Why I Am A Calvinist: Unconditional Election
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…
This doctrine single handedly transformed the way that I look at salvation. When I encountered this doctrine it shocked me to my theological core. Yet the shock was not that someone taught this doctrine. I knew of many weird doctrines that people believed and taught about the Bible but when I looked into them I quickly found that they did not have the support of the scriptures themselves. Yet Unconditional Election leaped off the pages of scripture at me once my heart was prepared to accept it.
Unconditional Election should be defined properly before we take a look at the scriptural backing for this doctrine. Wayne Grudem does a good Job here:
[Unconditional] Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.
-Grudem, Systematic Theology, Chapter 32
The unconditional aspect of election is that it is not based on anything within us for it’s operation. So God acts first based on his choice in eternity past. Here we might find useful this wonderful graphic made by Tim Challies in his book Visual Theology:
Notice that the foundation of salvation rests on election. Election is the reason that anyone is saved at all. Otherwise, if God so chose to, all of mankind would have been consigned to hell as a demonstration of God’s righteous wrath. And it is important to note here that this would not be an unjust move on God’s part. The usual reaction to a statement such as this is a form of shock and perplexity. But this reaction is not based on a biblical understanding of mans nature and situation before the thrice holy God. To feel that somehow God owes us anything but eternal wrath is to give credit where no credit is due. This might be natural for us to do but I can assure you that it is by no means Biblical.
Nevertheless the nature of election is spelled out in the Bible. Before we look at the following passages it is good to keep in mind that there are many interpretation for each of the following passages. This is natural because every worldview that holds to the Bible as being God Breathed must offer an interpretation that comports with that worldview or they would have to abandon their worldview. The question that we must ask is by what foundational principles are we understanding the bible and can these principles be backed up by the Bible itself? Once we get to this point, where in we strip away the top level worldview claims to test the support pillars and foundations, we begin to get into where the rubber meets the road. These baseline assumptions, such as the laws of logic and the reliability of language, are too much for us to go into here. But I will be dealing with a foundational principle later on in this series that fuels most of the dissenting interpretations of the following passages, namely libertarian free will. Here I would like to quote John Frame:
If libertarianism is true, then God has somehow limited his sovereignty so that he does not bring all things to pass. But Scripture contains no hint that God has limited his sovereignty in any degree. God is the Lord, from Genesis I to Revelation 22. He is always completely sovereign. He does whatever pleases him (He works everything out according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:13) Furthermore, God's very nature is to be sovereign. Sovereignty is his name, the very meaning of the name Yahweh, in terms of both control and authority. If God limited his sovereignty, he would become something less than Lord of all, something less than God. And if God became something less than God, he would destroy himself. He would no longer exist. We can see that the consequences of libertarianism are serious indeed.
- John Frame, Doctrine of God Ch 8
A Biblical Case for Unconditional Election
There are three passages that I would like to examine in order to establish the doctrine of unconditional election: John 6, Romans 9, and Ephesians 1. Each of these passages, when understood from the vantage point of the entire scriptures, gives us a different perspective and practical purpose for the doctrine of unconditional election. In John 6 we see the most explicit teaching on the operations of election and we see unbelief actually ascribed to someone not being elected. In Romans 9 we see the problem of evil addressed by the doctrine of unconditional election as well as an explanation of Israels unbelief and a scathing critique of libertarian free will. Finally, in Ephesians 1 we see a comforting reminder to the children of God that is designed to bring about praise of the almighty God.
John 6: The Honest Truth
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 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. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
John 6 is a passage that deals with a couple of things. We see Jesus speaking of the nature of salvation, establishing himself as the bread of heaven, and speaking of communion (though not in the way that Catholics think. But that is a topic for another post). Yet the thrust of this entire passage is salvation. Not only does Jesus tell us how it functions but he approaches the issue from more than one perspective. The bread of life speech, which contains the section where Jesus famously tells us that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, is symbolically establishing a unity with Christ that goes beyond mere ascent to certain truths (though it is certainly not less than that). Jesus is telling us in this passage that salvation can only be found when we are bound to him. He is the only spiritual sustenance. There is no substitute. Yet for the purposes of understanding the nature of election let’s look at a few passages specifically.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Jesus begins revealing the monergistic nature of salvation when he makes a bold claim for our modern ears. This statement was made directly after his saying: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” (v36). This is a response and an explanation of why it is that they do not believe in him. Jesus will reiterate his explanation of their unbelief by eluding to their lack of election later. Remember that the context of this passage is salvation. Jesus is here informing us of not only how salvation works behind the scenes but in his bread of life monologue he informs us of what happens on the stage as well.
Now, notice that he does not say that some that the Father gives to him will come but all that the Father gives him will come to him. Jesus is here saying that every elect person will, during the course of their lifetime, come to him and be saved. What is the nature of coming to Jesus? Two things here inform us that it is nothing less than being saved through his work on the cross. First, Jesus tells us in v39 that all that come to him he will raise up on the last day. Second, Jesus elaborates this statement further by saying in v40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Now the question is, who is given?
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Here Jesus lays out a clear statement regarding our ability to come to him. Notice the order in which someone is saved. First the Father must draw him and then he is saved. So the Father elects those who are to be saved, then he gives them to his son for saving by drawing them to his son. Jesus tells us here that he will raise these elect ones up on the last day. We see the same salvific language used again as it was above. What Jesus is saying is clear: if you are elect you will be saved and he will not loose a single one.
The usual reply here is that God draws everyone and than man must decide with his free will whether or not to accept the drawing. The first problem with this is that if that were the case than Jesus has failed in his mission to save all that God has drawn. Secondly, in v37 we read that all that the Father gives to the son will come to him and be saved. So in this context we are reading Jesus continued explanation of that reality. If this drawing was of all people than in this context all must be saved. Thirdly, this is meant as a form of explanation for why it is that he is being rejected. But if the ultimate cause of rejection is a bad choice made by a will that is free in a libertarian sense, than this explanation makes no sense.
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
If one was given to question the nature of the giving and drawing of the Father in the above passages they need only to turn to this verse for further explanation. Here Jesus returns to election as an explanation for why these unbelieving peoples were in fact unbelieving. James White writes of this passage:
“God draws those that He gives to the Son. What is the nature of this “drawing”? We can gain some understanding by noting the repetition of the thought of this verse later, in verse 65, where we read, “Because of this I said to you that no one is able to come to Me except it is given to him by the Father.” Some translations speak of the Father “enabling” men to come to the Son. Jesus is clearly referring back to verse 44 when He says this, so then the “drawing” is restated in terms of it “being given to them” or of the Father’s “enabling” men to come to Christ.” - James White, Drawn By The Father
Romans 9: The Humbling Truth
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.
A full exposition of Romans 9 is well beyond the scope of this post. For that I will refer you to John Pipers excellent work The Justification of God. Here I will simply briefly explore a few sections out of this passage.
Paul is in this chapter taking a brief aside in order to explain an issue that the doctrine of salvation by grace alone brings up. The Orthodox Jew would no doubt look at Romans 1-8 and say “Wait a second. If it is true that we are saved by grace through faith than what of the promises that God made to Israel? Have they failed because not all Jews are saved?”
To that Paul responds with a twofold answer. First not every Jew by race is a child of the promise to be saved that God gave to the patriarchs. The children of the promise are rather those who are saved by faith. Second, God is justified in this because of his purposes of election. Paul then cuts off a Jewish rebuttal that that would be unjust by quoting what God said to Moses. God is the one who chooses not us. Paul is here placing salvation totally in God’s sovereign hands. John Piper confirms this:
“Paul’s preliminary defense (Rom 9:6–13) of the truthfulness of God’s promise is to argue from the Old Testament that the promises of God never were intended to guarantee the salvation of every individual Israelite. His promise gave expression to an “electing purpose” (9:11) by which God aims to preserve his complete freedom in determining who will be the beneficiaries of his saving promises, who will be the “Israel” within Israel (9:6b). His purpose is thus maintained by means of the predestination of individuals to their respective eternal destinies.” - John Piper, The Justification of God
This is when we hear the angry reply by the libertarian Free Will proponent: “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” to this Paul replies:
 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? - Romans 9:20–24
Paul tells us that it is God’s purpose to set on display his great mercy by passing over some and allowing them to continue in their hatred and rebellion to God. In this passage we read of salvation in the most humbling of ways. Yet this is not the only purpose for the doctrine of election.
Ephesians 1: The Praiseworthy Truth
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…
I will wrap up this post with what I feel is one of the most comforting functions that this doctrine is supposed to fill. We are supposed to understand this great truth in order to bring humble praise to our lips every day.
In this great eulogy Paul writes of the wonderful blessings that God has give his elect. Paul tells us that we have been given every spiritual blessing that there is to be had. This is such an amazing truth! Praise God for the wonder of his mercy and grace! Yet Paul does not stop there in his praise. Paul tells us that we were chosen before the foundations of the world for salvation. We were predestined for adoption as sons In Jesus Christ. This is a magnificence truth to hold up and bring awe to all of God’s Children!
In the next post we will take a look a the doctrine of Definite Atonement.
Series Table of Contents:
Reason 1-Part 2: Unconditional Election
Reason 1-Part 3: Definite Atonement
Reason 1-Part 4: Powerful Grace
Reason 1-Part 5: Perseverance of the Saints
Reason 1-Part 6 Objections
Reason 2: The Philosophical Failure of Libertarian Free Will.
Reason 3-Part 1: Compatibilism, the true nature of mankind's will according to the Bible.
Reason 3-Part 2: Compatibilism, the true nature of mankind's will according to sound Philosophy.
Why does all this matter?