I can’t say with certainty, but it seems to me that the most important aspect of election is that it is “in Christ.” We are chosen in Christ. We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. And we are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ to believe Christ as He is revealed in the Gospel. Throughout scripture, God speaks of His people in two ways: what we are in ourselves, and what we are in Christ. In ourselves we are “without strength,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies of God.” (Rom. 5:6-10). In ourselves, we are "children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:3). But from eternity, God, of His own free and sovereign will, chose His people “in Christ.” And in Christ He sees them as He sees His Son! “I have not beheld iniquity in Jacob” (Num. 23:19). Jacob was a liar and a cheat. Yet, from eternity, in Christ, God says, “I have not beheld iniquity in Jacob!”
What does it mean to be in Christ? It means that God forever considers His people as He considers His Son.
“23 ...that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:23-24).
“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3).
Their sin debt, their obligations to keep the law, the punishment God’s justice demands for their disobedience, all of this He eternally laid on Christ, received from Christ and found in Christ! Before the world began, before any man was created, before any had yet fallen in Adam, God, in His eternal electing love in Christ, and by His eternal decree, already laid the sins of His people on His Son, and already received from Christ full satisfaction for those sins. From eternity, the Lord Jesus Christ loved righteousness and hated iniquity. Yet, from eternity, in the decree of God, our Lord Jesus Christ was made sin for His people as the Lamb of God, and He was slain in God’s will and purpose. “...ye were redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:18-20; Rev. 13:8; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). Thus, God knew what we were in ourselves from eternity. Nevertheless, He chose us in Christ to eternal salvation, to be holy and without blame before Him in love (Eph. 1:4). Election, therefore, is God, in His sovereign mercy, choosing His people in Christ before time began (Rom. 9:15). Two staggering things have been accomplished from eternity in the mind of God the Father: First, He made His Son and His elect people one. He received sinners as He received His Son. Second, and more incomprehensible than the first, He made Christ sin for them, and plunged the sword of His justice into His Son, even in His eternal decrees (Zech. 13:7)!
Men talk of God being unfair in election because He chose to save some and pass by others. But if man was concerned with justice, why doesn’t man raise an objection to God requiring His eternal Son to take a created human nature into union with Himself, and make Christ, who is holy, to be sin for His people, and then deliver Him up to death as a criminal to suffer at God’s own hand and at the hands of unjust, wicked men (Acts 2:23; Gen. 50:20)!? We foolish, sinful men focus on those things we think we understand, but don’t, and accuse God of injustice in our own case, while we gladly allow God to be just in the case of others (Rom. 2:1), and allow Him to give up His Son to suffering and death!
That God chose His people in Christ meant that He left others outside of Christ. What does it mean to be outside of Christ? It means that God leaves us to obey His law and answer His justice for our disobedience in our own person. It means that we, in ourselves, must obey God, and we, in ourselves, must bear our own sins before God for our own disobedience. There is nothing, nothing, nothing, that so frightens me as the thought of bearing my own sins before God!! Yet, where is the injustice in God for requiring a man to give an answer for his own thoughts, words and deeds? Again, if we were truly concerned about injustice, wouldn’t it rather shock us to know that God never thought of His people’s sins as their own, but charged them and laid them and saw them on Christ (Isa. 53:4-12)? Shouldn’t it stagger our sense of justice that God predestinated Christ to be delivered up to His justice and to the hands of wicked men for the sins of His people made His (Acts 2:23; Ps. 40:12; 2 Cor. 5:21)?! But He did not stop there! For when in God’s eternal decree, Christ was slain, it was not an unwilling sacrifice on Christ's part. It was for love that He gave Himself to God for His people (Eph. 5:25-27; Gal. 2:20; John 15:13; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10)! “He put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). He offered Himself to God for His people in love with all of His heart, soul, mind and strength! "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). “He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27)! "Thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:7)! He held nothing back! God wouldn’t accept all of creation because He required His Son to die (Mark 14:36). Nor would Christ offer less than Himself to God for His people!
Men object that God would, of His own will, show mercy only to some, by choosing them in Christ, while leaving others outside of Christ to keep His law and answer His justice in their own person. But all such objections reveal an underlying attitude of pride, as if God owes me something, I who am a sinner! God owes no man anything. If God treats man with strict justice, what does He do more than earthly kings who uphold order in their own kingdoms? To think we deserve mercy is to think high thoughts of ourselves and low thoughts of God! There are several problems with objecting to God’s electing love in Christ. First, because God is God and we are men. He gives no account of any of His matters to any of His creatures (Job 33:13)! “He puts no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight” (Job 15:15)! Second, because man deserves nothing more than justice before God. It is folly to object to God’s eternal counsels. God is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works (Ps. 145:17; Deut. 32:4)! If God did it, it must therefore be right, just because He did it! To require God to explain His eternal counsels is more than we demand of ourselves. What home or business or government can hope to survive if every individual must understand and agree with every step in every decision?! Yet, we require God to explain His reasonings to us, to us whose hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful above all things?!!
We cannot begin to understand how God could be God from everlasting and to everlasting (Ps. 90:2)! Yet He is! And this is our security (Deut. 33:27; Heb. 1:12; 13:8)! What this means is that there was never a time when God did not view His people in Christ! And there was never a time when God did not view those who are outside of Christ except as they are in Adam and in their own person. Therefore, we can see that if God “hated Esau” by not choosing Esau in Christ, that He therefore also hated Esau for what he was in his own person: a profane man who traded his birthright to eternal blessings for a bowl of stew to satisfy his belly. “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Php. 3:19). In ourselves, we are no different than Esau. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6). Yes, Eph. 2:4-6 speaks of God’s work in time. But “known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world” (Acts 15:18). Therefore, in eternal election, this too was in His heart from eternity. There was never a time when it could not be said, “But God who is rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He loved us,” because this has ever been His mind towards those He chose in Christ, in spite of what we are in ourselves! In spite of all that we are in ourselves, God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world!
God's will and God's work, not man's will or man's work
If God teaches us anything in election it is this: “not of works, but of him that calleth” (Rom. 9:11). “It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs (to obtain salvation as a runner strives to win a race), but of Him who has mercy, of God” (Rom. 9:16). God puts it both positively and negatively. Positively: it is of God. Negatively: it is not of man. That seals the entire matter. It is not of man! It is of God! Over and over again, scripture repeats this truth, because we need to be reminded of it over and over again. We need to be bowed and humbled before God, worship Him because it is not of us, but it is of Him! We need to repeatedly hold this in our mind that our salvation from everlasting to everlasting is NOT OF OUR WILL NOR OF OUR WORKS, BUT OF GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S WORK in CHRIST ALONE!
God eternally chose His people in Christ to salvation (2 Thess. 2:13). I once read a man who said this meant God chose us because of foreseen faith. He said that He chose us “...through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13), as if God’s choice was through faith. Now, the devil and his children distort the word of God in an attempt to rob God of His glory and rob man of his eternal soul. But God our Father chose us to salvation. That salvation to which He chose us is through sanctification of the Spirit. That is, the Spirit of God saves us through faith, which He gives (Eph. 2:8-9). Thus, faith is never the cause of God’s electing love; it is the result of it. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48)!
Certain as God’s word
Our salvation is as certain and everlasting and sure as God's own written word (Matt. 24:35; John 10:35; Heb. 6:17-19)! In Romans 9:6 the Spirit of Christ by the mouth of the apostle says, “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect, for they are not all Israel which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Men can’t get past their proud, mistaken notion that God’s word must in some way depend on them! But in salvation, God’s will and God’s word and God’s work accomplish all in spite of man! If there were conditions placed on man, he, as the weakest link, would utterly destroy the entire matter! God never makes His eternal purposes depend on man! Rather, He made all of His purposes depend on His Son (John 17:1-4)!! That is why He chose His elect “in Christ!” He entrusted His people to Christ (John 6:39-40; 10:29; 17:2). He entrusted all of creation to Him (Col. 1:16). He entrusted the fulfillment of His word to His Son, who is the Word of God (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 5-7). And He entrusted His own glory to Him (Heb. 1:2; John 3:35; 6:37-40; Rev. 4:11; Rev. 5:1-14)! “I have laid help on One that is mighty” (Ps. 89:19)! There are therefore no conditions God places on the elect to meet or uphold. The truth of Romans 9:1-11 is that most of Israel perished because God did not choose to rescue them from their own willful unbelief. He left them to themselves. He did not choose them in Christ!
Else none would be saved
Unless God elected a people, unless He chose some in Christ out of this world, no one could be saved; all would justly perish. This is proven in scripture by the experience of the entire nation of the Jews. “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved” (Rom. 9:27)! It is not possible for any to be saved apart from God’s electing love in Christ! “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9; Rom. 9:29).
Real sinners saved
Perhaps the most endearing aspect of election is that it is precisely because salvation is by God’s electing love in Christ that real sinners are really saved (Heb. 9:12; John 19:30)! They are not just saved a little, but saved to the uttermost, with an everlasting salvation (Heb. 7:25; Isa. 45:17)! Salvation is Christ doing all for the sinner. In salvation, God never looks to the sinner for one thing, but provides all for him and gives every grace and blessing to him for Christ’s sake alone! And that is the only salvation that will save this sinner!
Men basically raise three objections to election. One, which I have already mentioned, is that God can only save a man if man does his part, if he meets the conditions. But God throws this false premise to the ground (Rom. 9:11). Remember how Moses prayed in Numbers 14:13-20? Israel had sinned. God said He would destroy them. But Moses argued to the Lord: if You destroy them, the Egyptians will hear of it and say that Israel perished because the LORD could not bring them into the land He promised to give them! No, God’s word cannot fail! Most in Israel were lost not because God was unable to save them, but because God did not determine to save them (Rom. 9:6)! He did not choose them in Christ from eternity. Christ is called “Israel” in scripture because it is in Him that all of God’s people are chosen and saved and boast (Hosea 11:1; Matt. 2:15). “In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel by justified and shall glory” (Isa. 45:25)!
The second objection men make about election is that God is “unfair.” Is God unrighteous because He loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born? Once again, this objection is answered by God’s sovereign right to show mercy, that is, to save whom He will in Christ. There is nothing unfair about God. He cannot be unjust. If God did it, it is right. It is right, not because it is right by external standards. But it is right for this most fundamental of all reasons: because God is right and He thinks and says and does only right (Ps. 31:5; 145:17; Deut. 32:4; Isa. 6:3; Rev. 15:4). Because He did it, it is therefore right!
The third objection men raise is that because men cannot resist God’s will, God should not fault them for their sin. This is the fatalistic argument. "If God does what He does, I will do what I do, because He will make me do what He wants and I have no say in the matter." But this is taking part of God’s truth while rejecting the other part. It is using the part of God’s word I like with the intent of arguing against God’s right to be sovereign. It is taking what God says about His control over all things while throwing out the effect His Gospel has on real sinners (Isa. 53:11). The truth that God is God puts proud man’s face in the dust, in worship of God, asking Him to look upon and receive me for Christ’s sake! This is seen in what follows in Romans 9:30; 10:4 and 10:13. Gentiles were given the righteousness which is of faith (Rom. 9:30; Rom. 5:17). Christ, by His obedience in His life and death, established that righteousness that was given to them. He is the end of the law to everyone that believeth (Rom. 10:4). And scripture says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Therefore, election brings sinners to see and believe Christ (John 6:37-40). But if we only hold the one truth, that God is sovereign, and yet deny that He is so holy and just that He can only save sinners in Christ (Isa. 45:25; 1 Cor. 1:30), and if we also deny that He has commanded me to look to Christ alone (Isa. 45:22), then we only pick and choose from the truth of God’s word. And that is fatal! That is always fatal. On the objection that man cannot resist God’s will and therefore God should not fault man, God reveals that even the wicked were made for the day of evil (Prov. 16:4). When God hardens a man, such as Pharaoh, it amounts to leaving that man to his own pride and lust and his heart’s deception (Rom. 1:21, 24, 26). When God leaves a man to what he is in himself, that man will serve God’s sovereign purpose by showing His severity, His wrath against sin. God is impartial in His judgments. He is "no respecter of persons" (Rom. 2:11). The soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). Sin entered the world by one man, Adam (Rom. 5:12). God made man upright, but man has sought out every (evil) invention (Eccl. 7:29; Rom. 1:30). God does not tempt men to sin. Man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:13-15). Therefore, this objection, as all objections against God, must fall. Scripture is the final word on every matter. We must rest our case on God’s word alone. We must not rest because we are able to reason it all out. And we certainly must not rest on our warped sense of what God must do to be just (Jer. 17:9-10).
God’s love to His elect
“We are bound to give thanks to God for you brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13). Did God love everyone born to Abraham? No. He did not love Ishmael. Did God love everyone born to Isaac? No. He did not love Esau. Did God love those in Israel who perished in their unbelief? No. Those that perished were not the spiritual seed of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8). We should understand and worship and rejoice in this truth: God only loves those in Christ. “The love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). And if God did not love all born to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then He most certainly does not love everyone in the world. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him, should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The world God loved is that world of His elect “out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) who believe Christ, just as God loved Jacob and hated Esau though both were born to Isaac, and just as God did not love those in Israel that perished in unbelief (Rom. 9:6-8; Matt. 7:23). The elect believe Christ. They believe Him for life just as the serpent-bitten Israelites looked to the uplifted serpent on the pole to live (John 3:14-15). Their faith is part of "all spiritual blessings" (Eph. 1:3) and "all things" (Rom. 8:32; Acts 13:48). And if God did not promise spiritual blessings to everyone born to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then Christ did not die for everyone in the world, because all of God’s blessings are given to those for whom God did not spare His Son (Rom. 8:32). If God delivered up His Son for a man, He will without fail, give that man all things with Christ. Neither heaven nor hell, nor the hell that is in a man’s heart will prevent God from turning him from his unbelief to faith and love in Christ (Luke 7:42,47; Acts 13:48; 5:31; 11:18; Jer. 31:18-19).
Don’t you love God’s electing love and grace that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?! Every believing sinner does. It is only when we know God to be sovereign in our salvation, and know that His salvation is in Christ alone, that we truly come to Him for mercy in Christ and worship Him for His sovereign, electing love and mercy, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Only then will we join the Psalmist from our heart and say, “Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word” (Ps. 119:41; Luke 18:13)!