Growing up as a kid in rural eastern Kentucky, I dreamed of one day becoming a University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball player. Even though that dream never came true due to lack of skill, I was good enough to make my high school basketball team.
Every year students in my school would tryout for the basketball team. During the week of tryouts, players displayed their skills to the coaches. The coaches would choose players based on performance and skill. Some would make the team; others would not.
While God does choose his children, it isn’t based on our performance or skill. The children of God don’t have to attend tryouts to be adopted into his family. Paul illustrates beautifully in his letters that unconditional election is the foundation of the New Testament’s presentation of salvation.
His Choice and Our Responsibility
Unconditional election means that God chooses some people to be on his team. God graciously elected sinners in Christ before the foundation of the world to be his people. In Romans, Paul teaches us that Adam’s transgression devastated the entire world (Romans 5:12).
He laments that “there is none good, no not one” (Romans 3:10) and that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Due to mankind’s total depravity, Paul emphasizes that humans are able to respond to God’s work of salvation only because God chose some to be saved in love (Romans 8:29–30; Ephesians 1:4–5, 11).
This interpretation is often criticized. Some argue that election shuts out the need for personal responsibility. Paul anticipates these criticisms. He continues by saying that God’s choice to save some is just (Romans 9:14–15). God has the right as the Creator to choose some to receive his saving mercy and to choose others to receive his judgment (Romans 9:19–29).
Therefore, God can grant mercy to some and withhold it from others if he desires (Romans 9:6–15). God giving his saving mercy to some, and judgment to others, is solely based on his will, not human effort. Since he is God, he has the right to do whatever he pleases.
Angry About Election
Many respond with anger the first time they hear about unconditional election. They complain that this doctrine makes God unjust and unloving. What makes us respond this way?
Maybe we believe that God owes us something. If so, this response exposes a great deal of pride. Too often we want a God created into our image. The only thing God owes any human being is his unrelenting wrath due to our sin and radical rebellion against him and his Son, Jesus Christ.
Unconditional election reminds Christians that we are naturally children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1–3). But God, by his sovereign grace, freely chose to redeem some from his wrath. This divine act of grace should move Christians to worship our great God with humble and thankful postures (Romans 11:36, Ephesians 1:4–5).
Critics ask, “Why evangelize if unconditional election is true?” My response would be the opposite: “Why evangelize if unconditional election is untrue?” If total depravity is correct, then no one is able to respond to the gospel and every evangelistic effort is destined to fail. Everyone is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1–10). Unconditional election should give us confidence that God will certainly save “all” of those who believe through the foolishness of gospel proclamation (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21).
Election and Doubt
Christians often have doubts about their faith. If we’re honest, many of us have doubted whether God loves us. Unconditional election can help doubting Christians conquer their doubt. Paul states that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4). And he asserts that God predestined us in love unto adoption (Ephesians 1:5).
When Christians doubt God’s love for us, or when we doubt whether we are genuinely saved, we ought to remind ourselves of at least two things:
God chose us in Christ to be his people. So everyone who lives in faithful (not perfect) obedience to Jesus is elect and saved because one’s faith-filled obedience to Jesus proves that one is in Christ.
God’s love for us is displayed by means of his choice of us in Christ to be his people and by means of the sacrifice of his Son to redeem us as his people, so that we would be saved from his future wrath (Ephesians 1:4–7; Romans 5:6–10). Therefore, when doubt comes, Christians should fight against it with what the New Testament teaches about unconditional election.
The Goal of Unconditional Election
Unlike my high school coaches, God didn’t make this choice based on our skills or any of our foreseen works. He exclusively chose to save some sinners for his glory because he wanted to do so. Unconditional election belongs to God.
Our response to this truth should not be to produce division, to split churches, or to beat up or bully people with a big-God theology. Instead, God has given us this doctrine to move us to worship (Ephesians 1:3–14; 1 Peter 1:1–6) and to faithful Christian obedience.
May God open our eyes to see unconditional election so that we would offer to him God-centered, Christ-exalting, and Spirit-filled worship now and forever.