Fourth-century Church FatherAugustine of Hippo taught that saving grace is sovereignly bestowed by God without any consideration of individual merit. God chose some men for salvation in an eternal, hidden decree. Few later theologians prior to the Reformation would take up this idea.
In Calvinist theology, election is considered to be one aspect of predestination in which God selects certain individuals to be saved. Those elected receive mercy, while those not elected, the reprobates, receive justice without condition. This unconditional election is essentially related to the rest of the TULIP hinged upon the supreme basic belief in the sovereignty of God. Unconditional election is God's choice to save people regardless of their sin or any condition. This basically means, God's act of saving is not based on what man can do or choose to will, but man is loved by God without any conditions or man's action or deeds but solely by God's grace, thus unconditional election.
In Calvinist and some other churches (Waldensians, Katharoi, Anabaptists, Particular Baptists, etc.) this election has been called "unconditional" because his choice to save someone does not hinge on anything inherent in the person or on any act that the person performs or belief that the person exercises. Indeed, according to the doctrine of total depravity (the first of the five points of Calvinism), the influence of sin has so inhibited the individual's volition that no one is willing or able to come to or follow God apart from God first regenerating the person's soul to give them the ability to love him. Hence, God’s choice in election is and can only be based solely on God's own independent and sovereign will and [not] upon the foreseen actions of man. Scholastic Calvinists have sometimes debated precisely when, relative to the decree for the Fall of man, God did his electing – see supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism – though such distinctions are not often emphasized in modern Calvinism.
The Reformed position is frequently contrasted with the Arminian doctrine of conditional election in which God's eternal choice to save a person is conditioned on God’s certain foreknowledge of future events, namely, that certain individuals would exercise faith and trust in response to God's [offer] of salvation.
A number of passages are put forth to support the doctrine, including (quotations are from the KJV):
John 15:16: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you."
John 1:12,13: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Acts 13:48: "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
Romans 9:15-16: "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy."
Romans 9:22-24: "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"
Ephesians 1:4-5: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,"
Ephesians 1:11: "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:"
Philippians 1:29: "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;"
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5: "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake."
2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:"
2 Timothy 1:9: "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,"
Some biblical passages are put forth as evidence that human volition, not just divine action, plays a central role in salvation (see conditional election):
Deuteronomy 30:19: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:"
Joshua 24:15: "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Calvinists generally understand the former passages as giving a window into the divine perspective and the latter passages as speaking from the human perspective in calling people to work out the salvation God has given them.
^John Calvin (1559). "Of the Eternal Election (3.21.7)". Institutes of the Christian Religion. We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his desire one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his desire to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them.
^Belgic Confession, article 16 ("The Doctrine of Election"): "We believe that-- all Adam's descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man-- God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their own ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves."
^Canons of Dort, first head, chapter 1, article 7 ("Election Defined"): "Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, out of the whole human race, which had fallen by its own fault out of its original integrity into sin and perdition, He has, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will, out of mere grace, chosen in Christ to salvation a definite number of specific persons, neither better nor more worthy than others, but involved together with them in a common misery. He has also from eternity appointed Christ to be the Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation and thus He decreed to give to Christ those who were to be saved, and effectually to call and draw them into His communion through His Word and Spirit. He decreed to give them true faith in Him, to justify them, to sanctify them, and, after having powerfully kept them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them, for the demonstration of His mercy and the praise of the riches of His glorious grace."
Chapter III, paragraphs 1-7: "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: … By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, while others are foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed: and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto … The rest of mankind God was pleased … to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin."
Chapter X, paragraphs 1-4: "All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ … This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein … Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, … yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved."
^Hägglund, Bengt (2007) . Teologins historia [History of Theology] (in German). Translated by Gene J. Lund (4th rev. ed.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 139–140. ISBN978-0758613486.