God’s Foreknowledge and Unconditional Election unto Salvation

12 10 2007

What we understand and believe about the nature of God’s foreknowledge directly affects whether we believe that election is “conditional” or “unconditional“.

Following are definitions of Unconditional Election and Conditional Election provided by the online Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconditional_election):

“In Protestant theology, election is considered to be one aspect of predestination in which God selects certain individuals to be saved. Those elected receive mercy, while those not elected, the reprobate, receive justice.

In Calvinism, this election is called “unconditional” because his choice to save someone does not hinge on anything inherent in the person or on any act that the person performs or belief that the person exercises. Indeed, according to the doctrine of total inability (the first of the five points of Calvinism), the influence of sin has so inhibited the individual’s volition that no one is willing or able to come to or follow God apart from God first regenerating the person’s heart to give them the ability to love him. Hence, God’s choice in election is and can only be based solely on God’s own independent and sovereign will and not upon the foreseen actions of man.

The Reformed position is frequently contrasted with the Arminian doctrine of conditional election in which God’s eternal choice to save a person is conditioned on God’s certain foreknowledge of future events, namely, that certain individuals would exercise faith and trust in response to God’s offer of salvation.”


If two Christian brothers disagree on the doctrine of election, it is likely that the root of their disagreement is in their respective beliefs and understanding of the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge. The person who believes that God’s election of persons unto salvation is conditional on His foreknowledge of whether they will choose to have saving faith in Jesus Christ typically has a vigorous disagreement with the one who believes that God in His foreknowledge chose or elected some of all of mankind who are lost in sin to be saved (for His divine purposes and good pleasure). Generally, the former leans more toward Arminian or “free will” oriented theological positions emphasizing man’s responsibility to “choose” to believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation. The later leans toward “Calvinistic” or “predestination” oriented theological positions emphasizing God’s sovereign choice in electing people unto salvation through Jesus Christ. At the root of this difference in understanding about the nature of divine election unto salvation is a difference in our understanding of the nature and effect of God’s foreknowledge.


Those such as myself who are Calvinistic in their beliefs emphasize the doctrines of God’s grace in regards to salvation. We believe strongly in unconditional election flowing from the sovereign decree of God over all things.


Since it is beyond my capabilities to adequately explain this Calvinistic view of God’s foreknowledge, again I am turning to A. W. Pink’s explanation in The Attributes of God (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan – 2001). (Any bold or underlined text in what follows are my own efforts to highlight certain points for the reader.)



A. Confusion and Disagreement about the Nature of God’s Foreknowledge

“When the solemn and blessed subject of Divine foreordination is expounded, when God’s eternal choice of certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son is set forth, the Enemy sends along some man to argue that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God, and this “foreknowledge” is interpreted to mean that God foresaw certain ones would be more pliable than others, that they would respond more readily to the strivings of the Spirit, and that because God knew they would believe, He, accordingly, predestinated them unto salvation. But such a statement is radically wrong. It repudiates the truth of total depravity, for it argues that there is something good in some men. It takes away the independency of God, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature. It completely turns things upside down, for in saying God foresaw certain sinners would believe in Christ, and that because of this, He predestinated them unto salvation, is the very reverse of the truth. Scripture affirms that God, in His high sovereignty, singled out certain ones to be recipients of His distinguishing favors (Acts 13:48), and therefore He determined to bestow upon them the gift of faith. False theology makes God’s foreknowledge of our believing the cause of His election to salvation; whereas, God’s election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect.


B. Scriptural “Foreknowledge” is in reference to Persons, not to their Actions

“The fact is that “foreknowledge” is never used in Scripture in connection with events or actions; instead, it always has reference to persons. It is persons God is said to “foreknow,” not the actions of those persons. In proof of this we shall now quote each passage where this expression is found.”

  • The first occurrence is in Acts 2:23. There we read, “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” If careful attention is paid to the wording of this verse it will be seen that the apostle was not there speaking of God’s foreknowledge of the act of the crucifixion, but of the Person crucified: “Him (Christ) being delivered by,” etc.
  • The second occurrence is in Romans 8:29,30. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image, of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called,” etc. Weigh well the pronoun that is used here. It is not what He did foreknow, but whom He did. It is not the surrendering of their wills nor the believing of their hearts but the persons themselves, which is here in view.
  • God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2). Once more the plain reference is to persons, and to persons only.
  • The last mention is in 1 Peter 1:2: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father? The previous verse tells us: the reference is to the “strangers scattered” i.e. the Diaspora, the Dispersion, the believing Jews. Thus, here too the reference is to persons, and not to their foreseen acts.


C. People are the Object of God’s Foreknowledge in Scripture – Not their Actions

“Now in view of these passages (and there are no more) what scriptural ground is there for anyone saying God “foreknew” the acts of certain ones, viz., their “repenting and believing,” and that because of those acts He elected them unto salvation? The answer is, None whatever. Scripture never speaks of repentance and faith as being foreseen or foreknown by God. Truly, He did know from all eternity that certain ones would repent and believe, yet this is not what Scripture refers to as the object of God’s “foreknowledge.” The word uniformly refers to God’s foreknowing persons; …”


D. God’s Sovereign Decree is evidenced in God’s Foreknowledge

“Another thing to which we desire to call particular attention is that the first two passages quoted (i.e. Acts 2:23 and Romans 8:29) above show plainly and teach implicitly that God’s “foreknowledge” is not causative, that instead, something else lies behind, precedes it, and that something is His own sovereign decree. Christ was “delivered by the (1) determinate counsel and (2) foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23). His “counsel” or decree was the ground of His foreknowledge. So again in Romans 8:29. That verse opens with the word “for,” which tells us to look back to what immediately precedes. What, then, does the previous verse say? This, “all things work together for good to them. . . .who are the called according to His purpose.” Thus God’s foreknowledge is based upon His purpose or decree (see Ps. 2:7).”

God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be. It is therefore a reversing of the order of Scripture, a putting of the cart before the horse, to affirm that God elects because He foreknows people. The truth is, He “foreknows” because He has elected. This removes the ground or cause of election from outside the creature, and places it in God’s own sovereign will. God purposed in Himself to elect a certain people, not because of anything good in them or from them, either actual or foreseen, but solely out of His own mere pleasure. As to why He chose the ones He did, we do not know, and can only say, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” The plain truth of Romans 8:29 is that God, before the foundation of the world, singled out certain sinners and appointed them unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13). This is clear from the concluding words of the verse: “Predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son,” etc. God did not predestinate those whom He foreknew were “conformed,” but, on the contrary, those whom He “foreknew” (i.e., loved and elected) He predestinated to be conformed. Their conformity to Christ is not the cause, but the effect of God’s foreknowledge and predestination.


E. The Final Humbling Point Regarding God’s Foreknowledge and Our Salvation

“If then the reader be a real Christian, he is so because God chose him in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and chose not because He foresaw you would believe, but chose simply because it pleased Him to choose: chose you notwithstanding your natural unbelief.”


Another source of grace-oriented teaching in regards to God’s Foreknowledge can be found at the Grace To You website authored by Pastor John MacArthur, Jr. (http://www.gty.org/). The following references address the issue in a direct manner.





Pastor Bob DeWaay addresses the critical theological issue of open theism and the foreknowledge of God in one of his “Critical Issue Commentaries”: http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue58.htm


Our understanding of theological issues such as God’s foreknowledge, election, predestination, the person of Christ, the attributes of God, etc., etc. are not just arcane exercises in intellectual gymnastics. What we believe about unconditional election affects our approach to telling others about the gospel of Christ. If we believe in unconditional election and predestination, we should preach the gospel message faithfully – trusting that God will bring all His elect to salvation through the preaching of God’s word by ourselves and/or others. If we instead believe in conditional election without reliance on God’s independent predestination of His chosen ones unto salvation, then the responsibility for saving people is upon ourselves. They are lost in sin and we as Christians are inadequate  to fulfill our responsibilities in this view of God’s workings. With careful thought a person can figure out the impact these two divergent beliefs have upon church ministries and how the Christian life is lived. Those believing in conditional election will tend more and more toward the use of every “gospel-marketing approach” they can possibly construe of (biblical or not) to “fulfill their responsibility”as they see it to bring others to Christ.  Much more can be said on this, but it will wait for another time.

God is much more reliable than we are in bringing His elect unto saving faith in Jesus Christ! I will cast my lot in reliance on God’s abilities and sovereignty in the matter of people’s (including my own) salvation rather than on any abilities I may have in this area. Calvinist or not, we as Christians are called in obedience to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8), and to carry out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:21). Evangelism for someone who is Calvinistic in their theological understanding is an issue of obedience and loving service to God, trusting Him for the ultimate results and fruit.





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