The Arminian1 objection against the doctrine of unconditional election, still commonly heard today, concedes that there is a doctrine of Divine election in the Bible. But it argues that it is a conditional election.
They say that before the beginning of time, God looked forward into the future and foresaw who would believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and who would not. And then, upon this condition (or, basis) of the believers themselves choosing to believe, God consequently elected them to salvation.
Sometimes the following illustration is used by Arminians to assist people in understanding their idea: imagine that you are on top of a tower block in a city, and you looked down upon a busy road junction and observed two cars being driven toward each other. Based upon the two cars’ directions and speeds, you predict that they will certainly crash into each other. You can’t do anything about it—you don’t do anything about it—all you do is “foresee” what would happen, from your vantage point.
Rejectors of unconditional election say that the God’s election of particular people to salvation is similar to this kind of foreseeing (foreknowledge)—as though God merely “elected” who would be saved based upon the faith that he foresaw they would have.
Many precious, godly Christians still hold to this idea. Yet in this idea, God’s predestination of particular people to salvation is taken to mean that he merely presciently confirms people’s choice to believe in Christ with his gracious power and promises.
Arminianism (“free-willism”) argues that Divine predestination is not the eternal sovereign choice of the exalted and great God who does whatsoever he pleases (compare Psalms 115.3; 135.6), and who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1.11).
Arminians know that there is a doctrine of divine election/predestination taught in the Bible. They do not deny the existence of these Scriptural words.2 But where Arminians differ with Calvinists (and we Calvinists think, differ from the the Biblical doctrine), is that they say a person’s free will decision to believe in Christ is the key cause of their salvation, and that God’s election is not the cause of their salvation but somehow a consequence of their choosing to believe in Christ. As though their free will decision came first logically, though not chronologically, and as though the chronologically first decision of God (namely his election of believers to salvation) came after he had foreseen3 who would have faith in Christ (as per the Arminian “tower block view of an impending car crash” illustration).
God did, of course, know all that would happen in his creation even before he created all things. But the reason why God knew all that would happen is not merely through his foreseeing all things that happen, but through his own foreplanning and foreordaining of all things that happen in his providence.
Moreover, the only faith in Christ4 that God foresees in any person is the faith which God himself gives (see Ephesians 2:8). God did not give people this gift of faith as a reward for the faith that he foresaw they would have! And neither did God give them faith because he saw in them some worthiness to receive the gift of faith. There was no worthiness.5
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is, itself, an integral part of “the gift of God,” namely salvation (Ephesians 2:8). Without this gift, and without the saving work the Holy Spirit in the soul, no fallen human being could, or would, choose to follow Christ.
Spiritually dead sinners would never choose to believe in Christ—they would never have come to be saved. “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8.7).
Those who are dead in trespasses and sins cannot make themselves spiritually alive, or make themselves born again. And no matter what we thought we were doing before God called us, “there is none that seeketh after God” (see John 3.3; Romans 3.11; Ephesians 2.1).
Something happened in our souls, which made us to trust the Word of God rather than reject it, and to seek the Lord Jesus Christ rather than reject him. There came a day when we found ourselves disposed to believe the Bible.
Some of us had previously known many Bible stories and teachings for decades, while others had only just begun to learn what is in the Bible. But then—we found that we believed that what we had learned from the Bible is true, even while so many people alongside us rejected (and still reject) the these truths, and reject Christ.
We have been enabled to understand that we, who were dead in sins until this change happened, would never have believed these things if it were not that we were made willing (see Psalms 110.3) and enabled to believe by God himself.
That is why we now accept what the apostle Paul says: “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 are ye saved)…For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2.4-5,8-9).
The truth is this: “God, who is rich in mercy” has a great love for his people; and it was “for the great love wherewith he loved us” (not for any “goodness” or any “foreseen faith” in us) that he came near to us “even when we were dead in sins,” and he “quickened us together with Christ.”
If you have come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then this is not your own doing at all—as you will one day inevitably admit, if not already—but “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine [i.e. the true, Biblical gospel] which was delivered you” (Romans 6.17).
Our salvation, in its entirety, from beginning to end, is all to “the praise of the glory of his [i.e. God’s] grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved [i.e. in Christ]” (Ephesians 1.6).
By faith in Christ, we mean that belief and trust in the true Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible, who is the Saviour of all whose faith is in him. Nothing less than this is that faith in Christ of which the Bible speaks. ↩︎