The FACTS of Salvation
C: Conditional Election

, posted by Martin Glynn

Conditional Election (the C in FACTS) [Cf. Article 1 of the 5 Articles of the Remonstrance]

There are two main views of what the Bible teaches concerning the concept of election unto salvation: that it is either conditional or unconditional. For election to be unconditional means that God’s choice of those he will save has nothing to do with them, that there was nothing about them that contributed to God’s decision to choose them, which seems to make God’s choice of any particular individual as opposed to another arbitrary. It also implies unconditional and arbitrary reprobation, God’s choice of certain individuals to not save but to damn for their sin for no reason having to do with them, which seems to contradict the spirit of numerous passages that emphasize human sin as the reason for divine condemnation as well as God’s desire for people to repent and be saved (e.g., Gen 18:25; Deut 7:9, 12; 11:26-28; 30:15; 2 Chron 15:1-2; Ps 145:19; Ezekiel 18:20-24; John 3:16-18; see also “Atonement for All” above and John Wesley’s treatment of reprobation including many more verses with brief commentary). For election to be conditional means that God’s choice of those he will save has something to do with them, that part of his reason for choosing them was something about them. Concerning election unto salvation, the Bible teaches that God chooses for salvation those who believe in Jesus Christ and therefore become united to him, making election conditional on faith in Christ.

Desiring the salvation of all, providing atonement for all people, and taking the initiative to bring all people to salvation by issuing forth the gospel and enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith (see “Atonement for All” and “Freed to Believe” above), God chooses to save those who believe in the gospel/Jesus Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47, 50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5, 9, 11, 13, 16, 20-24; 5:1-2; 9:30-33; 10:4, 9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9, 11, 14, 22, 24, 26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14, 18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). This clear and basic biblical truth is tantamount to saying that election unto salvation is conditional on faith. Just as salvation is by faith (e.g., Eph 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith”), so election for salvation is by faith, a point brought out explicitly in 2 Thes 2:13 – “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (NASB; note: “God has chosen you . . . through . . . faith in the truth”; on the grammar of this verse, see here). Or as John 14:21 puts it (with the unstated assumption that love of Christ and obedience to his commandments arise from faith), “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Or again, in the words of 1 Cor 8:3, “if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Moreover, we find various expressions of elect/saved status to be given by faith, i.e., bestowed by God in response to faith. Believers are justified by faith (Rom 3-4; Gal 3), adopted as children of God by faith (John 1:12; Gal 3:26), heirs of God by faith (Rom 4:13-16; Gal 3:24-29; Titus 3:7; cf. Rom 8:16-17), given spiritual life (= regenerated) by faith (John 1:12-13; 3:14-16; John 5:24, 39-40; 6:47, 50-58; 20:31; Eph 2:4-8 [note that being saved here is equated with being raised to spiritual life etc., and that this is then said to take place by faith]; Col 2:12; 1 Tim 1:16; Tit 3:7), sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18), given the Holy Spirit by faith (John 4:14; 7:38-39; Acts 2:33; Rom 5:1, 5; Eph 1:13-14; Gal. 3:1-6, 14), indwelled by the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit by faith (with the previous parenthesis, see John 14:15-17, 23; 17:20-23; Eph 3:14-17), and united to Christ by faith (John 6:53-57; 14:23; 17:20-23; Eph. 1:13-14; 2; 3:17; Gal. 3:26–28; Rom 6; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21).

We should be careful not to miss the expression of elect status in these various states of grace. The state of justification means to be in right relationship with God. But that implies belonging to him as one of his elect people. Adoption/sonship is also a classic Old Testament expression of the covenantal election of the people of God (Exod 4:22-23). It involves the idea of belonging to God in the most profound way possible for human beings. Heirship flows directly out of this as an expression of election. Sons, who belong to God, are heirs of his covenantal blessings and promises (Rom 8:16-17). Spiritual life also implies elect status because it is one of the blessings provided in the covenant. But its connection to covenantal elect status is even greater, as John 17:3 reveals not only that those who belong to Jesus receive eternal life, but that eternal life is knowing God/Christ, which is best understood as intimate covenantal relationship involving elect status: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

The fact that the Holy Spirit is given to believers on the condition of faith in Christ is also profoundly supportive of conditional election. For in Scripture the presence of God/the Holy Spirit is the bestower and marker of election. As Moses prays in Exdous 33:15-16: “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Or as Paul states in Rom 8:9-10, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (emphasis added). The giving of the Spirit conveys election, and having the Spirit makes a person elect. Thus, having the Spirit also marks a person out as elect. But the Spirit is given to believers by faith, making election to be also by faith.

From a non-traditional Arminian view (see below on differing Arminian views of election), this accords with the facts that the Holy Spirit sanctifies believers and sanctification is sometimes identified as the means by which election is accomplished (2 Thes 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). To sanctify means “to make holy, set apart for God.” The initial sanctifying work of the Spirit is roughly equivalent to election—believers are chosen or set apart as belonging to God and for service and obedience to him. The Apostle Paul told the church of the Thessalonians, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thes 2:13; NASB). Election is here presented as taking place through or by sanctification that the Holy Spirit performs. But as we have seen, the Holy Spirit is received by faith, making the sanctification he brings also conditional on faith and shedding light on the mention of “faith in the truth” immediately following in 2 Thes 2:13. Similarly, 1 Pet 1:1-2 speaks of “elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood . . .” Election takes place in or by or through the sanctification effected by the Spirit. That is, a person becomes elect when the Holy Spirit sets him apart as belonging to God, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (i.e., the forgiveness of sins), an act consequent on the giving of the Spirit, which again is itself consequent on faith in Christ.

The final state of grace of those mentioned above for us to consider is union with Christ, which is the most fundamental of them all, serving as the ground of each. As Eph 1:3 states concerning the Church, God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” The phrase “in Christ” indicates union with Christ, a state entered into by faith, as mentioned above. In Eph 1:3, union with Christ is given as the condition for God’s blessing of the Church. That is, God has blessed the Church with every spiritual blessing as a consequence of its being united to Christ (cf. Rom 9:7b—“Through [literally, “in”] Isaac shall your offspring be named,” which clearly means that Abraham’s offspring would be named as a consequence of being in Isaac, i.e., those connected to Isaac would be counted as Abraham’s offspring). One of the spiritual blessings specified as among every spiritual blessing with which the Church has been blessed is election (Eph 1:4). Now if God has blessed the Church with every spiritual blessing as a consequence of its being united to Christ, and election is one of those blessings, then that means that election is conditional on union with Christ and the faith by which that union is established.

More directly, Eph 1:4 then explicitly indicates the condition of election specifically with the phrase “in him [Christ]”: “he [God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Just as God blessing us in Christ with every spiritual blessing indicates that God has blessed us because we are in Christ (Eph 1:3), so God choosing us in Christ indicates that God chose us because of our union with Christ (Eph 1:4). Ephesians 1:4, therefore, articulates conditional election, an election that is conditional on union with Christ. But the fact that union with Christ is conditional on faith in him makes election also conditional on faith in Christ.

The next phrase in Eph 1:4—“before the foundation of the world”—brings us to a difference of opinion among Arminians on the nature of conditional election. The traditional view conceives of conditional election as individualistic, with God choosing separately before the foundation of the world each individual he foreknew would freely be in Christ by faith and persevere in that faith-union. The view seems to find striking support in two prominent passages that relate to election.

Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Now without question, God’s foreknowledge of human beings is total and would include prior knowledge of each person and whether they would believe or not. And in Rom 8:29, divine foreknowledge is presented as the condition for predestination. Given all that we have said so far, many would find God’s foreknowledge of the faith of believers to be the most natural element of his foreknowledge of them to be determinative for his decision to save them and predestine them to be conformed to the image of Christ.

The other prominent passage providing support for election being conditioned on divine foreknowledge of human faith is 1 Pet 1:1-2, which speaks of elect status as being “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood . . .” Here elect status is explicitly said to be based on God’s foreknowledge. And again, the type of evidence we have been reviewing leads many to believe that it is especially foreknowledge of the faith of believers that is in view as that to which the divine election conforms. Since this text does not specify the foreknowledge in view to be of people, another option compatible with both main Arminian views of election would take divine foreknowledge in 1 Pet 1:2 to be of God’s own plan of salvation, meaning election is based on God’s plan to save those who believe.

The non-traditional Arminian view of election is known as corporate election. It observes that the election of God’s people in the Old Testament was a consequence of the choice of an individual who represented the group, the corporate head and representative. In other words, the group was elected in the corporate head, that is, as a consequence of its association with this corporate representative (Gen 15:18; 17:7-10, 19; 21:12; 24:7; 25:23; 26:3-5; 28:13-15; Deut 4:37; 7:6-8; 10:15; Mal 1:2-3). Moreover, individuals (such as Rahab and Ruth) who were not naturally related to the corporate head could join the chosen people and thereby share in the covenant head’s and elect people’s identity, history, election, and covenant blessings. There was a series of covenant heads in the Old Testament—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the choice of each new covenant head brought a new definition of God’s people based on the identity of the covenant head (in addition to the references earlier in this paragraph, see Rom 9:6-13). Finally, Jesus Christ came as the head of the New Covenant (Rom 3-4; 8; Gal 3-4; Heb 9:15; 12:24)—he is the Chosen One (Mark 1:11; 9:7; 12:6; Luke 9:35; 20:13; 23:35; Eph 1:6; Col 1:13; and numerous references to Jesus as the Christ/Messiah)—and anyone united to him comes to share in his identity, history, election, and covenant blessings (we become co-heirs with Christ – Rom 8:16-17; cf. Gal 3:24-29). Thus, election is “in Christ” (Eph 1:4), a consequence of union with him by faith.  Just as God’s people in the Old Covenant were chosen in Jacob/Israel, so God’s people in the New Covenant are chosen in Christ.

Some have mistakenly taken Paul’s appeal in Romans 9 to the discretionary election of the former covenant heads to be an indication that the election of God’s people for salvation is unconditional. But the election of the covenant head is unique, entailing the election of all who are identified with him rather than that each individual member of the elect people was chosen as an individual to become part of the elect people in the same manner as the corporate head was chosen. In harmony with his great stress in Romans on salvation/justification being by faith in Christ, Paul appeals to God’s discretionary election of Isaac and Jacob in order to defend God’s right to make election to be by faith in Christ rather than works or ancestry, as his conclusion to the sections bears out, referring to the elect state of righteousness: “30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works” (Rom 9:30-32b). (For a good article on Romans 9, see here.)

Paul’s olive tree metaphor in Rom 11:17-24 gives an excellent picture of the corporate election perspective. The olive tree represents the chosen people of God. But individuals get grafted into the elect people and participate in election and its blessings by faith or get cut off from God’s chosen people and their blessings because of unbelief.The focus of election is the corporate people of God with individuals participating in election by means of their participation (through faith) in the elect group, which spans salvation history. Ephesians 2:11-22 similarly attests that Gentiles who believe in Christ are in him made to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, fellow citizens with the saints, members of God’s household, and possessors of the covenants of promise (2:11-22; note especially vv. 12, 19).

While agreeing that God knows the future, including who will believe, the corporate election perspective would tend to understand the references to foreknowledge in Rom 8:29 and 1 Pet 1:1-2 as referring to a relational prior knowing that amounts to previously acknowledging or recognizing or embracing or choosing people as belonging to God (i.e., in covenant relationship/partnership). The Bible sometimes mentions this type of knowledge, such as when Jesus speaks of those who never truly submit to his lordship: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:23; cf. Gen 18:19; Jer 1:5; Hos 13:4-5; Amos 3:2; 1 Cor 8:3). On this view, to be chosen according to foreknowledge would mean to be chosen because of the prior election of Christ and the corporate people of God in him. “Those [plural] whom he foreknew” in Rom 8:29 would refer to the Church as a corporate body and their election in Christ as well as their identity as the legitimate continuation of the historic chosen covenant people of God, which individual believers share in by faith-union with Christ and membership in his people. Such a reference is akin to statements in Scripture spoken to Israel about God choosing them in the past (i.e., foreknowing them), an election that the contemporary generation being addressed shared in (e.g., Deut 4:37; 7:6-7; 10:15; 14:2; Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:1-2; Amos 3:2). In every generation, Israel could be said to have been chosen. The Church now shares in that election through Christ, the covenant head and mediator (Rom 11:17-24; Eph 2:11-22).

Similarly, to be chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world would refer to sharing in Christ’s election that took place before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:20). Because Christ embodies and represents his people, it can be said that his people were chosen when he was just as it could be said that the nation of Israel was in the womb of Rebekah before its existence because Jacob was (Gen. 25:23) and that God loved/chose Israel by loving/choosing Jacob before the nation of Israel ever existed (Mal. 1:2-3) and that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek in Abraham before Levi existed (Heb. 7:9-10) and that the church died, rose, and was seated with Christ before the Church ever existed (Eph 2:5-6; cf. Col. 2:11-14; Rom 6:1-14) and that we (the Church) are seated in the heavenlies in Christ when we are not literally yet in Heaven but Christ is. Christ’s election entails the election of those who are united to him, and so our election can be said to have taken place when his did, even before we were actually united to him. This is somewhat similar to how I, as an American, can say that we (America) won the Revolutionary War before I or any American alive today was ever born.

The corporate view explains why only those who are actually God’s people are called elect or similar appellations in Scripture and not those who do not belong to God but one day will. In the New Testament, only believers are identified as elect. As Rom 8:9 states, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Similarly, Rom 11:7-24 supports the corporate understanding of the elect as referring only to those who are actually in Christ by faith rather than also including certain unbelievers who have been chosen to believe from eternity. For in Rom 11.7, “the rest” are not elect. But Paul believed that those from ‘the rest’ could yet believe, revealing that the elect is a dynamic term that allows for departure from and entry into the elect as portrayed in the passage’s olive tree metaphor. Since the election of the individual derives from the election of Christ and the corporate people of God, individuals become elect when they believe and remain elect only as long as they believe. Hence, 2 Pet 1:10 urges believers to “be all the more eager to make your callingand election sure” (NIV) and the New Testament is filled with warnings to persevere in the faith to avoid forfeiting election/salvation (see “Security in Christ” below; for an introduction to corporate election with links to further resources, see here).

 

By way of summary, there are two different views of election conditioned on faith. First, individual election is the classic view, in which God individually chose each believer based upon his foreknowledge of each one’s faith and so predestined each to eternal life. Second, corporate election is the main alternative view, holding that election to salvation is primarily of the Church as a people and embraces individuals only in faith-union with Christ the Chosen One and as members of his people. Moreover, since the election of the individual derives from the election of Christ and the corporate people of God, individuals become elect when they believe and remain elect only as long as they believe. Conditional election is supported in Scripture by (see the above discussion for explanation): (1) direct statement; (2) salvation being by faith; (3) various expressions of elect status being by faith; (4) the presentation of election as based on God’s foreknowledge, whether that be of human faith or equivalent to the prior choice of Christ and/or the people of God as a corporate body that individuals participate in by faith; (5) election being “in Christ,” which is a state that is itself conditional on faith; (6) the language of election being applied only to believers and not unbelievers who would later believe; (7) God’s desire for the salvation of all; (8) the provision of atonement for all; (9) the issuing of the gospel call to all; (10) the drawing of all toward faith in Christ; (11) human free will (for numbers 7-11, see “Atonement for All” and “Freed to Believe” above); and (12) numerous warnings against forsaking the faith and thereby forfeiting elect status and its blessing of salvation.

The doctrine of conditional election centers election on Christ by making it conditional on union with him rather than reducing Christ’s role to being the means by which election is accomplished. Moreover, conditional election underscores God’s gracious initiative in salvation towards totally depraved people and encourages humility and worship at the amazing grace of God in choosing those who deserve Hell for adoption into his family, salvation, and every spiritual blessing, a free gift received by faith (the non-meritorious condition for election) at the greatest cost to God, who sacrificed his own son to be able to choose us, and at the greatest cost to Jesus Christ, who died for us so that we could be chosen by God. All praise and glory to God alone!

 

See Dr. Brian Abasciano’s full write-up of the whole FACTS acronym here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-facts-of-salvation-a-summary-of-arminian-theologythe-biblical-doctrines-of-grace/