"...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. " Ephesians 1:4-6
Perhaps the biggest hurdle people stumble over concerning the Biblical doctrine of Divine Election, is the idea that it just doesn't seem fair. It is the issue I struggled with for quite some time, as like many others, I had the idea that in order for God to be fair, He has to treat all people equally.
However, consider this: When a person gives that which he has no obligation to give, he is considered gracious in giving to other people; but he is certainly not considered unjust because he doesn't give to an additional party.
For example, consider a man who has a million dollars that he wants to give away and he decides to give $100,000 to ten different organizations. An eleventh organization hearing about this act of charity would not have a just case against the man if they were to make the claim that he hasn't been fair.
That's obvious isn't it? The man owes nothing to this 11th organization, just as he didn't owe anything to the ten others he gave to. This 11th organization doesn't have a just claim to that money. The man has every right to do what he wants with his own money and he can give it to whomever he will. That is exactly what takes place in Divine Election.
Romans 9 is a chapter given entirely over to this subject of Election. Paul is explaining why it is that not everyone comes to faith in Christ, even amongst the Jews.
"I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen." (Romans 9:1-5)
Paul had such a heart for his fellow countrymen that he would have given up his salvation (if that was possible, which, of course, it was not) if it meant that all the Jews would be saved.
He goes on to answer the question of why it is that many amongst God's chosen people Israel have not embraced the Messiah. Did God not have the power to open up their eyes to the truth? Is God now an eternally miserable Deity who has to live with the fact that He failed to woo His people to Himself?
Let's allow the word of God to speak to us as we read the Apostle Paul's words in verses 6-13:
"But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called."
That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son."
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger."
As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."
To explain election, Paul uses the Old Testament examples of Jacob and Esau. Even though these twins were born in identical circumstances (they were womb-mates), before they had lived to do any good or evil, God chose one (Jacob) and not the other (Esau). We are told that the reason for this was "that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls." (v. 11)
What should be absolutely amazing to us is not that God hated Esau, but that He loved Jacob. God had every right to deal justly with Esau because of his sin, but what should be breathtaking to us is that He Sovereignly decided to set His love on Jacob. What mercy! What grace!
Paul then anticipated the inevitable objection that would be raised to this idea of God choosing one and not the other by asking the rhetorical question, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?"
God answers this charge of His Sovereign Grace being unfair by stating, "Certainly not!.... I will mercy whom I will mercy, and compassion whom I have compassion." (Literal Greek)
As I allowed the Scripture here to speak to this issue for me, I began to see that if I continued to believe that Divine Election was unfair, I would be siding with Paul's opponents who, in v. 14, would raise exactly the same objection that I had myself. I am sure you will agree that siding with Paul's (and God's) opponents, is not a good or wise position to be in, especially for someone who believes and teaches the Bible!
Paul then sums up this apostolic word in v. 16, "So then, (in other words, here's the conclusion) it ("it" refers to the basis of Divine election) is not of him who wills, (man's will is not the deciding factor) nor of him who runs, (nor is human effort) but of God who shows mercy."
Let's now read verses Romans 9:14 - 24 in full, remembering that Paul is continuing to address the issue of why some have not come to have faith in Christ:
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."
So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."
Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"
But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"
Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"
Jesus Himself used an illustration that is very helpful to us along this line. In His Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), He talks about the workers coming at different times of the day and at the end of the day, when each worker receives his wages, all who worked received the same amount. The owner says, "I can do what I want. It's my money." The point being then that the owner has every right to dispense his money as he will, and also God has every right to have mercy on whom he will.
So the issue of fairness is a reasonable question to raise but I believe God's Word in Romans 9 forces us to conclude that fairness is not an issue. "Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!" (Romans 9:14).
When a person gives that which he has no obligation to give he is considered gracious, but he cannot considered unjust because he doesn't also give to an additional party. That's a good description of Divine Election. We must always keep in mind that Grace can never be earned and Mercy can never be deserved.
If we really want what is fair all of us will be sent to hell. If we ever think that everyone, or even one person, deserves mercy, then by definition, we're not talking about mercy anymore, but of justice. Mercy is always at the gracious will of the one showing it. God is not obliged to give equally that which He is not obliged to give at all.
In Divine Election, a person either receives justice, or they receive mercy, but absolutely no one receives injustice!