Election by Grace – Part One

By: Roger Smalling, D. Min

Excerpt from his book Unlocking grace


In a far away city, once upon a time, there lived a famous sculptor of rare qualities. He also practiced martial arts. In both domains he was a superb master.

Unfortunately, several of his friends misunderstood him. Some believed his occupation as a sculptor revealed effeminate traits, delicate and sensitive. Others assumed a karate master would be hard and violent, so they feared him.

 One day, he invited his friends to a private party.

 Before his guests arrived, the sculptor took a mass of clay and divided it in two parts. He molded one part into a beautiful country scene with people, animals and flowers in a lovely forest. He painted the work and hardened it in a furnace. With the other part, he formed a simple square block and hardened it in the furnace also.

 When the friends arrived on the appointed day, he took out the first sculpture, the beautiful forest scene and set it before them.

 “What a delightful work of art!” they exclaimed. “How delicate and charming! You are such a sensitive artist!”

 The master replied, “Thank you for your compliments. But I practice another art as well.”

 The guests glanced at one another, puzzled by this statement. They watched as the master stepped into his adjoining studio and carried back to the room a big chunk of hardened clay.

 “Certain arts do not require the same kind of sensitivity as sculpturing,” he said in a serious voice.

 The master put the block on the table in the middle of the room and took a short step back from it. He raised his right hand high over his head, and with a powerful cry slammed it down on the block. The hardened clay smashed into pieces, dust flying.

The guests understood. True, the master was gentle and delicate but also a strong and dangerous martial artist. It was wise to stay on his good side.

The Lord God is like this artist. Some see him as a loving father who would never harm anyone. Others perceive him as a mighty God who establishes justice; who punishes and reproves. Both are correct. The apostle Paul put it like this:

 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  Romans 11:22

 In the story above, the sculpture represents the elect and the block is the reprobate.

 Neither the grace of God, nor his righteous judgment could be manifested if there were no sinners. We must therefore love God and fear him also. His mercy and his divine justice are complimentary and interdependent. Like the two sides of a coin called predestination, the one side reads election and the other, reprobation.

The controversy about election

If some day the reader were struck with the mischievous desire to provoke an argument among Christians, a good way to do it would be to vocalize the word, predestination!

 For some, this word is a treasure house of comfort that helps them understand God better. For others, it is the worst of slanders on the righteous character of God. The source of the controversy surrounding this word is not found in a lack of biblical data.

 In fact, predestination is four times easier to prove from Scripture than even the deity of Christ. In the New Testament we have about ten verses that directly express Christ’s deity. More than forty declare the doctrine of predestination. Yet the same Christians ready to defend to the death the deity of Christ will fight with equal fury to refute predestination.

 We’ll see why a little further along. Let’s define some terms first.

The meaning of predestination

Predestination means, “destined beforehand.” It refers to the divine arrangement of circumstances to accomplish his decrees established from before the foundation of the world.

Election refers to the divine decree to create, among lost humanity, certain individuals to be beneficiaries of the free gift of salvation. God did this without reference to merits, the state of their will or foreseen faith in the elect. Yet this was not arbitrary.

God obliges no one to sin. Neither is he the author of the sins of anyone. As for those not elect, he simply allows them to continue in the direction of condemnation they themselves have chosen. In theology, we call this reprobation.

Although the concepts of predestination and election are similar, they are not exactly the same. Predestination is the more general term and refers to God’s arrangement of reality to accomplish his decrees. Election focuses on the decree to save certain persons in particular.

To illustrate, suppose we want to teach a horse to run in circles. First, we obtain a horse. (This is like election.) Then we construct a circular corral so that he will be obliged to run circles rather than some other pattern. (This is like predestination.) The corral represents the circumstances of life within which we have liberty of action. So, we have liberty in one sense but not in another. God arranges the circumstances of our lives to accomplish his decrees for our lives that he made in eternity.

How important is the doctrine of election?

Election is a spotlight shining on the word “grace.” Without this light, grace could be perceived as a reward for good will or efforts. This would be a drastic misunderstanding that could affect our entire walk with God.

 If the correct definition of grace is “unmerited favor,” then grace must be independent of any human contribution. The moment we grasp this concept, it becomes clear that grace and election are inseparable. We must hold to both or neither. Paul expressed this bond with the words,

Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Romans 11:5 

Questions or comments for Dr. Smalling