Did God choose people or do people choose Him? The answer is, of course, “Yes!”
Some Christian leaders teach that God chose only some people for salvation and if you’re not one of the chosen, there is nothing you can do about it. Let’s consider what the Bible actually says, along with the implications if the previous sentence were true.
The most well known salvation verse is John 3:16, which says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Notice this doesn’t say “…that whoever He chose…” Verse 18 goes on to say, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” The “whoever” sure sounds like an open invitation to whoever. The Book of Life is mentioned 8 times in the Bible. Never does it mention people being added to the Book, it only references people being blotted out…a.k.a. the “whoever does not” crowd. In order to be blotted out, you must have first been in the Book!
So, what does that mean? The Apostle Peter talks about those “…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” in 1 Peter 1:2. We read in Ephesians 1:11 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” This might seem to indicate that God is picking and choosing, until we read Romans 8:29 “For those God foreknew he also predestined…”
Some teach that this “foreknowledge” actually just means God’s love, not his foreknowledge. This likely comes from Deuteronomy 7:6-8 where it says that God has chosen a special people because He loved them. (Do you think it is because this group stuck to the Ten Commandments so perfectly or because Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, would be born through this group of people?) Those verses are speaking about Israel! The Roman Catholic Church claims they have replaced Israel as the recipient of God’s promises. Likewise, most Calvinists, who take a similar “Reformed” position, claim that Israel has been replaced by the Protestant church. Both can’t be correct, but both can be wrong. These groups would be well served to do a simple word search for “everlasting covenant” in the Bible, as it relates to the promises God made to the actual nation of Israel. Jeremiah 31:37 makes it very clear that God’s promises to Israel remain valid and verse 36 makes it very clear that He is talking about the actual nation of Israel, not a substitutionary people.
Here’s an example of what foreknowledge looks like: Imagine a horizontal timeline with the past on the left, the future on the right and the present somewhere in between the two. If you existed on that line, you could only see the present and you could know about the past. You might even be able to guess about the future. However, if you exist outside of that horizontal line, you can look at it and see all parts of the line at the same time. Existence on the line would be us people, while outside of the line is God, who is outside of time, space and matter, because He actually created everything.
This is how prophecy is possible: it is not just fortune telling, which indicates what one thinks may happen. It is seeing something as having already happened, so that one can speak about it with confidence. Remember 2 Peter 3:8 says “…With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” This is why so many times in the Bible, God references future events in the past tense, as if they have already happened. He is not bound by our realm of chronological time. This is also why God could see into our future (His foreknowledge) and know who would accept Him and who would reject Him.
Look at the example of Jacob and Esau: Malachi 1:2-3 says “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘But you ask, `How have you loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…'” Did God hate Esau randomly or was it because he foreknew what Esau would be and do? It is because He foreknew Esau’s future and was able to make that statement, based upon Esau’s actions and heart. He didn’t just randomly love Jacob and hate Esau. Romans 9:11-13 expands on this: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” God foreknew what would happen BEFORE the twins were even born. Hebrews 12:16 tells us more about Esau: “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” God knew that Esau would never come to Him, because in His foreknowledge, He could see Esau’s future.
Also, consider Judas Iscariot: John13:27 tells us that “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” He was not just demon-possessed, he was actually Satan-possessed! John 17:12 calls Judas “the one doomed to destruction.” (By the way, this term is used only one other time in scripture and that is in reference to the Anti-Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.) Do you think God doomed Judas for destruction or was God simply aware that Judas would doom himself by his own actions?
God wants ALL of us to choose Him, as indicated in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 “…God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Hell was not created for people. Hell was created for the devil and his fallen angels, according to Matthew 25:41, which says “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” People choose to go there on their own by rejecting Jesus Christ.
Revelation 3:20 says “…If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Ephesians 6:9 tells us “…he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” God identifies those of us who have already chosen Him in our future. From our perspective, He identifies those of us who will choose Him.
If it were true that some people were selected to be saved and others were not, then how would you truly know to which group you belong? The danger of this teaching is that it can (and should) leave a question in the mind of the believer as to if you are really saved. If you think that you are saved, how would you know for sure that God really chose you, if you held to the selective view of predestination?
There is only one path to salvation, but it is open to all. Revelation 22:17 confirms “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Notice that it doesn’t say, “only those I chose,” but it says “whoever.” Also, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God “…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Romans 3:22-24 “…righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 10:9 says “…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” God does not leave anything vague relative to Salvation. A person is saved by the BELIEF that the Creator God came to Earth and took on human form, in order to take the burden of ALL humanity’s sin upon Himself. He died for ALL of us and was resurrected, so that ALL who believe can spend eternity in Glory with Him. Maranatha!