Unconditional Election & Shepherding
Unconditional election is a reminder that just as surely as God elected and then saved a Christian, He will bring about their conformity into the image of Jesus Christ by completing the good work He began in them (Phil. 1:6). This frees me to preach expository sermons, trusting that the Lord can and will take my feeble efforts and use them to edify, strengthen, and conform the saints into the image of Christ. The edification of the elect is not an abstract possibility, but a definite reality. The chain of salvation is forever and always an unbroken chain.
Unconditional election, when rightly understood, is one of the most freeing doctrines for the under shepherd to embrace and one of the most assuring doctrines for the Christian to hold. It is beautiful because it reveals the beauty of our God whose grace is sovereign and whose mercies are new every morning. It reveals the immense power of a Father who has lovingly determined to give a certain number of sinners to His Son, Jesus, as an eternal gift (John 6:37). It proves that the Church is never in danger of failing, but always being built up as God has intended (Eph. 1:3-14, 2:19-22). Rightly understood, unconditional election is a powerful testimony unto the goodness of God and a tool for missions and evangelism. But what happens when it is ignored?
When Unconditional Election is Neglected
In my own experience, Calvinism is typically rejected because the rejecter cannot reconcile election with the free offer of the gospel. However, the result of rejecting Calvinism, or unconditional election, is usually detrimental to the pastor and his congregation.
I, unfortunately, write from experience. When I first started preaching, I was still young – both physically and theologically. I was sixteen years old and had grown up in Holiness circles which held firmly to a system of works-based-righteousness. Underneath this framework, I had been taught that it was basically up to sinners to save themselves through their own efforts and that salvation had to be maintained through a great deal of effort. One slip up, I had been taught, was enough to cast the saint away from Jesus. The Christian life became a game of hide and seek, where salvation was constantly lost and had to be found again.
The impact of this teaching upon my preaching at the time was obvious enough. I regularly preached doom and gloom sermons, warning of the wrath and judgment of God to come, but without any true lasting hope for the sinner; after all, salvation was likely to only be temporary until the next sin was committed. Similarly, I carried a very unnatural burden upon myself. I knew that Heaven and Hell were real destinations, and I even understood (at least fundamentally) that the gospel was the only real hope for sinners, but I thought the salvation of sinners literally depended on me preaching well.