Is the Doctrine of Election Biblical

John MacArthur

Grace to You

Among the most hotly contested and persistent debates in the history of the confessing church, the doctrine of election is perhaps the greatest of all. The question goes like this: Does God choose sinners to be saved and then provide for their salvation? Or, Does God provide the way of salvation that sinners must choose for themselves?

Where’s the evidence?

This question of choice is called “election” because of the Greek word for those who are chosen–the Bible calls them eklektos. There are many such uses in the Bible (cf. Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 5:21; Tit. 1:1; 2 John 1), but one of my favorites is in Romans 8:33: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” The answer is, “no one,” but why? Is it because I chose God, or is it because God chose me?

One passage that is critical to the discussion is in the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Immediately after his customary greeting, Paul launches in Ephesians 1:3-14 with a great song of praise. It’s only one sentence–but, with 200 words in the Greek, it may be the longest single sentence in religious literature.

Paul touches on all the great biblical themes in that hyper-complex sentence–sanctification, adoption, redemption, and glorification–and all of them rest on one foundational doctrine, the doctrine of election. The most superlative spiritual blessings stand on Ephesians 1:4–“He chose us [elected us] in Him before the foundation of the world.”

So the doctrine of election is biblical, but what does that passage really teach? I want to help you get a better grasp of that by pointing out what Paul teaches about election. If you are a believer, you can equip yourself for your next conversation on this topic. But more important, as one of His elect you can rejoice in the astonishing kindness God showed you before the world began.

What does it mean?

Paul’s song is essentially his reflection on the amazing truth that God “blessed us with every spiritual blessing … in Christ” (v. 3). And how did He bless us? “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

God didn’t draw straws; He didn’t look down the corridor of time to see who would choose Him before He decided. Rather, by His sovereign will He chose who would be in the Body of Christ. The construction of the Greek verb for “chose” indicates God chose us for Himself. That means God acted totally independent of any outside influence. He made His choice totally apart from human will and purely on the basis of His sovereignty.

Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). And in the same Gospel, John wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:12-13, italics mine). And Paul said, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).

Those statements defining God’s sovereign choice of believers are not in the Bible to cause controversy, as if God’s election means sinners don’t make decisions. Election does not exclude human responsibility or the necessity of each person to respond to the gospel by faith. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

Admittedly the two concepts don’t seem to go together. However, both are true separately, and we must accept them both by faith. You may not understand it, but rest assured–it’s fully reconciled in the mind of God.

You must understand that your faith and salvation rest entirely on God’s election (cf. Acts 13:48). And yet the day you came to Jesus Christ, you did so because of an internal desire–you did nothing against your will. But even that desire is God-given–He supplies the necessary faith so we can believe (Eph. 2:8).

Think about it–if your salvation depends on you, then praise to God is ridiculous. But, in truth, your praise to God is completely appropriate, because in forming the Body before the world began, He chose you by His sovereign decree apart from any of your works. The doctrine of election demonstrates God being God, exercising divine prerogatives. For that we must praise Him.

“But that’s not fair!”

Some are shocked to find that God didn’t choose everyone to salvation. Jesus said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39, italics mine). God the Father chose certain individuals to form a Body as a gift to Jesus Christ. Every believer is part of that love gift to Christ–a gift of the Father’s love to His Son.

To those who say that is unjust, Paul answers: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'” (Rom. 9:14-15).

So why does God still find fault in unrepentant sinners when He didn’t choose them? Doesn’t this deny human responsibility? Is it fair for God to still hold them accountable?

Paul answers all such questions with a rebuke–“who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (v. 20). Does the clay jump up and ask the potter why it looks the way it does? Not at all.

Some believe that is terribly cold and calculating. But that is only one side of God’s sovereign election. Paul continues in the next chapter by saying, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved … for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (10:9, 13).

How these two sides of God’s truth–His sovereignty in choosing us (Rom. 9) and our responsibility to confess and believe (Rom. 10)–reconcile is impossible for us to understand fully. But Scripture declares both perspectives of salvation to be true (John 1:12-13). It’s our duty to acknowledge both and joyfully accept them by faith.

Source :

Copyright 2007, Grace to You. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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8 thoughts on “Is the Doctrine of Election Biblical

  1. Paul wrote the wonderful doxology in Ephesians 1:3-14 but he also wrote 2 Timothy 2:9-10:

    Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:9-10)

    The very same word “elektos” is used here which simply means that even the unsaved are God’s elect, unless of course Paul made a grave mistake when he wrote it. You may argue that he was talking about the elect who had not been saved at the time when Paul wrote these words. Nonetheless, why would Paul need to suffer and endure all things (persecution, stoning) for the elect’s sake when the elect had already been chosen unto salvation before the foundation of the world? To be able to suffer and endure for the elect’s sake Paul must have known who the elect were before they were saved? Why would a man like Paul want to suffer and endure for the sake of the reprobate? Or did he suffer at the hands of the reprobate only? If so, then like Paul the elect, who were going to be saved and for whom he suffered and endured, too must have known that they were the elect and up for salvation and decided not to add to Paul’s sufferings.

    This brings to to my next question: At what stage are the elect saved?

    Sorry, I’m asking many questions hoping that they may be answered.


  2. ?????(youngster) Yeah, I just wanted to ask what your view was on double predestination and why?

    JOHN: My view on double predestination and why?

    Pastor: He’s entering seminary next week.

    JOHN: Yeah, I understand. (Laughter) That’s good. Well double predestination is the viewpoint that God in eternity past just basically laid out for all intents and purposes all of humanity that would ever be born and just said…Okay, you go to hell, you go to hell, you go to heaven, you go to hell, you go to heaven, you go to hell…and just went down the line. That’s what is called double predestination. He predetermined some to salvation and He predetermined and selected some to damnation. That is not taught in the Bible and that’s why I don’t believe it.

    What is taught in the Bible is that we are chosen for salvation. A good passage…nowhere in the Scripture does it say that God chooses people to be damned, no place, does not say that. In fact, the Old Testament says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, none. Jesus said you will not come to Me that you might have life. Jesus sat and wept over the city of Jerusalem and said, “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her brood, but you would not come.” And He wept. Isaiah said, “Oh everyone that thirsts come,” Isaiah 55. Jesus said in John 6, “Him that comes unto Me I will in no wise cast out, or turn away.” The end of the book of Revelation says, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Jesus said to the Jews, “If you will not…if you will not believe on Me, where I go you can never come,” but He always ties damnation to unbelief, never to predestination…never to predestination, always to unbelief.

    A good illustration of that is a little bit technical but I think you’ll understand it. It’s in Romans 9 and Romans 9 is a very important passage because here the Lord is talking about this very issue. Verse 23 it says, verse 23 talks about vessels of mercy, I won’t go into the whole text, but it talks about vessels of mercy which He prepared before hand to glory. Now vessels of mercy would be Christians, believers. God prepared them before time for glory. He chose them for glory.

    We go back to verse 22, God is active then in the preparation of those for glory. Back to verse 22, what if God although willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known endured, not prepared, but endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? Now the difference is this, this is where it gets a little technical. The verb in verse 23 is active. An active verb, if you remember your English class, is when the speaker does the action…the subject does the action. A passive verb is when the action is done to the subject, right? I hit the ball…is very different than…I was hit by the ball. In an active verb the subject does the action, in the passive verb the subject receives the action. Here you have an active verb in verse 23, God actively preparing vessels of mercy for glory, you have a passive verb in verse 22, you have certain vessels of wrath that were prepared for destruction, God is not the actor, He receives the action. So God never takes the responsibility for damnation, except for the fact that He will be the judge and the executor, but He is not responsible for the unbelief. So you don’t have double predestination.

    People go to heaven because they believe and were chosen before the foundation of the world. People go to hell because they do not believe. And that’s as far as the Scripture goes. And I know that’s hard to understand, very hard. And there’s really no way around it. People say, “Well I feel a lot comfortable…more comfortable if God doesn’t choose anybody and everybody does what they want.” If everybody did what they wanted nobody would be saved. But even if everybody did what they want and some people chose not to be saved, you’d have to ask the question…if God knew…God knows everything and He knew that when He created them they wouldn’t choose Him, why did He go ahead and create them? You’ve got the same problem. If you’re trying to get God off the hook, you do have a problem. You can’t get Him off the hook. And it’s just…it’s just an impossible thing to harmonize in your mind, impossible to harmonize in my mind. I can’t…I can’t understand how people go to hell and they’re fully responsible for rejecting Christ and they go to hell because they failed to believe. And on the other hand, they go to heaven because they believe because they were chosen and God is all responsible for that. How does that harmonize? I don’t know, but it isn’t important that it harmonize in my mind. If I fully understand that I’d have the mind of God. That’s, by the way, one of the great proofs the Bible was written by God because it doesn’t resolve those apparent paradoxes.

    You know, all you have to do is just think for a minute. If this Bible was edited by any committee, they would have taken all that out. I work with editors all the time. They take everything out that doesn’t square. But if…I’d like to just point out the fact, if you have trouble with that, you also have to realize you have trouble with a lot of things. And I can just illustrate it by asking you a few simple questions. Who wrote Romans? Paul. How many of you think Paul wrote Romans? Any other answers? Holy Spirit. How many of you think the Holy Spirit wrote it? This is a basic question, folks, we’ve been here a long time. Who wrote Romans? You say, “Well Paul wrote a verse, the Holy Spirit wrote a verse, Paul wrote a verse, the Holy Spirit wrote a verse, alternating. You say, “Every word was out of the mind of Paul…every word was out of the vocabulary of Paul…every word was out of the experience of Paul, the heart of Paul.” That’s right. “And every single solitary word came from the mind of the Holy Spirit.” Right. How can that be? I don’t know. I don’t know.

    What about the doctrine of security? You say we’re secure. We’re kept. We’re kept by His power forever. Once we’re saved we’re kept forever. But the Bible also warns us…don’t fall in to unbelief because you must persevere. There’s a persevering side, that’s our part, there’s a keeping side, that’s His part. If He’s keeping us, why do we have to worry about persevering? But that’s the way the Scripture outlines it.

    I’ll ask you another question. Since you’re doing so well on these. (Laughter) Is Jesus Christ God or man? Yes…good. That’s very good. Yes. How can He be fully God and fully man? It’s incomprehensible.

    Let me ask you another question. Who lives your Christian life? Who lives it? You ought to know this because, you know, this is you, folks. Who lives your Christian life? If it’s both of you, the Lord is doing a much better job for His part, right? In fact, anything good happens in my life He did it, anything bad, I did it. It’s impossible. You say, “It’s me…it is me, I beat my body to bring it into subjection, it’s me.” Then you have some people that come along and say, “Let go and let God.” (Laughter) So you have these two…and there’s a kernel of truth in that. Paul had it…Paul had it, you know how he said it? He understood it fully, this is what he said, Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet (laughter) not I,” see he didn’t know either. (Laughter) It’s the same kind of tension. John Murray the great theologian says, “In every major doctrine in Scripture you have apparent paradoxes.” You want to talk about the trinity? There’s another one.

    So don’t get…that’s a long answer, but it’s an important category of questions. Don’t get caught up in trying to harmonize everything in the mind of God. You can’t. You have to take it by faith. Leave those doctrines where they are. Leave them at the poles they are at

    Tom, copied and pasted a part of a teaching from GTY. org
    The link is here if you would like to listen to it. God does NOT predestine some for heaven and some for hell. Here is the other link again because i don’t think you really listened to the message
    You can listen to , or read this sermon that John Macarthur did on this topic. Nobody explains it better than this.
    The bible teaches throughout scripture that NONE is good. Giving good gifts to our children , and BEING good are totally different things. You have to ignore ALOT of scripture to come to the conclusion that we are capable of being truly good. Jesus said that no one was good but God. You may disagree with this doctrine, however, rather than Ignore all the MANY scriptures that JM exegetes in these messages, why don’t you transcript the messages and exegete them yourself rather than ignoring the information that is presented ? I don’t mean any disrespect at all, please know that. Sometimes typed words give a different impression than when you are speaking. This controversy is not important, in the sense that —-if you ,and me , and anybody else wants to repent, you can be sure that you will be recieved because God has promised to cast NONE out and God cannot lie! So what is the difference? As for the bit of mockery about giving the gospel to somebody, that was not productive. God bless.


    • Abel Ramirez

      I have read your article that you gave the link to, there are some flaws that we do not agree with, therefor we cannot place the link to you blog here. In order for us to explain why would take endless hours of explaining, to sum you view up shortly. You seem to hold the Arminian view that man has free will to choose and can therefor choose God or not. This removes the Sovereignty of God. The Doctrines of election is clear in Scripture and i am sure you are already familiar with them.

      Please read our Doctrines of Grace articles in a 10 part series by John MacArthur, on this blog. I does give you a clear idea of our Biblical view we hold on this blog.



  3. Elmarie,

    Accroding to the doctrine of election, Jesus died only for the elect. So when we present the Gospel to the lost we should obviously explain to them how God Himself came into the world in the form of the man named Jesus, lived a perfect life, and sacrificed Himself on the cross for the sins of …. only the elect? No? Why not? This would seem to be a critical part of explaining how salvation works. Is leaving this very important detail out really being honest or forthcoming with the lost?

    This is the practical aspect of sharing the doctrine of election with the lost that no defender of it ever talks about. I have never heard one single defender of this doctrine, that they hold so dear, boldly and confidently proclaim this most beautiful of doctrines to the lost, individually or to a group. “Jesus died for SOME of you!” Is this really “good news”? Not in the least, and yet, this is what you actually believe. If this doctrine is so Biblical and beautiful, why aren’t its defenders up front about it with the lost? Why don’t I hear any of its defenders proclaiming it to a lost world? Instead, what I consistently hear from the defenders of the doctrine of election is a Gospel presentation that sounds, to anyone with no knowledge of the Bible or election, as if it is available to everyone without exception, when in reality, they believe it is not.

    God Bless!



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