Grace, Justification, and Election
Part III: Election

Related Posts: The Premortal Life ; Blacks and the Priesthood ; Grace ; Justification ; Why Covenants? ; The Fall of Man Part I ; Omniscience ; Faith and Charity ; Justification and Salvation

The elect are those whom God has chosen: “but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen” (
Mark 13:20). The LDS Bible Dictionary points out that election “is both on a national and an individual basis” (“Election,” Bible Dictionary).

National (group) election
The national basis is that God has elected his church to be holy, and that Israel will be his holy people. A good place to begin is Ephesians chapter 1:

PAUL, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 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: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Eph. 1:1-7)

We must understand that Paul is writing to the faithful in Christ, to the saints. So whenever we come across the word “we” and “us” we can replace it with “the Saints” and “the faithful.”

… Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us [the faithful] with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us [the faithful] in him before the foundation of the world, that we [the saints] should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us [the faithful] unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us [the faithful] accepted in the beloved. In whom we [the saints] have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.

Predestination does not mean that God predetermines individuals to heaven or hell, but that God predetermined to save those who love his Son and make every effort to be obedient. All the faithful are God’s elect and the body of the church has been chosen for salvation from the foundation of the world, to be made acceptable to the Father.

When Paul says, “from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (HCSB, 2 Thes. 2:13), we must understand he was speaking to “the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (HCSB, 2 Thes. 1:1). So the passage can be read like this: “from the beginning God has chosen you [the church] for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

God has also elected the house of Israel to be his holy people: “For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession” (ASV, Deut. 7:6; 14:2). This election does not impute righteousness to Israel, for it was said to them: “Jehovah will establish thee for a holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee; if thou shalt keep the commandments of Jehovah thy God, and walk in his ways” (Deut. 28:9).

Premortal election
In Mormonism we believe that every person once lived as a spirit son or daughter of their Heavenly Parents. (See The Premortal Life.) It was during this premortal life (also called the preexistence) that God selected individuals to receive certain blessings, and ordained them to do certain things during mortality. It is in this sense that we understand this verse from Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). In the premortal life Jeremiah was selected and ordained to be a prophet of God. In that sense he is one of the elect. And there are many people, from high station to low, rich and poor, famous and unknown, who are, like Jeremiah, God’s elect. Verses which mention “from the beginning,” “from the foundation of the world,” or “foreordained” often refer to our premortal existence--We are all “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13).

God’s foreknowledge means he knows what will happen before it happens. But this does not mean he forces his will on others, or creates them to be obedient or disobedient; it does not preclude individual choice. It simply means that God knows “things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). God has prepared many things according to his foreknowledge: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Or as the ASV reads, “For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained…” Elder Neil A. Maxwell wrote,

Foreordination is like any other blessing-it is a conditional bestowal subject to the recipient’s faithfulness. Prophecies foreshadow events without determining the outcome, this being made possible by a divine foreseeing of outcomes. So foreordination is a conditional bestowal of a role, a responsibility, or a blessing which likewise foresees but does not fix the outcome. Remember John’s sequence-“called, and chosen, and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). (But for a Small Moment, p. 97)

In the premortal world God brought together his most choice spirits and, according to his wisdom, ordained them to their future callings in mortality:

God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born (Abr. 3:23).

Though a calling and election can be received in the preexistence, they must happen again in mortality: “For many are called, but few are chosen [i.e. elect]” (Matt. 22:14). As the Doctrine and Covenants puts it: “many [are] called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men” (D&C 121:34-35).

Receiving election is not the same thing as being adopted as a son or daughter of God. Adoption follows election. “[God] having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (ASV, Eph 1:5; italics mine). It is then possible to make the calling and election secure.[1] This is emphasized by Peter, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10).[2] The calling and election was received prior to this. Peter mentions that “diligence” is required, which emphasizes what he previously said:

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)

Through faith and diligence it is possible to be “sealed up unto eternal life” (D&C 131:5). This has also been called a more sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19; D&C 131:5).

When Apostle Alonzo A. Hinckley learned he had a fatal illness, he wrote to the First Presidency, “As to the future, I have no misgivings. It is inviting and glorious, and I sense rather clearly what it means to be saved by the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ and to be exalted by his power and be with him ever more.”[3]

I have never personally known any Latter-day Saint who claimed his calling and election was sure.[4] Such a thing would be considered very sacred and should be kept private.

To foreknow
I do not believe that “foreknow” means God was acquainted with us at some previous time--I do not believe that is its meaning. But rather, that “the Lord knoweth all things which are to come” (W. of M. 1:7); “God knoweth all things” (Mormon 8:17); God knows “know the end from the beginning” (Abr. 2:8); and “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).

A passage from Acts
Acts 13:48 reads, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” In most other translations it reads, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (NIV, HCSB, ESV). Protestant theologian William MacDonald interpreted this as meaning “When the Gentiles heard this, they gloried in the Lord’s Word, and as many as were putting themselves in a position for eternal life believed.”[5] In Mormon beliefs it is possible to interpret this as meaning “as many as had been appointed during premortality to receive the gospel in mortality believed.” The Joseph Smith Translation switches the words ordained and believed: “as many as believed were ordained unto eternal life.”

Two Protestant views of election
The Calvinistic view: The following quotation is from the Westminster Confession (a standard for many Presbyterian churches). It is taken from New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished…The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will…to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. ("Election")

Arminian view: The Arminian view has been called conditional predestination and conditional election. Election is does not imply guaranteed salvation--one must endure to the end. The Arminian view is held by many Methodist churches.

That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ's sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the gospel in 1 John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also. (Remonstrance, taken from Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom)

The LDS view of election is markedly different from both the Calvinist and the Arminian view. However, our doctrine is closer to the Arminian view of election.

End Notes_______________________
[1] Once a persons calling and election is made sure their salvation is guaranteed. This is also called a more sure word of prophecy (2 Pet. 1:19): “The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood” (D&C 131:5). Election alone is not a guarantee: “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household, whose household we are if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope” (HCSB, Heb. 3:6; italics mine); “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (NIV, Heb. 3:14; italics mine); “holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” (ESV, 1 Titus 1:19; italics mine).

[2] This verse can be read differently. I read it in the sense of making a previously received election secure: “be diligent to make stedfast your calling and choice” (YLT); or “use diligence to make your calling and election sure” (Darby); or “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (ESV). Other translations convey the idea of being certain about what has already happened: “the more zealous to confirm your call and election” (RSV); and “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (NASB). Every translation has a degree of theological bias.

[3] The Deseret News Church Section, March 27, 1949, p. 24; taken from Roy W. Doxey, “Accepted of the Lord: The Doctrine of Making Your Calling and Election Sure,” Ensign, July 1976, p. 53.

[4] Joseph Smith said,

After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 150)

[5] William G. MacDonald, “The Biblical Doctrine of Election,” in The Grace of God, the will of man; a case for Arminianism, p. 227.

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