“U” is for Unconditional Election. In order for us to understand this biblical concept we must understand the total depravity of man first (hence the letter “T”). A quick recap of man’s condition will be given first. Then we will define our phrase unconditional election and see how this is not some concept forced upon the text of Scripture, like some may suggest, but that it is found directly within its pages. And while we look at Scripture we will see why conditional election is false. Lastly, we will see what the proper response of Christians should look like given this truth.
Many people today like to think, “All people are basically good.” Sure there are the dictators, communist leaders, serial killers, child abusers, and the like but they are an exception to the norm. While not everyone is a murderer in the strictest sense, first degree murder, we have all been extremely angry with someone before and Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22; see Ex. 20:13). When people speak of being basically good this is always based on our finite human understanding and our flawed human standard. We are always looking on a horizontal level because we can always find someone worse than us, so we think.
Ephesians 2 makes it clear what the condition of man is really like. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath (vv. 1-3). In other words we are totally deprived. This does not mean we are as bad as we could be but rather that every aspect of our existence has been negatively impacted by sin: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Dead people cannot do anything and this is our spiritual state according to Paul in Ephesians 2. Therefore, without the work of God in removing a heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26-28) there will be no positive action (i.e. belief in the Lord Jesus Christ) toward God on the part of man. So we now take a look at unconditional election.
From the Text of Scripture
A proper definition of election is, “An act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1241). God did not look through the corridors of time and see which individuals would respond positively to the gospel message and then choose them. For this to be true we would have to deny the total depravity of man. For in our fallen condition we said we are unable to make any positive action toward God. It would also deny God’s sovereignty over all that He has made. If it were true that God saw in us some positive action or response in advance than we would have reason for boasting for we would have contributed something to our salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). This then radically denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone (cf. Rom. 5:1-11; Gal. 2:16; 3:7-8). Thus God’s election is not conditional, it cannot be.
Acts 13:48 says, “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.” This verse makes it clear that some were appointed (other translations “ordained”) for eternal life and therefore they believed. The clearest of places we see that God’s election of people is unconditional, meaning it is not based on anything foreseen in them, is found in Romans 9.
“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (vv. 10-13).
Paul speaks here about God choosing the younger son, Jacob, over the elder son, Esau. When reading Genesis you might gather that this was simply common practice since God chooses Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Joseph all of whom were not the firstborn. However, the practice in that day was for the firstborn son to receive a greater portion of the inheritance and blessing from his father. So when Paul references back to Esau and Jacob he reminds his readers of Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Why did God choose Jacob and not Esau? Was Jacob wiser, craftier, stronger, more handsome, a better son? None of these things. In fact Paul gives us the purpose for why Jacob was chosen over Esau “that God’s purpose of election might continue” (v. 11). And this was not based on works because it was before either was born and before either had done anything good or evil. The choosing of Jacob over Esau was based on Him who calls, that is, on God’s choosing. And this is true for those whom are elect, saved by God, that it does not rest on anything foreseen in them but solely on the sovereign decision of our gracious God.
Paul expects the possible push back he might receive in v. 14 by saying, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” A few things should be understood here. First, do you remember what our state was before the Holy Spirit regenerated our hearts? We were dead in our trespasses and sins and fully deserving of the wrath of God to be poured out on us. The fact is no one deserves salvation in the first place, not you, not me, no one. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9). Second, let’s say in a group of six people three are saved and three are not. The three that are saved received grace and mercy. The three that perish receive justice for their sins. No one receives injustice (analogy from RC Sproul). Thus Paul says in vv. 15-16, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
Some will interject here, “What about man’s free will?” Certainly Scripture makes it clear that we make choices that have real effects and consequences. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and later concluded that he was dead because of their actions (Gen. 37:25-28; 42:13). And yet Gen. 50:20 makes it clear that what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant it for good. So while Scripture does say man makes choices that have real effects it does not maintain that man is free from God’s control since everything is sustained and directed by our sovereign God (cf. Prov. 16:2, 9; 21:2). While we speak of man’s free will we ought to be concerned first and foremost with the free will of God.
Praises to the King
The biblical idea of the unconditional election of God highlights above all else the grace of God. For it stands out for what it truly is, a marvelous, amazing, nothing-else-like-it gift. The believer’s response must be a humble one that destroys any ounce of pride, and one of thanksgiving and praise to our King. And we know have greater fervor in sharing the good news because God has sovereignly elected men and women all over the world to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.