We have seen thus far in this blog series that we are born dead in our sins and that God saves us by awakening us from our sinful slumber to cling to Jesus in faith. Everyone that God calls to Jesus does in fact come to him in faith and is justified (or made righteous before God).
If you have read any of these blogs up to this point, a question may be pressing on you, or frustrating you. “Why are some people saved and some are not?”
As Christians, we know that not all people are saved. Not all people come to a saving faith in Christ. While many people do come to Jesus, many people reject him. And if God is ultimately in charge of whom he awakens to faith in Christ, the question is, “Why are some people saved and some are not? Why does God call some to Jesus, but not others?”.
The Bible only goes so far in answering that question. I want to try to go as far as the Bible does, but no further. And before we begin talking about the mercy of God, we must remember something, or else our exploration will start on the wrong foot. We must remember that no one, no not one person, deserves grace. We are all swimming around in the ocean of sin, guilt, condemnation, and death. We do not deserve a rescue. If there is a rescue, and there is!, it is unfathomably gracious.
Enter the Scriptures.
Ephesians 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as 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,”
Gal. 1:15-16 “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…”
Paul says in Eph. 1:3-5 that before God created, before Genesis 1:1, God was active doing something else. He was active in choosing people in Christ to be holy and blameless. What was motivating God to choose people to be saved before he began creating? His love. “In love he predestined us for adoption…” Before Genesis 1:1 God was choosing people to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ. Motivated by his own “love” and “will”.
Paul says of himself in Gal. 1:15-16 that he was set apart before his was even born! Before Paul was created, Paul was set apart for the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:1), then he was called by God’s grace (see part 3/6 for background on “calling”), and Jesus Christ was revealed to him! It is OK at this point if you want to stop reading to sit and stagger at the majesty of God seen in Eph. 1:3-5 and Gal. 1:15-16.
2 Tim. 1:9-10 God “…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, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”
God saved us and 2 Tim. 1:9-10 reveals what moved him: his own purpose and grace, not us. The Bible does not delve too deeply into the immensities of his purposes, but rather just keeps our attention on the fact that it was his purposes, not our own, that brought about our salvation. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
Romans 9:15 “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’
Quoting from Ex. 33:19, Paul is showing that God has mercy (i.e. calls people to Jesus to be forgiven) on whomever he wants to have mercy. Remember, all people are swimming in the ocean of sin, guilt, and death. None of us deserve a second chance, grace, mercy, or God’s kindness. None of us deserve God to rescue us. If he let all people slip into hell, he would be good, loving, and just still. For God to save merely one soul would be inexpressibly astounding. The reality that he has saved millions is mind shattering-ly gracious.
Some people are saved and some are not. For me, it is a sobering reality that hell is real and forever. It is sobering to me that people will be in hell forever. This is not something I take lightly. I also know that every last one of us deserve to be in hell. We are not just undeserving of grace, we are ill-deserving. We deserve just punishment. Yet, I have received mercy. Why? Why has God been so kind to me? Is it because I am a good person? Certainly not! It is because I made up for my wrongs? Of course not!
It is only because before time began God set his sight of love, care, kindness, grace, and mercy upon my sinful soul, and proclaimed his forgiveness for me. He sent His perfect Son to die in my place and when I was about 14 the Spirit came to me, revealed Jesus to me, and gave me faith to believe, all according to God’s purposes of election, choosing me by his own free, good, and gracious will. The Father chose me, the Son died for me, and the Spirit awakened me.
What a gospel we have from God.
You may be thinking, or have heard the common objection, that God did not choose me to have faith, but rather chose me because he saw beforehand that I would have faith. Many people say that God elects those whom he sees in the future who have faith in Christ.
Here is my answer to that objection by way of recapping things I have already written about in this series.
Firstly, Rom. 8:29-30 states, “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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Many people say “foreknowledge” here means that God knows information about the future, such as who will believe in Jesus. However, it means more than that. In the Scriptures, knowing someone can mean something far more than merely knowing facts about them. For instance, Gen. 4:1 says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” For Adam to know Eve in this instance is not just to know things about her. His knowing of her produced a child. Different kind of knowing, know what I’m sayin’?
God’s foreknowledge here is about knowing people in a loving, relational way before they were even created. Amazing.
Secondly, if God looked down the corridor of time to see who would freely put their faith in Jesus, he would see not a single person believing in Jesus. Why? Because we have already seen that we are all born dead in our sins, unresponsive to Jesus. All God would see is a world of rebellious people rejecting Jesus. There would be no one to elect if that is what his election is based on.
Thirdly, in the Bible election is said to be based on God’s own free will, not us in any way. Election is based upon the purposes and will of God, not our works, including a supposed choice to believe in Jesus (see 2 Tim. 1:9-10 & Eph. 1:2-5 above; Rom. 9:6-18; Rom. 8:29-30).
Fourthly, if God looked down the corridor of time, and saw people believe in Jesus, they would be believing in Jesus because God himself gave them the gift of faith (see part 3/6 in this blog series). And if God elected them based on them having faith, which he gave them, then God’s election would be based on his own purposes to choose to give them faith, which is what I am essentially arguing that election is about anyways–God freely choosing to give people faith in Jesus.
Fifthly, if God elects those who, apart from his power, put their faith in Jesus, then his foreknowledge and calling in Rom. 8:30 seem to be pointless. If we ultimately choose for ourselves to believe in Jesus, what is the purpose of the calling of God? That idea seems to make God’s calling us pointless and powerless; it doesn’t actually do anything, at least that we know of.
I hope that is helpful. Comment and share your thoughts!