“Divine election” (hereafter “election”) is God, before the foundation of the world, choosing some to be Christians. See, e.g, Ephesians 1:3—6. “Predestination” is God’s general specification of the future, and it includes election.
In a comment thread here at the Orthosphere, a commenter voices a version of what might be called the standard objection to the notion that God elects some to eternal life and leaves the others to their fate. This “standard objection” runs something like this:
Election means that God has a list of those He has predetermined to be saved. So if you repent and have faith in Christ, but are not on the list, then you’ll be cast into outer darkness. And conversely, if you don’t repent and have faith, but you’re on God’s list, then you’ll be dragged up to Heaven even though you don’t want it.
There are, of course, nuances, and I don’t claim that the commenter would phrase his objection exactly as I have phrased it above. But I think the above expresses the essence of why many people reject the doctrine of election.
But the “standard objection” is totally wrongheaded. The biblical truth is very simple: If you repent and have true faith in Jesus Christ, then you are of the elect. And if you don’t, you aren’t. Period.
The Bible says this clearly. See, e.g., John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Nowhere does the Bible say “Whosoever believeth in him and be of the elect should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you repent and believe, you are of the elect. And if you don’t, you aren’t.
Calvinism (that is, the controversial part of Calvinism) describes what the Bible teaches about what’s happening “behind the scenes.” Behind the scenes, in a way that is unknowable by man even in principle, God elects some. But all we see is those who repent and have faith in Christ. And all these are saved.
Of course, election, and God’s more general predestination, appear to contradict our primary experience of ourselves as being free, not being manipulated by a force outside ourselves. This is a difficult philosophical issue, so I will have to content myself with three basic observations.
One, if we are Christians, we have to believe what the Bible says. If the Bible says that God predestines, then we have to believe it. And the Bible also says that man has freedom, although there is no biblical text reading “man has freedom.” Instead, the Bible teaches that our choices have consequences, and we are judged by them. It teaches that all those who choose to come to Christ are saved, and those who choose not to are not. To object to either predestination or to free will is to be impious.
But it must be reiterated that man is not free to choose that which he does not want. In that sense man, until he is regenerated by a sovereign work of God, is not free.
Two, the way God predestines some to salvation is not by “forcing” us. Think of it this way: Most Christians can recall a time when they were not Christians. They did not want to repent and have faith in Christ. So they didn’t.
But them something happened. Christ started to look better to them. Christian teaching began making sense to them. And then they decided to repent and believe in Christ.
Question: What caused this change? At one time they were actively opposed, or actively indifferent, to Christ. Even if they heard the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name, or heard good arguments why they should believe it, they weren’t impressed. They didn’t want to come to Christ. But them something inside them changed, and they began to want Christ.
This change could not have been caused by a conscious act of theirs. If you don’t want something, then you don’t want to change that lack of desire. Therefore the cause of that change is mysterious.
Secular psychology would ascribe the cause to the mysterious workings of the unconscious. But in the Bible, God identifies the cause as Himself. For example, Exekiel 36:26 reads
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
That’s election. Or rather, that’s God putting into effect what He predestined. And notice that when this change occurs within us, it doesn’t feel like an alien force operating on us. It feels like a natural development from within.
And three, the doctrine of election is intended as a comfort for the Christian, not as a stumbling block. Election means that God is powerful enough to save, and that He does not have to wait helplessly, hoping that people will spontaneously make the right choice.