown every free decision made by every human being ever born even before He created then election and creation are inextricably linked.

As it is written:

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. - 1 Peter 1:17-21

If the shed blood of Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world, then the free choice of Adam to sin was foreknown also. Why shed the blood of a sacrifice before any offense is committed? If the shed blood of Christ was foreknown to be for the sake of "us" who are believers in God then our belief was also foreknown prior to creation. If one wants to argue that God sovereignly "makes" or "enables" our individual belief then they must also argue that God "made" or "enabled" Adam's disobedience in the same way, because it was all foreknown prior to creation.

A sovereignty that is unable to be sovereign over the free choices of it's creation is no sovereignty at all and is certainly beneath attribution to Almighty God.

The practical implications of the doctrine of election are:

  1. God is both sovereign and good. He knows absolutely everything that is ever going to happen and He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him so...the only safety is to trust and obey Him.

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. - Deuteronomy 31:8

  1. We actually can and must choose to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. Our choices have consequence and matter. We cannot be born again against our will nor can we effect it ourselves:

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling... - Isaiah 30:15

  1. Once one is born again by calling on the name of the Lord, that one is predestined (through sanctification of the Spirit) to be conformed to the image of the Lord:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. - Romans 8:29

From everlasting to everlasting there is no choice, action, or intention of any entity in all of creation that can take the Lord God by surprise. Nothing is hidden from His sight. He knew humanity would fall into darkness if given choice, He knew Jesus would ransom humanity, He knew who would respond to His grace, He knew who would reject it...and then He created, thus bringing it all to pass. This is election and it is rooted in the infinite omniscience of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

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    The word "foreknow" is used only in the NT & only four times (Acts 2:23, Romans 8:29-30 & 11:2, 1 Peter 1:2). It never refers to our choice of Christ. In both OT & NT "to know" means the same as modern English but has the added sense of "to love"/intimacy (Gen 4:1, Amos 3:2, Jeremiah 1:5, Matt 7:23, John 10:14, 1 Cor 8:3, 2 Tim 2:19). In Acts 2:23 God foreknew, had a deep personal awareness, of their action because it was according to His determinate counsel. In the remaining 3 NT uses it is persons who are foreknown, they are chosen by God because he foreloved them. His foreknowledge is Aug 5 at 10:30
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    foreknowledge/forelove of me is the ultimate origin of my election. You cannot go back any further: he loved me because he chose to, & because he loved me he chose me & because he chose me he led me to choose him. God's election is the cause and our believing is the effect, not vice-versa. God is sovereign, & we are fallen, dead in trespasses & sins. We can do nothing until God awakes us from the dead & those he awakes will be drawn to, & ultimately believe on, Christ. God decided who will be saved & who will be lost (1 Pet 2:8, Rom 9:18, John 10:26) of his own choice (Rom 9:11). Aug 5 at 10:50
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    Why can't you? It's a fact they will not be able to unless God enables them. We do not need to hide in any way this truth, and telling them will only help them to call to God to help them come to him. Aug 5 at 16:24
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    No. If they are not elect they will never genuinely cry out for help. Aug 5 at 18:16
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    (And if they are crying out for help it is a sign that God is already at work in their lives and drawing them to himself. God's act of saving is not "all in a flash" in a single moment. Just as a baby is first conceived in secret and after a period of time is born, so the new creature is first conceived and grows secretly and finally born again by faith in Christ. A person who cries to God for help, if it is genuine, has already received grace from God, is like a babe in its mother's womb, and in process of coming to the new birth. Regeneration is already at work in them.) Aug 6 at 7:37

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