The doctrine of unconditional election has been at the center of arguably the most heated debate in the history of the Christian church. A central theme throughout all the Scriptures, unconditional elect is foundational in a proper understanding of the Bible’s over arching story of God redeeming and restoring that which was lost in the fall. Essentially, Unconditional election teaches us that God predestined and elected those who would be saved based solely on His grace, and not on their works. The Canon of Dort puts it best:
“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace;”
Like total depravity, unconditional election is a very unpopular teaching. However, the issue is often a misunderstanding of the implications of predestination and election. Because of our depravity and sinful flesh, we tend always to think ourselves wiser than God and focus on the negatives. Election is not “unfair”. God is God and He knows best. The doctrine of election should cause us to rejoice. It shows us how truly gracious God is. He has chosen us in Christ before time began. We can be absolutely sure of His promises and trust that when He saved us, He saved us! If our salvation has anything to do with us, then we ought to fear and tremble because we have an overwhelming propensity to fail. God does not fail, His election stands sure, we can be confident! Now that’s good news.
God’s election throughout history
If we examine the Bible holistically, we will soon discover a pattern of gracious election emerges. God chose Abraham to be the father of Israel. Was it because Abraham was overly righteous or special? No, it was because of the grace of God. God then narrowed the playing field 2 generations later when He decides to choose Jacob rather than Esau. Was it because Jacob was a really good guy, and Esau was rotten? No, Jacob was a deceitful, sinful man. Romans 9:11-13 says,
“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.’”
God’s election of Jacob had absolutely nothing to do with anything Jacob did, he wasn’t even born when God chose him!
Moving through the Bible we come to Joseph. He had a dream that his family would bow down before him. Why did God choose to send Joseph to Egypt and not Judah or Benjamin? It was all grace! It was God’s good purposes for His people that sent Joseph way. Joseph knew this and in Genesis 50:20 he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”.
Then we have Moses, Aaron and Joshua. The whole book of Judges testifies to the election of God. Why did God choose Gideon or Samson or Deborah? Was it because they were special? Or righteous? No, it was because God is gracious and He chooses whom He wills.
God chooses and anoints the Kings of Israel, and the Prophets. Even the kingdoms of the earth are under His sovereign reign. Remember how God humbled Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-33). He builds kingdoms up and He tears them down. God is in complete control, and His election is sure!
Think about the disciples. It seemed as if Jesus just picked 12 at random. Of course we know it was not random, but God’s purpose in election is not always clearly understood. Then we move on to Paul the Apostle, and down through the history of the church. God is still sovereignly saving and electing those whom He wills.
God’s good grace in election
Romans 8:28-30 describes God’s predestination and election brilliantly, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”.
It must be stated what the foreknowledge of God here refers to. God’s foreknowledge refers to His gracious adoption of men and women as sons and daughters. God did not look through the annals of time and foreknow that some would be better than others, and so choose them. This is a works based heresy that is damnable. John Calvin said, “Paul here repeats with other words what he had said about God’s purpose elsewhere. It follows that God’s knowing the elect rests upon his own good pleasure, because he foreknew nothing outside of himself which led him to will the adoption of sons. He marked some for election according to his own good pleasure” (Calvin).
God’s predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His son. He elected us to justification and ultimately to glorification. When professing Christians war against election, what they are really warring against is their only hope. Don’t you see, without God’s gracious election, we can have no confidence in our salvation, we can never be sure. But thanks be to God, that He has selected and elected those being saved, before the foundations of the earth. Thanks be to God that it does not rely on us, depraved, deceivable and corruptible humanity. God’s grace is the only hope of humanity.
All for God’s glory
John Calvin said,
“God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.” – John Calvin
Ultimately, God’s election of the saints, and condemnation of the lost will serve to further glorify His goodness and love. God’s election clearly displays His mercy and grace. God’s condemnation of the lost clearly displays His unwavering justice. And when we look at the cross, we see both meet together in a glorious exchange. God’s grace is clearly seen in Christ dying for the sins of the elect, and God’s stern and unwavering justice is seen in the punishment of the sins that the Son is propitiating.
Scriptures to consider
John 15:16 ESV
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.
Acts 13:48 ESV
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.
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
2 Timothy 1:9 ESV
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,
Ephesians 1:5 ESV
He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
Romans 8:29 ESV
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
1 Peter 2:9 ESV
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.
Ephesians 1:11 ESV
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,
Romans 8:28 ESV
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
2 Peter 1:10 ESV
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
1 Peter 1:2 ESV
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Romans 9:11 ESV
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—
John 6:37 ESV
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
1 Peter 1:1 ESV
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,
Romans 9:17 ESV
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.”
Romans 9:16 ESV
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Romans 2:11 ESV
For God shows no partiality.
John 6:44 ESV
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Luke 18:7 ESV
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
Amos 3:2 ESV
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
Jeremiah 1:5 ESV
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
1 Peter 1:20 ESV
He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you
Titus 1:1 ESV
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,
1 Timothy 5:21 ESV
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV
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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV
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 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.
Romans 9:18 ESV
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Romans 8:33 ESV
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Romans 8:28-30 ESV
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
John 6:65 ESV
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
John 6:39 ESV
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Mark 13:20 ESV
And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.
Daniel 4:35 ESV
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Isaiah 45:4 ESV
For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.
Psalm 115:3 ESV
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Exodus 8:15 ESV
But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
Revelation 20:4 ESV
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Revelation 17:14 ESV
They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
Revelation 17:8 ESV
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
1 Peter 2:8 ESV
And “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
1 Peter 2:4 ESV
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
Hebrews 11:5 ESV
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
Philippians 1:29 ESV
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
Ephesians 2:5 ESV
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Ephesians 1:13 ESV
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,
Ephesians 1:9 ESV
Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
Ephesians 1:6 ESV
To the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:1-23 ESV
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 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, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 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, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Galatians 2:16 ESV
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
Romans 11:22 ESV
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Romans 11:17 ESV
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,
Romans 11:2 ESV
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?
Romans 9:21 ESV
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?
Romans 9:18-20 ESV
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?”
Romans 9:16-18 ESV
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 9:15 ESV
For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
Romans 9:13 ESV
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Romans 9:6-24 ESV
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 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. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 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— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 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.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 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?” 21 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? 22 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, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Romans 8:33-34 ESV
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Romans 8:31 ESV
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:29-30 ESV
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Acts 4:28 ESV
To do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Acts 2:39 ESV
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Acts 2:23 ESV
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
John 15:19 ESV
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
John 14:6 ESV
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 12:32 ESV
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
John 5:21 ESV
For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
John 3:6 ESV
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 1:29 ESV
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:13 ESV
Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Luke 22:22 ESV
For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”
Matthew 24:31 ESV
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Matthew 20:15 ESV
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
Malachi 3:6 ESV
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
Malachi 1:2-3 ESV
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
Isaiah 46:10 ESV
Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
Isaiah 45:3 ESV
I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
Isaiah 42:4 ESV
He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
Isaiah 42:1 ESV
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
Proverbs 16:4 ESV
The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Psalm 33:11 ESV
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
1 Samuel 10:24 ESV
And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Exodus 9:12 ESV
But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
Haroutunian, J., & Smith, L. P. (1958). Calvin: Commentaries. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
“Election.” Monergism. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Election/>.