At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
And not only so,
but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather
Isaac, 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 him who calls—she was told, “The older will
serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:10-18)
Unconditional election is the ‘U’ in the TULIP acronym. It logically comes after the doctrine of total depravity, because if it stands to reason that we cannot merit our salvation by any means possible, then the salvation we inherited is all owing to the sovereign love of God.
Election can be defined as the eternal act of God where He chooses a certain number of people to receive the blessings of eternal salvation, to which none of these people can do anything to merit it. This election is unconditional, in the sense that we do not have to fulfil any requirements to receive these blessings:
1. Because of our corrupt wills. As we learn through the first doctrine of grace, our wills are totally depraved, and so it renders us unable to choose God (Rom 8:6-8). We could never meet the conditions to receive the salvation that we require through our own power.
2. Because this act of choosing was made in eternity past. It is abundantly clear that it is exclusively God who makes the divine choice, before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4), to bring His redeemed people to salvation, not vice versa. Since He has decided who will be saved before we were even born, it conclusively means we cannot have been the ones to choose Him!
So what do we not mean by unconditional election?
1. Final salvation is not unconditional. We mustn’t conflate the idea that unconditional election means that salvation is attained unconditionally. Scripture clearly teaches that believing and trusting in Christ is the sole condition for which we can inherit eternal life (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9).
In other words, faith is the condition for salvation. However, that is not synonymous to saying that faith is the condition for election. In fact, it is actually the reverse – election is the condition for faith! Jesus says in John 6:37 that those God ‘the Father gives to Him will come to Him’. Do you see the progressive steps to which the person comes to Jesus? There is a preceding of God’s handing over of a certain people to Jesus, which predetermine the actions of these people in coming to Him. Those whom God gives to Jesus, are those who respond to Jesus in saving faith.
2. There are conditions that influences God’s decision to choose. If there is nothing found within us that can meet the conditions on which God chooses people, then on what basis does God actually choose some individuals over others? Does God choose arbitrarily or at random, not having a single intent as to the reasons of His choice?
Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9 that the basis for why God saved us and called us into Himself was not because of our own works, but it was the very purpose of God! His act of choosing sinners into Himself was conditioned on a divine purpose that He formulated before the creation of the world. What was this purpose? We were chosen according to this purpose so that He would bring about the praise of His glory (Eph 1:4-6; 11-12)!
This doctrine, like all the other doctrines in this system, isn’t without its difficulties. Many have objected to this doctrine of election for a number of reasons:
- That it does not coincide with their personal experiences of conversion. Some Christians instinctively oppose this doctrine because it was visibly evident to them that they made a conscious decision to follow Christ. The doctrine of election does not teach that we cannot ever choose God, period. What it does (and the other Points collectively) teach is that we cannot ever choose God, given our morally corrupted wills. We can absolutely choose God, but only if God chooses to: give us over to the Son (John 6:37); to appoint us to eternal life (Acts 13:48); to reveal the mysteries of salvation to us (Matt 11:25-27); and to perform the work of regeneration to see and enter the Kingdom (John 3:3-5). Our conscious decision to follow Christ was only made possible because God first chose us.
- That it removes all incentive for Christians to evangelise to the world. This objection is based on the idea that we should not bother to evangelise at all, since the names of the elect are fixed in eternity and God will make certain that whoever He decides to save, will believe the gospel. But this misconception fails on two accounts: (a) Christians ought to evangelise to others because Christ commands them to in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). God uses us, His people, as His means to bring the gospel out to the nations, so that His sheep would have access to it and faithfully respond (John 10:14-16); and (b) we do not possess the knowledge of who belongs to the elect. Even the elect were once children of wrath (Eph 2:3) and needed to have the gospel preached to them by others (Rom 10:14-15). There was no doubt that these first-century evangelists, who preached to the elect, did not know who belonged to God, but nevertheless carried out their role faithfully in the preaching of the gospel.
So how do the implications of this doctrine shape our view of:
a) God? We must see that our God is not a God that arbitrarily saves people with no particular intent, but He is the Master Strategist of this Grand Redemption Plan. He is sovereign and is in control of all things, both significant and insignificant (Eph 1:11) – there is nothing that could ruin His great plan. He is also abundantly gracious in giving His Son over to redeem unworthy sinners, so that these transformed sinners can joyfully praise Him to His glory! He is for us (Rom 8:31-33), which brings us bold confidence because we know that nothing can defeat the power and strength of our God.[
b) Ourselves? This doctrine humiliates those who maintain the view that God only chooses on the basis of their choices to follow God. But this doctrine greatly encourages the meek, those who utterly recognise their inevitable state of condemnation and beg for mercy. It tremendously rattles our pride, but it also inspires a far deeper comfort in our souls because we now know that God’s love for us is not conditioned on our performance.
c) Salvation? It must be clear by now that we can do absolutely nothing to earn our salvation from God. Even our faith in Christ did not originate from us. Many evangelicals embrace the doctrine of grace, that salvation is not attained by works but by faith in Christ that they are saved, yet still insist they must exercise faith within themselves to attain God, without realising that placing such demands is also considered a merited work. They think Jesus has done 90% of the work, and we need to do the rest of the 10% by believing. But Christ is both the originator and perfecter of our faith (Eph 2:8-9; Heb 12:2) and He has done 100% of the work of bringing us back to God.
d) Worship? If we spoke in quantitative terms and said God did 90% of the work and we’ve done the rest of the 10%, then God will only be deserving of the 90% of glory due to Him for His redemptive work, while we steal part of His glory for having been able to respond intelligently to the call. But the doctrine of election shatters any superficial notions we might have about our ability to exercise faith, and increases manifold the worthiness of God for our praises and worship to Him. Our salvation was secured entirely by His work, 100%.
e) Mission? This glorious truth of God’s sovereignty greatly encouraged Paul to persevere in his evangelistic efforts at Corinth when he was potentially met with strong opposition. Paul continued to stay in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching God’s word to the Corinthians, because God told him to ‘go on speaking and to not be silent’, since He had ‘many in [Corinth] who are [His] people’ (Acts 18:9-11). Let this encourage us to develop resilience in our efforts to bring the gospel, knowing there are many people who are really out there who will respond joyfully to its message!
Click here to read the next doctrine of grace: Limited Atonement
Click here to read the previous doctrine of grace: Total Depravity