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 ESV):
John 15:16: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."
John 1:12,13: "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who 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 began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."
Romans 9:15-16: "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 9:22-24: "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessles of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make the riches of his glory for vessles of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory - even us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?"
Ephesians 1:4-5: "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,"
Ephesians 1:11: "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,"
Philippians 1:29: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake"
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5: "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake."
2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification [by the Spirit] and belief in the truth."
2 Timothy 1:9: "who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages 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 witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death,(A) blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live."
Joshua 24:15: "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell."
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.