The Purpose of Divine Election

We must keep in mind a second aspect of divine election in Scripture in order to see that it does not stand in tension with God’s love.  God sets his love upon a particular people so that they might be the agents whereby God swallows up even more people into his love.

Divine election is actually an extension of God’s love for the world.  This becomes clear when we consider the Scriptural narrative.

The mission of God to reclaim creation begins with God’s call of Abram in Genesis 12.  God promised to make Abram (later called Abraham) into a great nation so that he would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (vv. 2-3).  From the beginning, God’s election had a universal thrust.

After Israel grows into a great nation in the womb of Egyptian slavery, God delivers them and gives them their commission.  Israel is God’s chosen people for the purpose of being a “light to the nations,” a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:6).

Israel was supposed to cultivate a national life of justice and care for the poor, the orphan, and the widow.  And, as a kingdom of priests, they were to initiate a mission to bring the nations to God and the one true God to the nations.

God’s election of Israel was not at the expense of the nations, but for the purpose of the redemption of the nations.  God chose Israel to receive his love and to radiate his redemptive love beyond themselves to the nations.

Israel failed to fulfill this commission.

They perverted their election, regarding themselves as God’s favorites.  God had chosen them and not any other nation.  That must have meant that God loved them rather than the nations.  Israel eventually came to despise their neighbors, longing for their destruction.

We see this posture toward the nations embodied in the prophet Jonah.  God called him to announce judgment to Ninevah, but Jonah refused.  He knew that God longed to redeem, and that if there was even the slightest hint of repentance, even on the part of a blood-thirsty nation well-entrenched in its paganism, God would pour out mercy.  Jonah’s expression of agony at God’s redemption is shocking:

But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3, CEB).

Israel, like Jonah, longed for the destruction of the nations, perverting the purpose of their election. 

Because of this enduring posture toward the nations, God sent them into exile, eventually calling them, “not my people.” 

God has set himself on a mission to redeem creation and so chooses a particular people as agents of his saving love.  If they become a people who do not purposefully extend God’s love beyond themselves, they cannot be called the people of God.

Divine election always has this outward thrust.  God chooses a particular people from eternity past to save them so that they will be agents of his redeeming love for the world.

From the perspective of divine election, then, there are (1) the people upon whom God has set his love, and (2) those whom God is pursuing in love through his elect.

When we regard the two groups from the standpoint of election differently, we take our place alongside those whom God called “not my people.”

13 thoughts on “The Purpose of Divine Election

  1. greekUNorthodox

    This all makes sense and, I think, is properly squared with the meta-narrative of the Bible. Now, the question is, does election imply a lack of choice? In other words, does election equal forced determinism or is it more like a political election wherein a candidate is accepted for office, but assuming/keeping that position is still voluntary? This is where we get into the predestination debate…

    For my money, God desires to and can work best with those who believe in what He’s up to, but Jonah flies in the face of that idea. Still, the overwhelming majority of the people God used to bring others into His loving arms seemed to be those who bought into the idea that God wants no one to be lost. Perhaps that will be part of your next post…

    1. timgombis

      I’d like to draw this out later, Greek, but just to say that the ‘direction’ or ‘trajectory’ of Scripture must discipline and constrain theological talk. So, election implies: (1) that God loves his people and has had them on his mind from forever ago.; (2) that God’s people are appointed for the task of drawing others into God’s reclaiming and renewing love.

      Do you now want to talk about the nature of human decisions? Then Scripture would have you set aside election talk and pick up other notions. Election and predestination are simply inappropriate theological notions in talking about human will.

      You said, “This is where we get into the predestination debate…” I would say that the reason why we have the predestination debate is because people do not respect the place of election and predestination within the narrative. So, Scripture doesn’t lead us to have these debates. Our desire to do other things with God’s election talk leads us into these debates.

      More on that, however, to come.

      1. greekUnorthodox

        “the reason why we have the predestination debate is because people do not respect the place of election and predestination within the narrative.”

        You’re quite right…and I, unfortunately find myself in that camp. Thanks for the slap on the wrist.

        Obviously, this is a layperson mistake, but there has to be some responsibility on the part of the church for addressing and correcting these mistakes, no? (which is what you’re doing now) At some point, people have to say “well, if the darn thing is so easy to misunderstand, why didn’t God just make it clearer?” I say that, only because many “former” Christians I have encountered say the same.

        Now, I’m not really looking for a response there. Obviously there’s a much wider issue at work in regards to the nature of the Bible and how it was revealed to a particular people at a particular time, and how we need to perform proper exegsis on it to fully ‘get’ it…I’m just saying that it’s frustrating (maybe intentionaly so?) to search the Scriptures earnestly and draw incorrect conclusions from it because we haven’t learned the proper hermaneutical rules. Perhaps we are to wrestle with it as Israel did with God…

      2. timgombis

        Hey Greek,

        I don’t know exactly what the answer is on this, but it does seem that many in our tradition(s) of American Protestantism read Scripture with an intense eagerness to arrive at interpretations. We’re less interested in reading closely to get to know Scripture and the God of Scripture over a long period of time. We need to read and re-read and re-read and gradually, over those many readings, begin to enter the text and let the text enter us.

        The point of Scripture is to shape a people over the long haul, not necessarily for folks to arrive at interpretations, though that’s some part of it, certainly.

        But I do think developing a good sense of humor about ourselves is a good thing and learn to let Scripture shape us into people who laugh, who have humility, and who seek one another’s joy and joy in one another.

  2. chuckbumgardner

    “Israel, like Jonah, longed for the destruction of the nations, perverting the purpose of their election.
    Because of this enduring posture toward the nations, God sent them into exile, eventually calling them, “not my people.” ”

    I’m interested in the connector “because”. Could you point me to the Scripture which indicates that a posture of wishing for the destruction of the nations was the reason that God sent Israel into exile?

    1. timgombis

      Chuck, I’m thinking here of the idolatry for which God sent Israel into exile. Their idolatry was not merely cultic, not only having to do with their formal worship. It had to do with the range of perversions of their calling as a nation. Their worship of other gods was embodied through a range of national practices and attitudes, all of which perverted their calling.

      They did not keep the Sabbath. They did not properly rotate crops, giving the land its rest. They made treaties with the surrounding nations, guaranteeing leverage rather than shalom-oriented relations. They didn’t care for the orphan and the widow. They built rooms onto their houses rather than caring for the poor. They didn’t fulfill their role as a light to the nations (which would have involved many of the aforementioned practices), but instead cut themselves off from the nations and longed for their destruction rather than their salvation.

      So, they were sent into exile because of their idolatrous following of other gods. And this “vertical” relationship was embodied through the varieties of disobedient “horizontal” practices, one of which was the refusal to be a light to the nations.

  3. Luke

    Very good thoughts here. I hear some traces of folks like Newbigin & Chris Wright & N.T. Wright in this “election” talk. This idea of “election” having this missional dimension, being for the purpose of redeeming all peoples as opposed to the purpose of excluding the “non-elect,” has been around for quite some time now. However, it is still not very prominent in the church, and I have yet to see a reformed theologian or exegete combat this missional view. It’s as if they’re all ignoring the implications of such a view, holding firmly to the exclusivistic definition, yet some even affirm the scriptural validity of this missional view. In my opinion, the way Christians (particularly those of the reformed persuasion) have typically defined election is not just different than how you’ve defined it in these two posts; it’s the complete OPPOSITE. In other words, they cannot be more wrong, and one of the 5 “points” in TULIP is based upon a completely incorrect definition of a biblical term. Am I missing something here? Have you encountered anything in the literature that argues against this missional definition because they realize that the implications of such a view are contrary to how everyone in their tradition has defined it? Am I wrong in thinking that systematic theologies like Grudem & Horton as well as authors like Piper & Carson are totally wrong about this? I’m not talking about them having some hints of truth but in overall error; I’m talking about them being DEAD wrong & not having an ounce of truth in what they say about it?

  4. Paul


    Thanks for this article… I am preaching through I Peter right now and your thoughts so resonate with the passage I am digging through right now.

    I Peter 2:4-5.

    Your thoughts are so helpful in working through this passage.

  5. Pingback: Elsewhere (06.27.2011) | Near Emmaus

  6. Pingback: Tim Gombis: Divine Election « Jeff Figearo's Blog

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