Who chose who? The Question of Predestination and Free Will
When people become Christians, is it because they choose to follow Christ or because He chooses them? Ultimately, is it God’s decision, or ours? There are four possibilities.
(1) We have complete freedom to accept or reject God, to become Christians and whether to stay as Christians.
(2) We choose to accept God, but then He keeps us safe once we have trusted Him.
(3) God chooses who will become Christians, but then we have the choice of whether to carry on as Christians or not (so some can be “Saved and then Lost”).
(4) God chooses who will become Christians and also makes sure that no true Christians are ever lost again (so Christians are “Once Saved, Always Saved”).
Large numbers of Christians through the ages have held to each of these options, So it can’t be an easy question. We may not necessarily UNDERSTAND the purposes of God. What matters is WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
We are all separated from God by sin and in ourselves all we deserve is to stay lost: Rom 3:20-23; Eph 1:1-3; Eph 4:17-19.
Without God’s grace we cannot by ourselves do anything good, least of all turn to Christ as Saviour.
We need the Holy Spirit’s help to come to Christ: Rom 8:5-8.
If salvation rested on our choice, choosing God and believing in Jesus would be a kind of good work we could do to earn salvation. On the contrary, we are saved by God’s grace, not by “good works”. Nor does God save people on the basis of Him knowing IN ADVANCE who will accept the gospel or who will live good lives.
Salvation is NOT based on any form of good works: Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9.
Throughout the Old Testament, from Abraham to Moses to David, God’s relationship with the Israelites as His special chosen people rested on GOD’S choice, not theirs.
The Bible describes such people as “God’s chosen people” or “the elect”, and it applies the same word to Christians in the New Testament in Matthew and Mark, Colossians, 2 Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter. It was the calling and the destiny of the Israelites to be God’s firstborn, his children. But that wasn’t because of anything in the Israelites themselves which caused God to save them (Deut 7:7-9; Rom 9:15-16). Rather it was because of God’s love. God did not save the Israelites because of their own merits, but because of his steadfast love and mercy, the undeserved grace of God as God fulfilled his promises. Some people think it sounds unfair for God to choose to bless some people and choose not to bless others. But that is what the Bible says happened. Who are we sinful humans to pass judgment on the fairness and the justice of the righteous and holy Almighty and all-knowing God?
The evidence throughout the Bible is in favour of the view that it is God who chooses who will be saved: Matt 11:25-27. How can people get to know God? It is always and only by his grace. This passage is very significant because it brings us the words of Jesus himself. It tells us firstly that spiritual things are hidden from the wise and learned and only revealed to little children, those who come before God with openness and humility and simplicity. Secondly, all things have been committed to Jesus. The Son of God is the only way of salvation.
Thirdly, people can only come to know God when Jesus reveals the Father to them. Matthew 11:27; John 5:21.
It is ultimately God’s choice who comes to know God and to receive eternal life. John 15:16, 19; John 13:18. Jesus said those words to his twelve apostles but John 15 records them because the twelve ae the pattern for all disciples of Jesus. Jesus Himself chose each and every one of us. More than that, we find in many places the idea that the Father gives to the Son those who are going to be saved. John 6:37; John 10:29; John 17:6. This was the understanding of the Early Church in Acts 13:48. Those who were appointed or assigned or ordained or chosen for eternal life believed. It is God’s choice, not ours. Paul uses the word predestination in Romans 8:28-30. These are the grounds for our assurance of salvation. It rests on God’s five part plan: God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies and glorifies. Praise God, we don’t even have to understand this glorious passage. Our part is to put our trust in God and receive the free gift of his grace which will never, ever let us go! Paul says the same in Ephesians 1:3-6, 11. We were chosen, having been predestined. It was God’s choice, not ours. Peter says the same in 1 Peter 1:1-2.
So is salvation a case of predestination or of free will? Did God choose me or did I choose God? Perhaps both. From my side, I chose to repent and believe the gospel and follow Jesus. But God sees it differently. From God’s side, He chose us before the beginning of time to have a relationship with us and to transform us into the image of Christ. God the Holy Spirit worked behind the scenes in my life and the world around me to bring me to the point where I would repent and believe and follow Jesus. The Bible tells us in so many places that ultimately it is God’s decision who is saved.
Through the history of the church, some people have been so keen to defend the idea of human free will that they have diminished the Sovereignty of God. Who chose who? Time and time again the Bible makes clear that God is Sovereign. His grace leads some to believe. In other cases the Bible is specific that God hardens some people’s hearts so that they do not believe. Nobody has properly unravelled the dilemma of predestination or free will. But I do want to say that so many times the Bible teaches us that God is God – creator and ruler of all things – God is Sovereign! God is always Sovereign, whether people choose to submit to that sovereignty or not! God is Sovereign even though that gets our heads into a spin about who chooses who is going to be saved – whether we chose God or he chose us. Jesus is not just Lord because we invite him or allow Him to be Lord. Jesus is not Lord only of the people who recognise and submit to His Lordship. Jesus is Lord! Exclamation Mark! God is Sovereign. Exclamation Mark. God is Ruler of all things. God is in control. God is in control of the big things and God is in control of the little things as well. God rules over men and nations, and God rules over the smallest details of all of our lives. So I am persuaded that it is the Sovereign God who chooses us, not the other way round.
If God has chosen us, that implies that those who are saved can never be lost again. Once saved, always saved: John 6:35-40; John 10:27-29. No-one can snatch believers out of the hand of God. Once saved always saved. Who choses who? God chooses us. Just read one final verse which says the same in 2 Thess 2:13.
Who chose who? The Question of Predestination and Free Will