Does God choose us, or do we choose God?

“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 15:16)


As a very young Christian I was confronted by a pastor at a Bible study teaching from John 17:6 on the doctrine of God’s sovereign choice (election) of who would be saved;““I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” I hated this teaching at first sight and set about to prove this pastor wrong, from the Bible. The result was that as I combed the scriptures I was powerfully convinced by the Holy Spirit that what this man was teaching was indeed true.

With decades of hindsight I can see that there were many more issues at work at the time other than various Bible verses. The great atheist Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer; and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”, and quite frankly the advocates of election at that Bible study did not come across as very redeemed. They were extremely serious and dogmatic people, for they considered themselves to be “Calvinists”. John Calvin believed that the scriptures taught that God in his sovereign power ordained some people to go to heaven and others to hell, he called this a “horrible decree” that mortals could not bear[1].

Contrast this sombre picture with the words of two other great teachers of the Christian faith. Martin Luther: “gaze at the heavenly picture of Christ, who descended into hell for your sake and was forsaken by God…In that picture your hell is defeated and your uncertain election is made sure.” “God has given us His Son, Jesus Christ,” Luther writes, “daily we should think of Him and mirror ourselves in Him. There we shall discover the predestination of God and shall find it most beautiful.” Or the thought of Karl Barth, “God elects in Jesus Christ….the first and last word is Yes and not No.”

What these men understood is that in the New Testament the teaching of election/ predestination is always accompanied by great joy. The key to understanding this joy is to recognize that the focal point of a true understanding of divine election is Jesus, and not us. The doctrine of election reaches its heights of praise[2] when Christ is placed at the centre of all our thinking.

Point 1: This is ultimately a question about whose character is most trustworthy

We cannot profitably discuss the sovereignty of God in choosing us for salvation unless we believe in our hearts that the Lord is full of compassion, mercy and steadfast love in all he does (Ex 34:6-7).. God’s willing is infinitely more creative than ours, it is a not a matter of whose will is most powerful. If we mistakenly think of God’s will as an irresistible raw power rather than the exercise of personal love, we shall always feel that the Spirit somehow coerces or controls people into salvation. That God’s ways and thoughts are as different as heaven is from earth means that such thinking on our behalf is simply confused (Isa 55:8-9)[3]. Unless these distinctions about the gracious and creative nature of God’s choices are respected, talk of predestination will result in a fatalistic attitude to life: “If my choices don’t make any difference to where I am going I might as well do as I please.” (Cf. Rom 3:8; 6:1, 15).

Similarly, we must not confuse the issue of free will with that of choice. Everyone makes choices, for God or against him. These choices are not forced on a person by some external power, whether we think of this power as Satan, God or genes; in the limited sense that our choices are our own all choices are “free”. But the voluntary (self-willed) nature of our choices doesn’t mean that we can simply choose what we want when we want. In other words our choices are voluntary but not arbitrary. (This will be discussed in more detail below.) For sinful human beings the issue of choice is an issue of power and control. Who has the final say, me or God? Naturally speaking we want the final say, because we are self-preserving and always think we know what is best for us.

The biblical understanding of the Lord’s power and will is the very opposite of our natural thinking. God exerts his power so that may his share his glorious nature. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV) God does not need anything from us; we have nothing to give him that he does not already have in infinite measure (Mic 6:6-8). The intention of his powerful will is always to give and never to take. The fact that “the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” does not induce fear but a loud “Hallelujah!” (Rev 19:6).

Human insecurity and rebellion means that we have contrived an understanding of free will that is at odds with biblical teaching.[4] Biblically speaking, freedom cannot be some property which we possess in or for ourselves apart from a relationship with God.  Since we were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28; 1 Cor 11:7; James 3:9), a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14), genuine freedom must be freedom – in – relationship. Especially this means a freedom to trust, hope in and love God (1 Cor 13:13).  This means that only saved or “born again” people can, in biblical terms, be truly free[5].

Jesus said, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”” (John 8:34-36 ESV). Paul also teaches that humans need freedom as a gift from God; “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21 ESV); “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2); “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17). Anyone without Jesus and the Holy Spirit in their life is not truly free. Ultimate freedom means a relationship with the whole Godhead; ‘God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba Father!” (Gal 4:6).

Whilst human beings outside of Christ are in utter in slavery to sin (Rom 6:16-20; Tit 3:3; 2 Pet 2:19), God (thankfully) has power over our wills[6]. This is NOT some sort of coercion, the Lord inwardly strengthens our wills by his Word and Spirit to grant them freedom; “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13 cf. 1 Cor 5:10; Heb 13:21). Freedom to obey the Lord is a sheer gift.

The most extended discussion of the sovereignty of God over the human will is in Romans 9-11, particularly Romans 9:10-24.

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.   [See Ex 9:12, 16]

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to its moulder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

That God sovereignly chooses us to share in his glory always stimulates praise by the biblical writers (Ps 33:12; 65:4; Rom 11:33-36; Eph 1:3-6; 1 Thess 1:3-5; 2 Thess 2:13). The true character of our theology of election is revealed by whether it causes us to praise God and his grace[7]. Here is how Paul sums up his extended treatment of God’s choice of Israel and people out of the nations;

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:33-36 ESV) God’s choice of some, and not others, is no cause for fear, but praise[8].

Point 2: God chooses / elects / predestines in eternity

That God’s choice to save was made in eternity helps us to recognise the true character of election; “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….” (Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV cf. 3:11; Acts 15:16 –18; Rev 13:8; 17:8). Election is not an afterthought brought in to solve the otherwise unsolvable problem of sin. Neither is it a selection of certain people based on competing alternatives; God choosing the best of a bad bunch! The plan of God to create and redeem the world was never centred on unfallen or fallen people but eternally always centred in Christ.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16 cf. 1 Pet 1:20). This plan included the provision of grace for salvation; “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,” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV). This means that the children of God are heirs of an eternal and unshakeable heritage; ““Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”” (Matthew 25:34 ESV)

To realise I was always included in Christ gives great power for living. Whether or not my parents intentionally chose to have a child, which ended up being “me”, the eternal truth is that God chose to have me in his Son. This is a choice that he has never regretted, and it will bring me sweet and pure joy forever.

Point 3: God’s choice is completely of grace, because sinful people have neither the power nor inclination to choose him

The Bible teaches that the hearts and minds of human beings are affected by sin (Gen 6:5; 8:21; Isa 64:6; Rom 3:9-20; Rom 8:5-7). By our own choices, both personally and in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22; cf. Ps 51:5; Eph 2:3), we are responsible for the fact of what we are now as fallen sinful people (outside of Christ):

-        helpless (Rom 5:6)

-        cannot understand God (1 Cor 2:14)

-        spiritually blind (2 Cor 4:4)

-        cannot submit to God’s law (Rom 8:7-8)

-        spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1)

-        not interested in seeking God (Rom 3:10- 18)

God holds us responsible for the choices we have made to fall into such a state of spiritual death. If he did not mercifully take the initiative in choosing us we would all be justly and eternally lost. The Lord does not “predestine people to hell”, for by our own choices we were already on our way there. This makes it clear that election to salvation is a matter of pure grace; we do not contribute anything (Rom 11:5; 2 Tim 1:9). “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom 9:16)

Another way of putting this is to recognise that it is God’s choice which creates the willingness in the person chosen. Such willingness to be saved is created by the action of election whereby God in his powerful Word makes effective promises that transform the identity of the chosen person and form in them a heart open to the things of God; “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17 ESV).  Election is not God choosing someone who in some way qualifies because they have goodness or faith, and rejecting others without these qualities because they don’t meet the grade. There is no favouritism with God (cf. Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11; Gal 2:6).

The prime example of God’s unconditional election is Abraham. The Bible records no qualifications for his choice by the LORD, on the contrary, obedient faith follows promise (Gen 12:1-3). The language of God bringing into existence the reality of which he promises Abram/Abraham is used repeatedly[9], e.g. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.” (Genesis 17:5-6 ESV cf. Rom 4:5, 17, 19, 24). This is also the case with the election of Israel, her name and identity are given by God (Gen 32:28; Ps 132:13 – 14; Isa 43:1,6,7,15,20,21; 44:1,2; 49:1,7). The only ground for Israel being the chosen people is God’s love, not any positive human attribute, just the opposite; “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you..” (Deut 7:7-8; 9:4, 6).

Similarly, in the New Testament, personal effort and status are irrelevant to election; “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 cf. Rom 9:30; 11:6). This free and creative choice of God can be called election ex nihilo/ “out of nothing”.

Point 4: This choice is first of all of Jesus to be Messiah[10]

The fear that often surrounds discussions of divine election and predestination is dispelled when we consider that we are chosen by the Father “in Christ”. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”(Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV). In this passage Paul repeatedly stresses the “in him/in Christ” of God’s purposes for us (vv. 6-13). Even more profoundly, Peter teaches that Jesus himself was elected by God in eternity, “He was foreknown[11] before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20 ESV). From beginning to end God’s purposes are accomplished in Jesus (Rev 22:13). Election means being given a place in God’s choice of Christ.

The revelation of God’s choice of a Messiah/Christ to be the Saviour of the world occurs progressively throughout the Bible. First in the prophecies of the Servant of the LORD in the Old Testament;  “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; (Isaiah 41:8-9 ESV);      “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1). The final prophecy of the Servant makes it clear that this person will suffer to forgive and redeem lost humanity (Isa 52:13-53:12). The New Testament identifies this elect and suffering Servant with Jesus. God’s choice of Jesus as Messiah is clear from his baptism onwards:

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22. Cf. Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11) These words of the Father are drawn from Isaiah 42:1, about God’s Servant. At his baptism Jesus is therefore identified as the Elect One of God[12]. God’s good pleasure (eudokeo) in Jesus carries the sense, “pleasurably choose” for service (Matt 12:18 quotes Isa 42:1. Cf. 2 Peter 1:17). For Jesus to be chosen by the Father filled him with great joy! Our election in Christ must likewise fill us with delight in God’s grace and wisdom.

The choice of God over Jesus’ life, that he should be the Christ, meant he was chosen to fulfil the divine plan that Messiah would suffer and die, rise again and rule over creation. This is an all-encompassing commission, often communicated by words such as, “as it is written”/ “was it not necessary”/ “must be fulfilled” (Matt 16:21; 26:24; Mark 14:21; Luke 22:22; 24:7, 26, 44; Acts 2:33; 3:20; 4:28; 13:29; Eph 1:9 – 10; Heb 10: 9 –10; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8.) This necessity that filled Jesus life is not fatalistic, but gracious, loving and wise.

The cause of the opposition of the Jewish hierarchy to Jesus is whether he personally, or their interpretation of the Law, is the focal point of God’s acceptance and favour. Jesus’ claim to be the chosen of God, ““the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61 ESV), is the principal point of contention.  This comes to a climax at the cross; “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”” (Luke 23:35 ESV; cf. Matt 27:43; Luke 20:2). The great suffering and forsakenness of Jesus makes it appear that he is not God’s Chosen One. This is because in bearing our sin and dereliction he looks rejected by God (Isa 53:4; Mark 15:34; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13).

That Jesus is in fact the Elect One of God is demonstrated by the Father’s joy in raising him from the dead; “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36). The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that he is indeed the Son of God, the  Messiah/Christ and proves him to be God’s Chosen Saviour of the world (Acts 13:33; Rom 1:4). This means that to preach the gospel i.e. to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus, is to proclaim election and salvation “in him” (Acts 4:12). Anyone who confesses Christ as Saviour and Lord shares in God’s electing pleasure upon him.  This is why the doctrine of election is ALWAYS a cause of praise to God throughout the New Testament.

We are not however to think that election is simply something that happened to Jesus. When in the Gospel of John the Father gives the elect to the Son this does not mean that Jesus is only passive in election (John 6:37; 17:2, 6, 9). Since Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30), he is not only the Elect Son, but the electing God. Jesus himself chooses who will follow him; this separates them from the world (John 13:18; 15:16, 19). This glorious ministry of the Trinity continues today. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44).

Point 5: Secure in God’s choice of Jesus

The concentration point of our assurance that we have been chosen by God is not the strength of our faith, nor our spiritual growth or good works, but that we have recognised the identity of Jesus as proclaimed in the gospel;     “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. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 ESV). It is as we behold Jesus that we come to understand what it means to be elected by God. Christ is “the mirror of election….we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son.” (Calvin)

The insecurity associated with the doctrine of election is dissolved whenever we centre on Jesus. Such questions as, “Why did God choose me?” or, “Why hasn’t God chosen everyone?”, or, “Has God chosen my ….?” cease to cause us despair because we know the loving character of the electing God in Christ. It is not what we know about God but that God knows us which is the liberating truth; “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (Gal 4:9 cf. 1 Cor 13:12).

Point 6: Confident to preach and live the gospel of Christ

Jesus died indiscriminately for all people (John 1:29; 2 Cor 5:19; 1 John 2:2). It is the pleasure and purpose of the Father that the Son is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit to “all who have ears to hear” (Matt 11:15; Luke 8:8). “Whoever” believes in Jesus will surely be saved; “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 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.” (Acts 13:47-48 ESV)

That there are people who definitely will believe and be saved emboldens us to proclaim the gospel; as the famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon put it, “We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved.” The issue of election however is not limited to simply “getting saved”. Just as the whole course of the life of Jesus was a perfectly chosen life, discipleship means following Jesus in every choice of our lives.

The dominant purpose of election is not “getting people to heaven” but Christ- likeness, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Rom 8:29). This means becoming part of the family of God, sons of God (Rom 9:24 – 26; 1 John 3: 1- 3). Since God is now our Holy Father (John 17:11) a central goal of our election is to share in the holiness of Jesus, we are called to be “saints”  (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:4; Col 3:12; 1 Thess 4:7; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:15; 2:10). From another aspect, we are called to belong to a holy Body, which is the Bride of Christ (1 Cor 11:1-4; Eph 5:25- 27; Rev 19:6-8; cf. Col 1:22 – 23).

For the Church to live as the Bride and  Body of Christ and as the family of God  is to be an eternal witness to the love of God the Father for the Son revealed in the power of the Spirit (Eph 1:4-5, 22; 2:7; 3:10 etc.). There are no bounds to this love. This is why the most extensive treatment of election in the Bible is in Romans 9-11, where Paul deals with the issue of the election and rejection of Jew and Gentile. The corporate election of the church as  Jew and Gentile is the concrete sign and reflection in history of God’s plan to unite everything in the cosmos under the headship of Christ (Eph 1:10).

The elect community of God testifies by word and deed to the fact of the election of Jesus as the Christ, and so calls the whole world to faith in him. The unity of this chosen people witnesses by its very existence to the passing away of an old fallen reality and to the birth of the new creation in Jesus (Gal 6:15). This means being called to serve the whole of humanity, to be a blessing for the nations (Gen 12:3; Matt 28:18-20; Gal 3:8).

Application and Conclusion

To be chosen “in Christ” in eternity is a source of boundless joy and unspeakable delight. At its heart is not my personal deliverance from sin, Satan and eternal judgement, but sharing in the life of Messiah. From eternity on Jesus always said “Yes” to the plan of the Father; he was always “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8).  His willingness to sacrifice himself for the glory of God and for our salvation meant that he was the Christ, the anointed one who always dwelt in the Father’s good pleasure (Luke 10:21; cf. Heb 1:9). As a flesh and blood human being (Heb 2:14), the cost of affirming the wisdom and goodness of the divine plan of salvation was no easy thing. The full power of what it meant to be the Elect Son of God’s love for humanity was revealed in the Jesus’ agonising choice to take the way of the cross (Mark 14:36; 15:34). This perfect union of the will of God and the will of man is completed in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Heb 2:10; 5:9).

In the light of the resurrection we can now rejoice in announcing to all, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you …was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Cor 1:19-20 ESV). The Spirit’s revelation of Jesus as God’s Chosen Son does not negate my will, but elevates it through participation in the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus to a place where I can say “Yes” to God and so be saved.  This pure act of grace leaves no room for boasting in my free will (1 Cor 1:29-30; Eph 2:8-9), for my “Yes” to the gospel of Christ is contained in Jesus’ own “Yes” to the Father. This means that nothing less than the boundless pride and joy of the Father over his only Son now rests on my life, that is the grace and meaning of election (cf. 1 Pet 4:14).

Appendix 1: What about being “born again?”

The apostles never preached “you must be born again”, this is not part of the gospel message. You cannot do anything to be born again, it is totally God’s work, and the person is entirely passive.

E.g. Ezek 36:26-27. ‘I will…..I will put…I will….’

Regeneration is ‘of the Spirit’ John 3:5,8

Not by human will but of God, John 1:13.

The instrument of the Holy Spirit in effecting regeneration is the Gospel, the Word of God, cf. James 1:18; 1 Peter 1.23.

Regeneration precedes and makes possible a response to God i.e. the response of conversion.  No one can see/enter Kingdom of God unless they are first born again, (John 3:8 cf. Acts 16:14; Eph 2:4-5; Col 2:13. In other words a person must be “born again” before they consciously turn to Christ.

Appendix 2: What about “foreknowledge”?

Election is based on God’s knowledge.  This is not God simply just knowing “about us” beforehand, it is actually knowing us i.e. personally, intimately. Adam for example “knew Eve” (Gen 4:1), and Jesus said to false followers “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23).  For God to “know” someone in this sense is to for him to choose them (1 Peter 1:2; Jeremiah 1:5; Amos 3:2). God’s knowing us takes priority over our knowing God (1 Cor 13:12; Gal 4:9). Some have argued that God knew beforehand who would accept Him and thus, on the basis of this knowledge, chose them.

Fore-                          Saving

Knowl-                        Faith                Election


In fact, to say that God’s choice depends on His foreknowledge of our choice is a complete denial of election altogether!  It makes the whole thing human in origin rather than divine. We are chosen “according to the purpose of His will” (Eph 1:5, 11), not ours!

Appendix 3: Does God actively will all to be saved?

(This question needs to be distinguished from the divine command/invitation that all people turn to Christ and be saved. There is no disputing this.)

Certain texts in the New Testament initially suggest God actively wills all people’s salvation. Deeper investigation however shows this is not so.

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4).

The key verb thelo means “wish”, “desire”, “take pleasure in”.  Paul’s point is that the loss of sinners brings a loving God no pleasure (cf. Ezek 18:23, 32; 33:11). (As in the case of a kindly judge on earth.)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

The verb boulomai involves a positive will or resolve.  In this case the “you” and “any” in question seems to refer to God’s elect people not to the human race in general (vv. 1, 8).  Christ delays his coming so that the full number of his elect be saved (John 6:39).

[1] To be fair Calvin also saw God’s decree as bringing “very sweet fruit”.

[2] Technically, “doxological” heights; “doxology” refers to praise for God, it is from the Greek doxa = glory.

[3] Martin Luther wrote to the Catholic writer Erasmus saying; “Your thoughts of God are too human.”

[4] See the scriptures about our rebellion against God in last week’s teaching.

[5] See Appendix 1: What about being “born again”?

[6] Cf. Ps 119:36; Prov 16:1, 4, 9; 21:1; Ezr 6:22.

[7] Praise for salvation is preceded by praise for election, the two are not identical e.g. “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 Thess 2:13 cf. 1 Thess 5:9)

[8] “Predestination is the non – rejection of man.” (Barth)

[9] All covenantal language is like this e.g. Ex 19:4-6; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:26-27.

[10] “We cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election…if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life.” (Calvin)

[11] See Appendix 2: What about “foreknowledge”?

[12] Jesus is the only individual in the Gospels who is said to be “elect”.

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