GOD CHOOSES HIS OWN
by J.I. Packer
For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I
will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore,
depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. ROMANS 9:15-16
The verb elect means “to select, or choose out.” The biblical doctrine of
election is that before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen
as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in
and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim.
1:9-10). This divine choice is an _expression of free and sovereign grace, for
it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who
are its subjects. God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so
it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that he should choose to save
any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to
suffer as sin-bearer for the elect (Rom. 8:32).
The doctrine of election, like every truth about God, involves mystery and
sometimes stirs controversy. But in Scripture it is a pastoral doctrine,
brought in to help Christians see how great is the grace that saves them, and
to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness
in response. It is the family secret of the children of God. We do not know
who else he has chosen among those who do not yet believe, nor why it was his
good pleasure to choose us in particular. What we do know is, first, that had
we not been chosen for life we would not be believers now (for only the elect
are brought to faith), and, second, that as elect believers we may rely on God
to finish in us the good work that he started (1 Cor. 1:8-9; Phil. 1:6; 1
Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18). Knowledge of one’s election thus brings
comfort and joy.
Peter tells us we should be “eager to make [our] calling and election sure” (2
Pet. 1:10)—that is, certain to us. Election is known by its fruits. Paul knew
the election of the Thessalonians from their faith, hope, and love, the inward
and outward transformation of their lives that the gospel had brought about (1
Thess. 1:3-6). The more that the qualities to which Peter has been exhorting
his readers appear in our lives (goodness, knowledge, self-control,
perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love: 2 Pet. 1:5-7), the surer of
our own election we are entitled to be.
The elect are, from one standpoint, the Father’s gift to the Son (John 6:39;
10:29; 17:2, 24). Jesus testifies that he came into this world specifically to
save them (John 6:37-40; 10:14-16, 26-29; 15:16; 17:6-26; Eph. 5:25-27), and
any account of his mission must emphasize this.
Reprobation is the name given to God’s eternal decision regarding those
sinners whom he has not chosen for life. His decision is in essence a decision
not to change them, as the elect are destined to be changed, but to leave them
to sin as in their hearts they already want to do, and finally to judge them
as they deserve for what they have done. When in particular instances God
gives them over to their sins (i.e., removes restraints on their doing the
disobedient things they desire), this is itself the beginning of judgment. It
is called “hardening” (Rom. 9:18; 11:25; cf. Ps. 81:12; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28),
and it inevitably leads to greater guilt.
Reprobation is a biblical reality (Rom. 9:14-24; 1 Pet. 2:8), but not one that
bears directly on Christian behavior. The reprobates are faceless so far as
Christians are concerned, and it is not for us to try to identify them.
Rather, we should live in light of the certainty that anyone may be saved if
he or she will but repent and put faith in Christ.
We should view all persons that we meet as possibly being numbered among the