The Meaning of Tulip: What Is Unconditional Election? (Part 2 of 5)
Updated: Mar 16
In the previous post, we discussed the first letter of TULIP. If you haven't read that article, you can find it here. This article explores the second letter of the acronym, "u," which stands for Unconditional Election.
When Moses stood on Mount Sinai and requested to see the glory of God, he was told, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy," indicating that God does not respond to us. Instead, he chooses, and we respond to him.
Nothing good in us is worthy of the gift of God's Son. God's grace and election are not conditioned upon anything in us or anything we have done, which is why the second letter in the TULIP stands for Unconditional Election. R.C. Sproul defines it this way:
“The Reformed view of election, known as unconditional election, means that God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.”
Two ideas are present in Unconditional election, and we will look at them in turn.
First, the idea of election. Election is a biblical concept that all students of the Bible recognize. The doctrine of election teaches that God chose a particular people for himself before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6).
This biblical fact is rarely disputed because election is spoken of all over Scripture, but the question it begs is at the heart of the election debate. The question is this: why? Why did God choose some and not others?
Did he choose those whom he foresaw would choose him? Did he choose the best and the brightest? Did he choose people who were more naturally inclined toward being religious? Did he choose people based on how good or righteous they were?
No. God did not choose his elect based on anything they did or would do. His choice was purely his own. The Bible makes clear that it was unconditional (Deut. 7:6-8).
The second word in this term is unconditional. Unconditional election means that before the foundation of the world, when God looked ahead at all the people who would live and die, he did not look for those who would be good enough or those who would choose him and then make them elect. He looked ahead and elected whomever he chose simply because it was his "good pleasure" (Eph. 1:5).
In all the Scripture, no passage is as clear as Romans chapter nine in explaining God's unconditional election. The Apostle Paul explicitly argues this point when he clarifies that God's election is not based on anything in us.
"Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." - Romans 9:11-16
This passage of Scripture clarifies all the ways his election is not conditional.
He chose before they were born.
He chose before they had done good or evil.
He chose not because of works.
He chose not because of human will.
He chose not based on our exertion.
It also makes clear why he chose.
He chose that his purpose in election might continue.
He chose because of his mercy.
He chose because of his compassion.
He chose because it depends not on man but on God.
Understanding that God chose us in this way magnifies his grace, which has been his purpose from the beginning.
"In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace." - Ephesians 1:4b-6a
If something of value in us made God choose us, it would somehow make us worthy of salvation, but grace is not grace if we deserve it. By definition, grace is unmerited favor, which is why God's election of us must be unconditional.