Four reasons the doctrine of election is important
So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. Romans 9:16
Why is the doctrine of election so important? Why does Paul spend 24 verses in Romans 9 explaining and defending the fact that God’s will, not ours, is decisive in salvation? What possible good can this doctrine do? Won’t it impede a sense of the urgency of obedience and faith? Let me give you a number of reasons why this doctrine is important and why we must not shrink back from boldly holding to it.
First, we should do so because this doctrine does more than any other to make God and his grace our only hope for salvation and eternal life. And this is what we need, because our tendency is to rely on ourselves in one way or another. Our tendency is to look to our righteousness instead of Christ, to rely on our strength instead of the strength that God gives. But if God’s will and purpose is at the bottom of our salvation, then our hope must finally rest in him and in no one or nothing else.
Second, it is important because this doctrine does more than any other to give God all the glory for our salvation and life. If my will is the decisive instrument in my salvation, then at the end of the day I have saved myself, and I get the credit for gaining eternal life for myself. You can say all day long that God provided salvation on the cross and without it we cannot be saved, but if you make the human will the thing that finally determines whether or not I take advantage of that salvation, then the human will gets the glory for the salvation. But that is glory that belongs to God alone, not to man. To God alone the glory!
Third, this doctrine does more than any other to remind us that our salvation is not ultimately dependent upon ourselves. And that is very good news. If the constancy of my will is at the bottom of my final salvation, then I can only be hopeful if I ignore the dark realities that lurk within my heart. But if I am honest with myself, I will probably end up giving in to despair. This truth, however, reminds me that my final salvation does not depend on the keeping power of my will but on the keeping power of God’s grace and purpose. It fills me with hope to know that God is beneath all my willing and doing, and that his arms will catch me when I fall. As the hymn puts it, “He will hold me fast…”
Fourth, this doctrine does more than any other to remind us that God is in ultimate control, not only of my salvation, but of all things. He can take the most powerful ruler on earth, like Pharaoh, and use him for his purposes, even when Pharaoh thinks he is doing his own thing. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21:1). It reminds me of the truth that “the LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:10-11).
And all these things together reinforce the reality of Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good. We know they do, because God, not man, is on the throne and in ultimate control.
Not too long ago, I watched the movie Signs again. I like that movie because it is about a man who moves from an abandoned faith in God to a reawakened faith in God. One of things that moves him back to faith after losing it from suffering the tragic loss of his wife is his seeing again that there are no coincidences and that God is the great Mover behind all that happens in our lives, with a purpose that is good. In my opinion, there is an especially moving part in the movie, when he (Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson) tells his brother that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who look at seemingly miraculous events and see them as evidence that there is someone out there looking out for them, and those who see such things as nothing more than pure luck. For those who think they are on their own, Hess says, “But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they are on their own. And it fills them with fear.” Then there are those who believe that whatever happens is not just pure luck: “deep down, they fell that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.” I confess that I like that, and I think he’s right. When you look at the things that are transpiring in our world, so many people are filled with fear and it’s because deep down they believe they are either totally or ultimately on their own. But the Scriptures, and this doctrine, give us a reason to put ourselves in the category of those who don’t see things as mere coincidences, and who believe that God is really for them for their eternal good.
It goes almost without saying, though, that the theology of Hollywood movies, even good ones like Signs, is very thin. The movie doesn’t describe God any more than as someone who is there to help us, whatever that means. On the other hand, Romans 8 and 9 are predicated upon a concrete view of God as truly sovereign, who helps us in the sense of making all things work together in Christ for our eternal good. If he is for us, no one can be successfully against us. And that is a hope that will not put you to shame.