Church column: TULIP, unconditional election – true or false?
The “U” in “TULIP” stands for “unconditional election.”
The Moody Handbook of Theology defines “unconditional election” like this:
“Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate response to God; therefore, in eternity past God elected certain people to salvation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response” (Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 480).
If you will recall, in the beginning of this series I explained that each “step” of the TULIP is the logical extension of the previous, with false “total depravity” as the starting point. Enns’ definition shows this when he starts with, “Because man is dead in sin …”
That is referring the “U,” unconditional election, back to the “T,” total depravity. All one has to do to disprove Calvinism is to disprove its foundation – total depravity, which we have already done in the previous articles.
Calvin, himself, defined “unconditional election” like this:
“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. 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 (Calvin, John, Institutes 3:26:5).
So, according to Calvin, each individual that has ever lived or will ever live has been predestined to either be saved or be damned and there is not a single thing any individual can do about their predestined condition. If you were predestined to be saved — that is, to be one of God’s elect — then there is nothing at all you have to do.
Your election is completely and totally “unconditional” on your part. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t even choose the other if you wanted to. Which also means that individuals are predestined by God to be damned and there is nothing at all they can do to choose otherwise.
There is no such thing, according to Calvin, as individual choice when it comes to salvation. Each individual’s salvation — their election — is according to the sovereign will of God with no conditions placed on them whatsoever.
Again, that would also be true of every lost person that has ever lived or will ever live. That means they are lost because God wants them to be lost. He chose that they would be lost and they can’t do anything about it whatsoever.
I’m sorry, but that’s not my God!
The Bible tells me that my God wants me — and everyone — to be saved.
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4, NKJV). “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NKJV).
Though God desires all men to be saved — that is His will — He is also just and, in keeping with His divine nature, must punish sin.
“But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” (Romans 2:5, NKJV).
Now, according to Calvin, the wicked are predestined to be wicked. So, how would it be “just” to “repay” (Romans 12:19) wickedness with wrath when the wicked are wicked because God made them that way?
That’s not what the Bible teaches! Notice what Romans 2:5 says. Those addressed will be the recipients of God’s wrath because they chose to reject the Gospel, not because God made them reject the Gospel.
It was, and will be, because of their “hardness and … impenitent heart.” How would God be just by punishing them for being what He made them to be?
If you don’t think that’s what Calvin taught just reread the quote above and try to figure out how I’m missing it. According to Calvin’s teaching, summarized as “unconditional election,” every soul that receives the outpouring of God’s wrath in the last day will be because that’s what “he wished to happen with regard” to every lost person.
You can’t say it for the saved without also saying it for the lost. If every person that has ever been or will ever be saved is completely according to God’s predestined purpose for each individual, then the same is also true of every lost person. If not, why not?
But we’ve already seen that God doesn’t want anyone to be lost (1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9; et al). So, if individual salvation and individual condemnation are completely the choice of God, and not the individual, why will anyone be lost? Something is not adding up.
The key to the problem is applying the biblical doctrine of predestination on an individual level. God did not predestine individuals to salvation or condemnation. He predestined the scheme of redemption by which individuals could choose to be saved.
As we pointed out in the previous discussion of Total Depravity, there is a big difference between saying that we are all born in sin and saying that we all sin. It is a biblical fact that we all sin (Romans 3:23). So, there comes a point in every person’s life — that lives to an age of accountability — when they go from being “safe” to being “lost” and in need of being “saved.”
A small child that lies does do something wrong but we don’t hold them accountable to the same degree that we would an older person who knows better. Neither does God (Matthew 18:3; 19:14; 1 Corinthians 14:20).
In the same way that we instruct our children in right behavior, God instructs us by His Holy Spirit inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). We can either choose to accept that instruction or reject it. If we accept it, we become God’s elect by adoption (Romans 8:12-17).
It is the scheme of redemption that is predestined by God. Just as Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:17-21). The Gospel of Christ was foreordained — or predestined — to be the means by which men would be saved by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:4-14).
The “us” and “we” in the passage is referring to Christians – the church – collectively as those who obeyed the Gospel of Christ for salvation (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:8). In that passage Paul refers to what was “predestined” as “the Gospel of your salvation.”
When we talk about the “call” of the elect, Paul makes it very clear how God calls people to salvation.
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:13–15, NKJV).
Notice again the collective “you, brethren,” that is, the church at Thessalonica. He is not talking about God choosing each individual for salvation but God choosing the church for salvation. For one to be God’s elect – i.e. saved – they have to be part of God’s elect body, the church (cf. Acts 2:47). How does God call individual people into that body? “[To] which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The church is God’s elect people – His chosen people. Individuals are called into that elect body by the preaching of the Gospel (cf. Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:21).
I’ll have more to say about the “unconditional” part next week, Lord willing. Until then, I look forward to your feedback.
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I have been studying, preaching, and teaching the Bible for a long time. I’ve preached in three countries and seven... read more