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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Does God choose us or do we choose God?

Hi there, I just want to ask you that does God chooses us or do we choose God..how does it work...If God saves people why does not he save everyone...If people choose God does that mean they are doing something to gain salvation...This is really a confusing issue...Please explain in detail...thx a lot!
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You are right when you say that this is a confusing issue and you are not the only one who has struggled to understand this subject. Christians have been grappling with these questions for centuries. The actions of God and man in salvation are surrounded by some mystery. However, this does not mean that we cannot come to some conclusions about the subject from Scripture. You asked three main questions and I will address each one in turn.

Does God choose us or do we choose God?

Let me first share with you some instances from the Old Testament where God chose, or “elected,” certain individuals. God chose Abram (Abraham) from among a people who did not know Him and made him the father of many. Joshua 24:2-3 (NIV) reads, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.’” This passage indicates that Abraham responded to God’s initiative. Another instance of God choosing an individual in the OT is Jacob (see Genesis 28:15).

The OT also contains instances where God elected, or chose, people corporately. Deuteronomy contains many passages about the corporate election of the nation of Israel. God loved Israel, chose them, and redeemed them (Deut. 4:37). Deut. 7:6-8 shows that God did not choose Israel because of some great attribute such as large numbers (actually they were a small nation). God chose them because of His love for them, not because they deserved it or earned it. Deut. 10:14-15 and 14:2 also speak of God’s choice of Israel. We can see from the Old Testament examples of Abraham and the nation of Israel that God chooses people both individually and corporately and that His choice is based on His free grace.

The New Testament also has much to say about the subject. References from the Gospels include Mark 13 and the parallel passage in Matthew 24. The Gospel of John contains several passages concerning election. In John 6:35-45 we see that God the Father has given people to God the Son. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn. 6:36-37). Here we see that God’s choosing is connected to the person believing. In other words, those He chooses to give to the Son will believe in, or come to, Him.

In John 15:16 Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” Some people believe that here Jesus is talking about choosing them as disciples rather than choosing them for salvation. Three verses later in v.19 Jesus says, “As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Being chosen out of the world indicates that Jesus chose them to belong to Him rather than the world so the choice Jesus is speaking of here is concerning salvation not His choice of disciples.

Another chapter in John concerning election is John 17. God the Son gives eternal life to all those whom God the Father has given to Him. Note in particular John 17:2, 6, 9, 10, and 24. Some Bible teachers have said that God merely chooses people for service rather than salvation but the Gospel of John seems to clearly relate God’s choosing, or election, to salvation rather than merely service. Another point repeatedly made in the Gospel of John is that faith is the result of God’s choosing rather than the basis of God’s choosing. For more on this point see John 6:37; 10:27; 15:19; 17:2, 6, 9, 24.

An important concept related to this discussion is sin’s effect upon us. There is wide agreement over the fact that Paul teaches in Romans 3 (and elsewhere) that mankind is “under sin,” separated from God, is unable to do anything about this condition, and actually does not even desire to remedy the situation (3:9-18, 23). Not only are we unable to justify ourselves in the sight of God but we do not desire to do so due to our spiritual blindness and natural hostility toward God (Rom. 1:18-23). In regards to your question, the effect of our original sin means that none of us would “choose God” apart from God’s initiative. Jesus said, “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 NASB). For more on original sin and “human depravity,” see Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-2, 4-5; 4:18.

Here are some other New Testament passages regarding God choice in salvation: Acts 13:48; 18:9-10; Romans 8:28:30; 9:6-24; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11; James 1:18 and Revelation 17:8; 20:15; 21:27. A study of Romans 8 & 9 should be particularly fruitful. You may also want to explore works on church history regarding the theological controversies between Augustine and Pelagius to understand the origin of the debate over this issue.

When we speak of God’s initiation in salvation some people naturally wonder whether God can “force” salvation upon someone against their will. God certainly does not force Himself on anyone. Theologians use the term “effectual calling” when dealing with this concept. One author has written, “The Spirit’s enlightening, wooing, and subduing work vis-à-vis the elect enlightens darkened minds, frees stubborn wills, and inclines contrary affections toward Christ. In short, the Spirit’s effectual call opens sinner’s hearts, thereby creating a new desire and hunger to know Christ.”
[1] God overcomes the debilitating effects of sin by graciously giving us the ability to desire Him. God graciously provides us the will and ability to believe. Not only are we given the capacity to believe but the Spirit also helps us to believe by “wooing” us to Him (Jn. 6:44). Again, God does not force Himself on anyone.

As I mentioned previously, this subject has been debated for many years. There are godly, sincere, intelligent believers who disagree over the interpretation of these passages. These few paragraphs cannot begin to do justice to the complexity of the debate over the answer to your question – does God choose us or do we choose Him? It is my humble conviction based on my limited study of these passages that our faith in God comes as a result of His choosing. We also make a choice and it is a real one but behind our choice lies the choice of our sovereign God. It is very difficult for us to understand this. I hope you will study these passages for yourself and that you will draw closer to Him as a result of your studies.

If God saves people why does God not save everyone?

Here are some links to other Probe articles that might help you with this question:

How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Why Can't God Just Destroy Those Who Reject Him Instead of Sending Them to Hell?

Why Didn't God Just Not Create the People Who Wouldn't Believe in Him?

If we choose God, are we doing something to “earn” salvation?

No, there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. The grace of God requires nothing from us because we have nothing to give. Grace does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We embrace God’s grace in salvation but this is not a “work” or something that merits or earns salvation.

For further reading on these important subjects, I recommend these books: Christian Theology (2nd Edition) by Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, An Introduction (3rd Ed.) by Alister E. McGrath, The Cross and Salvation, The Doctrine of Salvation by Bruce Demarest, and Bible Doctrine, Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith by Wayne Grudem.

May God bless you as you pursue Him and His Word,
Jeff Wright

[1] Demarest, Bruce, The Cross and Salvation, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 211.

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