Unconditional Election, Part 1
Unconditional Election specifically deals with the biblical concept of election or choosing as it pertains to salvation.
Theologian R.C. Sproul once told a class of theology students that if they truly believed in the doctrine of “Total Depravity” the other four points of Calvinism logically flow from it. That is true. Calvinism is logical, systematic theology at its strongest. But far more important than that is the five points of Calvinism are true because they reflect scriptural truths.
There are many things about God and reality we simply do not understand. We “see through a glass darkly” while living in this life (1Corinthians 13:12). God reveals certain things to us. Many other things remain hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29).
What are some of the things we discussed in the last article about the nature of man in total depravity? Before our conversion we’re “dead” in sin (Ephesians 2:1,5). We cannot come to Christ on our own (John 6:44, 65). Nor do we even desire to have a right relationship with God (Romans 3:11). It’s just not in us. The nature of sin totally binds and shackles us (Romans 8:7-8). We make genuine choices – but our choices are ALWAYS bound up in our desire for the wrong things (Genesis 6:5; 8:21). Thus, we can’t turn to God by any innate power within ourselves.
Which brings us to the doctrine of Unconditional Election. Even most Arminian theologians recognize the Bible teaches a doctrine called “election.” They differ from Calvinists though on one particular aspect of it. Both sides use the term “election” to refer to God choosing individuals who would be saved. But there’s a big difference from that point on.
What Is Meant By the Term Unconditional Election?
According to Arminianism (and most evangelical teaching today) God looked out into the future to see which individuals would exercise a voluntary choice (of their own “free” will) to be saved. Based upon the choice God knew these individuals would make He then “elected” them to eternal life. In this case election is conditioned on the believer’s choice. So the Arminian view is one of conditional election.
According to Calvinism (in harmony with the teachings of the Reformation) God decreed who would be saved based upon His sovereign choice. God elects undeserving sinners to salvation based upon His choosing, not an individual’s choice. There is no “condition” a believer can meet or exercise in themselves in response to the message of salvation. So the Calvinist view is one of unconditional election.
At the heart of the difference between these two views lies the question of who makes the ultimate choice with regards to salvation — God or man. To find the answer we need to turn to Scripture. The Bible (being God’s Word), and not human opinions or tradition, is the highest authority in matters pertaining to Christian doctrine. Let’s look at some of the key Bible passages teaching unconditional election and then try to answer some of the common questions many people have when they first hear this doctrine.
What Does the Bible Have to Say?
The Bible clearly teaches … “he (God) chose us in him before the creation of the world… In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:3-7).
Now let’s look at another passage … “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
Arminians usually read where it says, “those God foreknew” and insert “those God foreknew (would decide of their own free-will to have faith in Christ.)” But that is NOT what the text says. The word “foreknew” in the Greek here has a stronger meaning than that. It’s really used in the same sense the Bible says, “Adam knew Eve.” This, of course, means Adam knew Eve sexually or intimately. In the same way God “foreknew” us. One might say that God “fore-loved” us – – that is, chose to have an intimate relationship with His elect before the foundation of the world.
The context of this passage proves this is the case. Notice this passage says those who God predestines are called, and then these same ones are justified, and then glorified. This verse cannot be speaking about the general public call to repentance that occurs during the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus told Christians to go and “preach to every creature.” Some would “believe.” Others would reject the message and “be damned” (Mark 16:16).
But in Romans 8:28-30 we read that those whom God “foreknew” are predestined in that they WILL be called, and then justified, and then glorified. This passage can’t be referring to those who experience the general “call” of the Gospel because not all of those people are justified. Many of those individuals reject the Gospel. This passage is talking about the justification of those who are “called” and will ultimately be glorified. Their salvation is a sure thing.
That’s why the Bible contains verses like the following ones. Notice who does the calling and the choosing – God. This is in harmony with the passages we just read from Ephesians 1 and Romans 8.
“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22). “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones…?” (Luke 18:7).
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39). “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My
Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29).
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen” (John 13:8). “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). “… you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:18).
Does Election Mean We Don’t Have Any Freedom in Our Choices … or that Our Choices Don’t Matter?
No! Election means God ultimately does the appointing and the choosing. Calvinists don’t deny human beings make real and genuine choices when it comes to their faith. It’s just that the Scripture teaches our choices aren’t grounded upon some type of imaginary human freedom. We do have human freedom. And we have choices. But our freedom isn’t absolute. Our choices follow God’s ultimate choice. The freedom we have and the choices we make are always in accordance with the plans and purposes of God. How can this be?
Good question. The Bible doesn’t tell us HOW God ultimately rules the choices we make It just tells us that He does. We’re not robots; we make real choices. Yet somehow our choices are always filtered through the sovereign hand of God. God doesn’t tell us HOW He made the worlds from nothing, but this doesn’t mean He can’t do such a thing. God is all-powerful. In the same way God doesn’t tell us how He is able to make our choices fall perfectly in line with His decreed will from the foundation of the world.
The Apostle Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, told the crowd, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). Did God plan the death of Jesus in accordance with his will and sovereign plans and purposes? Yes.
Is it possible Jesus death could NOT have taken place in accord with the plans and purposes of God? No. It was a certainty. A sure thing. Certain men would make certain choices to crucify Christ. They chose to make those choices. Yet the Bible says they did so in accordance with God’s foreordained plan.
Written by: Dr. Charles F. Betters and Joe Farinacchio