Calvinism: Unconditional Election – Part 1

We are continuing our look at the Doctrines of Grace, commonly referred to as Calvinism. Today we are specifically looking at the second letter of the T.U.L.I.P. acronym, U, which stands for Unconditional Election. The first question that we have to ask before we deal with anything else is, “What is Unconditional Election?”

Unconditional Election is the doctrine that states God sovereignly chooses whom He will save based on His good will and pleasure and His choice is not determined by any foreseen choice of one’s future individual choice of faith, or any other condition that would cause God to choose them. The best way to understand this doctrine is to understand that Unconditional Election answers the question, “Why does God choose or elect people for salvation?” This definition both gives parameters to best understand this biblical doctrine and also confronts some unbiblical thinking on this doctrine.

Many try to answer the question, “Why does God choose or elect people for salvation?” By saying well God is outside of time (which is true), so because He is outside of time, God sees a person’s choice to either place their faith in Christ or reject Him. Then based on their future choice, God would choose them or not choose them, this is known as the prescience view. There are at least two large errors in this assumption.

First, it’s completely inconsistent with an overall biblical theology of how God responds to His image-bearers. If God chooses based on man’s future choice, then you must conclude that man’s decisions determines God’s actions. Again, this is contrary to what we see throughout the scriptures. God is completely free and sovereign and doesn’t act based on our decisions, but out of His sovereign will and good pleasure. The objection is normally brought up that the Apostle Paul clearly teaches this understanding of foreknowledge. The problem with this is we are forcing a modern understanding of this term on first century word. Advocates of the prescience view break the word up fore- and knowledge and point it obviously means to know ahead of time. The problem is again forcing our modern understanding on the language. The Greek term used is gnosis or “to know.” The first century Jewish mind would have equated not simply an ascent to knowledge or facts, but a deep intimate relationship. It is the equivalent term used in the Old Testament referring to when a husband and wife would join in sexual intimacy. “To know” one’s spouse was a deep, intimate experience. It’s why theologian Bruce Demarest concludes that it is better to understand foreknowledge as God’s forelove. That God in eternity past chose to set His love on some, and those whom God chose to set His love on, were then predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is God acting upon His creation, It is God setting His love on sinners, not the other way around. The elect are chosen not because of their choice, but because of the eternal love of God the Father.

The second problem with the prescience view is it completely contradicts specific passages of scripture on why God chooses His elect (Matt. 11:25-27; 20:1-16; John 5:21; 10:26-29; 13:18; 17:6, 8-10; Acts 13:48; 18:10; Rom. 8:28-30; 9-11; Gal. 1:15-16; Eph. 1:3-4; 2 Thes. 2:13-14). There are so many passages that proclaim God’s unconditional election, but I want to look at Ephesians 1. This passage out of all of them deals with subject more in depth than just about every other passage except possibly Romans 9.

Ephesians 1:3-5a “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…Here is the 1st reason why God chose us…God loved us.

Ephesians 1:5b “for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” Here is reason #2…Why did God choose us?… because He felt like it.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Here is reason #3…Why did God choose us? for the praise of His name!

Ephesians 1:7-9a 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...” Again why did God do this? For the second time Paul says…because God wanted to.

Ephesians 1:9b-11 “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, This is three times in one sentence that Paul says God chose the elect…simply because he wanted to.

Ephesians 1:12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” The glory of God is central to election.

Ephesians 1:13-14 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.” This paragraph on unconditional election ends with God receiving the glory.

Charles Spurgeon the great 19th century preacher one said:

“I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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