Reformed Theology – Unconditional Election (Part 3 of 6)

22 05 2008

It has been said that all of Reformed theology can be summed up in 3 words. Redemption precedes faith. Its a profound statement when think about it. For a long time I was taught to make sure I was walking in faith in my Christian walk, the emphasis always being on my ability to have faith in God.
It wasn’t until recently (ok I mean at least a year or 2 ago) that I began to see this as counter to what the bible taught. If salvation depended on my ability to have faith then what hope did I have? Were my doubts about God an example of a lack of faith? What was all that stuff about predestination?  I was perplexed to say the least, but it motivated me to study more. To search the scriptures to see if what I had been taught was true.

The doctrine of unconditional election is a controversial one, like the rest of the doctrines of Reformed Theology. However that does not mean we should sideline it or ignore it because it causes offense. A good starting point to understand this is Voltaire, the great philosopher, who once said (and again I’m paraphrasing here)

“God has made man in his image, and since the beggining of time man has been trying to return the compliment…”

This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of Predestination or more correctly the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The word Election can also be substituted as “Foreordination” in this context. To sum up this doctrine in simple terms:

God chose certain individuals to be saved from before the foundation of the world. God’s choice was not based on anything that these people would do in the future, but solely of God’s sovereign will. Total depravity has made it impossible for men to respond to God or have faith in Him. Anyone who has faith in God has it because God has gifted him the ability.

If we ask the right questions . The real question should be 

“Is Faith a condition of Election, or is Election is a precursor to Faith?” In other words do I have to believe in God for Him to chose me, or does God chose me and give the ability to believe?

Sometimes its easier to define something by what it is not. The counter arguement to this doctrine is that of Conditional Election, which simply put says that God chose people from before the foundation of the world whom he KNEW WOULD FAITH IN HIM. Faith is the condition upon a person is saved according to this doctrine. However I completely reject that view. Election based on something good in us i.e. FAITH, is the begining of salvation by merit. Some Arminians hold to the doctrine of Total depravity, and by doing so condem their own ability to think logically. One cannot be dead in sin and chose to have faith for themselves. Dead people do not think. Hence the need for many to hold to the doctrine of partial depravity, or to say that the sinner is sick, not dead. 

The doctrine does not mean that God saves the sinner in our dimension of time, but rather has chosen the sinner to be saved before he existed in this world. It also does not mean that God elects all to be saved without reservation. But more on that later when we look at the remaining doctrines of Grace.

So what does the Bible say about the doctrine of unconditional election? So far I have used a logical argument, but I don’t want to stop there. Things could be logical and at odds with what the Bible says. I want to stick rigorously to the Bible even at the cost of having to change my own personal beliefs. The only standard of proof I will accept is the Bible (Sola Scriptura).John 15:16: “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.”
This whole chapter is

John 17:1-2: “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”
There are some key ideas in these two verses. As i write about John 17 I’m mindful of Martyn Lloyd- Jones mighty work “Life in the spirit” in which he writes over 400 pages on this one chapter alone.  So i’ll try to be brief.  This chapter has been regarded by many, including Martin Luther as the most Holy of Holies in Scripture, the High Priestly Prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can try and go against all of scripture to disprove unconditional election but when you hear it from the mouth of Jesus then have no comebacks.
Lets start by looking at the two gifts that the Father gave Jesus. Firstly Jesus has been given ALL AUTHORITY over ALL PEOPLE. Not some people, not a small group or holy huddle, but all people. Secondly he has been given the ability to GIFT ETERNAL LIFE to people. The question we want to answer is who does Jesus give eternal life to? The answer follows in verse 2 when he says “to all those you have given him.” Not everyone, but only those the Father has given to Jesus. This would imply that the Father has chosen some people to be saved and others not to be saved. What is becoming clear by implication here is that there are no conditions on who was given to Jesus by the Father. It is clear that the Father chose those people and they had nothing to do with that chosing.
This is still complicit with the doctrine of Total Inability (people unable to chose God) and places the emphasis on God’s sovereignity.
Lets continue on in this chapter.

 John 17:6-9 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

Verse 6 is an eye opener. “I have revealed you” in other words Jesus has opened the eyes of the people. It is by what Jesus said and did, and by His spirit and the Sovereign will of the Father that Jesus has revealed the Father to people. “to those whom you gave me out of the world” I don’t think it gets much clearer than that. It is clear that the Father has given Jesus a specific group of people out of all the people in the world. Not the whole world but a specific group.
“They were yours”  now this is a strange statement. It implies eternity. Contrast this with the nature of God, who was, who is and is to come. This specific group of people have always been God’s possession. They are God’s chosen, God’s elect from before the foundation of the world.
“you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word” Note the order of this phrase.  You gave them to me, and as a result they have obeyed your word. It does not say you gave them to me because you saw they would obey your word. Its a very clear and succinct difference. You could translate that as “Because you gave them to me they have obeyed you” Clearly obedience does not precede faith, in fact it is the reverse. We are obedient because of the faith that has been gifted to us.
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world…”  There are some people who claim that everyone will be saved, and we will look at this later, but right here we see from Jesus’ own lips, he prays for the specific group of people God has chosen.

The important thing to notice out of these verses we have looked at is this: There are no conditions on God’s choosing of certain people to be saved. Nothing these people have done in and of themselves. God chose these people before the foundation of the world. They were always His people, and can never be anyone elses other than God’s people. Nothing will change this fact.

Ephesians 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—…”This has got to be one of the best passages about unconditional election in the bible. Paul starts his letter to the Ephesians this way, and what I find important to note is that this doctrine of Unconditional Election is almost assumed as part and parcel of being a Christian in much of Pauls letters. If we start a verse earlier, it is clear that this doctrine of unconditional election is cause for praise. Paul makes it clear that this doctrine is not a cause for concern or distress among Christians.
God chose certain people, before the world was formed, to be holy and blameless in HIS sight. Some people claim that that is the proof of conditional election. God chose us because He knew we would be Holy before Him by keeping the Faith. But if we are dead in our tresspasses how are we to have faith unless we are first made alive, and given Faith. We could say that God chose us before He made the world because He wanted to make us Holy and blameless in His sight. It was a consequence of Him chosing us, it was part of His plan in choosing us. The more we look at this way we have to start asking WHY did God chose us in the first place?

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will-“  This is a wonderful scripture in support of the doctrine, God chose us to be adopted into His family through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. If there had been any conditions on this election then it would not have said “in accordance with HIS pleasure and will”.

Romans 8:28-30 “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.”Called according to His purpose – Again we are seeing that God is sovereign. We have been saved because HE purposed it, not because we purposed it. Those whom he foreknew he also predestined – here we have what I believe is the crux of the Arminian arguement and the “proof text” of it. God knew that those who are saved would have faith thats why he chose them. An Arminian might say that if Predestination and Foreknowledge were the same things then why are they separated here, surely God would chose those he knew would have faith in Him. But I don’t think thats what He’s getting at here. The purpose of this verse is to demonstrate that Salvation is a sovereign act of God, and earlier we have seen that with the doctrine of total inability or depravity, man is unable to respond to God in and of Himself. So logically following that arguement, for there to be a foreseen faith man would have to be spiritually alive in order to have faith. This is not the way scripture paints the picture of man. It just doesnt make sense, or stack up with reality. God chose me because I would have fait in Him while I was dead, so salvation is a sovereign act of God involving me chosing God. Surely not?


What i see as the purpose of this verse is that those who are saved are saved by Gods sovereign grace, and by no merit of themselves, but the reason for the separation of the verses implies a purpose in that salvation. That purpose we find a little later in the verse “to be conformed to likeness of His Son”
This is the purpose of every believers life. To be like Jesus. Not to be Jesus but to be like Him. This does not mean that we strive in every way possible to do exactly what Jesus did on Earth. Thats reading the story backwards. We are saved for a purpose and will bear fruit as we continue in our salvation, it is if you will evidence of what has taken place already. If God has predestined us in Eternity, before the foundation of the world, while we were yet sinners, ungodly, spiritually dead, he has worked out a way to call us to himself, alone by his sovereign Grace. If he has managed to awaken us from our spiritual death and depravity, he has worked out a way in which we can stand before Him, and declare us not guilty of the punishment which we deserved, in short he has justified us. We have not justified ourselves. If He has justified us our hope is that one day we will be like His Son Jesus, we will be with Him in Glory !

This is Good news. If we somehow subvert this process and make our election conditional upon our faith, then we start (very slightly) to have a salvation based on Merit. The faith we have is a gift from God himself. It is not something we can work out simply by looking at nature, or reasoning. It is a gift. God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wisdom of the wise.

There is so much to go on here, but I think this post is long enough. I will leave it at that for now. This is by no means an exhaustive list or proof from scripture. There are so many avenues to explore. We could go by reason, scripture, sytematically, historically, but there simply isnt enough time and there are enough books already devoted to the subject.

For more reading on Unconditional Election I’d reccomend Lorraine Boettners “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” or





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