Election: Conditional or Unconditional?

In an article entitled pick me: Unconditional Election” Clint Archer writes:

Everyone who believes the Bible does believe in election. Ooh, them be fight’n words. Let me explain…

The Greek word for elect means chosen or called out from a group. Used eighteen times by six NT authors. Yes, even in the NIV. So it cannot be ignored or denied. The debate pivots only on the matter of election being conditional or unconditional.

Arminians say ‘I owe my election to my faith.’

Calvinists say ‘I owe my faith to my election.’

One says God elects those who will believe. The other says God elects, so they will believe.

I’m not putting words in their mouths. In the Articles of Faith of the National Association of Freewill Baptists, Article 9 states:

God determined from the beginning to save all who should comply with the conditions of salvation. Hence by faith in Christ men become his elect.”

i.e., your salvation is conditional on your faith.

So, does God elect you and therefore give you faith that saves, or does he recognize those who have faith, and therefore elects to save them? These questions must be answered by God’s word.

Is election conditional upon faith?

Let me ask you this: Did God, according to the Bible, chose you before or after you had faith?

Ephesians 1:4-5 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…

Pop quiz: Did God choose you at the time you believed in Jesus, or before? Let me make it easier: did he chose you before or after you were born? “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world …”

God chose who he would save before they believed in Jesus, before they repented, before they prayed a prayer, before they were born, or before the world was created. (To be clear, I’m not saying he saved them before they had faith, only that he chose them to eventually be saved before they had faith.)

Election cannot be conditional on faith, because it happens before you believe and before you are born.

Romans 9: 11-13 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 his call- she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Why do Arminians not tap out when they read Romans 9?

Let me start by asserting categorically that Arminians are believers. They believe in grace by faith alone, they trust in Jesus alone to save them. But the explanation of how that happens they base on their experience and emotional reactions, instead of on Scripture. They say, ‘I remember choosing God. I’m not just a robot!’ And they feel that the doctrine of election makes God out to be callous in that he doesn’t elect everybody, and they say that predestination makes us puppets with no free will. They fear that the doctrine will dampen evangelism and curtail missions.

But all of these are straw men arguments. No true Calvinist is fatalistic or indifferent to evangelism and missions. History proves otherwise. Think of Charles “the Soul-winner” Spurgeon, Jonathan “Spark of Revival” Edwards, George “the Evangelist” Whitefield, George “Orphan Savior” Mueller, and our contemporary champions of missions, John “Let the Nations Be Glad” Piper, John “Grace Advance” MacArthur. Time would fail to mention Westminster, every Puritan, and Sproul, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, Machen, Mohler, Dever, Mahaney, and pretty much everyone whose sermons inspire a love for deep doctrine and evangelism. Oh, and I forgot one…Paul.

Romans 8: 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,…

How do Arminians side-step foreknowledge and predestination?

The way Arminians get around it is to postulate that, ‘God looked down through the corridors of time and elected those whom he saw would believe in Jesus of their own free will; he then elected them based on the condition of their faith. That is predestination.’

I.e. God knew who would choose him, and the responded by choosing them first.

Two problematic speed bumps hinder that view: 1) what the word foreknew means. The Greek word progvwsis or foreknow used 5x in the NT, means ‘to intimately know beforehand.’

It is not used to speak of a prediction, but of a pre-ordination. What does that mean? Listen to one of the other clear uses of foreknowledge…

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Jesus’ death was man’s doing, but it was the “definite plan of God.” Foreknowledge = plan. God didn’t predict that Jesus would be crucified; God ordained that Jesus would be crucified for our sins. It wasn’t a response to what he knew we would do to Jesus, it was the master plan all along. So was your salvation! So, that is the first problem with the “corridors of time” theory. It’s not what foreknow means. There is another problem…

2) The logical fallacy. Arminians say God knew who would choose him, so he chose them. But this mocks God’s use of language. It’s verbal gymnastics of RobBellian proportions to say that.

Charles Spurgeon explains:

God gives faith, therefore He could not have elected them on faith that he foresaw. There shall be twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a shilling; but will anyone say I determined to give that one shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense.

When Arminians, say that “God foreknew who would elect him, so he elected them,” they reverse the meaning of election. That’s analogous to saying “Shakespeare knew MacBeth would kill king Duncan, so he wrote the play that way.” If he knows that is how it will turn out, and he writes the play, that is the same as saying he made it turn out that way.

Loraine Boettner agrees:

Foreknowledge implies certainty and certainty implies foreknowledge. If God knows the course of history, then history will follow that course as certainly as a locomotive on its tracks.

What about free will?

The Bible doesn’t say there is no free will. It says your will is only free to choose what it is able to choose. (What Luther called the Bondage of the Will; your will is bound to choose sin.) Like a leopard who has free choice to elect eating the vegan salad or the juicy tourist. Its free will is spring-loaded to choose according the nature of a carnivore.

Remember what we learned in Despicable Me: the Doctrine of Total Depravity? …

Jer 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

I am can choose between Coke and Diet Coke. But I can’t choose to fly like a bird.

One of the grammar lessons my mom used to drill home to me was the difference between may and can.

‘Mom, can I have a cookie?’

‘I don’t know can you? Is it too big for your mouth? Oh, you mean “May I have a cookie?”’

I thought, why do I need to know that? Turns out it’s important in theology.

It’s not a matter of may a person choose Christ (everyone in the world may come to Christ at any moment to be saved); the question is can they choose Christ (are they able to without help)?

Here’s what the Bible says…

John 6:44 No one can [is able to] come to me unless the Father draws him. (see also 37 …all the Father gives me will come.)

Is 46:9-11 …I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass.

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father draws him. [Which comes first, coming or drawing?]

1 Cor 1:28-29 God chose what is low and despised in the world, … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Election gives all credit to God.

Matt 13:10-11 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

Apparently God decided who should respond and who not.

Acts 13:48 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.

A crowd heard Paul’s preaching and who believed? Those “appointed to eternal life.”

Clincher: John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.

Jesus elected his apostles, so apparently their free will was not consulted.

Your objection might be this: I don’t believe that God would chose some and not all. That’s fine, but don’t say “I don’t believe in election.” Say, “I don’t believe the Bible.”

2 thoughts on “Election: Conditional or Unconditional?

  1. A very thoughtful article. There is another take on this by Norman Geisler in his book “Chosen but free”. I’m not saying that I agree with him but his line is an interesting one. He says that election isn’t based on foreknowledge but according to foreknowledge. He believes that election is unconditional from God’s standpoint but conditional from ours.

    Have you come across his book, and what did you make of it?

    Regards

    James

  2. Hi James,

    Yes, I am very much aware of Norman Geisler’s book “Chosen but free.” What did I make of it? Well, I found it very lacking to be honest. I believe Dr. James White’s book “The Potter’s Freedom” which is a direct response to Geisler’s book, thoroughly refute’s Geisler’s argumentation.

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