Election: Conditional or Unconditional?
Two people, let’s call them Melvin and Adrian, are invited to church. Both of them are unbelievers, and have been so all of their lives. Melvin and Adrian hear the same sermon preached and hear the same presentation of the gospel, yet Melvin decides to give her life over to Christ while Adrian remains in unbelief. Why? Why do some people hear the gospel and submit their lives to Christ and others hear the same gospel and harden their hearts further? Was Melvin unconditionally chosen by God to believe and yet predestining Adrian to dis-believe?
This friendly dialogue between Seventh-day Adventist (Semi-Arian) and Evangelical (Calvinist) discussed about the subject of election, limiting their discussion on John 15:16.
Calvinist: John15:16, conditional or unconditional?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
Semi Arminian: Unconditional, but the immediate context reveals the subject of missiology (cf. 15:15-16) and not soteriology.
Calvinist: Bearing fruit that will last is no indication of soteriology?
Semi Arminian: That is not the main concern of the text—just look at how Jesus uses the servant master motif—an illustration of missiology.
As we can see, Jesus called His disciples friends because He had disclosed His Father’s revelation to them. Now, Jesus then reminded them that contrary to the common practice of disciples picking a teacher, Jesus had chosen them (cf. John 15:19). The purpose of His choosing was so that they would produce lasting fruit. He chose them for a mission, and His Father would answer their requests in order to accomplish that mission (15:16c).
However, larger context does not rule out the topic of Soteriology. A disciple’s continual abiding with Jesus (If a man remains in Me)—and the indwelling of Jesus in a believer (and I in him)—result in abundant fruit (cf. v. 8) But those who do not believe face disaster. A branch without life is dead and cut off (v. 2). It is worthless and therefore is thrown into the fire and burned. The branches are probable allusion of “burned” Christians who have lost their salvation (conditional).
Discussing about ‘bearing fruit’ will reveal that it has a nature of conditional:
Conditionality of the texts: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v.4)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (vv. 5-8, emphasis added)
The preposition “if” leads us to “conditionality” of the subject (soteriology).
Calvinist: And so if the purpose of their choosing is so they will have fruit that will last, does it imply they were chosen because they will have fruit?
But were they chosen because they will bear fruit or they were chosen to bear fruit?
Semi-Arminian: They were chosen to bear fruit. “To” because, bearing fruit is conditional (see, vv. 5-8).
Calvinist: Well good thing I did not ask whether bearing fruit is conditional or not.
Semi-Arminian: Forgive me for pointing out to you the immediate context. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to emphasize that John did not use the causative conjunction ‘γαρ’ (for) and instead subordinating conjuction ‘ἵνα’ (that), perhaps used to introduce clauses that show a purpose or goal, that is,’they were chosen to bear fruit.’
As you can see friend, I cannot push through the idea that ‘they were chosen because they will bear fruit’ because ‘remaining in Christ’ (see, vv. 4, 5-8) was given as a prerequisite to bear fruit. We simply cannot not ignore the immediate context of the text, unless we want it to become a pretext.
Calvinist: Granted they will bear fruit for remaining in Christ but that was never the question. The question is on election, the election was it because they were already fruit bearers or were they chosen to bear fruit that lasts.
Semi-Arminian: I’ve already answered that on my initial post. The election was unconditional—no doubt about that. But that pertains to their mission, not to their salvation.
In The College Press NIV commentary: “He chooses us to go and bear fruit. We are not simply chosen to have blessings heaped upon us. The election of God is to service and responsibility, not to privilege” accurately claims by Bryant, B.H and Krause, M.S (emphasis not mine).
Thus, they were chosen not because they were already fruit bearers, but plainly points out that they were chosen to bear fruit that lasts.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v.4, emphasis added)
Although we have not answered the question directly raised above, the point of the matter is, most of the texts that have been used by a Calvinist can be frequently found out of context.