The doctrine of election is something we Reformed Christians are familiar with. It is the doctrine we confess that speaks about how the Holy God, in His sovereign good pleasure, chooses to set His love on certain individuals based on no merit of their own. (Deut 7:7, Rom 9: 11-13, Eph 1:4, 2 Tim 1:9, John 15:16 etc). However, the Word of God not only speaks of individual election, but of corporate election. The entire church, which is the body of Christ consisting of the elect only, is chosen by God, according to His sovereign good pleasure. Ephesians 1:4 says “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” In this verse, Apostle Paul is addressing the church at Ephesus. This means that Ephesians 1: 4 can be read as “According as he hath chosen the church ….” This choosing of the church is referred to as corporate election.
Having said all that, why then is election the source of the church’s comfort?
This is because election is the source of the church! It is election that determines the existence, size, location, continuance and membership of the church. According to early reformers John Wycliffe and John Hus, the church is the company of the elect. So, as long as there are the elected ones, the church exists! Would there be a church in Singapore? China? Vietnam? Yes there would, if God has His elected ones there! Would a church continue to grow? Yes it would, if God blesses the church with covenant seed or calls out His people from a heathen world! Would the church have good leaders that look after the flock? Yes it would, since God elects some to special offices and gives some spiritual gifts for the edification of the church! (Eph 4:8-12) All in all, the church is controlled and shaped by its unconditional election in Christ. This doctrine lies at the very heart of a Reformed church. Without God electing individuals to make up His elect church, there is no church at all! This is the very reason why all a heretic has to do is to attack this doctrine to destroy the church.
This truth has implications for the church. This means that all the church has to do is to faithfully preach the gospel so that the elect can come to faith (Rom 10:17, Canons of Dort 3rd and 4th Head Article 17). This means that the church does not have to engage in ‘soul winning’ activities of the many present churches. It means that the church does not have to blunt the sharp edges of the gospel so that more people would join the church. It means that the church has no need to degrade the gospel to some “sales pitch” and beg people to come and believe to increase its membership. It means that there is no need for revival meetings and altar calls, or adding contemporary music into the worship service so as to get people to be more interested. This is of special comfort to the pastor and the leaders of a church. The church does not have to wreck her brain to continually come up with new ideas so that it can grow. Neither would the pastor need to think of the best way to make his speech most engaging or attract potential members with his personality. It is a comfort to know the existence, size location, continuance and membership of the church does not rest on the devices of sinful and depraved men, who through those efforts mentioned above, only cause people to stray even further from the truth.
The doctrine of election, providing tremendous comfort to the church, can be explained in relation to the 5 points of Calvinism. The 5 points of Calvinism consists of the doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. God has elected His church out of a world of totally depraved sinners.
And since the church is elected in Christ, Christ died for her, and only her! She is the object of God’s love! This is comforting to know because she is separated from the world, righteous before the holy God despite the debt of sins she owed and continues to owe. She is no more friends with the devil, but is reconciled with God and is guaranteed eternal life because Christ’s death covered all her sins. Because she is elected in Christ, she is given grace that cannot be effectively and ultimately resisted by the most obstinate of sinners. God will certainly change the ugliest and vilest of her members into one that is after His own heart, so that the church would one day be ready to be received into glory. And although life on this earth is wearisome and tough, and sometimes full of persecution from the world and the devil, God promises her that nothing can separate her from His love (Rom 8:37-39). God will see to it that the entire church reaches Heaven safely.
This truth is immensely practical for the church. The church consists of sinful, totally depraved creatures who are not yet made perfect on this earth. This means that there are countless times her members step on each other’s toes and offend one another, sometimes to very great extents. Using our physical eyes, it is sometimes very discouraging to see such sins and weaknesses in the church, especially when it seems as though the members of the church are not behaving very differently from the world. However, having this knowledge that Christ died for her despite all these, we obtain great comfort. God still forgives, and thus, it encourages us to learn to forgive one another. Moreover, we have the assurance that God will grant His people grace that would change them to the likeness of Christ in His time. This encourages us to learn to be patient, forgiving and understanding of one another’s weaknesses and to continually strive to keep the unity of the church, especially because we are going to spend eternity with one another.
Besides this, we gain much personal comfort from the doctrine of election because it assures us that our salvation is certain and sure. This is because those who are elected of God are regenerated, then justified, then glorified, according to the golden chain of salvation in Rom 8:29-30. This means that no child of God can be lost and not end up in Heaven. This gives us comfort especially in times when we start to doubt our salvation. There are times when we cry out, like the psalmist, and wonder if God has forgotten to be gracious (Psalm 77:9). Also, there are times when the Christian’s foot almost slips when he looks at the great prosperity of the wicked (Psalms 73:2-3). However, we do well to remember God’s particular goodness and all the blessings He freely gives to His elect. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” (Psalm 73:1). It is promises like these, to God’s elect, that grant them the confidence to face each day with the consciousness and assurance of His great love. Furthermore, because the church is elected, her members are given the new man which thoroughly opposes their sinful nature. As a result, there arises a great spiritual battle within. However, the knowledge of how far short we stand before the holy God does not discourage us. Instead, it cures our spiritual complacency. It helps us remain humble and stay at the foot of the cross, striving more and more to be sanctified so that we may be more and more holy. Knowing that we are preserved to the very end, we become truly humble, reverent, pious and rejoice solely in God. The purpose of this work that God does in conforming us to the image of Christ is so that we may be used for His glory. The doctrine of election makes us spiritually strong and confident Christians, who are assured of our salvation. It is through such people that God builds spiritually strong and godly families, which make up a strong church. All in all, God builds His church for His glory.
In conclusion, the doctrine of election is so comforting for the church. It means that God builds His church! It is His work! None of this work depends on sinful men! That in itself is such a great comfort.
Written by: Nicole Wong | Issue 10