Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Unconditional election. Isn’t this just a dry doctrine for eggheads to discuss and debate? No, it’s not. We all need this doctrine, unconditional election, and that’s why unconditional election is a theme we’ve studied a dozen times on the podcast over the years. It’s this precious fact that “God’s choice of one person and not others is not based on any good deeds or any bad deeds in the persons themselves.” Let me say that again. “God’s choice of one person and not others is not based on any good deeds or any bad deeds in the persons themselves” (APJ 1302). God chooses his children unconditionally. That’s unconditional election.

But what practical value does such a doctrine hold for my life? That’s Chase’s question today: “Pastor John, hello and thank you for this podcast. My question is this: Can you tell me why believing in unconditional election matters? Isn’t this doctrine nitpicking, and divisive, more than edifying?”

Yes, it matters. No, it is not nitpicking. Yes, it could be divisive, but that’s not the fault of the doctrine; it’s the fault of the human heart. And yes, it is edifying. So, let me give ten reasons to answer Chase’s question, “Does it matter?”

“Grace is the very meaning of unconditional election — God’s free, gracious choice, not our qualifications.”

Now, what we mean by unconditional election — you could use the word selection if election has political sounds to you — is God’s free, gracious choice, before creation, of who it is that he will give faith and repentance to and thus pardon their sin and adopt them into his everlasting family. It’s an election or a selection not based on anything — not anything in us, not foreseen faith, not good works, not parentage, not national origin or race or ethnicity, not religious ritual like baptism or the Lord’s Supper. God’s selection is unconditional, based only on his all-wise, good pleasure — or as Ephesians 1:11 says, “The counsel of his will.”

So, just as you can pack an atom bomb into a very small missile, let me pack ten reasons that unconditional election matters into ten minutes.

1. Unconditional election is true.

It matters because it’s true. It’s what the Bible teaches.

Though [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad [they admit no conditions] — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue unconditionally [I added that word, but that’s implied], not because of works but because of him who calls — [Rebecca] was told, “The older will serve the younger.” (Romans 9:11–12)

[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)

Jesus said,

All that the Father gives me will come to me. (John 6:37)

Yours they were, and you gave them to me. (John 17:6)

They were the Father’s, and he gave them to Jesus.

2. Unconditional election exalts God’s grace.

It matters because the aim of unconditional election is that we are destined for eternal joy and praise of the glory of the grace of God. That’s our destiny. Grace is the very meaning of unconditional election — God’s free, gracious choice, not our qualifications.

And the whole design of election is to get joy for our souls and praise for God’s grace. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world. . . . to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:4, 6). That’s the whole design of unconditional election: grace, grace, glorious grace will be praised forever.

3. Unconditional election humbles us.

It matters because it humbles our proud hearts.

First Corinthians 1:27–29 says, “God chose what is foolish in the world . . . God chose what is weak in the world . . . God chose what is low and despised in the world . . . so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” God gets praise; we get humbled by unconditional election.

4. Unconditional election secures our faith.

It matters because it makes clear that our faith is a gift of God, a gift of grace that follows election rather than grounding it.

“The Gentiles . . . began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed [that is, chosen, elected] to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). They believed because they were appointed. No one can boast that he originated his own believing and so won his election. No. “As many as were chosen” — as many as were chosen, appointed, elected — “believed.” Faith is a gift rooted in the eternal, unconditional election of God.

5. Unconditional election silences accusations.

It matters because it secures the reality that no one can successfully bring any charge against us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? (Romans 8:31–33)

Let me say that again: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” And the answer is nobody. God’s chosen are secure from all accusation.

6. Unconditional election births compassion.

It matters because it is the deepest ground of our own compassion for other people.

Paul calls for compassion from Christians like this in Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones [elect ones], holy and beloved, compassionate hearts.” Precisely because we are aware of being freely, graciously, undeservedly chosen, owing to nothing in ourselves, we are moved to treat others the way we’ve been treated.

7. Unconditional election removes despair.

Despair at being unsavable is torpedoed by the doctrine of unconditional election.

“Despair at being unsavable is torpedoed by the doctrine of unconditional election.”

If a person says to me, in my office as a pastor, “Pastor, I’m just too evil to be saved. God could never, never set his favor on me. You don’t know what I’ve done. What I have done is all so terrible,” to that person we can say, “God did not choose anybody because of what they had done or not done. Your history of sin is absolutely irrelevant for the question of whether you can be one of God’s chosen ones. God’s choice was unconditional — absolutely. The only question is, Will you believe? If you will believe, you will be saved, and you will confirm your election before the foundation of the world.”

8. Unconditional election destroys racism.

Unconditional election puts an end to racism among God’s people when they grasp what it means.

Racism is rooted in a sense of ethnic or racial superiority. God ignores all such conditions and chooses his people from every ethnicity, and unconditionally he chooses them. Peter wrote, “You are a chosen race . . . a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Christianity is a new race of people. No others — no other races, no other ethnicities — are the basis of belonging. He ransomed people from every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation. He stops the mouth of all ethnic boasting by choosing unconditionally.

9. Unconditional election brings assurance.

It matters because we can know we are chosen, with all the blessings that implies.

“We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:4–5).

10. Unconditional election shapes God’s action in history.

It matters because God shapes all of history for the sake of his elect. To make sure that we come safely home into his presence, he controls the world.

Jesus said about the end of history (and I think it applies to all of history in principle), “If those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:22).

So, Chase, in answer to your question, yes, it matters. It matters a lot. And the church would be stronger if pastors fed their people on this rich food for our faith.