Errors of Calvinism (3): Unconditional Election

Anyone reading the New Testament cannot escape the conclusion that God has elected (chosen) certain persons and predestined (predetermined) them for eternal blessing. The thorny question is, “How and why did He choose them?” Did it depend on Him alone, or only on the gospel decision of the people concerned, which, of course, He knew about beforehand anyway? If it depended on God alone, the election (choice) is called “unconditional,” but if it actually depended on the faith of the individuals concerned, it is called “conditional.” Arminius’s argument was the latter, i.e., that God chose those whom He knew beforehand would choose Christ. This was meant to counter Calvin’s earlier contention that men being dead were unable of themselves to choose Christ. So in effect Calvin said, God chose the believers, then they – and only they – could choose Christ as Savior.

In the previous article we showed that man is a responsible creature – indeed the sovereign God chose to make man so! Thus, man could choose Christ, but would he choose Christ? Of course God knew who would be saved, but did this prior knowledge determine His choice?

Do we, in trying to understand the basis of election, have to make our selection between God choosing because man could not, and man choosing because he could? We argue here that such a choice is unnecessary and that both divine sovereignty and human responsibility coexist even though they are irreconcilable to our finite, human minds. So we can say, God chose the elect, and all who hear the gospel can choose to be saved.


God the Father had blessed Paul and the Ephesian believers “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” just as He had chosen them out of the mass of humanity for Himself (Eph 1: 4). Paul is writing in the first place about the Ephesians and himself as individuals. God had chosen them in Christ, just as all His dealing in grace had, and always will be, “in Him.” In the same way He would also head up all things “in Him” in millennial days (see Eph 1:10). The latter verse shows us that the expression “in Him” is not exhausted by thoughts of the membership of the church which is His body, as those who favor corporate election claim.

In the same way, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers saying that he, Silas, and Timothy, “give thanks alway to God for you … because God hath … chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto He called you by our gospel” (2Thes 2:13, 14). Here we find divine sovereignty and human responsibility brought together, but not apologized for or explained! We also see how God works out His eternal purposes in time through the work of the Holy Spirit – God chose, the Holy Spirit set apart, and the Thessalonians believed the truth of the gospel. Paul, Silas, and Timothy had already given “thanks to God always for you all … knowing … your election of God” (1Thes 1:2-4). They knew about the election of the believers in Thessalonica by their clear conversion, when they, at great expense to themselves, had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1Thes 1:9, see also 2Peter 1:10). James also brings the two thoughts together: “Has not God chosen the poor as to the world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to them that love Him?” (James 2:5, Darby).

We read about God’s elect in Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12, and Titus 1:1. Individuals are said to be elect, as the lady in 2 John 1 and her sister in 2 John 13, as well as Rufus in Romans 16:13. The Jewish believing remnant today are elect, (Romans 11:5, 7, 28) as are the tribulation saints of a future day (Matt 22:14; 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7). We also note those believers stated to be with the Lamb in Revelation 17:14 are “called, and chosen, and faithful.” We see an interesting point raised by Paul about his endurance of suffering “for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation” (2Tim 2:10). Lastly, we note in Acts 13:48 that in Antioch and Pisidia when “the Gentiles heard … [the gospel] … as many as were ordained [appointed] to eternal life believed.” (There have been attempts to translate the word “ordained” as “disposed,” and to make it a reflexive verb, but the author has yet to find a reliable translation or major concordance which does not say “ordained” or “appointed.” See Romans 13:1 for the same word.)


Is election determined by foreknowledge? Did God just choose those whom He knew would believe? Peter addresses his readers as “strangers … elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1:1; 2:9). Their election is according to God’s foreknowledge, that is to say, “perfectly consistent with” His foreknowledge, His understanding being infinite (Psa 147:5; see also Acts 15:18). Likewise, elsewhere, we read of foreknowledge in the context of predestination (Rom 8:29, 30; Eph 1:5, 11).


God has elected (chosen) certain people and destined them for eternal blessing, all according to His purpose. This did not depend on anything that those individuals did, or on God knowing anything about them beforehand, thus, election is unconditional. As the Scofield Reference Bible says (note at 1Peter 1:2): “Election is … the sovereign act of God in grace whereby certain are chosen from among mankind for Himself.” “I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19 ).