Podcast listener Jonathan writes in with a very important question: “Pastor John, you tweeted recently, ‘Election is unconditional, glorification is not. So the certainty that the elect will be glorified rests on God’s enabling.’ This reminded me of a line in your new book Five Points, where you say essentially the same thing: ‘Election is unconditional, but glorification is not’ (63). I have been having a hard time with this because Romans 8:29–30 seems to me to say that if we have been predestined or elected, then we will be also glorified — guaranteed. So how can glorification be conditional? Can we be elect and yet not know if we are going to be glorified? If God seems to labor to help us know that our election is secure, why wouldn’t he want us to think that our glorification is secure as well? Pastor John, can you help me with this?”
This is really, really crucial. I am very thankful for the question, and I want to try to help Jonathan and a lot of people who stumble in this way at what I am saying.
Conditional and Certain?
Jonathan is not making a distinction that I make, and I think it is a distinction that is absolutely crucial in order to make sense out of biblical teaching. He is not distinguishing between certainty and conditionality. For him, if something is certain — guaranteed — it cannot be conditional. And if something is conditional, it cannot be certain or guaranteed.
Here is what he says: “It seems to me that if we have been predestined or elected, then we will be also glorified — guaranteed.” And he is absolutely right about that. That is what Romans 8:30 says: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” So yes. If we are elect and predestined, then our glorification is certain, guaranteed. Yes, yes, yes, praise God and amen, Jonathan.
“God Almighty has promised his elect, predestined, called, justified children that he himself will infallibly keep us from falling.”
Then he says (and this we have got to wrestle with — why does he say this?), “So how can glorification be conditional? Can we be elect and yet not know if we are going to be glorified?” Do you see what he assumes? He assumes that if our glorification is conditional, we cannot know that it will happen. It becomes not guaranteed and uncertain.
Now where does that notion come from? Where does he get that? Where does he get the notion that if there are conditions we must fulfill in order to be glorified (which I am saying there are), therefore our glorification is uncertain? What is the assumption behind that? I certainly don’t agree with it. Yet I find this assumption everywhere. People have this assumption. There is nothing in logic that demands it. There is nothing in the Bible that demands it. There is nothing in our experience that would demand it. So where is the idea coming from that if there are conditions there can be no certainty?
I have got an idea where this comes from, so let me push on it for a minute. Let’s take just one condition as an example: We must persevere in faith if we would be glorified. Persevering faith is a condition that must be met in order for us to finally be glorified. First Corinthians 15:1–2 says, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.” Or Colossians 1:22–23: “[Jesus] has now reconciled [you] in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.” Or Mark 13:13: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Or Revelation 2:10: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
That is why I say that election is unconditional and glorification is conditional. We don’t persevere in faith in order to be elect. But we do persevere in faith in order to be glorified. Now, what is behind the assumption that this condition would make our glorification uncertain? It must be the assumption that this condition cannot be guaranteed. God cannot guarantee that we will meet his condition. Then I ask, What is behind that assumption that God cannot guarantee that you will persevere to the end? Where does that come from? What is behind that assumption?
My answer is this: There is an unbiblical notion of free will or Arminianism or Semi-Pelagianism behind that assumption. Jonathan may not even know what those words mean. He may have just absorbed this from somewhere. If I must endure to the end, then my glorification is as insecure as my free will. That is the assumption. And that is a fundamental theological, biblical mistake.
On the contrary, God Almighty has promised his elect, his predestined, his called, his justified children that he himself will infallibly keep us from falling. We don’t have the free will of ultimate self-determination. Praise God, for he has that final, ultimate, decisive determination of what our wills will do. God has conquered our rebellious, dead, anti-God wills. He has written his law in our heart. He has given us his Holy Spirit.
“Persevering faith is a condition that must be met in order for us to finally be glorified.”
First Corinthians 1:8 says, “[Jesus] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” First Corinthians 10:13 says, “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” Jude 24–25 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
My prayer, Tony, is that everyone would realize what a serious mistake it is to assume that conditionality means uncertainty. It doesn’t mean uncertainty for God’s children. Not if God is sovereign over conditions and he is sovereign over the condition of faith. The Bible says so.