But here is a question for you: For whom did Jesus Christ die? Most people will respond, “For everyone, of course; Jesus died for the whole world.” Now there is a sense in which that is true. Jesus died for all kinds of people and for people scattered throughout the whole world. Also, his death has infinite value, being adequate to atone not only for the sins of all the people of this world but for all the sins of all the people of a billion worlds like this and more besides, if there are any. But that is not the question I am asking. I am asking, “For whom did Jesus specifically die?” That is, “Whose sins did he actually atone for by his suffering?”

Election gives assurance of salvation. Suppose it were the other way around. Suppose that the ultimate ground of salvation is in ourselves. In that case, salvation would be as unsteady as we are since, if we can elect ourselves in, we can elect ourselves out. It is true that there are choices to make and things for us to. But we are able to make these choices and do these good things only because God has first chosen us and made us to be new creatures. In fact, it is our security in his choice that is the basis for our action.

When people have trouble with election—as many do—their real problem is not with election itself, though they suppose it is, but with the doctrine of depravity that makes election necessary. The question to get settled first in any attempt to understand theology is this: When the human race fell into sin, how far did men and women fall?

The verses that deal with God's sovereign grace in salvation, verses 3-14, are one long sentence in Greek, possibly the longest sentence in the New Testament. One commentator calls them “a magnificent gateway” to the epistle, another “a golden chain of many links,” and still another “an operatic overture and the flight of an eagle.” But this long list of interconnected doctrines makes it hard to outline the section, and commentators have taken different approaches. John Stott gives them a temporal outline, speaking of the past blessing of election (vv. 4-6), the present blessing of adoption (vv. 5-8), and the future blessing of unification (vv. 9, 10), followed by a section on the "scope" of these blessings. Others, such as E.K. Simpson and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, merely list the doctrines: focusing on such words as election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, wisdom, unification in Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

In 1974, six years after I became pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, a number of seminarians, pastors, and myself launched a conference to promote Calvinistic doctrines which we felt were being widely neglected by most Christians. We did not know what to call our conference, but since it began in Philadelphia, we decided to call it the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. It became quite popular, and in the years since it has been held in such widely scattered cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, Toronto, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta, as well as its home city of Philadelphia.