In light of the truth of election, is it right to pray for the salvation of a specific individual?
Ever since the first century there have been many doctrinal controversies that have divided the people of God, but few have caused more discord than that relating to the subject of election. Therefore, it is highly probable that many readers will hold a different viewpoint to that being stated here. Of one thing we can be sure, the problem doesn’t derive from what the Bible teaches, but from our interpretation of that teaching.
In the timeless ages before the foundation of the world, when there was no one but God, nowhere but the third heaven and nothing except the manifestation of divine characteristics, God made choices. In the majesty of His own sovereignty, and by means of His foreknowledge, He picked out of the masses of humanity specific individuals. As a result of the death, burial and resurrection of His Son those thus chosen were certain to be saved and will, one day, be in God’s presence ‘holy and without blame’, Eph. 1. 4. There are several verses that could be presented to establish the fact that election relates to specific individuals, including, Acts 13. 48; 1 Thess. 1. 4; 2 Thess. 2. 13; and 2 John 1, 13.
In harmony with the foregoing, there is another line of truth set out in the scriptures, that of man’s personal responsibility and accountability to God. No one will be damned because they were not chosen, but they will be judged because they did not obey the gospel. That is why Peter writes, ‘What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?’ 1 Pet. 4. 17. Although eternal life is available to everyone, many will miss this free gift, not because they were not elected, but because of their carelessness. For this reason the question is asked, ‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord’, Heb. 2. 3.
Even a cursory reading through the New Testament will indicate that God demands a response from mankind to the ‘good news’. This emancipating message is a commandment to be obeyed, Acts 17. 30, it is a promise to be accepted, Acts 2. 39, it is truth to be depended on, 1 Tim. 1. 15, and it is a power to be experienced, Rom. 1. 16. Even though sinners are ‘without strength’, Rom. 5. 6, and ‘dead in trespasses and sins’, Eph. 2. 1, through the convicting energy of the Holy Spirit unbelievers are required to comply with the terms of the gospel. Failure to do so places man in the position of being without excuse.
One day, the offer of salvation will be withdrawn for ever and divine judgement will fall on the ranks of godless humanity. Legions of people, small and great, will be consigned to eternal perdition. These unrepentant souls shall be cast into the lake of fire and will be judged ‘according to their works’, Rev. 20. 12. Their doom is not the consequence of being overlooked by a sovereign God, but is the consequence of their sinful works.
Because we are finite beings it may not be possible for us to harmonize these two lines of truth, but the apparent contradiction is due to the limitations of our minds. That God sovereignly elects, and that man is personally responsible, are dogmas that do not need to be reconciled for they have never been at variance within the mind of God. We, therefore, have to acknowledge both and act accordingly. As a result, we should respond to the injunction to preach the gospel everywhere, Mark 16. 15, and to pray ‘for all men’, 1 Tim. 2. 1-4.
That it is right to pray for the salvation of people in general is beyond question, for we have a definite example of it in Romans. Writing to the Christians in Rome Paul states, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved’, Rom. 10. 1. If we are exhorted to pray for all men, and as Paul prayed for a specific segment of mankind, it cannot be wrong to pray for a specific individual. Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the Holy Scriptures from his earliest days, are we to suppose that neither of these godly women prayed for his salvation?
I would be amazed if any readers of this article who are parents, grandparents, or near family of unbelieving relatives have never felt the need to pray for the salvation of their loved ones. Furthermore, if it is wrong to pray for the salvation of a particular person would it not be equally wrong for an individual to pray for their own salvation? As we look at the tenor of New Testament teaching it does not present the electing purposes of God as negating the need for the gospel to be preached, the servants to be enabled and prayers to be made for the unbelieving.
Maybe a burdened mother or father will be reading these lines, longing for their family to be saved. Take courage; continue in your praying, ‘For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved’, 1 Tim. 2. 3-4.
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