Any time that some truth which is held in balance in God’s word is given an emphasis on only one side, then misunderstanding and error result. It is true, as the Calvinists emphasize, that election in eternity past is unconditional. But the neglected Biblical balance is this: salvation in this temporal world is conditional, and God blesses no one with the saving, justifying, regenerating, life-giving union with Christ until they drop their rebellion, humble themselves, and come in genuine, repentant, fully surrendered faith. It is true, as the Calvinists emphasize, that faith is the gift of God; but it is just as Biblically true that faith is the requirement of God for salvation.
If this Biblical balance were not the case, then we would expect to see the Calvinist one-sided view reflected in Scripture, with only election put forth as the pivotal thing of salvation. But instead, we see throughout that it is faith/belief that is the pivotal thing on which salvation or destruction are decided. If the Calvinists were correct, we should expect that verses such as John 3:16 should read, “…that whoever was not going to perish but was going to have eternal life would believe in Him;” but instead we find, “…that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” Throughout Scripture, belief is pivotal to salvation. That is why we preach to men—to implore them to believe. Belief results in justification and forgiveness, it results in reconciliation with God and the life-giving, regenerating indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Belief results in adoption and spiritual rebirth into God’s family. On the other hand, unbelief results in a man dying in his sins, it results in the wrath of God, it results in eternal destruction. Belief cannot be simply one of the fruits of the Spirit given in some uninvited regenerational indwelling, else it would not have been given such an ostensibly pivotal role in whether a man goes to heaven or to hell.
This imbalance in the Calvinist understanding results in two things. First, it results in an overly transcendent view of how God works with men to accomplish His plan. Sinners are seen as locked behind obstacles to faith that are impossible to overcome, and God is seen as regenerating men without any regard to their own will in the matter. What I’m trying to get you to see is that such a one-sided, transcendent scheme is unnecessary—that there is a more Biblical and more immanent way to understand this. Belief is the pivotal thing precisely because unbelief is never mere ignorance of the truth but is always rebellion against the God of that truth—just as belief is never mere mental assent to the truth but must always be a repentant submission to the God of that truth. It is not necessary to an unconditional election that the responses of men be irrelevant. If God implores all men to come, and only saves those who do come, it fits perfectly with election if God is responsible for whether or not a man is ultimately persuaded to come. God knows all men completely, and knows exactly how much persuasion would be needed to bring any man to his knees in repentant faith; and God is in charge of all circumstances, including length of life.
The second result is the hidden assumption of an indifference in God toward the nonelect. It is assumed that if God had any desire toward saving the nonelect, then He would have elected them. It is an overly simplistic view of God that fails to consider that the exigencies of the justice in God’s nature may have required Him to accept what is repugnant to Him (the perishing of so many) for the greater purposes of accomplishing His plan for His glory. The simplistic view sees that God can simply do whatever He wants; but God cannot go against His own sense of justice, which would be to go against Himself. The fact is that if Adam had not sinned, then all men would have been elect. In order for God’s plan to include the sin of mankind in Adam, it would have to include so tragic the results of that sin. Sin must have results; and the sin of the race in Adam has the necessary result of only a remnant being saved in the end. “God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and, “God is not willing that any should perish…” but God allows what is repugnant to His nature in order to accomplish what is to His greatest glory.
The difference between these two views of God is reflected in how God relates to the nonelect. If God is seen as having indifferently passed over so many for election, then He is seen as having little to no compassion toward the nonelect regarding any offer of salvation or any desire for their salvation. But if God is seen as a God who truly loves all, and who did not pass over so many out of any lack of love toward them, but only as a necessary judgment on the race as a whole, then God can indeed have compassion toward the nonelect and can indeed make salvation available in such a way as to make their destruction a matter of their own refusal and not merely a matter of God refusing to offer to save all who would be willing to come.
Ken Hamrick, 2013