This article is part of a series called “Why I Am a Five-Point Calvinist”. For the article on Total Depravity, click here. Additional articles will be released over the course of this week. Follow to receive them in your inbox.
John Calvin says in Calvin’s Institutes, “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “God has predestined and foreordained some men and angels to everlasting life out of His free grace and love without any foresight of faith or works in man or perseverance in either of them, and others are foreordained to everlasting death and the number of either is so certain and definite that it cannot be increased or diminished.” These two statements give a fairly good definition of the doctrine of unconditional election.
Jesus tells His disciples in 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.” They did not exercise their will and reach out to Jesus. It was Jesus who found them, called them, and died for them. As we will see, it is the same for all who are in Christ Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus often talks about those given to Him by the Father. John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 10:29 says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” The phrase is used throughout Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17 as well.
When Paul and Barnabas were being contradicted and reviled by the Jews, they openly proclaimed that they were turning to the Gentiles. Acts 13:48 records their response, “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.” Throughout Acts, Luke is intentional to point out both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Crossway’s ESV Study Bible points out the following cross references: Acts 2:23; 3:13-16; 3:17; 4:27; 4:28.
Romans 8:29-30 traces our salvation all the way from God’s foreknowing to our glorification. He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. The only step that required us was justification. Why? Because justification requires faith. Is faith a work? No, it is a gift. We are saved by the grace and gift of God alone.
One of the most well known passages that is used to support unconditional election, Ephesians 1:3-14, says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him 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, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:9, “Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” Notice that we are not chosen by our works, but because of God’s purpose and grace that was given even before time began!
Peter emphasizes God’s choice over our choice when he writes in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
A lot of people may think that this is unfair. What gives God the right to choose some people over others? Is that really how a loving God should behave? In asking those questions, they reveal a serious error in their line of thought. They assume that our standard of fairness is to be God’s standard as well. They place the Creator under the rules of the creation. They attempt to subject the Infinite to the finite. These questions are even answered in the Bible. In perhaps the most well known chapter on unconditional election, Romans 9, Paul says:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 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 hated.”
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.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel[c] be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
The doctrine of unconditional election should in no way discourage you from spreading the Gospel. In fact, it should encourage you to spread the Gospel. We do not know who God has elected, therefore we should be searching for an attitude of openness to the Gospel and spreading it even in the midst of trials. Above all other reasons, we should preach the Gospel because God commands it. It may appear pointless to our finite minds, but God knows what He is doing. God’s will is going to be done. We have two options: either obey Him or get out of the way in disobedience.
The earthly result of unconditional election is the destruction of pride. We cannot pride ourselves in that which we have not done. 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, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
Over the course of this week, I will be releasing articles on the Doctrines of Grace (aka the Five Points of Calvinism). This is not meant to cause division, but rather to give a clearer understanding of these doctrines. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, either leave them below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow to get our articles in your inbox!