Does the Bible Teach that God Chooses People?

Last Sunday (June 12, 2011) I made the point that one of the core tenants of the Christian faith is that our God is a God who chooses undeserving sinners like you and me to be His people. This is a predominate theme in scripture, a key to understanding the overarching story of the Bible. If I were to summarize the story of scripture in just a few phrases, it would go something like this: God created all things, and He made them good. Man rebelled against God and brought down all of creation with him. All of mankind, from the time of Adam and Eve, is born and lives in bondage to sin, deserving God’s wrath. God, in His grace and mercy, has chosen to save some and to enter into covenant relationship with His people though He is by no means obligated to do so.

To misunderstand the Bible’s teaching on election is to misunderstand the gospel. To deny that God elects is to, in many ways, misunderstand the one story that the scriptures set out to communicate, namely, that God saves sinners. The gospel is NOT that Jesus did something nice for you by dying on the cross, and now you need to do your part. The gospel IS that God saves people who are completely unable to save themselves as they live in complete rebellion against Him! You and I bring nothing to the table. There is nothing within us, in our natural selves, that would commend us to God. If we have faith in Christ, it is because God has chosen to give us the faith. Faith is, as Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

By no means is this post meant to be a thorough explanation of the doctrine of election, but I would like to ask this simple question: does the Bible teach that God chooses people? In the scriptures that are listed below, it should be noted that, when it comes to divine election, God is always active and man is passive. By this I mean that God is proactive in electing or choosing, and man is always the recipient of God’s favor. I say this because some will try to say that God chooses because He knows (foresees) in His omniscience that those individuals would choose Him. This concept of election demands that man is active and God is passive in election. Never do the scriptures describe election in this way (see the explanation of foreknowledge under the Rom 8:28-29 passage below).

Why does this matter? Because our understanding of the gospel is at stake! Ultimately, the question is, did Christ do it all, or is there something in us, in our natural selves, that commends us to God? At some point we must ask the question, why am I in Christ and others are not? There are two possible answers to that question; either there is something in you that distinguishes you from the nonbeliever, or there is something outside of you that has set you apart. I believe that the scriptures consistently teach that we are in Christ because of the grace of God alone. To me, this is an incredibly humbling reality! I am in Christ, not because of anything good, wise, spiritual, or godly in me, but because God has chosen to show mercy, all to the praise of His glorious grace. Please enjoy the scripture references listed below and be sure to study them in their context.

Election in the Old Testament

Deuteronomy 10:14–15 (ESV) — 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.

Psalm 33:12 (ESV) — 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 106:5 (ESV) — 5 that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance.

Haggai 2:23 (ESV) — 23 On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”

Exodus 33:19 (ESV) — 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Deuteronomy 7:6–7 (ESV) — 6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 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,

Election in the New Testament

Matthew 11:27 (ESV) — 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Matthew 22:14 (ESV) — 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 24:22 (ESV) — 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Matthew 24:24 (ESV) — 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Matthew 24:31 (ESV) — 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Luke 18:7 (ESV) — 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?

Romans 8:28–30 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

(*Notice that according to this passage, all who are foreknown are eventually glorified. This passage forms an unbreakable chain linking foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification together. This text makes it impossible for foreknowledge to simply mean that God looked down the corridors of time and chose individuals based upon the faith that He saw in some and the lack of faith in others. According to this view of the term foreknowledge, God, in His omniscience, “foresees” everyone and chooses based upon what He sees. The problem with this view is exposed by the words “those whom He” and “He also”. Read the verse carefully and visualize who is being talked about. “Those whom He foreknew” must be referring to a particular group of people. Either it is referring to some people (the elect), or all people. If it is referring to all people we run into a problem with the words “He also”. The verse says, “Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Certainly this passage is not saying that all people have been predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son! The difficulties continue and perhaps even grow for this view of foreknowledge as this “those whom He… He also” pattern continues all the way to glorification. It makes far more sense to understand foreknowledge as being something that the elect receive, that they have been known in the context of a loving relationship before the foundations of the earth based upon the grace of God and the good pleasure of God’s will.)

Romans 8:33 (ESV) — 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Colossians 3:12 (ESV) — 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV) — 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Titus 1:1 (ESV) — 1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,

1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Revelation 17:14 (ESV) — 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Mark 13:20 (ESV) — 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.

Ephesians 1:4–5 (ESV) – 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Romans 9:11–13 (ESV) — 11 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— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:16 (ESV) — 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Romans 10:20 (ESV) — 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

1 Corinthians 1:27–29 (ESV) — 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

2 Timothy 1:9 (ESV) — 9 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,

John 15:16 (ESV) — 16 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.

Acts 13:48 (ESV) — 48 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.

Philippians 1:29 (ESV) — 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

1 Thessalonians 1:4–5 (ESV) — 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 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.

2 Timothy 2:10 (ESV) — 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

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