The second doctrine of Calvinism, Unconditional Election, is based on the first, Total Hereditary Depravity. Calvinists say that since mankind is totally depraved and cannot respond in faithful obedience to the invitation of Jesus -- people cannot choose for themselves to obey or disobey God -- then God had to choose for mankind. Unconditional Election states that God chose some to obey and some to disobey.
Unconditional Election is the belief that God, with no regard to the will of man, made an eternal choice of certain persons unto eternal life and some to eternal damnation and that number is so fixed that it cannot be changed.
Rooted in Calvin's view of the sovereignty of God, Unconditional Election is also referred to as the doctrine of predestination.
This article will examine the doctrine of Unconditional Election by seeing how it is expressed by those denominations and individuals who promote it; defining predestination; analyzing the proof texts used to support it; and citing some Scriptural objections to it.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states, "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." (Chap. III, art. 3,4 &5; Chap. X, art. 2)
The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. says, "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass … By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite it cannot be either increased or diminished." (Chap. III)
The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 says, "Those of mankind who are predestinated unto Life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable Purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ to everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto."
Calvin's Institutes states, "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 doctrine that the salvation or damnation of individuals has been foreordained by God; the determination beforehand of future events." (Webster's Dictionary, 1977 edition, p.289)
To understand predestination, one must understand the Greek word proorizo. This Greek word is translated three different ways in the King James Version of the Bible: "predestinated," "ordained," "determined before." It is translated "foreordained" in every occurrence in the American Standard Version of the Bible. It means, "To limit or mark out beforehand; to design definitely beforehand, ordain beforehand, predestine." (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p, 345) It "…denotes to mark out beforehand, to determine before, foreordain." (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 307) A.T. Robertson says it means, "To define or decide beforehand." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, p. 517)
A summary from Scripture reveals that predestination refers to Jehovah's creation of man and His determination beforehand of the conditions through which man might live with Him eternally. It concerns the Father's predetermination that all people who meet His conditions would live eternally in heaven and all who refuse submission to those conditions would suffer eternal damnation.
Acts 4:28. Calvinists use this text to say that God purposed all things before the foundation of the world. One must ask, "What was ‘determined before?'" The answer is the death of Jesus. Jesus' death had been prophesied as part of God's plan to save mankind. (Luke 22:21, 22; Acts 2:22, 23) The Jews did not realize that they were fulfilling God's plan. God did not force them to kill His Son. They were accountable for their actions.
Acts 13:48. The argument here is that God, before the foundation of the world, appointed only certain individuals to life. This verse does not state that those who were ordained to eternal life were given it apart from their own will. Belief is made a condition to eternal life. Thus, as many as had been appointed put on Christ, or met the conditions. Reversing the sentence causes the true thought to be clearer: Those who believed became part of those who had been appointed to eternal life.
Romans 8:28-30. The argument from this passage is that God, before the foundation of the world, predestinated certain individuals to salvation. Under consideration in this passage are "those who love God" (v. 28), not just a few who God loves and "those who are called according to His purpose." (v. 28) One is not called by a still small voice or by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit but by the gospel. (2 Thes. 2:14) Those who hear, believe, and respond in obedience are referred to as being "called." (Gal. 1:6; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 2:9)
This passage is a statement of God's entire purpose and its succession of events. God determined to send mankind a Savior to die for all who would come to Him. Then He foreordained it all before the events actually took place. In that sense, God predestinated our salvation. God foreordained that anyone who accepted His call would be conformed to the image of His Son. It is the confirmation that is predestined, not the acceptance. Those who accepted the gospel call were then justified and glorified.
1 Corinthians 2:7. The argument from this passage is the predestination of God elected certain individuals to salvation. The context shows clearly that it is God's plan of redemption that was ordained (predetermined) before the ages. The wisdom and power of God in reference to salvation are revealed in the gospel. (Rom. 1:16) In times past it had been a mystery, i.e., not fully revealed. Even the prophets did not understand it. (Note vv. 8-10) Now it is revealed as the wisdom of God. (Eph. 3:3,4)
Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11. The argument is that certain individuals are predestinated and others are not and that if one was not one of those predestinated, he is eternally damned and there is nothing he can do about it. In reality, it is a particular group or class of people that God chose before He made the world. It is those who are "in Him," i.e., those in Christ.
A school teacher, on the first day of class, told his students that some would pass and some would fail the course they were about to take. He then described the things necessary for one to be of those who would pass. At the end of the school year, just as the teacher had said, some passed and some failed. Since the teacher predestinated the outcome before he began, did it mean that he caused each individual to either pass or fail and that there was nothing they could do about it? No. Likewise, God predestinated before He made the world that He would choose those "in Christ" and revealed those things necessary for one to be in Him. It is therefore up to each individual to do those things necessary to be found in Christ and have salvation.
God has given mankind freedom of choice. He gave Adam and Eve the freedom of choice. (Gen. 2:16-17) Their choice was plain -- obey and live or disobey and die. Their choice was made through and by their own will having been influenced by Satan. Who is willing to say that since God foreknew the outcome that He forced or ordained Adam and Eve to sin? (James 1:13-14) Mankind today still has freedom of choice. (Josh. 24:15) People can choose today whether or not they will serve God. (Rev. 22:17) Both the Psalmist (Psa. 119:30) and Mary, the sister of Martha (Luke 10:42), are examples of this principle.
God is impartial -- no respecter of persons. (2 Chron. 19:7; Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11; 1 Pet. 1:17) If Unconditional Election is true then God has indiscriminately condemned those who will be eternally damned while favoring those who are of His elect. Calvinists who insist that since God is sovereign and can arbitrarily choose who to save do not realize that if God were to do that He would violate His own nature for He is also just. (Psa. 89:14) God has not exempted anyone from the opportunity to obtain eternal life. (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9)
Salvation is not wholly dependent on God. The origin of salvation is utterly dependent on Him. (Eph. 2:4-10) The reception of salvation is dependent on man. (Rev. 22:17; Phil. 2:12) The reception of salvation comes through meeting the conditions God has provided through His grace. God placed on man the responsibility of obtaining the salvation which He foreordained or predestinated. God foreordained the gospel (1 Cor. 2:7-8; 2 Tim. 1:9-10) but man must obey it in order to receive the benefits of it. (1 Pet. 4:17) God predestinated that Christ should die for man (1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8), but man must obey Him to receive His blessings. (Heb. 5:9) God foreordained that redemption would be in Christ (Eph. 1:4-7) but man must do those things to be found in Him. (Gal. 3:26-27) The church was predestinated (Eph. 3:9-11) but one must be baptized into it to be a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:13) God wants all persons saved. (1 Tim. 2:3,4; 2 Pet. 3:9) He has not arbitrarily doomed any individual without giving him a chance at eternal life.
Unconditional Election nullifies the great commission. (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16) Nothing could be more foolish than to preach the gospel to all if only people whom God arbitrarily chooses are able to understand it. If nothing can change anyone's status in relation to salvation or condemnation, why preach it? Why warn people to flee from the wrath to come? (Matt. 3:7) If they are elect, they will not incur the wrath of God regardless of what they do or do not do. If they are not elect, they cannot flee anyway. Unconditional Election nullifies the universal invitation of Christ. (Matt. 11:28-30; Rev. 22:17) Why would Jesus plead with people to do the impossible?
The Bible does teach predestination but not the Unconditional Election that Calvinists teach. It does not teach that individuals have been foreordained to life or death no matter what they do. It states that we are free moral agents with the ability to accept or reject God's commandments thus determining whether we will ultimately be saved or lost.
The predestination or foreordination of God determined that He would save sinful man through the sacrifice of His Son. Those who would respond to the gospel, His power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), and its call (2 Thes. 2:14) would become part of His elect. Those who reject the gospel and its message would be damned eternally. God will render judgment on all in the final day based on what they have done. The righteous will have life. The wicked will face the second death. Each person, not the predestination of God, determines what his/her destiny will be. (Rom. 2:3-11)
Calvinism Analyzed and Answered. This is a six lesson study which considers the doctrines of Calvinism then compares and contrasts them with Scripture to see whether or not they stand or fall in light of God's word. It can be used in a class study or presented from the pulpit. (PDF file size 430k)