CALVINISM: UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
DISCLAIMER: The material in this article may offend those with other viewpoints. This article is not meant to offend or cause any emotional harm to anybody. I have written this piece to both share my experiences with this topic and to hopefully help others who are interested in this doctrine. And if you'd like to make the most of this article, go grab your dusty Bible under that lamp and follow along. May you be blessed in reading this as I did in writing it.
Now...recently I started this series about Calvinism (also known as the Doctrines of Grace) by writing an article on the subject of Total Depravity. We discussed, in very few words, the acronym TULIP and how it is used to easily explain the main tenets of the Doctrines of Grace. Here the acronym is again to refresh your memory:
ACRONYM TULIP stands for:
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irrisistable Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints
For this column, I'd like to expound on the second topic of Calvinism: Unconditional Election. I'm honestly hoping that you find it both helpful and challenging in your mind. It's a tough doctrine to get around, and at one time I hated the subject. Actually, for two years I fought tooth and nail against it. That's until I read Scripture and took it for what it said.
So let's begin by defining terms that will better help us understand the final subject: Unconditional Election.
L-O-V-E. What a word! Such a powerful word! An earth-shaking word. The word that has built the Taj Mahal. The word that has united armies, defeated nations, and even created masterpieces. But it's not just a word, is it? Love is much more.
And then we could talk about unconditional love. But what would we be communicating by using the word unconditional? What does this word mean? Uncondtional. Let me assume some of you may not know exactly what this term means (although you most likely do).
Unconditional: unmitigated, unreserved, unquestioning, no matter the fault, complete, full, absolute, unrestricted, wholehearted, no matter what.
The term unconditional used with the word love represents a love that has no condition. Yeah, yeah, I know. You want more. You can't just take away the un and define it. Okay, so unconditional love has nothing to do with the one being loved. There is no prerequisite or necessary trait, quality, or action that the one being loved has had to do to deserve or even receive this love. The lover simply loves because he/she chooses to love, from his/her own desire. Because the love that is displayed is unconditional, it has absolutely nothing to do with the recipient. And that's a good thing. And here's why: if there's nothing that caused the lover to love except his/her own desire, then there is nothing that you have done or can do to separate yourself from this love. I repeat: it does not depend upon your will or exertion to be loved or even to be unloved. It depends solely on the one choosing to love.
I must interject here and say that I really like that about unconditional love. Most people who say they are in love today only love each other because they are receiving something from the other person. For example, when asked by a counselor or friend why William loves Sherry, he replies, "Because she makes me feel special. We have so many things in common. And I am able to be myself around her." Ummm...those all sound really nice, but they are selfish and cannot be claimed as unconditional. All of these things depend upon her, not him. He loves her because she does something to deserve that love. What if Sherry stopped making William feel special or was really upset with him for acting like he always did before? Would he stop loving her? Yeah, because the crutch that he held onto was that she did something for him. Therefore this love is not unconditional, but selfish.
Now if William continued to love Sherry through the tough times. She may cheat on him, she may hate him, she may even shout obscenities at him, but if he continues to fight for her and choose to love her dispite her actions, that would prove to be unconditional. That is the very definition of unconditional love.
Now we turn to the other 50% of this equation: election. What does this term denote? We don't see it much in our everyday lives, except when our politicians want to persuade us to vote for them. Election does have an implication of voting, but a little differently. From the Christian perspective, the Bible claims that God Himself has done the act of election. He has literally chosen people. A sort of voting. Before the creation of the world, God voted for people. For what, you might ask. Well, for the greatest gift we could receive, Himself. Which is also known as salvation (John 17:3). For clarity let's actually define the biblical use of the term election.
Election: the act of God choosing some people for salvation before the beginning of time.
Okay, now let's turn to the Bible for perspicuity and support for this doctrine. Hopefully you have your Bible opened and ready. We'll be moving through much of Scripture.
- Romans 9:6-26 (The most compelling and solid evidence of God's election)
- Romans 8:28-33 (The second most persuasive verse that God elects certain people)
- Acts 13:48 (Explains that belief comes AFTER election)
- John 10:26 (Jesus doesn't say "you aren't my sheep b/c you don't believe", but "you don't believe b/c you are not my sheep", indicating election determines belief)
- John 8:47 (You do not hear God b/c you are not chosen of God)
- John 18:37 (Those who listen are somehow already of the truth)
- Ephesians 1:3-6 (He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world)
- Philippians 2:12-13 (everything you do to work out your salvation, God is really doing in you)
- 1 Peter 1:3 (God caused us to be born again)
- 1 Peter 1:1 (We are called elect)
- Genesis 18:19 (God chooses people for His desires)
- Isaiah 41:9 (God chooses people)
- Isaiah 43:6-7 (God creates people for His glory)
- John 6:44 (You can't come unless God draws you)
- John 6:65 (You can't come unless God grants you)
- John 10:16 (Jesus has other people already chosen to be in his fold)
- Matthew 24:22 (There are an elect)
- Matthew 24:24 (The elect cannot be lead astray)
- Matthew 24:31 (The elect will be gathered)
- Romans 11:7 (The elect receive salvation, the rest are hardened)
- 2 Timothy 2:10 (There are a certain group of elect people)
- 2 Peter 1:10 (We prove our election by the way we live)
- Revelation 13:8 (The elect's names are written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world)
Hopefully this will give you a clear understanding that, even if you don't believe in the final concept of this doctrine, election permeates Scripture. You can't deny that fact. It's everywhere. And I've only given you a small taste of it. There are stories of people who are chosen and people who are hardened, such as Pharaoh.
And Romans 9 is a chapter in Scripture that go deep into the doctrine of election and explains how it happens and more importantly, why. Let's get down into the trenches of this chapter a little and discuss some of the issues that explain election and its unconditionality.
In this section of Romans 9, Paul is trying to persuade his readers that belonging to the children of God does not depend upon your nationality or blood, but upon the election of God. The Israelites were prone to believe that they were chosen by God (which they were) and if they were only an Israelite they would be saved (which is not true). Paul go on to explain that not all Israelites are saved because they are Israelites. The children of God are those not necessarily born of Israel, but born of the promise. He proves this by showing that God chose (elected) Jacob, but not his brother Esau.
The key here to show that God's election is unconditional is in verse 11. God elected Jacob, but not Esau before they were born. Before they could do anything good or bad. So it did not depend upon them. It depended upon God's choice (election). This totally solidifies God's election depending upon any action or choice of our own. But let's go further.
Wow! This is the same passage that completely transformed my thinking. Talk about convincing! Because after reading that God loved Jacob; that He chose Jacob; that this all happened before they were even born, the natural question that comes out of our yelling mouths is "That is so unfair!" So Paul jumps in and answers this accusation. Is God unjust on choosing one over the other? Paul says no. God can do whatever He wants. He chooses whom He will have mercy on and whom He doesn't. It's definitely not unfair or unjust for God to leave Esau in his natural state. The unfair part comes upon Jacob. Jacob never deserved anything from God, let alone being saved. So if anything's unfair, it's that Jacob gets to be saved. Because of our natural state of total depravity, none of us deserve to be elected and saved. But God is rich in mercy.
Then Paul goes on to explain that this election or choosing "depends not on human will or exertion, but on God". This goes against everything we are taught in church today. The pastor tells us, make a decision, and you'll be saved. Say this prayer and you're good-to-go. Come on! If Scripture is what we are to hold to, then it does not depend upon us, but upon God, who is rich in mercy! And that's why it's unconditional election. And that's what makes grace, grace. Unmerited favor.
Now Paul gives us an example of God not only electing, but doing the opposite, hardening. God not only elects people to salvation, but hardens others from ever receiving salvation. He did this with Pharaoh. And why might we ask? God says, to "show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
This statement hits at the center of all that explains election and predestination. It answers the question why, which is so important. Why does God harden some and elect others? Now this answer could be explained in a much more thorough article, but I'll summarize it here. God elects people for salvation and others for damnation for His own glory. He deserves and desires to be glorified and to be known by the whole world. But there's another reason as well. Let's get to that as well.
God not only wants the world to know His glory, but more specifically, He desires that those who are elect (the vessels of mercy) will know His glory much more because there are people destined for destruction and they are not them. Let me explain. You cannot know true love without hate. You cannot understand grace if you have done nothing wrong. You cannot know mercy if God saved everybody. Since we know that EVERYBODY deserves hell, then unconditional election magnifies God's grace and mercy because He has chosen you and not others. How many people did God step over to get to you? Don't you now feel loved and special?
Real life example: How would you feel if the love of your life loved everybody? Not very unique or special. Now imagine your love passing through crowds and crowds of people, pushing them aside, to get to you. Now you are truly loved and found to be special. God loves you in this way. I know it's hard to handle, because you are thinking about all those people that aren't chosen.
Those people that aren't elected: that is what they want. Their deepest desires are not for God. They get exactly what they want. They get a life free from God, from obedience, from trust. They are their own gods. And that's their heart's yearning. So God leaves them in that.
* For a complete understanding and deep study of Romans 9, I couldn't recommend more highly, The Justification of God, by John Piper.
PROVE YOUR ELECTION
But there is an answer to your burning question: "am I elected?" You may very well be, but you must believe. You must have faith. And not just faith in anything. God tells us to believe in Christ. The alternative is to remain under God's wrath. Read the whole chapter of John 3 for this explanation. Jesus Christ (who is God) came to Earth to take upon Himself the wrath of God. You are a sinner and deserve hell for your rebellion upon God. Your sins must be paid for. God's wrath must be appeased. So Jesus steps in, lives the perfect life we should have lived, and dies the death that we deserve to die. And if you would trust in Christ and His sacrifice upon your behalf, you will prove to be one of the elect. And you will receive the blessings of God. Prove your election and believe upon Jesus!
* If you were offended by this article, I am sorry, but it most likely wasn't me doing the offending. Jesus said that the truth will offend. In our modern day, people are do zealous about being seekers of the truth, but they never want to be people who have found the truth. Let's be people who find the truth and share it with others. We only have one life to live. Live it well...with eternity in mind.