Unconditional Election - Definition, Scripture, and Defense

The doctrine of unconditional election teaches that salvation is the result of God's sovereign grace, apart from anything good or bad that God foresees.
Unconditional Election

Table of Contents

  1. Unconditional Election - Definition
  2. Bible Verses that Support the Doctrine of Unconditional Election
    1. Romans 9
    2. Ephesians 1
    3. John 6
    4. Other Bible Passages
  3. Does the doctrine of unconditional election mean that God predestines some to hell?
  4. Answers to Objections
    1. Predestination Is Based upon God's Foreknowledge

^ 1. Unconditional Election - Definition

The doctrine of unconditional election teaches that individuals are saved by God's sovereign choice, and not by their free will or anything good or bad that God foresees in them.

^ 2. Bible verses that support the doctrine of unconditional election

The doctrine of unconditional election is clearly and undoubtedly taught by Scripture. Below is a list of passages about unconditional election, with commentary on these passages.

^ A. Romans 9

Romans 9:10-23 is one of the strongest passages that clearly teach unconditional election. Here is the passage:

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

We learn the following things from this passage:

  1. Jacob and Esau's fates were determined by God "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad." This passages explicitly states that God's choosing of Jacob and rejecting of Esau was completely unconditional.
  2. Paul anticipates the objection of unfairness in verse 14 and 19: "Is there injustice on God's part?" and "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"
  3. Paul's answer to this objection by stating that God simply has the right to unconditionally choose some people for salvation to demonstrate the glory of his mercy and choose others for condemnation to demonstrate the glory of his justice and wrath. We, as the creation, simply have no authority or right to challenge the decisions of our creator.

^ B. Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 is another passage that clearly teaches the doctrine of unconditional election. The passage says this:

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 through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will

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

From this passage, we learn the following:

  1. That God "chose us in him before the foundation of the world" means that salvation is unconditional—it was decided for us long before we were ever born. (verse 4)
  2. God predestined His people for adoption, or for salvation. (verse 5)
  3. God's sovereign choice was not because of anything He foresaw in anyone, but rather was "according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will," or in other words, it was unconditional.

^ C. John 6

John 6:37-40, 64-65 is yet another passage that is very clear about the doctrine of unconditional election. Here is the passage:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 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. 40 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.

64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

From this passage, we learn the following:

  1. The only people who will be saved are those whom the Father gives to Jesus. (verse 65)
  2. Everyone whom the Father gives to Jesus will be saved. (verse 37 and 39)

^ D. Other Bible Passages

Here is a length list of other passages that similarly teach unconditional election:

Acts 11:18

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 13:48

48 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.

Acts 16:14

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

Revelation 17:8

8 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.

Matthew 22:14

14 For many are called, but few are chosen

Matthew 11:27

27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Mark 13:20

20 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.

John 15:19

19 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 15:16

16 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 18:27

27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed,

Romans 8:28

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 10:20

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me."

Romans 11:4-8

4 But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day."

Ephesians 2:8-10

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Philippians 1:29-30

29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 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.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 Thessalonians 2:13

13 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 1:8-10

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 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, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

2 Timothy 2:24-25

24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

Philippians 2:12-13

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Revelation 17:14

14 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."

1 Peter 2:9

9 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.

Psalms 65:4

4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!

^ 3. Does the doctrine of unconditional election mean that God predestines some to hell?

If the doctrine of unconditional election is true, then doesn't that mean that anyone whom God does not predestine for salvation is instead predestined to hell? Or, in other words, does the Bible teach reprobation?

Here is a twofold answer to this question:

  1. As we learned from the doctrine of total depravity, every human being is a sinner, and so every human being deserves to be punished with hell. So, if God indeed predestines some to hell, that does not mean God is being unfair or predestining innocent people to hell. Even if a person is predestined for hell, everyone who is punished with hell fully deserves that punishment.
  2. The Bible does indeed teach that some people are predestined for hell. In addition to Romans 9 above, here are two more passages that teach the doctrine of reprobation:

    1 Peter 2:8

    and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

    Acts 4:27-28

    27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

^ 4. Answers to Objections

^ A. PredestinatioN Is Based upon God's Foreknowledge

The Argument

Some argue that Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Peter 1:1-2 teach that election and predestination are based upon God's foreknowledge of what people would freely choose during their lives, and are not unconditional. Here are the relevant verses:

Romans 8:29-30 - 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
1 Peter 1:1-2 - 1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 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.

The Answer

To answer this argument, we need to understand what the concept of "foreknowledge" means within the context of the Bible. The primary problem with this argument against unconditional election is that it defines "foreknowledge" in a way that is foreign to the Bible.

Interpretation of Romans 8:29-30

This passage contains an unbreakable chain of events such that none of them can be separated. Everyone whom God "foreknew" is also "predestined," "justified," and "glorified."

It simply makes no sense to say that those whom God foreknew would freely choose Him He also predestined. To define "foreknew" in this manner completely undermines the definition of "predestined."

Rather, the word "foreknew" here means "foreloved." God decided to have relationships with particular people, and these people He predestined, justified, and glorified.

Interpretation of 1 Peter 1:1-2

In this passage, we see that certain people are "elect exiles... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. In other words, certain people are "elect" because of God's foreknowledge—or, God's foreknowledge is the cause of certain people being elected.

The passage does not say that God's foreknowledge was a passive knowledge of who were the elect exiles. God's foreknowledge here plays an active role in these people being elect.

Again, here, one way to rephrase the verse may be, "according to the foreloving of God the Father." God foreloved, or decided to have a relationship with, particular people, and it is because of this prior love that these people are "elect."

Read the full response

To read the full response to this objection, visit God's "Foreknowledge" and Unconditional Election

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