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Unconditional Election


A necessary logical conclusion of the absolute extension of God’s sovereignty and predestination, Calvin's doctrine of "Unconditional Election" explains that each man, woman, and child are chosen as saved or lost before time began. Since each man is born depraved and could not alter God’s will for him, then each man's election for salvation must be unconditional. If it were truly conditional, then man might could change God’s predetermined order, violating the assumption of predestination. Therefore, his election must stand outside of anything he may do, and the reprobate will conversely be condemned, regardless of their actions.

Implications of Unconditional Election

The doctrine of unconditional election has several necessary, logical implications and requirements. Among these are:

  1. Predestination: God has predestined ALL events concerning and related to men and their salvation
  2. Unconditional: God never places conditions on salvation or condemnation
  3. Immutable: The elect cannot be lost, and the condemned cannot be saved
  4. Irresistible: The elect cannot refuse salvation, and the condemned cannot accept it

These implications can be observed in quotations from Calvin's Institutes:

"I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy, unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree." (Institutes, Book III, chap. 23, para. 7)

"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." (Institutes, Book III, chapter 21, para. 5)

"Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at His own pleasure arranged it." (Institutes, Book III, chapter 32, p. 232)

They can also be observed in this statement of creed:

"Question: What are the decrees of God?

"Answer: God’s decrees are the wise, free and holy acts of the counsel of His will, whereby, from all eternity, He hath for His own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men" (The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 12, p. 97)


The Bible does teach that God has immutably predestined some things, even things relating to our salvation.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world , that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will," (Ephesians 1:3-5)

So, certainly God predestines certain events and outcomes, even that Jesus would die for our sins (I Peter 1:19-20).

This passage in Ephesians does teach that God has predestined those who would be saved, but it is a leap in logic to assume that God has predestined each Christian by name and independent of their own will. This passage is almost entirely ambiguous as to the basis of this predestination. The only language which refers to how Christians were predestined are the phrases, "blessed ... in Christ", "chose ... in Him", and "predestined ... by Jesus Christ". Each of these modifying phrases indicate that it is by being in Jesus, or as a member of His group, that one receives these blessings. The only "predestined" activity is that those in Christ would be adopted. The real question now is, "How does one get 'into Christ'?"

Unconditional Election?

If Calvinism be true, then it does not matter how the saint or the reprobate live. Either way, he or she is predetermined for heaven or hell, independent of their actions. Our actions would then be of no significance or concern, and certainly not the basis of our judgment. But, this is not what the Bible teaches.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (II Corinthians 5:10)

Therefore, if we receive according to what each one has done in our own body, how can "unconditional election", or even " inherited sin" be true? Moreover, there would be no way for us to make our election sure, since it would be unconditional, yet the apostle Peter said:

"Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble" (II Peter 1:10)

What is the purpose of "diligence", especially toward making our "election sure", unless it is not? And, if it is not sure, how can it be unconditional? How can this verse's language be rational if Calvinism be true? To which language will cling, Calvin's or Peter's?

The Analogy of the Olive Tree

In Romans 11, Paul uses an analogy of an olive tree to illustrate to his Gentile readers the role of the Jewish nation in their salvation. The theme of this illustration is a warning to prevent overconfidence in their current saved condition. Before we ask the fundamental question how this could even be a danger in a Calvinistic world, let us read a few verses:

For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them , and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in."

Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off , and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off . And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in , for God is able to graft them in again." (Romans 11:16-23)

Not only from this passage do we see the actual severing and removal of those who were once original, or natural branches, but we also see different branches, who were not originally branches, being grafted in their place.

If the election is ordained from before time, how is it possible that the elect should become reprobate and the reprobate could become elect? Moreover, how could "unbelief" be a condition of severance, while "continuing in His goodness" be a condition of blessing, if there are no conditions? Furthermore, the reprobated elect can become elect once again, but only "if they do not continue in unbelief". The very fact that the elect do not necessarily persevere is a testimony that the election is both changeable and conditional. It is neither immutable or unconditional. Therefore, their relationship to God was conditional upon their belief and continuing in His goodness, obedience.


No word has more impact on our study than the word, "if". It's very use implies condition and possibility. It implies the possibility of resistance and deviation. This is seen in how the word is used in the Bible. Nowhere will we read of this word being used in conjunction with events that are sure, unchangeable, or foreordained. Nowhere do we read of "If God loved us ..." or a prophecy worded "If Jesus dies on the cross...". However, we do read this word, and similar words, being used in conjunction with man's salvation and his response to God’s message - frequently and throughout the entire Bible.

"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24)

"I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3)

"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain." (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

"that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10)

Throughout the Bible, we find God pleading with men to repent and come to Him. Often He warned, through the prophets, of the punishment that would come to them if they refused to repent. In many cases, God explained "if you do not repent ..." (Jeremiah 18:1-11; Ezekiel 33:1-20). Was God lying in these situations, or was He mocking His creation mercilessly to no profit? What we see is God providing man options and a choice, promising him of the reward or punishment that awaited as a result of either choice. How can there realistically be an "if", if there are no conditions and only absolute predestination?


The conclusion of "conditional works" is difficult for many to accept. But, these are not works that earn salvation. No amount of good deeds can merit or demand our entrance to heaven. That is the price of our sin. However, true faith does not exist without these works, because it is only manifested through them (James 2:14-26). It is God’s right to require a condition for forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15), and it is our choice whether or not we want to comply with those conditions, aware the whole time that it is grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:4-10). It is not of ourselves, but it is not independent of us either (Hebrews 11:6). It is a conditional election and calling (II Peter 1:10).


Next: Limited Atonement

Be sure to consult our summary and FAQ on Calvinism for thoughts on more points related to these above that explore many common Calvinistic questions.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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