The Doctrine of Unconditional Election

by Mike Ratliff

The Doctrine of Unconditional Election is not for sissies. What I mean by that is if we adhere to this doctrine then we had better be ready for those in unbelief to attack us with their broadsides and accusations. It seems that every Pelagian out there, whether full blown Pelagian or semi-Pelagian or Arminian, is convinced that Man is not dead in his or her trespasses and sins and is fully able to elect God or not. Of course, none of their arguments hold any water because they are derived either from man-centered philosophy or from Bible verses taken out of context (eisegesis). On the other hand, the Doctrines of Grace are all completely Biblical and are based entirely in Holy Scripture expositions done exegetically.

The Doctrines of Grace describe and teach what God has done for His people in Jesus Christ. While the Doctrine of Unconditional Election is important it is not the best place to start in trying to understand God’s good work in His people’s hearts and for their behalf in eternity. Why? It is completely contrary to Man’s natural way of thinking and understanding. However, it is vital that we do understand and grasp it. Why? This doctrine is “an important measuring rod for someone’s theology, since an acceptance or rejection of this doctrine reveals at once whether a person is biblically correct on such other doctrines as the nature and extent of sin, the bondage of the will, the full grace of God in salvation, and even the presentation of the gospel.”1

However, it is proper to teach the “U” from T.U.L.I.P. immediately after we have looked at Total Depravity or Total Inability, the “T” in our acronym. Why? Unless we understand the depth of our spiritual deadness we will never quite understand our desperate need for God’s divine election. “It follows…from what has been said that salvation is absolutely and solely of grace—that God is free, in consistency with the infinite perfections of his nature, to save none, few, many, or all, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his will. It also follows that salvation is not based on any merits in the creature, and that it depends on God, and not on men, who are, and who are not, to be made partakers of eternal life. God acts as a sovereign in saving some and passing by others who are left to the just recompense of their sins.”2

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 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. (Romans 9:6-18 ESV)

I listened to a sermon by Ergun Caner several years ago before he was forced to “resign” from Liberty University Seminary. He preached this sermon when Jerry Falwell was still alive at his church where he tried to deal with this passage. Caner is an Arminian and a declared enemy of the Doctrines of Grace. When he came to vv11-15, which state:

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.” (Romans 9:11-15 ESV)

Caner said, “God chose Jacob to be the Patriarch of God’s people because God saw into the future and knew that Jacob would do right while he knew that Esau would do wrong.” In other words, he was stating exactly the opposite of what this passage says. This passage says that God elected Jacob and did not elect Esau based on nothing they did or did not do since neither was born yet. This Arminian argument is a classic case of eisegesis. Jerry Falwell, and no one else at Liberty University or in Falwell’s church called him on it either.

Romans 9:6-18 is a difficult passage. Why? It not only deals with divine election, but also divine reprobation. Reprobation refers to God’s passing over of those who are not elected to salvation. Also, and this really steams those who hate the Doctrines of Grace, this passage says that it is right and just for God to choose some but not others. The Pelagian argument is that if we take this passage at face value we are dishonoring God. They say that this is not fair and God is always fair. Well, I am not going to tell God that His own Word contains lies about Him. God does not need our defense here. “First there is no sense arguing over the justice of God in electing some to salvation and passing over others if we are not convinced first of all that he does just that. If we do not believe this, we will not waste our time puzzling over it. Second, if we are convinced that God does elect some to salvation, as Paul is going to insist he does, then we will approach even the [God is just or right in all his actions] question differently. We will approach it in order to find understanding, rather than arrogantly trying to prove that God cannot do what the Bible clearly teaches He does. To seek understanding is one thing. God urges us to seek it. But to demand that God conform to our limited insights into what is just or right is another matter entirely.”3

This passage from Romans 9 contains three generations of God’s elect, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There can be no argument against Abraham’s election. God called him. Abraham did not seek God. This is so obvious that Paul did not spend much time here. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. God made it clear to Abraham that Ishmael was not the son of promise, but Isaac was. Ishmael was not chosen. In v8 we see a contrast between natural children or children of the flesh and children of promise. God’s choice of Isaac involved supernatural intervention in the case of his conception. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, yet he was conceived and was born by God’s gracious hand. Ishmael was the fruit of Abraham’s natural sexual powers, but Isaac was the fruit of God working in his parents supernaturally.

Think of your own spiritual new birth. If your conception of it is that is the product of your own doing or decision then you are basing your faith on your own will power and actions. However, if you understand that you are a Christian because God saved you despite yourself then you have insight into what a miracle salvation is. Paul does a very good job of being blunt and succinct in telling us that God unconditionally elected Jacob while Esau was unconditionally passed over. Why? God did it this way that His purpose in election might stand. (v11)

“The vast majority of Christians who reject the Reformed view of predestination adopt what is sometimes called the prescient or foreknowledge (pre-science, prior knowledge) view of predestination. Briefly stated, this view teaches that from all eternity God knew how we would live. He knew in advance whether we would receive Christ or reject Christ. He knew our free choices before we ever made them. God’s choice of our eternal destiny then was made on the bases of what he know would choose. He chooses us because he knows in advance that we will choose him. The elect, then, are those who God knows will choose Christ freely.”4

This, of course, is exactly the Pelagian, Semi-Pelagian, and Arminain argument against the Doctrine of Unconditional Election. It is an attempt to interpret Romans 8:29,30 in such a way that supports their own doctrines of man electing God.

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. (Romans 8:29-30 ESV)

I once held the view as stated by R.C. Sproul above. When God shook me to my foundation and even further when I finally grasped the awesomeness of the Doctrines of Grace, I was shocked that I had been misinterpreting this passage and others from the moment I read them. My understanding and grasping of the Reformed view came as I surrendered to it. It was tough and took several weeks of study and prayer on my part and God working in my heart to give me understanding. It was through this struggle that I came to understand that the foreknowledge view of this passage is a denial of biblical doctrine while the Reformed view that we love and hold dear from the Doctrines of Grace is completely biblical and supported by very strict exegesis. On the other hand the foreknowledge view cannot be supported if the text is handled correctly.

What does the text say? It tells us that those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of His son… This seems to support the foreknowledge view. However, if we study this passage exegetically it does not. What do I mean? Lets start at the end. How many of those whom God glorifies are also justified? All of them are justified. How many of those justified are also called? All of them are called. How many of those called are also predestined? All of them are predestined. How many of those predestined are also foreknown by God? All of them are foreknown. Therefore, this passage is describing those whom God elects and their ultimate salvation and glorification. Therefore, we know that the calling here is talking about something that is succinct, real, and always produces what God intends. Therefore, we must understand that when we share the Gospel that that could not possibly be this calling because some are saved and some are not by our preaching and teaching. Therefore, this calling is God’s personal call to His Elect’s hearts and lines up with John 6:44.

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 ESV)

When God draws His elect to be saved it is the drawing that Jesus speaks of in John 6:44.

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. ’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:3-8 ESV)

Are you born of the Spirit? If so, then you are regenerate and you had nothing to do with it. We cannot control the Holy Spirit. He works as the wind blows. That means that our salvation is in God’s capable hands and He saves those whom He elected before the foundation of the world.

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 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 as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:2-6 ESV)

Those in Christ are so because God chose them before the foundation of the world based totally according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria!

1 James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2002), 91

2 Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963). 71

3 James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2002), 92-93

4 R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1986), 129


3 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Unconditional Election

  1. Anything, anything more than unconditional election by God alone is centered in man’s sinful pride which comes from the sinful nature born within us. The very sinful nature God alone chose to save us from. In John 11 it states that God commanded a dead man to rise from his tomb,
    “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out.”
    What part did the dead man play in this redemption? None. What part of the redemption did God in the flesh, Yeshua have? All. Everything.


Comments are closed.