Part 2 in a 5 part series. View series intro and index.
Though unconditional election is not second in the order of salvation for a believer, it is next on our list in TULIP. It makes sense that if we are totally depraved and do no good thing on our own then we are completely dependent on an outside variable in determining our salvation. We call this the doctrine of unconditional election and its definition is: “Man’s salvation is conditioned on the variable of God’s grace alone since man can not obtain righteousness with God because of his sinful state.” In other words, apart from God’s grace (def: unmerited favor), we would stay dead in our sins with no hope for eternity.
Unconditional election is not a popular doctrine among Christians. Many Christians despise this belief. But, the words “elect”, “election”, “chosen”, “predestined”, or “ordained” occur more than 175 times in the Bible. By contrast, the phrase “free will” never occurs in the Bible. We must note that this is not to say that man’s will is not “free” in a certain sense. Man has a will, yes, but God never calls it “free”. Man’s will is free in the sense that God has ordained it to be free insofar as it is free in the reality of the world we live in. It is not autonomous, however (that is “completely free”). This would be a better way to put it. Our choices flow out of what God has already predestined to take place. God is the ultimate source of reality and he is the only autonomous being in the universe. If God says a choice that you or I make is free, then it is free! We have the responsibility of choices in life, yes, but we must also affirm the cherished doctrine of unconditional election because the Bible teaches it.
Our salvation is contingent on God’s election, not our faith, as some propose. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Even our faith is a gift that comes from grace. Piper puts it this way: “We are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of faith in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the reverse. Election is a condition for faith” (my emphasis). We see this most powerfully in Romans 9:11-13, “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” Later in verses 16 and 18, Paul writes, “So then, it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy…So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Some will argue that Romans 9 is not about individual salvation, but that does not fit the context. The book of Romans teaches how someone can be saved. Chapters 8 and 10 both teach about salvation. The beginning of 9 is about Paul having sorrow for those Jews who are not saved. And finally, God is speaking of individual people in chapter 9 (Jacob, Esau, Pharaoh) not a group of people.
The entire first chapter of Ephesians 1 affirms to us that we are chosen and adopted by God. Paul says God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” and that “in love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will” (vv. 4, 5). In verse 11, Paul says we “have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” And lest you think this is just a Pauline doctrine, Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:1, “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion.” Later in verse 3, he writes, “[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope” showing that God is the ultimate cause of regeneration.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:4, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica saying, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” These verses give final glory to God, that he has chosen us just as Christ chose his disciples (Jn. 15:16). In Acts 13:48, we read a powerful verse after the conversion of many Gentiles. Luke writes, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice the order of words in this verse. It does not say as many believed were chosen to eternal life. It says that as many were chosen believed. Believing was a sign that they were indeed chosen.
This is but a sampling of the passages that teach election. I wish I could spend more space and time on this, but in the overview yesterday, I said I’d try to remain concise. Let this doctrine not cause you to fear or see God in a bad light. Rather, if you love Jesus, rejoice that God had mercy on you and gave you grace. Rejoice that God adopted you and is a loving Father. Obey him by spreading the gospel to all peoples, because though this is a biblical truth, you do not know who is chosen, only God does. This doctrine gives us confidence that people will not be left in their flesh, rebellious against God, but that some will come to embrace him as Lord and Savior because God has unconditionally elected them to his family.