How Should We Understand "The Elect"?

Election is another of those theological issues over which Christians have been divided. This is due in no small part to the Calvinist vs. Arminian struggle. It is my hope that in this article I will bring some clarity to the issue, not by citing any pet denominational position, but by appealing to the Sacred Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition as handed down to us by the Church Fathers. These two witnesses, one infallible and the other historically and instructively valuable, bring us closer to the understanding of the doctrine of the Elect as it was before the divisions we experience today.

I. Christ Centered
Election is firstly founded in a relationship with Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:4). Our election is then only a derived election, as it comes in and through Christ himself who is the first elect of God. (Matthew 12:18; 1 Peter 2:4). This is why our election occurs only in our relationship to and with Christ. (Ephesians 6-7, 9-10, 12-13).

Christians have learned that their eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, who is over all, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.”- Origen

Christ redeems us righteously from the apostasy by His own blood.”- Irenaeus

Our election is founded not only in Christ's person, but in His blood shed on the cross for sins. (Ephesians 1:7). Before we were created God determined to save and transform humanity through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross (Ephesians 1:4). Thus election is grounded in Christ’s sacrificial death to save us from our sins (Acts 20:28; Romans 3:24-26).

Jesus Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”- Polycarp

He gained life for us by overcoming death.”- Lactantius
II. Corporate Election
Election in Christ is primarily corporate. What this means is that it is an election of a specific group of people (Ephesians 1:4-5, 7, 9). This group of people are called “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), “my church” (Matthew 16:18), “a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9), and the “bride” of Christ (Revelation 19:7). Therefore, election is firstly corporate (the assembly of those who serve Christ), and embraces individual persons only as they identify and associate themselves with Christ and His church, His "body". (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Day and night, you were anxious for the whole brotherhood, so that the number of God's elect might be saved.”- Clement of Rome

The white part is the age that is to come, in which the elect of God will dwell. For those who are elected by God to eternal life will be spotless and pure.”- Shepherd of Hermas

It will be God's good pleasure to take out a church that will be sanctified by fellowship with His Son.”- Irenaeus

Now it is not the place, but the assemblies of the elect that I call the church.”-Clement of Alexandria

III. Individual Election
Election, with regard to the church, is a fact and certainty. The election of individual persons is predicated on obedience to Christ and perseverance in the Faith. Paul demonstrates this as follows: The church is to be “be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). The church is led by the Holy Spirit into all truth, into holiness and into the sanctification of its members. (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-25). And as we know that Christ will “present her to himself as a radiant church…holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27), this would logically exclude those who do not obey Him and thus do not persevere in the Faith. 

This also logically means that election is conditioned on obedience and perseverance. In fact, Paul writes clearly that Christ will “present you holy in his sight without blemish…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1:22-23).

No one is a Christian but he who perseveres even to the end.”- Tertullian

Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons.”
- Irenaeus

Let us then practice righteousness so that we may be saved unto the end.”- II Clement

IV. Election Open to All
Election to salvation in Christ is offered to anyone who is willing to obey and persevere in the Faith. (John 3:16-17; 1 Titus 2:4-6) It is received when we repent and demonstrate true faith as part of the salvation experience. (Ephesians 2:8; 3:17; Romans 1:16; 4:16). When one is baptized and becomes a part of the corporate "body", the church, by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), one also becomes a member of the group known as the elect. Election then is also the individual cooperating with the grace of God in order to receive that status (Romans 8:29). This is the doctrine most commonly known as synergism, which is the belief that the human will can and must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order for a person to be saved. It is not, however, implied by the Church Fathers that God's grace is irresistible. In fact they taught quite the opposite. Suffice it to say that our will does play a role in our election.

God ministers eternal salvation to those who cooperate for the attainment of knowledge and good conduct. Since what the commandments direct are in our own power, along with the performance of them, the promise is accomplished.”- Clement of Alexandria

A man by himself working and toiling at freedom from passion achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself very desirous and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. For God works with willing souls.”- Clement of Alexandria
    He seeks all and desires to save all. He wishes to make everyone the children of God.”
    -Hippolytus

Comments

  1. This was absolutely fantastic... It's probably the best explanation of Election I've seen!

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