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The Purest Act of Pleasure

Why God Delights in Election

Unconditional election is God’s decision to choose a people for himself, a bride, from out of all the God-ignoring sinners on earth.

God will begin with a whore and make himself a splendid spouse. This bride is the object of his eternal love. She will be pulled from the brothel of sin. It’s all “unconditional” because it is not based on any positive condition in the bride. He cannot love this new bride for her beauty; only his unrelenting love will forge beauty in her.

From among every ethnicity, God chooses men, women, children, ranchers, sailors, bankers, graphic designers, the disabled, poets, schoolteachers, merchants, athletes, and housewives. He even chooses murderers, prostitutes, blindly religious people, and tax collectors. He chooses the soft-spoken and the brash. He chooses some who are famous, some who are geniuses, and some who are wealthy. But mostly he chooses nobodies (1 Corinthians 1:18–31).

God does not elect every sinner. He chooses only some. Why? The apostle Paul addresses this hard and sobering question in Romans 9:22–23, where we’re told that God’s choice is his indisputable prerogative. His election is deeply personal. God will set his unstoppable love on sin-blind sinners, and this was his plan from eternity past. Depraved souls stuck in the unceasing cycle of sin and death will be the objects of his boundless love (Ephesians 1:3–23), a reality that speaks not to the merit of the sinner but to the magnificence of God’s love. And he loves to have it this way.

Delighting to Love

“Unconditional election is God’s decision to choose a bride for himself from out of all the God-ignoring sinners on earth.”

God’s love makes no accidents. The theme of God’s electing love adorns the storyline of the Old Testament, like in Deuteronomy 10:14–15: “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”

God’s election in Scripture is predicated on this foundational phrase: he “set his heart in love” on his chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:7; 10:15). God’s language for election is vivid and strong. Literally: “The Lord delighted in your fathers to love them” (Deuteronomy 10:15). To be elected is to be the object of Yahweh’s delighting love (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5).

God delights to love us with the intensity that most of us can perceive only in the picture of romantic attraction and marriage. This love is not solemn or stifling. God’s love for us is untamed and consuming.

Pure Act of Pleasure (for Glory)

We see, then, that election is not the act of a pardoning judge who is disconnected, distant, and reluctant. God really has drawn close to us because he wants to. God delights to elect.

A passage that communicates the essence of God’s heart in election is found in the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 32:41: “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” It means God chooses people not simply out of pity, but out of delight.

In the history of the church, few theologians have grasped this reality more deeply — or have been more deeply grasped by it — than Puritan Thomas Goodwin. The seventeenth-century theologian defines election as God’s “pure act of good pleasure.” And he encourages Christians to “consider that God, in choosing you, not only loved you, but delighted to love you. It was not barely an act of will that he would choose some, he cared not whom, as being indifferent about it; but it was an act of love, and not of love only, but of good pleasure and of delight too. . . . God rejoiced over you from everlasting, in his intentions to do you good, with his whole heart and his whole soul” (Works of Thomas Goodwin, 7:248).

God loves because he takes infinite pleasure in his handiwork, his beloved people. Election displays God’s whole heart and soul in action. God loves us with his entire heart and soul because our redemption from sin praises his infinite majesty. Goodwin wrestles with how to say this best, and eventually expresses it like this: “Look one way, and you think he loved us as if he regarded nothing else; look on the other side, and the glory of his grace does so appear that we seem to be forgotten, and God’s glory alone shines in it” (Works, 6:175).

We are certainly not forgotten. These two angles are like two angles on one glorious diamond. Angle one: God acts because the elect are on center stage, and he is selflessly devoted to creating a bride without spot or wrinkle. Angle two: God acts to take center stage to show himself the Supreme Being in the universe (1 Peter 2:9). And it’s both! Goodwin has tapped a profoundly glorious truth. In election, God pursues his own exaltation by inviting sinners to enjoy him forever.

Images of Grace

The beautiful marriage metaphor fits best. Unconditional election is the very first step toward a wedding planned in eternity past. It sits so far back in time that no sinner on earth could see it coming. It is the first sight of a woman by a man, unbeknownst to her, from across a crowded room — a sight that will lead to a conversation, which will spark a relationship, which will bring about a proposal, which will lead to marriage vows. God’s plan is personal, but even older. He sets the wedding plans in motion when he knows the name of the bride, but the bride doesn’t yet exist!

To make this marriage metaphor work, we must stress one further distinction. The marriage of election did not begin with the attractive beauty of the fiancée. God made his redemptive move toward this future companion while she was morally repellent. This is pictured in the marriage of Hosea and Gomer: to be elected by God is to be a specially chosen whore pulled from a red-light brothel of idolatry (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 647). We cannot make sense of election’s beauty without its dark backstory. In eternity past, God made up his mind. He elected for himself depraved spiritual adulterers, and he will love them for all eternity (Ephesians 5:22–33).

“God cannot love this new bride for her beauty; only his unrelenting love will forge beauty in her.”

So God’s electing pursuit of us is settled and resolved. He alone initiates this love. His grace is unconditional and self-determined. There is nothing in the elect to attract God’s love — no beauty, no value. What sinners receive from God for their happiness is entirely unmerited. The worth of God’s elect is generated entirely by God’s delight in setting his love on them.

We are invited to back up in time and to see that before the creation of the universe God’s heart swelled with eager delight to redeem his people. To be predestined means God decreed your eternal joy prior to any foresight of faith or good works in you (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 18:282–83). If we grasp the depth of our total depravity, election should leave us totally staggered, in awe of his love, and eager to magnify him.