From heaven’s perspective, the ultimate end of election and the ultimate purpose behind God’s grace poured out on us is the eternal glorification of the Son.
But to understand God’s individual purpose in electing His people for salvation, we need to consider Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Conforming to Christlikeness
God’s elective purpose is not merely about the beginning of our salvation—He predestined us to the absolute perfection we will (by His grace) enjoy at the end of the process. Paul didn’t say, “He predestined them to be justified” but, “He also predestined them to become conformed to the image of His Son.”
When will that happen? It’s happening now, if you are a believer, even if the progress seems so slow as to be imperceptible. And it will be brought to instant completion “when He appears” (1 John 3:2). That is a reference to the second coming, when the bodies of the saints are resurrected and glorified. Thus redemption will be complete. The verse goes on to say, “we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” That’s what Romans 8:19 refers to as “the revealing of the sons of God.” And Christ then becomes the chief One among many who are made like Him.
As much as glorified humanity can be like incarnate deity, we’ll be like Christ, and He will not be ashamed to call us brothers. Paul said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). What’s the prize of the upward call? Christlikeness. If someone is saved in order to be like Christ in glory, then his goal here is as much as possible—by the power of the Spirit—to be like Him now. That’s the goal all believers must press toward. We will be made like Christ, conformed to the image of the Son, and He will be the chief One among us all. This is the elective purpose of God. And nobody’s going to fall through the cracks. His perfect plan will come to pass, without fail.
There’s a remarkable conclusion to this in 1 Corinthians 15:24–28. A time is coming when the last enemy—death—will be abolished; when Christ, the King of the universe, will take His rightful throne and reign supreme because all enemies will be in subjection under His feet. All redeemed humanity will be gathered into glory and made like Jesus Christ. When all of that is done—”When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (v. 28).
That verse does not mean Christ takes a place of subordination or inferiority to the Father, but just the opposite. What that text suggests is that when the love gift of redeemed humanity has been given to Jesus Christ, He will take them and give it, along with Himself, back to the Father as a reciprocal expression of the same infinite love. Then (without divesting Himself of humanity or His role as our great High Priest) He takes His former place in the Godhead, to reign in His former, full, and glorious place at the Father’s right hand—”so that God may be all in all.”
Thus the doctrine of election cannot be taken as if it was an insignificant idea, or isolated as fodder for debate. It encompasses the whole of redemptive history.
Christ’s Role in the Grace of God
There’s one remaining component to address: the role that Jesus played. There had to come a point where the Father said to the Son, “In order to make this happen, You must go into the world and be the offering for their sins.” When Jesus said in John 6:38 that He came into the world to do the Father’s will, He meant that He had come to die. This is how precious the church is: it’s the Lord’s gift from the Father to the Son, but He had to sacrifice His Son to obtain it.
It is also precious because of what it cost the Son to receive this gift. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” How rich is God? Boundlessly, infinitely rich. Jesus was rich spiritually with the riches of God, and yet He did something in order that you might become spiritually rich with the riches of God: He became poor.
Many theologians and commentators agree that, in this verse, Paul was giving a description of Jesus’ earthly financial condition—His earthly poverty and economic deprivation. But I would suggest that the Son’s earthly economic status is insignificant in terms of His redemptive work. The poverty spoken of here is not earthly economics; it is a divestiture of the prerogatives of His deity.
That poverty is defined in Philippians 2:6–8:
Although He [Christ] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond‑servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
How poor did he become? Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Those fifteen Greek words may be the most profound in the New Testament, and the greatest summary of the doctrine of justification. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin. What does that mean? Some of the “word of faith” teachers espouse this meaning: On the cross, Jesus became a sinner, and He needed to go to hell for three days to have His sins expiated through punishment, after which God released Him to the resurrection. Is that what it means that He became sin?
No—in fact, that’s blasphemous. Hanging on the cross, Jesus was as sinless and perfect as ever before or since. If He had been guilty of anything, He couldn’t have died for us. He was the spotless Lamb of God, without blemish; He was not a sinner.
In what sense, then, was He “made . . . sin”? One simple sense: On the cross Jesus was guilty of nothing, but the guilt of His people was imputed to Him—charged to His account. God treated Jesus as if He personally had committed every sin of every person who would believe. God treated Him that way, though in fact He committed none of them. God exploded the full fury of His wrath for all the sins of all who will ever believe against Jesus, and exhausted His wrath on Him. He did it on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
That’s why Jesus had to live all those years in perfect obedience: He needed to fulfill all righteousness, so that His life could be imputed to us. We’re not righteous; we all know that. On the cross Jesus wasn’t a sinner, but God treated Him as if He was. And although you’re not righteous, He treats you as if you are—because on the cross God treated Jesus as if He had lived your life, so that He could treat you as if you had lived His.
That’s imputation. That’s substitution—perhaps the greatest expression of God’s grace to us. Jesus came and became poor to exchange His life for yours, in order to fulfill the elective plan of God, that He might do the will of God perfectly and in the end give back to God the very love gift that the Father had given to Him.