Many believe than God chooses us because He foresaw that we would choose Him. In other words, God foresaw something in us that made us worthy of salvation. For some, this understanding of election (predestination) makes God appear to be just. In their minds, if God chose those who were totally undeserving and damned the rest, He would be unjust.
While I appreciate their zeal to defend God, there are many problems with this belief. Worst of all, it is unbiblical. For one thing, the Bible tells us that none of us are worthy of salvation, not even in the slightest:
· As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18 (ESV)
None even seek after God. Therefore, election cannot be a matter of God choosing us based upon His foreknowledge that we would choose Him. We just won’t!
Besides, He chooses the least deserving candidates:
· 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 1:27-29)
God purposely elected those who are least deserving. Why? To make it harder for the chosen to arrogantly boast, as if to say, “God chose me because I deserve it.”
I used to believe that God chose me because I was more spiritual than others. However, in retrospect, I now understand that He had to break me down before He could rebuild me (Luke 18:14). He showed me in the most painful ways how undeserving I really am. Had He not performed His spiritual surgery on me, any good thing would then have gone to my foolish head.
God is so intent to deprive us of any basis for boasting that before Jacob and Esau had been born and had done anything worthy of merit, He revealed to their mother Rebecca that Jacob would be the child of the Promise:
· 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 [Jacob].” (Romans 9:10-12)
Election is about God choosing without any regard to our “good or bad,” even if it was just a matter of God foreseeing our good or bad. If election is based upon something that God foresees in us, then election is not about His sovereign choice, as Scripture informs us:
· [God] 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)
· 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 for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)
The choice is His and not fundamentally ours, as Jesus proclaimed:
· 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)
Even faith does not start with us and our choice of God but with God:
· But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
But don’t we have to supply the faith? Fundamentally, even our faith comes as a gift of God:
· For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
He gives us a new heart so that we can receive the truth that is always present (Titus 3:5; Ezekiel 36:25-26; 2 Thess. 2:13)
A Problem Verse
There is a single verse that seems to claim that God choses us based upon His foreknowledge:
· Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father… (1 Peter 1:1-2)
However, it is apparent that “foreknowledge” means something else here. In the same chapter, Peter claims that the Father had also “foreknown” the Son in like manner:
· He [Jesus] was foreknown [“prognosko” in the Greek] before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)
Is this verse (20) saying that the Father knew about the Son before the world was created? If this sounds absurd, it is because it is. The three Persons of the Trinity had always been interconnected. Therefore, it could not be a matter of the Father foreknowing the Son “before.” Why not? There is no “before” when it comes to the Persons of the Trinity. Besides, the understanding that the Father had prior knowledge of the Son does not accord with the context, where the Father is sending His Son.
Instead, some translations have recognized that “prognosko” can be also translated as “destined” or “appointed”:
· He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20; NRSV)
Therefore, for the sake of consistency, the New Revised Standard Version translated “prognosko” in verse 2 in the same way:
· who have been chosen and destined [“prognosko”] by God… (1 Peter 1:2 (NRSV)
Besides, the NRSV understanding accords with the rest of Scripture.
Well, what does election say about the justice or righteousness of God, who choses only certain people? Nothing at all!
Election is not about justice but mercy. As we have seen, the entire human race will reject God if left to our own devices. In view of our rejection, God’s justice means our death:
· For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
We all reject God and deserve to die. This is a matter of justice. If anyone is going to be saved, it must be by God’s “free gift.” This is a matter of mercy.
While justice must be indiscriminate – the same standard for all – mercy can discriminate. This is what we do when we get married. We choose a single partner over the rest. No one can justifiably condemn us for not marrying all women, or at least the women on the block.
Think also of inviting guests to your party. You are free to invite whomever you chose. You can be merciful to whom you choose, and so can God.
Well, why isn’t God merciful to all? We cannot answer this question exhaustively. However, I am convinced that He has His good reasons. We’ll just have to wait and see what they are.