Our view of election can have profound implications for how we view others and how we seek to actively yield to God’s grace. The correct model embraced by all Christians at the beginning of Christian thought, and currently embraced by the majority of theologians and pastors today, is that God’s grace is necessary, extended to all, enables our free response of faith, and is ultimately found “in Christ”… yet in His graciousness He enables you to love Him freely, not by compulsion. People can resist His grace of to their peril- so don’t resist Him!
What’s the deal with Election?
“Election” is a biblical word, and so every Christian should believe that God elects some people to salvation. There are two main ways of thinking about what this word means.
But hang on — First of all, election is not a big “theological” word. It’s a word we use often. For instance, the presidential “election.” Just like some states have secret ballots, and some have caucuses, and then there is the whole electoral college thing, there are different ways of interpreting what the Bible is getting at when it uses the word “Election.” The question, then, is how does this selection happen.
There are two main models of how God makes his election of who will be saved. One is called “Unconditional Election” and the other is called “Conditional Election.” I want to note at the outset that both models can allow for the view that mankind is totally depraved and unable to reach out to God on our own.
So, first, Unconditional Election.
In this model God’s selection of persons for salvation is not based on anything in them. God does not save those who believe, rather, God unconditionally picks a few people and irresistibly causes them to believe. Perhaps the shortest way to put the most startling aspect of this model is this: Unconditional election is NOT based on faith. It is … “Unconditional.”
Sometimes proponents of unconditional election will point to Romans 9:11-13 to support their position, which says God chose Jacob and Esau before they had done any works, good or bad.
Opponents of this view would point out that if this passage is teaching unconditional selection of some people to salvation, based on nothing in them and no response of faith in God, then it also means that God choses to not save other people (and to damn them) based on nothing evil in them. But not many people believe in unconditional selection for hell. People who hold that election is Unconditional sometimes refer to themselves as “Calvinists.”
The other model is “Conditional Election.”
In this model, God’s saving love and grace is extended to every sinner. They might call this love and grace “fore-conditional,” that is, it is given prior to any conditions, because none of us are worthy of it. The Holy Spirit convicts people of the sin of unbelief, and the Father and the son draw all people to repentance. While we are enemies of God, by God’s grace He frees our will to be able to choose to respond to His love and repent and trust in Jesus. This is sometimes called “prevenient grace.”
All of that is foreconditional, and in that sense, unconditional. But, in this model, selection to salvation is conditional. It is conditioned on how a person freely responds to God. (“Free will,” they would argue, is a biblical term found about 20 times in the King James, ESV, and NIV versions.)
So, in this model, people can resist or yield to God. If people choose to yield to God’s grace and trust in Jesus then they are grafted into Him. And God has elected to save the people who are found “in Him.”
Proponents of this model would point to Ephesians 1:4, which says we are “chosen in Him,” and say that our status of being “chosen” is based on being “in Christ,” which happens through faith, and that’s the condition: yielding to God and trusting Him instead of ourselves, or in a word, “Faith.”
Sometimes Conditional Election advocates point to 1 Peter 1:2, which says Christians are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” So let’s talk briefly about their view of “Foreknowledge.”
Perhaps the best way to describe it is an analogy with your memory. Maybe you have a clear memory of last Christmas morning. Regardless of your memory, people — including yourself — were free to choose to act however they would. Perhaps In a similar way, God knows what He and people will do, and knows who will be found in Christ; but that foreknowledge has no effect on God’s freedom or the freedom of others.
So while God and people are still free, election from before the creation of the world is based on God foreknowing who would freely chose to trust Him. People who hold this view of Conditional Election sometimes call themselves “Arminians.” An associated term which can be used is the “foreconditional-reciprocal model,” a phrase proposed by Dr. Peckham.
So those are the two views. If you want to look deeper into these issues, I recommend the book, “Hand in Hand,” written by a moderate Calvinist; or to point your browser to the articles at evangelicalarminians.org.
I leave you with A.W. Tozer’s thoughts on this matter: While probing into these ideas may make us scholars, it will never make us saints. For that, we must draw close to God Himself.