Unconditional Election: Dead is Dead

Have you ever heard the story of the old preacher who stood in his pulpit and explained the doctrine of election?  With great excitement, he said pointing down to the floorboards at his left, "Election is when Satan casts a vote for your soul!"  And then, pointing to the ceiling to his right, he growled with equal enthusiasm, "And then God casts a vote for your soul!"  But then under pinched eyebrows looking down the barrel of his finger he says to the congregation, "And you cast the deciding vote, either for the Devil or for God.  That is the doctrine of election!"

Now, we might smile at that story and rightly so, but perhaps we are still left to wonder what election actually means. Well, before explaining the doctrine let me add something important. Reformed theologians don't just talk about election.  They use an adjective to describe it.  Election is, they say, unconditional. Let's think about that adjective for a minute.

A condition is something that has a serious influence on the outcome of some event.  For example, if a military leader's force is surrounded after a hard fought battle, he may offer his surrender upon certain conditions.  However, the victorious leader may refuse the conditions. In other words, he demands an unconditional surrender. Now, this is not difficult to understand militarily.  But what are the theological implications?

Let's think in terms of soteriology or salvation. If God's election or choice of an individual was conditioned, then that would suggest that a person possesses something that might influence the outcome of their salvation.  For example, some who believe that faith comes before the regenerating work of the Spirit would see that as a condition met by the individual. Reformed theologians see things differently.  Why? It's because of the way the Bible describes man's fallen condition.  Paul, writing to the Ephesians is clear when he pens, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins."[1] Dead is dead.

I once spoke to a group about this very subject. In order to impress them with spiritual death I asked a friend who was unknown to them to accompany me - as a dead man.  I worked for a funeral director at the time and borrowed his stretcher to complete the effect.  After setting a solemn tone, I asked two men to wheel in the stretcher with my sheet covered friend.  After throwing back the shroud, I waved my hand before his closed eyes, put flowers to his nose, spoke loudly in his ear, asked him to speak, and asked him to tell us what he could feel when pricked with a pin.  He was motionless.  My point was simple, a dead man is unable to meet any condition that might lead to the accomplishment of his salvation.  Dead is dead.

So, what is unconditional election? It is God's gracious eternal decree to predestine spiritually dead men, women and children to eternal life through no condition met by them but wholly through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends, it was God's Spirit who brought God's decree to fruition when He made us alive in Christ.[2] Why don't we take a minute to bow and thank God for his unconditional election?

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

[1] Ephesians 2:1

[2] Ephesians 2:5


Jeffrey Stivason