The root of election in God’s particular and free love comes out all the more clearly in the New Testament. Ephesians 1 is a remarkable chapter that provides the contours of the doctrine of election. Verses 4–5 locate the source of every spiritual blessing known by the Christian in Christ and then communicate that our election—one of those spiritual blessings—was in Him “before the foundation of the world.” John Calvin, in his commentary on these verses, notes that the basis of our election in eternity reveals its gracious character:
The very time when the election took place proves it to be free; for what could we have deserved, or what merit did we possess, before the world was made? How childish is the attempt to meet this argument by the following sophism! “We were chosen because we were worthy, and because God foresaw that we would be worthy.” We were all lost in Adam; and therefore, had not God, through his own election, rescued us from perishing, there was nothing to be foreseen.
If the Father’s gracious election of His children is bound up in eternity, this does not make it arbitrary or abstract—it is intensely personal. It is personal insofar as our election is established in the person of Christ. The personal dimension is further seen in Paul’s focus on God’s love for His people as the basis for election, a love designed “according to the purpose of his will.”
The end goal of election, however, is not simply the manifestation of the Father’s gracious and loving will revealed in His Son for the salvation of His covenant people. To be sure, that is a most certain and secure result:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. (Eph. 1:13–14)
Paul ensures that the last word on election is not about humanity or even salvation—it is about God Himself. The refrain of Ephesians 1:1–14 is “to the praise of his glorious grace” (v. 6) and “to the praise of his glory” (vv. 12, 14).
While many reject the Reformed understanding of unconditional election out of a desire to preserve certain ideas concerning human freedom, many also reject it because of what is further entailed by its emphasis on God’s sovereignty. That is, if God is sovereign over those who are saved through election, He is also sovereign over those who are not. This is the doctrine of reprobation, wherein God sovereignly passes by those who are already lost in their sins. It is a doctrine taught in Scripture (Rom. 9:17–23; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4), but it does not dominate Scripture’s message as the message of God’s grace does. Indeed, its relationship to election is decidedly asymmetrical. Whereas election reveals God’s gracious love for His people in Christ, reprobation reveals His justice. In election, God’s people receive what they do not deserve; in reprobation, the result is the just condemnation of those passed over.
We live in a world that turns on influence. Thanks be to God, the decisive influence in His salvation economy is not a saint in heaven or faith on earth. The decisive influence is the Father’s electing sinners to receive His saving grace in His Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. From the human side, it is entirely un-influenced, or unconditioned—it is an unconditional election.