When my new undergraduate college friend told me what this post postulates, he triggered a spiritual crisis. By the time I married him and was in graduate school, I was scripturally informed but still affected by the aftershocks–as I am today after more revelatory encounters with others.
It’s an explosive topic: Does God choose us? And does it matter? When it comes to a deeper understanding of the Bible, God and ourselves, it really seems to. A good place to start is Ephesians 1:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
This tiny passage answers the classic journalistic questions of who, what, when and why, adding how as well, summed up in verse 4: God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” In classic journalistic inverted pyramid form, the human agent Paul begins Ephesians by saying what’s most important first. Through the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul expands the facts in verses 5-6: God chose us in love, predestining us to adoption through Christ; “according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
God’s lavish love and kindness are the reason for His choice. His attributes, rather than ours, determine it. I used to be hesitant to voice this truth until I mumbled it at a Bible study one day. In wonder, a woman then marveled, “God chose me. I feel so special.”
In Ephesians 4, the word for chose comes from the Greek eklegomai, used only 21 times in the Bible. The first instance, in Mark 13:20, refers to the days of tribulation: “Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.” Deriviatives of eklegomai are used twice in this verse: the word for elect (eklektos, which occurs 22 times in the Bible) also comes from it. Another similar word translated “chosen” or “election” is from ekloge, which occurs only 7 times.
John 15 records what Jesus says about choosing (from eklegomai) His disciples:
16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
Jesus chose His disciples.
Can we choose not to be chosen, even if God chooses us? I used to think so because of a verse in Luke 7, where Jesus speaks to the crowds:
28 “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.
The word for “purpose” in verse 30 comes from the Greek boule, which occurs in the Bible only 12 times. In the King James Version (KJV), it refers to either counsel or advice in every instance except for one “purpose,” which occurs in Acts, not Luke. In the KJV, Luke 7:30 says, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” This defining distinction is too weak to topple the tower of eklegomai. Had I consulted my KJV earlier, I would have known better sooner.
At the heart of this knotty matter is predestination, which appears in the earlier Ephesians 1 passage and which our youngest daughter brought up in response to our recent Bible reading together: If it’s God who chooses, why doesn’t He choose everybody? I gave her the Romans 9 answer which I thought she’d read in my previous post on the related topic of Israel’s chosenness. In case you missed it too, here’s a brief recap:
11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
Our fate depends on an omnipotent God who acts for His justice and glory and who is, thankfully, merciful.
Returning to the Ephesians 1 passage above, the word for predestined is from the Greek proorizo, which occurs a mere 6 times in the Bible. Such few verses require careful scrutiny so as not to be misunderstood–or disregarded. The first instance is in Acts 4:28, when Peter, John and their companions pray:
27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
As you might have guessed, NASB’s “purpose” in verse 29 above is again KJV’s “counsel.” In any version, through the physical and spiritual manifestation of the Holy Spirit, God grants the prayer.
So did God predestine Peter, John and their companions to speak His word boldly, or did they determine it? Both, it seems. And this is how other thorny issues appear to operate as well. God ultimately predetermines, calls and chooses, but it is the responsibility of His people to faithfully follow Him rather than the world. As it says in Revelation 17:15, Jesus “is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
The word for called is from the Greek kletos, used only 11 times. In almost all of these instances, it refers to persons called and chosen, but Jesus illustrates the difference in a wedding parable of Matthew 22:
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. 4 Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, 6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. 7 But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.
11 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
In His mercy, God issues a common call to many, but only His faithful chosen few answer and are accepted.
Although this will exceed my post’s normal limits, I must end with 2 Peter 1. Like our starting passage of Ephesians 1, the human agent Peter begins his book with what’s most important:
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://lockman.org
- Greek and Hebrew translations and lexicon from the NASB [or KJV (King James Version) as noted] of http://blueletterbible.org