Monday, December 7, 2009

Unconditional/Conditional Election: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I’ve spent time here at CTS discussing the issue of contradictions and applying the Law of Non-Contradiction to two seemingly opposing concepts or things. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that two opposing things cannot be held in the same respect at the same time. For instance, a person cannot be both “short and tall” at the same time, since “short” is the opposite of “tall,” and “tall” is the opposite of “short.” A person has to be either short or tall...

But the Law of Non-Contradiction not only keeps us from “talking out of both sides of our mouths”; it also allows us to see the possibility of reconciliation between two opposing things. Take my example from above: while a person cannot be both “short and tall,” a person CAN be “shorter than her aunt, taller than her grandmother” at the same time. In this case, however, “short” and “tall” have been qualified, labeled “in relation” to something or someone. Without qualifiers, “short and tall” is a blatant contradiction.

Now, let’s look at Ephesians 1:4-5:

“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:4-5, NKJV).

Notice that we are given the phrase “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world...” The word here for “chose” means “to select”. Therefore, the Ephesians were “selected in Christ.”

What does it mean to be “selected in Christ”? The answer to this question depends upon which side of the debate the person stands on. If you talk to a Calvinist, he or she will tell you that a person is “selected in Christ” by God’s own choosing. God selects men and women He desires to be saved and elects them from the very beginning. The Arminian, however, will tell you that Christ elects certain ones from the beginning, but that this election is on the basis of foreseen faith. Election, therefore, is conditional upon faith in Christ.

So, which is right? Election can’t be both unconditional and conditional, right? Well, it can’t be both “unqualified” at the same time. Remember the Law of Non-Contradiction? The Law states that two opposing things cannot exist in the same respect at the same time. Therefore, if unconditional and conditional elections are to co-exist, then, like “short and tall” from above, they must be qualified (defined “in relation to” something).

Let’s look back at Ephesians 1:4-5 to see if we can define both unconditional and conditional election.

In verse 5, we see that He (God) “predestinated us...according to the good pleasure of His will.” Taking this into account, we can say that God predestinates believers to be adopted to Himself because of His own desire. He saves us because HE WANTS TO! There is nothing outside of Himself that can force His Hand, nothing that can “obligate” God to save anyone in humanity. He does it because it seems right to Him to do so. That is what makes our election “unconditional.” There is nothing that we can do to ever merit salvation. I wanted to state that here at my blog in case someone ever argues that Arminians do not believe in unconditional election. As a Classical Arminian, I affirm God’s unconditional election. God’s election is unconditional, then, with regards to Himself. He chooses to save us because He wants to.

But I also believe that God’s conditional election exists as well. As I said above, the two elections must be qualified if they are to co-exist peacefully. What evidence, then, is there for conditional election? Let’s look back at our passage:

“having predestinated us to adoption as sons BY JESUS CHRIST to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5, NKJV).

In addition, there are a few references to God’s will: “having predestinated us...according to the good pleasure of HIS WILL” (v.5), according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (v.9), and “according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of HIS WILL” (v.11).

Calvinists often look at Ephesians 1 and focus on “the good pleasure of His will,” while overlooking “by Jesus Christ,” (v.5), or “in Him,” meaning “in Christ” (v.4). The idea of “by Jesus Christ” and “in Him” points to a conditional election----that is, that election is based on faith in Christ.

This can clearly be seen in other passages of Scripture. Let’s look at Romans 5:

“For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one (man), much more THOSE WHO RECEIVE ABUNDANCE OF GRACE AND OF THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense JUDGMENT CAME TO ALL MEN, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act THE FREE GIFT CAME TO ALL MEN, RESULTING IN JUSTIFICATION OF LIFE” (Romans 5:17-18, NKJV).

So “those who receive” the grace of God and the gift of eternal life by faith in Christ (Rom. 6:23), are the ones who are justified in Christ.

I want to make one point regarding the above excerpt of Romans 5. Notice that “judgment came to all men” and “the free gift came to all men.” What this tells us is that every human soul born into this world is condemned in Adam; but every human soul also has an opportunity to become justified in Christ. It would take a whole lot of “twisting” to take these verses that say “all men” and make them say something like “all classes of men.”

So when Paul says that “He chose us in Him...according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:4-5), he is saying that, while He decided to save humanity of His own choosing, humanity will not be saved apart from faith in Christ. This fits best with Paul’s words later in Ephesians 1----“In Him you also TRUSTED, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, HAVING BELIEVED, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13).

Finally, we cannot ignore conditional election because it seems to be as much of an emphasis in this chapter as the good pleasure of God’s will:“in Christ Jesus” (1:1b), “in Christ” (1:3), “in Him” (1:4), “by Jesus Christ” (1:5), “in the Beloved [that is, Christ]” (1:6), “in Him” (1:7), “the mystery of His will...that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things IN CHRIST, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—IN HIM” (vv.9, 10); “in Him” (v.11), “in Christ” (v.12), “in Him” (v.13), “in whom also, having believed” (v.13), and “your faith IN THE LORD JESUS” (v.15).

There is another thought that sticks out in Ephesians chapter 1—and that is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6, 12, 14). His grace truly abounds much, and we see this clearly in the person of Jesus Christ, who broke down the wall of division between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14).

In this post, I’ve discussed unconditional and conditional election. As I’ve shown via Ephesians 1, God’s unconditional election of undeserving sinners is at play (“according to the good pleasure of His will”) as well as the conditional election by faith in Christ (“In Him”). While election is unconditional from the perspective of Christ, it is conditional from the perspective of humanity because it is by faith that a person comes to be justified by Christ. Neither should be tossed out; for both are needed to maintain the Scriptural balance of divine sovereignty (unconditional election in God) and human responsibility (conditional election by faith in Christ).

According to Robert E. Picirilli,

"How does conditional election relate to the sovereignty of God? The answer seems obvious: if the sovereign God UNCONDITIONALLY ESTABLISHED FAITH AS THE CONDITION FOR SALVATION (and therefore for election), then His sovereignty is not violated when He requires the condition...surely God's sovereignty means that He acts freely, UNDER NO CONDITIONS than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe GOD could not SOVEREIGNLY ESTABLISH ANY CONDITION HE CHOSE (or no condition at all, did He so choose) FOR SALVATION. As Arminius put this, 'The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it only on the condition, which He has been pleased to impose'" (Robert E. Picirilli, quoting Arminius' Works, Book III, page 274; from "Grace, Faith, and Free Will-- Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism." Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002, page 57).

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