Election is both conditional and unconditional.
Election is unconditional in that it doesn’t stem from any merit found within a human being; God simply chooses to provide salvation because of His inherent goodness, grace, and mercy (cf. Titus 3:5). A major advantage of examining soteriology from the perspective of unconditional election results in the understanding that salvation can’t be “earned” or even “obtained” from one’s inherent ability. Salvation is truly the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9) and comes from God alone.
Election is conditional, however, in that it requires a faith and belief that results in genuine obedience to God. One cannot be saved without placing faith in Christ (Romans 3:28, 5:1; Gal. 2:16), or “believing unto salvation” (John 3:16, 18; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9). However, since one has no inherent ability to save oneself, the faith in Christ that leads to salvation comes from God alone (cf. Eph. 2:8-9 once again; although a bit ambiguous, I interpret these verses to mean that grace AND faith are both the gifts from God, and not merely one or the other). Remember, God gives every man faith (Rom. 12:3), and this faith must be placed in Christ alone for salvation.
Some would argue that “placing faith” in Christ amounts to a work. I reject that position, however, because placing faith in anything is a default position of human epistemology. Humanity has been divinely backed into a corner of decision, and that decision does not count as a work unto salvation. You either place faith in Christ and accept the gift of salvation (Romans 6:23b), or you, by default, depend upon your human works and merit to obtain salvation. By the way, accepting a gift is not tantamount to a work.
Faith, by definition, is being certain of something which cannot be proven beyond doubt. Thus, “placing faith” in Christ really just means you are trusting Him to keep His promise to save you. The believer can be comforted and reassured of their salvation through the ongoing conviction of sin and presence/activity of the Holy Spirit within his/her heart. This is the evidence of things not seen by the human eye (cf. Heb. 11:1).
This is why I am a soteriological synergist. Faith originates with God (Eph. 2:8-9), and every man has faith (Rom. 12:3). That faith, however, must be exercised by the individual or it is worthless; inactive faith is powerless (James 2:14-26). Thus, God provides the capability for every man to be saved, but man must place saving faith in Jesus Christ of his own volition in order to be saved.
Of course, this begins with the drawing of the Holy Spirit, without which no man can come to God. Man cannot come to God of his own volition without the drawing of the Spirit (cf. John 6:44). Yet, we don’t know exactly how, where, or why the Holy Spirit exercises His drawing power. The best I can do is explain that where the Gospel is preached, the Spirit is drawing man to salvation, because the Word itself is “alive and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). I believe Paul’s Gospel, and since Paul preached the Word and preached Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), then I make the assumption that when that occurs, the drawing of the Spirit takes place. Understand, that drawing will not occur every time to every person, but my obedience to preach the Word is the best I can do within my own power in hopes that the Spirit draws and convicts people to relationship and repentance.
Finally, election is available to the whole world, but not everyone will become elect. The Gospel is unrestrictedly the power of God unto salvation (cf. Romans 1:16), and Christ died as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Yet, people will still go to hell because of their rejection of Christ. The doctrine of election directly affects the doctrine of atonement, and here’s the way I understand it: atonement is available to all, but is applied only to the elect. And atonement is available through the reception of Christ.
“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.” – John 1:12-13