Is Unconditional Election Biblical?
Oh no - another one of these Calvinists is posting something about election!
Let me set your mind at ease. I am a Christian who holds a very high view of God and His written word which is contained in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. Am I a Calvinist? I knew nothing of Calvinism when I came to faith in Christ in the early 1970's. All I knew as a 20-year-old sailor in the United States Navy was this: I am a sinner doomed for eternity in hell and Christ came to die for sinners just like me.
Somehow, I was drawn to Him. I was raised Roman Catholic but knew from an early age that what I was being taught was not correct, yet I didn't know why at the time. God used two sailors from another submarine to bring me the gospel. Outwardly I rejected it (more like gave these two guys a hard time) but inwardly I was very curious, yet I had to settle something in my own mind, and to prove to these two sailors that you must go through the Blessed Virgin Mary to be saved. Reading through God's word for the first time in my life completely destroyed this unscriptural belief in Mary. I talk about this in my post "How I Came to Saving Faith in Christ Jesus."
But am I a Calvinist? I am a Christian who happens to agree with the five points of Calvinism in as much as these points hermeneutically align with the scriptures. God's word was given centuries before there was a John Calvin. The five points of Calvinism are:
Total Depravity - the unregenerate man is totally dead in sin to the extent that he has the inability to freely accept Jesus Christ.
Unconditional Election - God, by a sovereign, eternal decree, unconditionally elected a certain number of individuals to salvation.
Limited Atonement - Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross, only made an atonement for individuals previously elected to salvation.
Irresistible Grace - God irresistibly overpowers the will of the elect sinner with His grace and regenerates him, granting him faith and repentance to believe on Jesus Christ.
Perseverance of the Saints - the elect who have been regenerated by God will persevere in the faith and ultimately die in a state of grace.
It will not make sense to talk about Unconditional Election without first addressing the doctrine of Total Depravity. As stated earlier, this doctrine teaches that unregenerate man is totally dead in sin to the extent that he has the inability to freely accept Jesus Christ.
"Sin is lawlessness" (1st John 3:4) - transgression against the moral laws of God. It began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose to disobey the very simple command of God to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-7).
Since we are all children of Adam and Eve, sin and its result, death, was passed down through all generations. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). In Psalms 51:5 David confesses "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." He recognized that his iniquity (sin) has been with him from the moment he was conceived in his mother's womb. Two verses earlier (v3) David said, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."
Because we are descendants of Adam and Eve, it is assumed that we are all children of God, regardless of whether or not you put your faith in Christ. However, this idea is refuted in Ephesians 2:1-4 concerning those who are without Christ:
Dead in trespasses and sins (v1)
Walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience (v2)
Indulge the desires of the flesh (v3)
Indulge the desires of the mind (v3)
Are by nature, children of wrath (v3)
It is impossible to be a child of God and a child of His wrath at the same time! This is exemplified in John 3:36 - “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The word "abides" in the Greek is menō which means "to remain, stay." Thus, the wrath of God remains or stays on those who do not obey the Son of God.
The Extent of Sin
Depravity is total because sin affects everyone, and sin affects our entire being.
Sin Affects Everyone
Romans 3:23 states that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Earlier, in verse 9 of this chapter the apostle Paul tells us that "both Jews and Greeks are all under sin." Thus everyone, regardless of how good they believe they are, is affected by sin. Death was not God's plan for Adam and Eve. This is evident in Genesis 2:15-17 - "Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” There would be no sin and death in the world if Adam and Eve obeyed God by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At the end of time as we know it, there will be "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1). There will "no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain" (Revelation 21:4).
Sin Affects Our Entire Being
Not only has sin affected everyone, but it has also penetrated and affected our entire being.
Sin Affects the Physical Body
"The body is dead because of sin" (Romans 8:10) and full of "sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness" (Ephesians 4:19).
Sin Affects the Mind
Those without Christ walk "in the futility of their mind" (Ephesians 4:17). Both "their mind and their conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15). They "set their minds on the things of the flesh" thus resulting in hostility toward God. As a result, they are not able to subject their minds to the law of God (Romans 8:5-7). Paul sums up the depravity of the mind in 1st Corinthians 2:14 - "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
Sin Affects the Will
Because an unbeliever is spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1) and "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God" (1st Corinthians 2:14), it renders him incapable of moving toward God and His righteousness. Romans 3:10 states that "There is none who seeks for God." Because of this incapacity to seek God, the unbeliever is a slave to "sin resulting in death" (Romans 6:16). His natural tendency is to practice the "deeds of the flesh" - "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (Galatians 5:20-21). Jesus tells us in John 8:34 that "everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin." The apostle John states, "the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning" (1st John 3:8). Thus, the human will is impervious to spiritual desires.
Sin Affects the Heart
The condition of man's heart is summarized in the following passages:
Ecclesiastes 8:11 - "The hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil."
Ecclesiastes 9:3 - "The hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives."
Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?"
Mark 7:21-23 - “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Before proceeding to Unconditional Election, I need to address its counterpart - Conditional Election. This doctrine teaches that an all-knowing God looks to the future and decides to elect people based on a future decision they will make to come to faith in Christ. It is considered “conditional” election because it is based on the condition of man doing something of his own free will. Those who teach this doctrine often cite the following verses:
Romans 8:29-30 - "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; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."
1st Peter 1:1-2 - "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure."
The word "foreknew" in Romans 8:29 in the Greek is proginōskō which means to know (ginōskō) before (pro) - "to know beforehand." This same word is used in Romans 11:2 - "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew" and in 1st Peter 1:20 - "For He (Christ, v19) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you."
This word also means "to have knowledge of someone or something from the past." Acts 26:4-5 - “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion."
The word ginōskō is used in 1st Corinthians 8:2-3 - "If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him." 2nd Timothy 2:19 states “The Lord knows those who are His." Jesus tells us in John 10:14 "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me" and in John 10:27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." This word is also used in Matthew 7:22-23 - "Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’"
The word "foreknowledge" in 1st Peter 1:1-2 is the Greek word prognōsis. It's only used one other time in scripture in Acts 2:23 - "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."
Romans 8:28-29 is not teaching that God predestined people to be conformed to the image of His Son because He foreknew their future choices or actions. The object of this foreknowledge is people. God knew the prophet Jeremiah before he was born - "Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). The Lord said to Moses in Genesis 33:17 - I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” About two hundred years before King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire (Daniel 5:26-30, 10:1), the prophet Isaiah wrote "It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’" (Isaiah 44:28).
Yes, God is all-knowing - you will get no arguments from me. But is His election of individuals based on a future decision that they will make to come to faith in Christ? Can a man who is spiritually dead, whose mind is hostile to God, who does not have the capacity to seek God, and whose heart is full of evil, choose to come to faith in Christ by his own free will?
Unconditional election is a doctrine relating to predestination that describes the actions and motives of God prior to the creation of the world, when he predestined some people to receive salvation, the elect, and the rest he left to continue in their sins and receive the just punishment, eternal damnation, for their transgressions of God's law as outlined in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. God made these choices according to his own purposes apart from any conditions or qualities related to those persons. This doctrine accurately summarizes what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereign grace in saving some sinners who are doomed for eternal condemnation. In short - God’s sovereign election does not depend on the will of sinful man. It solely depends on the grace and mercy of God.
But you may protest that "This is not fair. How can a loving God send anyone to hell!" Here is what is not fair - that the perfect, sinless, and eternal Son of God stepped out of eternity and took on human flesh. Even though He was tempted, He never sinned. He took the beatings and scourging that we deserve, was nailed to a cruel Roman cross and bore our sins, then drank the full cup of God's wrath - what we deserve - in our place! What is not fair is that God elected anyone. He was perfectly justified when he flooded the world during the days of Noah, killing every human being on the face of the earth except eight people - Noah and his family (Genesis 6 and 7).
If God elected anyone based on their merits, then everyone will stand before the Great White Throne judgement before being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). There would have been no need for Christ Jesus, the Son of God, to come into the world to pay for our sins!
An Example from the Old Testament
Deuteronomy 7:6-8 is a perfect example of God's unconditional election of Israel: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
God chose Israel "to be a people for His own possession." The Hebrew rendering of the word "possession" means "valued property, peculiar treasure." Although God owns everything, He singled out Israel to be His treasured possession.
God did not "set His love on" Israel or choose them based on their merits ("more in number than any of the peoples").
God chose Israel because He loved them.
God showed His love to Israel by keeping "the oath which He swore" to their forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob).
God kept His oath by redeeming Israel "from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
God Chose Us!
The word "elect" in the Greek is eklektos which means "chosen." This is an adjective derived from the Greek verb eklegomai which means "to choose." Like Greek adjectives in general, eklektos can also be used as a noun meaning "chosen one." In the New Testament eklektos is used to refer to believers (Matthew 24:31, Luke 8:7, Romans 8:33), Christ Jesus (Luke 23:45), and angels (1st Timothy 5:21).
As much as we want to believe that we are the ones who choose God first, the following scriptures teach otherwise.
John 6:44 - "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him."
John 6:65 - "And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."
John 13:18 - "I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen."
John 15:16 - "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you."
Ephesians 1:3-4 - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him."
Colossians 3:12 - "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
God Predestined Us!
The word "predestined" comes from the Greek word proorizō which means "to appoint, decree, or determine something beforehand; to foreordain." A good example of this definition is found in 1st Corinthians 2:7 - "but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory."
God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son:
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."
God predestined us to adoption as sons to Himself through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:5 - "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will."
God predestined us according to His purpose.
Ephesians 1:11 - "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."
God Called Us!
The word "called" comes from the Greek word klētos. It is only used in the New Testament to describe those who are called by God and those who respond to the call of God by faith.
General and Effectual Calling
The calling of God is both general and effectual. The "general call" of the gospel is preached indiscriminately - we do not know who God has elected to salvation. Jesus commands us in Mark 16:15 to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." All those God has chosen in eternity are "effectually called" by God, thus causing a sinner's heart to be regenerated, thus opening that heart to respond in faith to the gospel of Christ. We see an example of both callings in Matthew 22:14 - “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
God called, justified, and glorified those He predestined.
Romans 8:30 - "and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."
God's effectual calling is solely based on His purposes.
Romans 8:28 - "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
2nd Timothy 1:9 - "who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity."
God's effectual calling regenerates sinners causing them to respond in faith to the general calling of the gospel.
John 1:12-13 - "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
Acts 13:48 - "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
Ephesians 2:4-5 - "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)."
1st Thessalonians 1:4-5 - "knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."
2nd Thessalonians 2:13-14 - "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
2nd Timothy 2:10 - "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory."
1st Peter 1:3 - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Titus 3:5 - "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."
The effectual call of God is irrevocable - it is final and cannot be changed or reversed.
Romans 11:28-29 - "From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."
The doctrines of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election accurately represent what the Bible teaches about the extent of unregenerate man's inability to freely accept Jesus Christ, and the grace of God in choosing condemned sinners to salvation before the world was created and causing them to respond in faith to the gospel of Christ. I am not able to save a single human being. My job is to present the gospel of Christ to them. God does the rest!
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth"
2nd Timothy 2:15
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.