Question from a Site Viewer
Does God choose some people to be saved and choose some for judgement? In other words, did God before the foundation of the world choose Person A to be saved and Person B to go to hell? Some people answer that He does choose only some people out of all the inhabitants of the earth to be saved, but that all who go to hell do so because they have chosen to reject Christ and not because He destined them for that. I see an inconsistency and an extreme selective type of thinking with that train of thought. So a person can choose eternal judgement for him/herself but not eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ?
What is your take on this issue?
Thank you for your question. The short answer to your question is that I do not read Scripture as teaching that God chooses person A to go to heaven and person B to go to hell (what in theological terms is known as double predestination), nor do I find Scripture teaching that God chooses person A to go to heaven and person B goes to hell because God has not chosen that person for heaven. What I find in Scripture is that the desire of God is for everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), that Jesus died for the sin of everyone (John 1:29; Romans 5:18; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:20), that His death provides a drawing power for all (John 12:32), and He now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). God has no delight in the death of the wicked (2 Samuel 14:14; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). Through Christ, God has reconciled Himself to this world and now pleads for the world to be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). Every individual to whom the gospel is proclaimed has the opportunity to choose Christ. Scripture is clear on this point, at least in my reading of it. The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16). The importance of the proclamation for the exercise of faith is driven home by Paul in Romans 10:14-17, where Paul concludes that faith comes from hearing the word of God. This is a truth Scripture repeats over and over (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 1:23-25). The proclaimed word provides the basis for individual faith.
And, as I read Scripture, it is our faith that saves us. It is not a faith that God provides, but it is our hearts turning toward God in faith. Ireneus, the disciple of Polycarp, the great bishop of Smyrna, and only a generation removed from the Apostle John (who was a friend of Polycarp), states it well:
. . . God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually . . . And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice . . .
He further writes:
And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, “According to your faith be it unto you;” thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, “All things are possible to him who believes;” and, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done unto you.” Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith. And for this reason, “he who believes in Him has eternal life; while he who believes not the Son has not eternal life, but the wrath of God shall remain upon him.”
Against Heresies, Bk 4, Chap. 37
See also the Epistle of Diognetus, Ch. 9 and 10 (written around 100 A.D.); Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 91 (written around 150 A.D.). These early witnesses to the teachings of the apostles cannot be easily ignored. None of the Apostolic Fathers and none of the generation who followed them taught that people were unable to choose. The doctrine of election, as developed later in the church and taught by some in the church today, was not what was taught in the early church.
I do not cite the early church as authority. Our authority is God’s word. But I believe that we cannot lightly toss away the interpretation of those who were closest to the apostles. And I find their interpretation consistent with my reading of Scripture. As stated by Ireneus, it is Christ’s own words that convince me that the faith that saves comes from within the individual. Jesus marveled at the faith of centurion (Matthew 8:10). He rebuked the disciples’ lack of faith (Matthew 8:26). Jesus looked at the faith of those bearing the paralytic and forgave the paralytic’s sins (Matthew 9:2). He said that the woman with the issue of blood was saved by her faith (Matthew 9:22). He linked the healing of the two blind men to their own faith (Matthew 9:29). He rebuked Peter’s lack of faith (Matthew 14:31). He praised the great faith of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28) and again rebuked his disciples for a lack of faith (Matthew 16:8). Jesus linked the ability to do miracles to the apostles’ faith (Matthew 17:20). He told blind Bartimaeus that it was his faith that saved him (Mark 10:52). He praised the faith of the foreign leper and stated that his faith had made him well (Luke 17:17-19). And, in John 9, we find that what is needed for saving faith was the proclamation of who Jesus is (John 9:35-37). Jesus consistently attributes both faith and the lack of faith to people, not to God. Such reactions by Jesus to people’s faith or lack of faith seem totally inconsistent in my mind with a view that we cannot have faith unless God gives it to us. Jesus did not seem to live with such a view.
Some will raise Ephesians 2:8-9 as an objection. But these verses say nothing contrary to what Jesus said. The statement “By grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves it is a gift of God” teaches us that our salvation is a gift and does not come from ourselves. Those who try to say that it is our faith that is not of ourselves have a steep grammatical hill to climb. The demonstrative pronoun “that” is in the neuter gender. The word “faith” is a feminine noun. In the Greek, one does not expect a neuter demonstrative pronoun to reference back to a feminine noun. If Paul had wanted us to understand faith as the antecedent of “that,” he could have made it at least reasonably clear by using a feminine demonstrative pronoun. But he did not. He chose the neuter demonstrative pronoun so that we would be looking back for a Greek neuter idea as the antecedent. The only neuter idea in the immediate passage is the idea of salvation, which in the Greek is a neuter idea. Thus, A.T. Robertson, in his extensive Grammar of the Greek New Testament, states on page 704:
In Eph. 2:8, [the Greek phrase ‘for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not out of yourselves,’] there is no reference to pisteos (faith) in touto (that), but rather to the idea of salvation in the clause before.
And for those who argue that this would make our salvation based on our works, I simply side with the Apostle Paul in holding firmly to his solid distinction between faith and works (Romans 4:1-6). Faith is not works. Though both are things we do, faith is us leaning on someone else; works find us leaning on ourselves. Abraham did not work, but he believed. David did not work, but he believed. To the one who does not work, but believes, his faith is counted for righteousness. Faith, for Paul, is something we do, but it is not a work.
There are other objections that are sometimes raised to the idea that God has offered the gift of salvation to all and provides salvation to all who will to believe in Him. Some will say that the depravity Paul teaches in Romans 3 is such that apart from God none would seek after God. Therefore we need some inward awakening by the Holy Spirit before we would ever seek God. I do not want for a moment to state that God is not active in calling and convicting and bringing us to Himself. But I do not read Romans 3 as stating that people need more of God’s intervention than the coming of Christ in order to seek after Him. I note that Paul is quoting the Old Testament in the statements found in Romans 3:10-18 and I do not believe Paul is taking the quotes out of their Old Testament context. The statement that there are none who seek God is spoken of the foolish Jews who persecute the righteous (see Psalm 14:1-3 and then verse 4). I do not see the context in Psalm 14:1-3 as referencing all people, but rather those among the Jews who deny there is a God. Paul’s use of the quote is driving towards his conclusion in Romans 3:19 that these statements are made about ungodly Jews so that we may understand that even Jews become guilty before God. But I do not see David or Paul stating that no individual ever seeks after God. Someone in Psalm 14 finds refuge in the LORD (Psalm 14:6). And we know from Scripture that there have been many who have sought after God (2 Chronicles 15:4, 15; 17:4; 22:9; 26:5; Psalm 34:4; 77:2; 119:10; Isaiah 65:1, 10; Acts 17:27). The 2 Chronicles 15:4 passage is particularly poignant in that when Israel was without God, without a teaching priest, and without the law, they then sought the Lord and He was found by them. Scripture states it this way. And this is the way I think God intended us to understand what He was saying. It was not that He sought them and empowered them to seek Him. Rather, He had withdrawn from them because of their sin, even as He promised to do in Deuteronomy 32:20, and then afflicted them, as He had promised (Deuteronomy 32:23-26). When distressed, they turned and sought after God, as Israel did repeatedly before this time (Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:7; 10:10). These passages do not teach a view of human depravity where it is impossible for people to seek God. Rather, they highlight the fact that when God told Israel to seek Him, He was not speaking empty words (Isaiah 45:19). People could and did seek Him. I do not see Paul saying otherwise, but rather driving to the point in Romans 3 that everyone (both Jews and Gentiles) needs a Savior.
Accordingly, in answer to your question, I believe that God has chosen all those who believe in Him to be saved. I do not believe that He has chosen individual A for salvation and individual B for destruction; nor do I believe that He has chosen individual A for salvation and left individual B without hope of salvation. I accept Paul’s words in Titus 2:11 that the very grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all, so that those who accept His offer (John 1:12) and believe in His Son will be saved (John 3:16). I think this is consistent with the fact that He is the propitiation for the whole world (John 1:1 John 2:2), the Savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10), the Light of the world (John 8:12), the second Adam who offers the free gift of justification as broadly as the effects of the fall (Romans 5:18), the One who offers peace to men on this earth (Luke 2:14; Ephesians 2:14-17), and the One who sends His Spirit to invite whosoever will to drink of the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).
I realize there is more that could be said. And I also realize that some of my brothers and sisters will strenuously disagree with my conclusions. Some may even see my views as heresy, a denying of the doctrine of depravity, a fall into Pelagianism, etc. My goal is not to win anyone over to the way I believe. Rather, I am only responding to your question of what I believe and why I believe it. Nor am I denying the necessity of the atonement for our sins, or our need for a Savior, or the great work that Christ has done for us in achieving our pardon, or the role of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, or the work of God in the heart of unbelievers to bring them to Himself. I simply see Scripture teaching that we have a role to play, that we must believe to be saved, and that our faith is not a divine work, but a human response to His promise, even as it was in Abraham’s day (Genesis 15:7).
Finally, I provide a word of caution. I generally try to avoid this subject, as the issue has been a means for too many generations to divide the church, to move our eyes away from the person of Jesus, and to bring in what James would call the wisdom from hell (James 3:13-18). If we are not able as His people to discuss this subject in a way that is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy; or if this subject becomes our passion in life, then we would do well never to engage the subject. It is better rather to be silent on this subject and focus on the work of loving God and loving others, pursuing fully the fruit of the Spirit. I continue to observe that Jesus made the mark of His disciples to be love, not doctrine (John 13:35), and the greatest commandment to love, not to know. Paul tells us that knowledge puffs up but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). While sound doctrine is important, I observe that the devils may have better doctrine than we (James 2:19). Life is to be lived, not in the doctrine, but in the faith in Christ and love for the brothers. Faith in Christ should lead to love and gentleness. The one who sows discord among the brothers is a person to be avoided (Proverbs 6:14-19; Romans 16:17-18; Titus 2:10-11). I do not want to sow discord.
But I know others similarly have sought my views on this subject. So I provide it to you, with the hope that it will encourage you to search out God as He is revealed in Scriptures and draw deeper into the arms of Jesus. And may your passion always be to love Him supremely and represent Him well in loving others in tangible ways.