Twas the phrase used by Ash when choosing to use his favorite Pokémon, Pikachu, in a battle. How is it related to the article today? Very little. I choose that title because of the phrase ‘I choose you.’ Or maybe, the title chooses me. Oh, whatever! 🙂
Anyway, the church I belong to, CrossCulture, is currently going through the book of John. Last Sunday, John 6 was preached, and verse 37 says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out”, ergo we stumbled across an inevitable tension that the Scripture raised. In our salvation, do we choose God? or did the Father choose us? Do we come to God by our own will? or Did the Father usher us to come to Jesus by His will? The much-dreaded doctrine of Predestination (or hopefully the much-loved if we understand it well).
We must begin by acknowledging that the Scripture bears witness, implicitly and explicitly, to the reality that God has chosen us in order that we will believe in Jesus Christ. In John 6:37, we can come to Jesus because the Father gives us to Jesus. In John 10:14-16, Jesus as the good shepherd has come to bring all his sheep into his fold. Verse 16 of the same chapter says that many do not believe in Jesus because they are not among his sheep. His sheep will hear His voice, and Jesus will give His sheep eternal life. It means that there are some who are His sheep, and some aren’t. Jesus did not come to convert ‘goats’ to become ‘sheep.’ Rather, He came to call and gather those who are already His sheep. The allusion to election is rather strong here. In verse 15, Jesus also says clearly that He lays down His life for His sheep, alluding to limited atonement (i.e. Jesus dying not to atone the sins of the whole world, but only those of His elects).
In His last prayer before crucifixion, in John 17, Jesus expressed that He has fulfilled His task of manifesting God’s name to the people whom the Father has given Him. The ninth chapter of Romans bears witness to God’s sovereign choice. Paul explains God’s sovereign choice by giving an example from the Old Testament that God chose Jacob, not Esau, from before their birth, before they could even do anything. He also gave another example from the life of Moses when God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” In verse 18, Paul concludes that “he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Verses 22 to 24 are even stronger:
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
Talking about predestination, one cannot skip over Ephesians 1:1-14. The Father chose us in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of His will, and in Jesus, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will. It’s all about God and His will, and nothing about us. It is according to His purpose, not ours. It is eventually for His glory and praise, definitely not for ours.
If the above is not enough, the word ‘elect’ can be found in many places: Matthew 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7; Romans 8:33; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:7, 28; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:3, 10; and 2 John 1:1, 13. The phrases ‘God choose’ or ‘we are chosen’ or the like are even much more. We can wrestle with God’s Word regarding predestination. However, one thing we must not say: that the Bible never says anything about God electing us.
Of course, the Bible also bears witness to the fact that we must make profession of faith. John 3:16, for example, says that those who believe in Jesus will not perish, but receive eternal life. In John 6:35, says that those who come to Jesus shall never hunger or thirst, referring to eternal life. In the beginning of His ministry, Jesus sounded the call for people to repent and believe in the Good News. In Acts, the apostles carried on this call by urging the people to repent and believe in Jesus so they will be saved. So, one other thing we must not say: that we are saved regardless whether or not we repent and believe in Jesus.
So, which one is true? Did the Father choose us? or do we choose God? Did the Father sovereignly elect us to be saved? or Must we repent and believe in Jesus to be saved? The answer is both. However, I must make it clear that although both are true, the latter happens if and only if the former is true. We believe in God only and only if we are already God’s elect. We choose God if and only if God has chosen us first.
Every one of us was born in sin. We are all spiritually dead. Spiritually dead people cannot and will not choose God (Romans 8:3-8). Spiritually dead people will not respond to God’s call. In John 3, Jesus says that the flesh gives birth to flesh and the Spirit gives birth to spirit. In John 6:63, Jesus clearly says that “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” That is why Jesus did not panic when people did not believe in Him. Jesus knew from the beginning who will believe and who will not believe because He knew that no one can come to Him unless it is granted him by the Father (John 6:64-65).
One misconception of many believers is that the Holy Spirit enters after one make profession of faith, that the Holy Spirit cannot do anything to someone’s heart before one becomes a Christian. The Holy Spirit has to wait until someone decides to choose Christ, and only then He begins to work in his/her heart. That cannot be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit does dwell in believers, but that has to be distinguished from whether or not He can begin the conversion work in someone’s life. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives life, who breathes life, who convicts us of our sins, and eventually causes us to behold grace, to behold Christ, and to believe in Him. If the Spirit does not breathe life, we will not have life. That is exactly why Jesus uses the metaphor of born-again because no one chooses when they are born. We are saved by grace through faith, and Jesus (not we) is the author and the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The only reason someone believes is because God has sent His Holy Spirit to give new life, to give new birth, and to change one’s heart from heart of stone to heart of flesh. Without that work o the Spirit, nobody can make profession of faith.
Some try to ‘soften’ the language of predestination by saying that God did not determine or choose. He simply foreknew who will believe in Jesus, and He then chose those who believe. However, the Bible forbids that interpretation. The election language is very clear in the passages above. If we are the ones who make the decision to believe in Jesus, then it depends on us. If it depends on us, that means we can boast. If it depends on us, that means we are sovereign, because God ‘has to’ choose us. Moving away from the doctrine of predestination means ‘transferring’ sovereignty (or part thereof) to men, the very thing we must not do.
Of course, there are some objections laid against the sovereign election. Doesn’t predestination produce Christians who take salvation for granted? If we are predestined, why then should we even evangelise? Isn’t God unfair if He only chooses some and not the others? These we will look at the next post.