Questions for Calvin: U is for Unconditional Election

Questions for Calvin 3

Note: T.U.L.I.P. is an acronym often used to summarize the five core doctrines of Calvin, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.

In the Words of Calvin:

John Calvin (Institutes 3.21.7, Calvin 1960:931; see also Institutes 3.22.1, Calvin 1960:932)

"We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment he has barred to door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation." 

Calvin believed and taught that God preempted human will and determined, before creation, who would be elected for salvation and who would be damned.

As was said in the introduction, extreme qualifiers indicate extreme conclusions. Notice that Calvin's followers do not just espouse election, they promote an election that is unconditional. Remember also that Calvinists equate election and salvation. This false conclusion was addressed in the last section. 

In the Words of God:

Matthew 24:22-24 (NIV)

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceiveif possible, even the elect.”

Q: If Unconditional Election means that the elected are also unconditionally saved, then what did Jesus mean when He spoke the prophetic words above? Why would He say that it is “possible” for false teachers “to deceive” even “the elect”? Why give the warning, “do not believe it,” if election is unconditional? Why admonish them to remain alert to the dangers of “false messiahs and false prophets” if their election had no conditions?

A: Please don’t misunderstand, just seven verses after our passage above, Jesus does say that He “will gather his elect from the four winds.” Truly, all the elect of that gathering will be saved. But the previous words of our Lord are equally true. It is “possible” that some of the elect will succumb to deception and will be sifted out because they believed in “false messiahs.” Only by submitting to the harmony of these passages can the whole counsel of God be truly discovered.

2 Peter 1:5-10 (NIV)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.”

Q: If Unconditional Election is truly unconditional, why did the Holy Spirit place so many conditions on our election? Why “make every effort” (said twice) if our election is without conditions? Why “add to your faith,” if our election is unconditional? Why use a term like “self-control” if self has no influence over control and we are not intended to employ self-control as a condition of confirming to our election? Why “confirm your calling and election” if election has no conditions?

A: Please don’t misunderstand, just two verses earlier Peter does say, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Truly, it is only by the help of God that we can be truly godly. But equally true are the words that follow. To accept His godliness we must “make every effort,” add to our faith, practice “self-control” and “confirm” our election. Only by submitting to the harmony of these passages can the whole counsel of God be truly discovered.

Romans 9:10-13 (NIV)

"Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad —in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”

Q: Does election infer salvation or does election simply infer selection for special favor and advantages? Was Esau spiritually lost "in order that God’s purpose in election might stand" or was he simply advantaged less in life, loved less? Is it possible that Esau was "hated" by God in the same sense that we are told to "hate" our father and mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters? See Luke 14:26. 

A: Please don’t misunderstand, both election and salvation come totally as a result of God's grace. However, God's election (the advantages He gives to some, Romans 9:18) and His salvation (the potential He gives to all, 2 Peter 3:9) are not always given according to the same criteria. Election is assigned in the same manner that a potter gives purpose to his clay. (See Romans 9:19-21.) Salvation is assigned according to belief. (See the same context, Romans 9:30-32; 10:4.) Only by submitting to the harmony of these passages can the whole counsel of God be truly discovered.

Additional Passages for Further Study:

Romans 8:12-13 (NIV)
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live."

Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."

Acts 2:40-41 (NIV)
"With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."

Philippians 1:27 (NIV)
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

James 1:10 (NIV)
"Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."


Question for Calvin: Testing the T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism by Sonny Childs

There can be little unity among Christians as long as human doctrines dominate and selective obedience governs hermeneutics (principles for interpreting Scripture). Only by submitting to the whole counsel of God can we correctly handle the word of truth. We must raise our sights higher than the teachings of men. 

2 Timothy 2:15, NIV
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 


I firmly believe that two of the greatest challenges facing the church today are Islam from without and Calvinism from within. In a world so devoid of personal responsibility, Calvin's doctrine of grace without responsibility is truly alluring. Young people are deserting biblical truth in alarming numbers. These false doctrines have permeated nearly every Christian denomination and must be addressed.

This important material can be covered in a seminar, Gospel meeting or revival format. For more information about this presentation, please visit our "Questions for Calvin" seminar page. This material is also available as an ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other formats. (Go to the "Books by Sonny" page for links to the other formats.)

Our children are at risk. It is my greatest prayer that you will find this information helpful in defending them against the false teachings of Calvinism.

Missed the first two lessons in this series? Go to:
Questions for Calvin: "Introduction"
                                  "T is for Total Depravity"

Want to continue the series? Go to:
Questions for Calvin: "L is for Limited Atonement"
                                   "I is for Irresistible Grace"
                                   "P is for Perseverance of the Saints"

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