Views on Divine Election: Traditional Calvinist

The key to understanding the Calvinist notion of divine election rests in shielding the sovereignty of God from any effectual interference by humankind. Election to salvation is rooted purely in the sovereign grace of God and it is unconditional in every aspect; it does not rely in any way on the behavior, belief, or action of the man or woman on which it is visited. Calvin says:

We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others. It is plain how greatly ignorance of this principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility. (Institutes III, xxi, 1)

Calvin is quoted in a different context restating this principle a bit more starkly:

Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which he hath determined in himself what he would have to become of every individual of mankind…eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for other. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestined to life or to death. (Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature ‘Calvinism’)

The Calvinist view of election has three facets; it is unconditional, individual, and infralapsarian, and scriptural references abound in support of each of these ideas. When election is referenced in this discussion, the Calvinist has in view a salvific election, one that produces salvation from perdition. This is an important but often overlooked distinction because theology also recognizes that there is an election to service and many theological disagreements balance on the recognition of this fine point. Careful exegesis is required then when stating unequivocally that one’s theological position is absolute; remember, context must always be considered when referring to a single verse in support of a tenet. Let’s look at each of the facets on their own.

Election is Unconditional

The U in TULIP represents election as unconditional; God graciously elected some to be saved according to His sovereign will without respect to their individual qualities, characters, or choices. This means that the choice was not conditioned on something that humans would do or the choices they would make, their behavior (good or bad) or any unique characteristic that might separate them from those who are bound by their sin and headed to perdition. Unconditional election is forwarded as the position that brings the greatest glory to God. Because salvation requires no human agency from start to finish God appropriately receives all of the glory for the transaction.

Scripture: Eph 1:3-6, Rom 9:10-16, John 17:2,6

Election is Individual

Election to salvation is done on an individual basis by God, bypassing one while selecting the next. While scripture speaks of God choosing a people, the Church, or a bride, this election is composed of the collective individuals who are recipients of His grace. This deeply theological concept contributes in a much greater sense than just scholastically. The joy that the recipient feels is heightened by the idea that God the Father has elected them as an individual. They are not a faceless part of the whole but a known entity to the God of the universe.

Scripture: John 6:37, Acts 13:48

Election is Infralapsarian

The question that remains in examining the Calvinist view of election has to do with the timing, or sequence of God’s decrees. The matter to be answered is when did God decree that salvation would be granted to the elect, before or after the decree to allow the Fall. Calvinist theologians can indicate disagreement on this point, some leaning toward Supralapsarian timing while others take the Infralapsarian view. The orders of each are:

Supralapsarianism (Decree of Salvation/Reprobation precedes the decree to allow the Fall)

  • The decree to save some and condemn others
  • The decree to create both the elect and the reprobate
  • The decree to permit the Fall of both classes
  • The decree to provide salvation only for the elect


  • The decree to create human beings
  • The decree to permit the Fall
  • The decree to save some and condemn others
  • The decree to provide salvation only for the elect

Of the two, the dominant position through Calvinist history has been the Infralapsarian position though the issue is often left in an indefinite state that allows for a melding of the two positions. Once again, the theological desire to protect the sovereignty and the moral integrity of God is foremost in the conduct of this intramural argument. When searching the Scriptures for support, an important cue to remember is that when election to salvation is seen, it must logically follow that the need for that election is driven by a humankind that requires saving.

Scripture: Acts 13:48, Rom 8:29-30


The unconditional nature of election to salvation is key to the entire Calvinist theological framework. When contrasting this system with others, much of the debate hinges, knowingly or unknowingly on understanding the true positions of competing theologies with regard to election. It is incumbent upon us then to glorify God through our devotion to proper scholarship before engaging in any form of definitive declaration as to the validity or illegitimacy of positions not our own.

Solus Christus

Other Views on Election

7 thoughts on “Views on Divine Election: Traditional Calvinist”

  1. “When contrasting this system with others, much of the debate hinges, knowingly or unknowingly on understanding the true positions of competing theologies with regard to election.”

    Couldn’t the key be to examine different positions in light of what scripture clearly teaches? Before Calvin and Arminius was Scripture.

  2. Scripture first, today and always. You are absolutely correct though the pattern today seems to be reversed. So many read the scripture through the prism of their theology.

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