Do all true Christians come to be persuaded to believe in the doctrine of unconditional election? Sooner or later, yes—in their own personal case, at least.
Many of the Lord’s people have never been taught unconditional election in their churches. So, they remain convinced for years, even decades, that they turned to the Lord Jesus Christ of their own free will. They have been taught to think that their decision to believe in Christ is the deciding factor in their own salvation—the thing that caused them to be saved.
However, if they are true Christians then there will also be, deep down in their hearts, a God-given humbleness that prevents them from fully accepting the idea that their decision to turn to Christ was really their own.
They wonder how their faith could have originated within their own “desperately wicked” soul, that would never have sought after God (see Jeremiah 17.9; Romans 3.11). And the more they think about this, the more the contradiction between their taught theology and their personal experience is exposed.
In their humblest, most honest moments of self-examination—especially then they are on their knees in prayer to God—they know that their own salvation is, and must certainly be, entirely the work of God. They are not saved because of something they did, said, thought, or believed.
Contrary to Arminianism (or free-willism, decisionism, or whatever they call their system of soteriology1), they must admit that but for the grace of God they would not have chosen to believe in Christ, and to follow him.
They have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—and they dare not trust in their own faith itself (which they have been taught to think of as their own spiritual effort). However, they do know better than to think that the foundation of their hope is in “their contribution” to their salvation.
Their hope will ultimately come to rest totally and exclusively upon Christ—they will have faith in Christ, and not in Christ plus faith (as Arminianism teaches), or Christ plus works, or Christ any other mediator.
Yes, people may be true Christians even while they struggle with this matter. They may, on the surface of their thinking, strongly oppose what is called Calvinism. But the more deeply they reflect upon their own case, the more they must admit that before they chose God, it must be that he chose them. And he must have chosen them in particular.
They may remain struggling in this state of inconsistency for many years. Some Christians live with this to the end of their lives in this world. But in private, on their knees before God, they know that they owe everything to God, from beginning to end.
They are especially aware that they owe everything in their salvation to God. From beginning to end.
But are all Arminians (free-willists, decisionists, etc.) saved? No. They will even admit this fact, in that they acknowledge that many people who were Arminians at one time have since departed, and are nowhere near the Church now.
Since Arminianism aims to persuade Christians that their salvation depends ultimately upon their own faith, then they must conclude that they are (as these others previously were) only temporarily saved! But if they repent of this self-dependance, coming to understand that they are saved by Christ alone, then they can hope that their salvation is eternally secure2 in their Saviour.
People who are brought by God to be truly humble before him, and to prayerfully depend upon him for all things physical and spiritual—these people bear the marks of a true Christian.
Such Christians, even if they still consider themselves to be Arminians, pray like Calvinists whenever they pray for God to work in their own soul (or, as is often said, their own heart), and for God to work in those whose salvation they deeply desire. They pray for God to work in other people the same way as he has worked in them: to open their hearts and enable them to believe in Christ, and to cause them repent of their sins before God—and for the Saviour to save them.
Those who are saved are those who come to understand and believe that their salvation—including their faith (their belief in Christ the Saviour)—must be entirely the gift of God. They will understand that they were “dead in trespasses and in sins,” but now they have been “quickened” (Ephesians 2.1). “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 2.4-5). And it is in their quickened (i.e. regenerate) hearts that they will come to understand and believe all this.
God brings many of his people out of the Arminian error, even as he does out of other false belief-systems.
When God draws the elect to himself, in some cases they start within, or they pass through a church where they will be taught to deny the Biblical doctrines of providence and unconditional election. But when they read the Bible for themselves, they encounter these doctrines there. And God may bring Bible-believing Christians called Calvinists into their lives, or perhaps some writing, words on a poster, or a social media meme by John Bunyan or some other Puritan, or by Jonathan Edwards, or another Reformed preacher or writer, historic or present-day.
Whichever way it happens in their particular case, they are eventually taught these doctrines and they will struggle to accept them. And the Holy Spirit will cause them to question the entire soteriological system that their Arminian (free-willist, decisionist, etc.) church has taught them.
God will bring them to repent of those errors and he will bring them to a much higher view of himself—as the sovereign upholder and giver of life and breath and all things, who for his own pleasure and glory chooses and calls a people to himself from among fallen sinners of mankind. They will come to believe that the Triune God alone has saved them—and not anything they did, thought, believed, or decided.
True Christians grow in their faith. By “their faith” here we mean their increasing understanding of, and belief in, the doctrines actually taught in the Bible. It is sad that many of the Lord’s people struggle, perhaps all their lifetime, with various Biblical doctrines. But all true Christians learn from God to increasingly repent of wrong beliefs and to embrace the truth:
- “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1.17-18).
- “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1.9-10).
- “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 2.18).
See also Isaiah 54.13; Jeremiah 31.33-34; John 6.45; Hebrews 8.10-11.
All this growth in faith and repentance of error is worked in Christians by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
They will be brought to realise that they have been believing errors concerning their own salvation, and they will turn from them and to embrace the truths that they formerly rejected and opposed.
They will come to hold these truths as exceedingly precious to them! Humbled, they will be amazed that they were so blind before, but now God has made them see.
They will come to see—sooner or later—that it was God who chose them long before they were moved to seek him. Indeed, they were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4).
It is true of them what Jesus himself said to his disciples while on earth: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15.16).